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Friday the 13th (1980): Revisit the Classic

August 30, 2009

Friday the 13th’s legendary status is due to Sean S Cunningham’s ability to create kind, likable victims whose desperate struggle for survival is contrasted by their talk of dreams and future plans. These kids are the good ones. Slaving away over the summer as camp counselors, they are “babes in the woods,” altruistic by nature. They play hard and like to party, but it is the summer after all, and these kids have school and home to go back to.

Welcome to Camp Crystal Lake, 1958. Under a full moon, we move inside a cabin full of sleeping children. The camera slowly moves past each one; a door is opened. The camera makes its way up the stairs, surprising two naughty teens. “We weren’t doing anything,” the boy cries.

awe, such innocence

The legend was born in 1980. Just two years after the original Halloween, Friday the 13th introduced the world to the legend that would become known as Jason. Twenty years after the tragic killings at Crystal Lake, Steve Christie is reopening “Camp Blood.” And on the morning of the 13th, the young couselors arrive to help prepare the camp.

But lurking in the woods is the constant reminder of someone watching. The breathing, ch ch ch ha ha ha, the screeching soundtrack, like fingernails on a chalkboard, the slow, methodical pace of the point of view shots builds the tension. So even as the kids laugh, play, drink, and make-out, the audience is constantly on edge.

The brilliance of Friday the 13th, the real horror of “Camp Blood,” is that we, the audience, know that these kids are in danger. We watch along with the killer, at first jealous of the freedom of the environment, the complete isolation of youth without adult supervision; but we are also helpless to protect them and ultimately ourselves. We are in as much danger as these kids. “We are doomed if we stay,” but we can’t leave. We have to be here, helpless in our silence; all of our years of wisdom ignored, useless.

The original, almost 30 years later, elicits the same thrills, the same tension, and the same level of horror it did then. Kids still want to have fun, smoke weed, and have sex. Cunningham respects his kids, and the sex is tender and passionate, the games are fun and full of laughter, and the struggles are desperate and painful. Kevin Bacon’s character lies spent in the bottom bunk beneath a murdered counselor, his girlfriend is washing away the sex in the bathroom, the game of strip monopoly is underway, and the rain falls steadily outside.

six degrees of a dead bacon

It all unravels so beautifully, like a slow dance amidst impending doom. The audience is always clued in, always one step ahead of the kids. We want to warn them because they are only doing what we so desperately want to do ourselves. It is the ultimate cautionary tale. The legend of “Camp Blood” is society’s warning to its youth; do not race to adulthood. Sex, drugs, and alcohol will kill you. And when mommy, Betsy Palmer, appears during the movie’s final act, things turn from horrific to diabolical. Appearing at first like an angel, she admires her handy work while offering motherly comfort. But soon she is mouthing her son’s words, “kill her mommy,” and chasing Alice around the campgrounds.

And still, Cunningham’s expertly staged finale transcends time. The slow motion shot of the machete slicing through Mommy’s neck, the head falling to the ground, the torso slowly tilting over as the hands grasp at the air still surprises.

what about the boy?

Then there is the final line, shot full close-up, capturing Adrienne King’s beautiful blue eyes. “What about the boy?” It is magic, pure and timeless.

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