Friday the 13th will forever be notable for it’s popularization of the slasher genre and kicking off the 80s slasher boom. The Friday franchise was Paramount’s dirty little secret, bringing in more money on an annual basis then any of their other features. Despite the lashing that it got from critics, Friday the 13th isn’t that bad of a movie. It follows the now cliché structure of a group of camp counselors getting picked off one by one at Camp Crystal Lake, which has a history of tragic events including the drowning of the young Jason Voorhees. As the body count rises, the final survivor discovers who the killer is and has to fight her to survive. Friday the 13th is a great movie thanks to its likeable characters, good pacing, and moderation of kills and scares.
As the slasher genre progressed, more and more emphasis was placed on the killer and less on the victims, at first leading to clichéd characters and eventually leading to every slasher starring obnoxious pieces of shit that you desperately want killed so you don’t have to spend more time with them. However, thinking back to the greats (For example Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream) they have likeable leads or, at the very least, leads you don’t hate. Friday’s leads are generally likeably people, even if they’re a little bland. They’re certainly not clichés, having their own personalities to them, but because we don’t spend enough time with them to know what they’re like, they come off as bland. The acting is… fair, certainly not as bad as some of its successors, but nothing outstanding. Kevin Bacon makes an early career appearance, but he’s got so few lines that you barely notice. The standout performance definitely goes to Jason’s mother, played by Betsy Palmer. She seems to be not only a caring mother, but also a fucking schizophrenic and that’s tricky to pull off.
Since Friday the 13th took up the task of actually getting you to like its protagonists, it ran the risk of getting quite boring. In spite of this, it managed to pace itself quite well. The movie kicks off with a good introduction and then from there does an even better job of throwing in occasional kills or teen antics to keep you interested. It’s never boring, even if it doesn’t grab your interest like some of its successors do. The build-up to the climax takes up a solid chunk of the movie, with neither too much nor too little time in-between the kills. The only real problem the film has pacing wise is that the climax is too long. The fight with Mrs. Voorhees has many different confrontations to it, and there are overly long parts in-between where it’s just the two looking for each other which frankly isn’t that interesting to watch. That being said, all that waiting is worth it for the final kill and scare, which are easily the most memorable parts of the movie.
Speaking of kills and scares, the murders in this movie are… not as gory as you may think. There certainly a good amount of sharp object to head action, but there’s also plenty of kills where we don’t actually see anything. This kind of balance allows for the gore to be effective and for us to remain sensitive. The gore effects are pretty good, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing and this film makes sure not to cross that line. It certainly is an interesting contrast to the later entries, which no longer have the backbone of a mystery to support them and instead concentrate on upping the ante with the kills.
I saw this film, in honor of Friday the 13th, on VHS and I’m glad I did. While some may prefer to get this movie on blue-ray to maximize visual splendor, I prefer the grit and fuzziness that VHS has to offer. It really lends to the tone of the movie and it’s almost like being transported back to the 80s when people were first getting scared by this film. The darkness and dullness of the image actually made the gore effects better, since they blended with the actors more. Seeing the 1080p version of this movie, you can notice a difference, but on VHS it honestly looks like Kevin Bacon’s getting an arrow pushed through his neck.
Should you watch Friday the 13th? Of course you should! It’s cliché, yes. But only because it created the clichés. Is it full of plot holes? Yes, but you’ll be having too much fun to notice. Despite its flaws, Friday the 13th is a film worth watching, not just for horror fans, but for anyone who wants to watch a darker film. It won’t scare you to death, but it still has some effective moments for you to enjoy. For what it is, Friday the 13th is a great movie and one that will surely continue to stand the test of time.