Slashers & Serial Killers In Review: Friday The 13th (1980), part two
As today is Friday, the Thirteenth, we had a moral and ethical obligation to pay homage to one of the biggest slasher films of all time. So of course we had more than one angle on the issue.
What scares me?
That’s a big question, one that I would have a hard time capturing in one essay. So in the context of this review, what originally scared me when I was introduced to this horror genre in which I now reside?
Horror has had a long and storied history in the cinema, dating back over a hundred years of style, mood and atmosphere. And I was lucky enough to board the ship right in the middle of one of the renaissances of the genre.
What scared the hell out of me was the realism of movies in the late seventies and eighties. Check out the work of George Romero and Wes Craven and you can see what I’m talking about. These films weren’t about the beautiful fantasy and magic of Hollywood. This was about making you feel like you stumbled across a crime in progress and you don’t dare move, lest you be spotted yourself. This is about being placed in front of something that you can’t bring yourself to turn away from.
Friday The 13th was one of the ships that launched a thousand franchises, so to speak. And while the iconic killer of the rest of the films doesn’t appear here, it still functions as one of the pivotal launching pads into a cultural vocabulary.
All hidden behind one simple hockey mask.
On the surface, the story of Friday The 13th is nothing special. The twist at the end is unexpected but is also so absurd that it isn’t like the average viewer could have been reasonably expected to predict it.
What makes Friday The 13th a legend maker is not the specifics of the narrative and is proof of why I never pay attention to the criticism of, “well, that’s been done before.” Friday The 13th is about the emotional ride you are taken on. It’s about going alongside these characters in the face of bleak, implacable doom. While digital effects have become breathtaking, for me the practical special effects of films like Friday The 13th put you physically and emotionally in the film more than anything I have experienced, before or after.
I also respect the decision that Friday The 13th made in selecting a killer that went against what would become typically expected by the audience. The identity of the killer should catch everyone off guard but it also plays with the stereotypes surrounding gender roles, which was great as well. Some critics took the decision to make a female into the murderer a sign of the film’s misogyny. I can see the point, I suppose. But my opinion has always been that it’s more contemptuous of women to make them helpless victims, that serve no role other than to be in peril. Does it speak ill of women to make one a character that causes so much mayhem and destruction throughout the film? Maybe. But I think it also demonstrates that a female character is just as capable of being a force of nature to be reckoned with. I think putting a woman into this essential role was the opposite of the sentiment it was harpooned for. And the criticism on the whole wasn’t completely unwarranted as other female characters do tend to fall into this storytelling quicksand. But for this specific decision, telling stories that defy expectations is important and I think this movie accomplishes that as much as it might normalize negative gender stereotypes. And let’s not forget either that the last “man” standing in this film does end up being a woman.
Yes, there is a lot of violence in this movie. Graphic violence. There is nudity and sex, this is not a mild film by any stretch of the imagination, even by today’s standards. But I also don’t think that watching it means you are taking pleasure from those things. I mean, I guess you could be but I wouldn’t necessarily share that information if that’s the case. It’s about bringing your morality with you and thinking about what you’re seeing on screen. It’s about acknowledging how a story is making you feel and staying in that place. It’s about taking a crazy and visceral ride from the safe confines of a movie theater that you have the ability to leave once things end. It’s about realizing that darkness exists out there and maybe by contemplating it just a little, maybe we are a bit better equipped to beat it back some.
It’s also about realizing that any suggestion of spending spring break at a place called Crystal Lake should be greeted with a resounding, “Hell. No!”
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