Ah, summer camp. Childhood innocence. Singing songs by the campfire. Crafts and canoeing. The time of your life. Ch, ch, ch. Ha, ha, ha. What's that sound? It's the sound of a perfect horror film. Not everyone will agree with me but Friday the 13th is my generations Psycho (1960). It even salutes Hitchcock's much beloved film through the character of Mrs. Voorhees as well as the soundtrack whose screeching violins and pumping cellos echo the original.
Friday the 13th ushers in what some call the "Dead Teenager Movie." Many others have tried to replicate its formula but few do it with as much heart and skill as the one that started it all. Everything about this movie works. Here's why:
1. The characters are plain and ordinary. We know these people. We grew up with them. We were them! They don't spout any witty lines such as "Die, Bitch." They are innocently strolling through life, doing all the things we did until, in a split second, they're attacked and killed. Brilliant!
2. The cinematography in this film is spot on. Like Psycho, every scene is framed well and designed for maximum impact. The camera takes us on a tour of perspectives where we see through the eyes of the characters as well as the killer. We are not spectators in the film. We have no choice but to participate. I love the shots where the camera "walks" toward someone or scans a scene like a pair of eyes do. Brilliant!
3. Director Sean S. Cunningham, who also produced Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972), manages to get great performances out of every actor. These kids are not just grist for the mill. He makes us care about what happens to them which doesn't happen in a number of Dead Teenage Movies that followed. [We also have a pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon appearance which is an added bonus.]
4. The use of silence throughout much of the film is quite effective. It lulls us into a sense of peace and calm as we watch the characters snuggle after sex or make a cup of instant coffee. Then the familiar music either creeps in and grows louder or hits us over the head with blunt force trauma. Again, brilliant!
I have watched this film many times over the years and I never grow tired of it. Even though I know what's coming next, it's still a delight to see. I've also watched the remake of Friday the 13th (2009) and it ups the gore but doesn't have the heart of the original. This, unfortunately, is true of most slasher flicks that are made today.
Trivia: Tom Savini, George Romero's zombie muse, did both the makeup effects and stunts in Friday the 13th.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.