6 Days of Friday: Day 1

Hello devoted 35mm readers!  In the spirit of the Halloween season, I’ve decided to take a look at one of the horror genre’s longest standing franchises, and offer mini-reviews for each film in order of their release.  As you can probably tell by this point, the series I have selected is Friday the 13th, home to one of Hollywood’s most famous horror icons, Jason Voorhees.  Over the course of the next 6 days, I will give you the rundown on each of the Friday films, and hopefully lead you towards the good ones and away from…well…Jason X.  So without further delay, here’s Day 1!

Friday the 13th (1980) ———————————————————————————————- 3.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: On a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake, a group of counselors are terrorized by an unknown killer.  One by one they are killed off until the identity of the murderer is finally revealed, along with the shocking motivation that lies at the heart of their revenge-fueled killing spree!

The first Friday the 13th certainly wins some points for its impact and influence, considering it started as a low-budget indie film before it was bought up and distributed by a major studio (Paramount), where it became a huge international hit and financial success, not to mention earning enough widespread popularity to pave the way for 10 sequels.  It also played a key role in ramping up the already growing American slasher-horror craze, which stems back to classics like Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978) but really began to take off in the early ’80s era of low-budget ripoffs after this film’s release.

Still, despite its importance to the genre, Part I is surprisingly mediocre in itself, with only a few memorable moments standing out amidst an otherwise rehashed plot and some fairly low production values.  These successes are largely thanks to the great special effects work of gore-maestro Tom Savini, whose career was just beginning to skyrocket around this point.  The arrow-through-the-neck that marked the demise of a young Kevin Bacon still stands as one of the film’s best shock-moments, as does the slow-motion decapitation at the film’s climax, which is one of the most unforgettable scenes of the entire franchise. I also really enjoyed the way in which director Sean S. Cunningham uses p.o.v. shots from the killer’s perspective to keep their appearance shrouded in mystery.  By combining some of the camera conventions of Italian giallo cinema with the plotting of a slasher film (he has cited Carpenter’s Halloween and the works of Mario Bava as key influences for this film), Cunningham establishes a mystery yet refrains from giving you any clues or leads.  Instead, you are simply left in the dark until the killer just kind of shows up (with a suitable twist, of course).  To be honest, the original Friday is still a classic of the genre and is worth checking out, but don’t expect anything truly groundbreaking.  Oh yeah, and don’t expect to see Jason with a machete either…at least not until…

Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) ———————————————————————————— 3.5/5 Stars

Synopsis: 5 years after the events of the first film, a group of camp counselors return to Crystal Lake to open a new camp, only to find that they too are being stalked by a killer.  Jason Voorhees, assumed dead after allegedly drowning as a child, returns as an adult to exact his revenge on anyone who happens to cross his path!

Friday the 13th: Part II is definitely one of the best examples of an effective horror sequel, picking up right where the original left off and carrying on in same spirit, while also offering a better sense of pacing and a higher body count.  After a brief opening scene that shows Jason Voorhees offing Adrienne King (the sole survivor of Part I) in her home, we return once again to Crystal Lake, where a new batch of teenagers arrive fresh for the slaughter.

The slightly increased production values certainly help the film this time around, but the real reason to check out Part II is simple… Jason is the killer this time! Don’t get me wrong, I loved what the filmmakers did with the character of Mrs. Voorhees, but the introduction of Jason in this second chapter would be a move that would take the series to an entirely new level.  Keep in mind as well that at this point he doesn’t even have his famous hockey mask yet – he actually wears a pillowcase on his head, and comes across more like a wild hermit living in the woods.  But trust me, he’s taking no prisoners…even the guy in the wheelchair gets it!  This Friday also sports a slightly better lead actress in Amy Steel, along with an intense and memorable climactic scene, complete with yet another cliffhanger ending.  Though better in many ways than the original, Part II does admittedly lack the feel of a true classic, and really only holds its own weight when viewed in close succession to Part I.  For this reason, it earns the same rating as the original, but remains the one I’d usually pick to watch if I had the choice.

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So I guess things are all tied up at the end of the day, we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when we look at Part III and Part IV.  Feel free to leave a comment about your own thoughts on the Friday the 13th films, and if you haven’t watched a horror film yet this week, sit down tonight and do it already.

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~ by Mark D'Amico on October 24, 2011.

One Response to “6 Days of Friday: Day 1”

  1. “After a brief opening scene that shows Jason Voorhees offing Adrienne King…” Brief?! That pre-credits sequence is 15 minutes long! That’s a good chunk of the film’s 87 minute running time. Nice write-ups, Mark. It’s been years since I’ve seen Part II, but I remember being surprised at how good it was, though I think Part I is ekes ahead slightly. I’m very curious to hear your take on Part 3 (which, in many ways, is the quintessential Friday the 13th movie), and the rest of the series, really, because 4-8 are all a blur.

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