Friday the 13th (1980) — What’s Playing?

By Casey Campbell

I’ve been a fan of the Friday the 13th series for about two years now, yet I’ve watched each of the films many times in that short period. There’s something remarkably comfortable about these movies, with their summer settings and reliable structures. They aren’t exactly scary and the MPAA notoriously butchered them in the editing room but, like I said last summer in my review of The Final Chapter, the Friday the 13th movies are like a warm blanket for me. That being said, I’m going to try to dive into each entry over the course of the summer.

I really dig this entry, but I don’t think I have much to say on it in particular. It has great effects from the even greater Tom Savini, a nice whodunnit mystery culminating in one of the most famous conclusions in slasher history (maybe a little less notorious then Sleepaway Camp but still) and, possibly most important, it kicked off a hell of a series. But why do I love the series as a whole?

In terms of my enjoyment of each individual film, it comes down to a few simple things: atmosphere, “characters,” and what I deem humorous. The first four movies are fairly contained as a quartet of simple slashers in the same location with the same kinds of characters and a slew of tropes. It’s always summertime, which makes these movies a must watch in the summer, and the camp scenes feel honest in their depiction of young adults hanging out by the lake. The fact that the actors seem to be having fun lends to the atmosphere. The characters themselves always leave a lot to be desired, as well as the acting (minus Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees, because her performance is seriously fantastic) , but that’s part of why the deaths work for me. On one hand, the deaths mean more if you care about a well rounded and dimensional character, but these movies never seem to be serious in their scares. That is undoubtedly a personal view of mine that comes with a dose of ignorance. I wasn’t alive when ten of the twelve films came out, meaning my perspective is one of hindsight as opposed to in the moment.

Either way, I’m glad the characters in the first four movies are given at least something that makes them unique in the world of the film. I would argue that the films following the 1980 original offer more meat to the characters, making them memorable, and in some cases tragic, when they eventually get killed off. I don’t remember character names in the first film like I do Tommy Jarvis, Demon from Part V, or “Dead Fuck” Jimmy from The Final Chapter.

For humor, the first four are the stand outs for being more “serious.” They’re low brow slashers made quick for profit, but they still stayed away from outright humor more so than A New Beginning (“Them damn enchiladas!”) and especially the tongue-in-cheek Jason Lives. Yet, they still have a quirky nature that makes them much less doom and gloom and more quick thrill silly slasher. Crispin Glover dancing in The Final Chapter is something I’ll never forget.

Paramount wanted to move away from the series with the fourth movie, hence the false title of The Final Chapter, but it made too much money so they returned to the series and pumped out four more in that decade alone. The 90s saw Jason return for an opening scene before being blown up, which is a pretty swift metaphor for how out of place and widely hated that movie is. The best part is the closing tease for Freddy vs. Jason which wouldn’t see the light of day for another decade.

We’ll get to those though. It’s really wonky how such a simple series was able to blossom into an ugly flower that people, either surprisingly or unsurprisingly, return to with vigor. Let’s hope that shitty lawsuit can get settled so Jason can come back some point this millennia.

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