Some might say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but they are sorely mistaken. The most wonderful time of the year is, in fact, Halloween.
Halloween is a holiday dedicated to confronting our fears and learning to find joy in the process. It is no accident that Halloween occurs at the time of the year when we prepare ourselves for the coming of a long, dark winter. It’s obvious that it is harder to find joy when the world is cold and there is much to fear.
Our culture has come to adopt a practice of celebrating a confrontation of our fears on the night of Halloween as a way of preparing ourselves for the trials of winter.
On this hallowed eve, one can think of fewer better, or more iconic, ways to confront our fears in order to find some fun than to watch the classic 1980 camp slasher, “Friday the 13th.”
After the immense success of John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher film, “Halloween,” screenplay writer Victor Miller and director Sean S. Cunningham were inspired to replicate the style and story beats of “Halloween” in a film set at a summer camp, which would be decidedly more lighthearted in tone than “Halloween” was.
The resulting film is now what is known as “Friday the 13th.”
This film starts off following Annie (Robbi Morgan), a teenager who is hitchhiking her way to her summer job as a cook at the infamous Camp Crystal Lake. She stops in town to ask for directions to the camp and is startled to learn that the townspeople have a strong aversion to that camp. She even encounters the town lunatic, who informs Annie that the camp is “cursed.” Despite this, she is not deterred and asks for a ride.
A reluctant truck driver agrees to take her to a crossroads which is a few miles away from the camp. On the ride, he informs Annie of the camp’s bad history and encourages her to quit. Though unsettled, she nevertheless gets out at the crossroads and heads to the camp.
Meanwhile, at Camp Crystal Lake, owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and counselors Alice (Adrienne King), Jack (Kevin Bacon, of “Footloose”), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Bill (Harry Crosby), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) and Ned (Mark Nelson) are hard at work making sure that the camp will be ready for the kids, who are supposed to arrive within two weeks.
In between the painting, building and cleaning, plenty of teenage antics are taking place, from young lovers fooling about to silly pranks and dangerous stunts. As owner Christy later would describe these counselors, “they’re all babes in the woods, in every sense.”
Christy has to go into town, so the six counselors are left alone to finish their work and mess around. However, a storm soon rolls in and these counselors begin to be murdered, one by one. The audience eventually learns what all of the talk of the “curse of Camp Crystal Lake” actually means.
“Friday the 13th” is a classic because of its amateur (but intentional) cinematography, its contrived (yet engaging) acting, its slasher movie tropes (both original and borrowed) and, most importantly, its simple (but absorbing) story which evoked a sentiment in its audience that was powerful enough to spawn another 11 movies in the same franchise.
Something about this film simply left audiences craving more after every viewing. In retrospect, it is easy to see why.
“Friday the 13th” is an amalgamation of the most intriguing and iconic horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, infused with a pervasive sense of fun and simple gratification, which would later come to characterize films of the 1980s.
The film’s score is a love letter to “Jaws” and “Psycho,” and its characters are directly reminiscent of those in “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
“Friday the 13th” and its best sequels used the best elements of these other films, but replaced the dread and pessimism of those prior films with a sense of joviality and indulgence that makes the “Friday” films very fun to watch.
Though “Friday the 13th” and its sequels are technically “horror” movies, I would be amazed if anyone was truly terrified after watching them. These films exist to be fun by being frightening, which makes for an almost pleasant viewing experience.
No, “Friday the 13th” and its sequels are not high cinema, they are not masterpieces and many of the movies aren’t even good in any sense of the word (looking at you, “Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan”).
However, “Friday the 13th” represents a point in our culture’s history when we began to find the fun in what we had previously feared, and this makes “Friday the 13th” an important film for all cinephiles and pop-culture buffs to see.