‘Friday the 13th’ still holds up more than three decades later

Hollywood Soapbox logoYeah, Kevin Bacon is in the film. Yeah, it was a ripoff of Halloween. Yeah, it spawned an ungodly number of sub-par sequels. Yeah, it’s not scary anymore.

For all the naysayers (and there are a lot of them), this next statement will come as somewhat of a surprise: The original Friday the 13th is actually solid entertainment. The slasher flick has come a long way since 1980, but there’s something to be said about the simplicity and brazen cliches in this seminal horror film. Count me as a fan, at least during the month of October when my threshold for such fare drops to normally unendurable levels.

The premise is perfect and has been ripped off probably a million times. A bunch of camp counselors find themselves facing a masked killer in the scary woods near a lake. One by one our heroes and heroines fall prey to the large man and his machete. This is Meatballs with blood; need I keep explaining?

Of course, there’s more mythology to the series than just blunt objects and the red stuff. The lake is the scene of a horrible drowning, one that left an eerie imprint on the nearby camp. The counselors can sense that something is awry almost instantly.

Betsy Palmer offers a memorable performance as Pamela Voorhees, who I would identify, but that would just spoil all the fun. Adrienne King plays Alice Hardy, the quasi-Jame-Lee-Curtis role. It’s become a common genre convention to have a young woman at the center of the plot (Texas Chainsaw MassacreHalloween, Suspiria). Bacon, who went on to much bigger and better things, plays one of the victims … I mean characters.

The gag effects, expertly employed by the legendary Tom Savini, are quite impressive, especially given that no CGI played a role. It’s fun to see how these stunts are pulled off in the days of actual cosmetics, pumps and corn syrup.

Has the scare factor worn off? A little bit. But because of the iconic soundtrack, decent-enough acting and menacing villain, there is a definite sense of violence in the air. It’s probably best to experience these older horror movies at film festivals that cherish 35mm. The smell of popcorn, dancing scratches on the screen and the intermittent laughter over the unintentionally funny lines of dialogue can take an average film to some great heights.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Friday the 13th

  • 1980

  • Directed by Sean S. Cunningham

  • Written by Victor Miller

  • Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King and Kevin Bacon

  • Running time: 96 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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