Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friday the 13th (1980)

This was the first horror film that got me onto the genre back in 1983. There's an actual story regarding me coming across this film but I'll get into that at a later date, only because it's a lengthy - and comical- one and I prefer to have that as a separate entry. I was actually subjected to this film at a mom and pop television store in Fresno, California as my father purchased the RCA Select-A-Vision CED Video Disc player. To 'test out' the system, the sales guy put this film in and I got to see the first few minutes of it, up until Annie's death. Those few minutes scared the hell out of me and it was burned into core of my soul forever.

The film scared me on many levels: First, I was a young kid, in the second grade and before my knowledge of this film, I had no idea that there was even such a thing as a horror film. Second, I was in a boy's program in which we were taken out to remote forest areas for camp outs and pow-wows just like the one shown in the film. Along with the way that my father presented the film to me in the first place - more on that later - it was enough to scar me for life. And that it almost did.

We all know the core of the film's synopsis: Camp Crystal Lake (actually Camp NoBeBesCo in New Jersey) is shut down in the 50's due to the murder of two camp counselors and various fires that plagued the campsite. Along with the murders, a young boy named Jason Voorhees died in the lake due to the negligence of the slain counselors. In the present day, the camp is going to be opened by Steve Cristy and as some young camp counselors come along to aid in getting the camp ready, they are offed one by one by an unseen killer. The film was beautifully photographed, scene after scene of luscious countryside, forestry, and shots of the sun hovering over Camp Crystal Lake. It was something most teenagers of the time were familiar with since back in that time period, kids spent their summers at camps just like the one portrayed. But the eeriness of the secluded campsite, the idea of being alone in a forest miles away from the rest of the world with an unknown presence threatening your very life, is nothing to joke about. And the filmmakers did this one right. There is both an innocence and a sinister quality to this film that surprised the world when it was released in 1980. Why else would a slew of sequels wanting to capitalize on the brilliance of this film be unleashed onto a generation of young film goers and become the defining horror film franchise of all time? The film was bloody, relentless in its presentation of graphic murders that had been unmatched up until then, and gave everyone the "final scare" that gave this movie a permanent staple in the list of best slasher films of the twentieth century.

I've read that the Motion Picture Association of America originally threatened to give this film an 'X' rating before it was released due to some gore scenes that weren't suitable for theatrical release. I've also read that there is an "uncut" version out there within the Japanese and other Asians markets that shows the film completely in tact before the cuts were made (a longer version of Jack's "arrow through the neck" scene, the shot of the axe in Marcie's face, etc). There is also a lobby card for the film which shows Mrs. Voorhees pressed up against either a window or some form of plastic sheet with her mouth open and screaming. I've done some research and still can't find out what that particular scene is. Was it cut from the U.S. Paramount release before it opened? If it was, what was the story behind it? (If anyone knows, please leave me a note). It's one of the few questions about this film that is still unanswered for me. Here is a picture of said lobby card.

The film has gone on to leave a legacy unexpected by both filmmakers and audiences and still remains a classic within its own right. There are arguments among horror fans that this film is superior to its slasher predecessor, Halloween. I, laughably, am one of those fans that prefers this to John Carpenter's magnum opus. The clever twist at the film's finale - presenting Mrs. Voorhees as the unknown killing machine - was something not expected and remains one of the best in horror history, along with the final battle between she and camp counselor Alice. What got audiences everywhere (and me for that matter) was the final scene, in which the young Jason appears out of Crystal Lake to grab Alice and pull her beneath the cold wet furor of Crystal Lake. Though it mirrored a similar 'final scare' scene in Carrie, it delivered an image still not shaken by horror fans around the world. For a film that was supposed to have been just a filler in between kiddie projects being helmed by Sean S. Cunningham, it became his legacy to the horror generation that has yet to be duplicated.

Sadly, Paramount's DVD of this classic is bare-boned, with just one trailer. I've got some TV spots in my private collection, but I think everyone expected more. I haven't seen the version in the From Crystal Lake to Manhattan DVD set so I can't tell you the difference between the two. I also have the original Paramount VHS release (with it's rarely-seen teaser for Part 2 at the tape's end claiming "Coming Next Year"), the Paramount re-release from the late 90's, and the original CED version on Video Disc (in which the latter shows a shot of the controversial and censored 'axe in the face' scene). The film is a must-see for those trying to get their fingers in the slasher genre. For the rest of us, it's imperative essential viewing.

Here is the trailer - I wonder who came up with the whole "counting" thing?

(Update 5/25/12): So Paramount has released Special Editions of the entire series up to Jason Goes to Hell. This one was finally released uncut, which had been released in that fashion overseas from the very beginning. Regardless that the excised footage comprises a mere 10 seconds, it makes it just a little nastier and it's nice to finally see what everyone else in the foreign . Especially, Kevin Bacon's arrow-through-the-neck death. The packaging is great, the slipcover, though derivative of the original poster art (we'll let is slide), is a very nice touch. The soundtrack is remixed and sounds fantastic. Special features aren't all that impressive but they'll do, yet the one I love to watch are the comparisons between filming locations in 1979 and today. At all costs, avoid the feature titled Tales from Camp Blood. It's nothing but shit and not even worth wasting your time on. All I need now is to find this on Laserdisc (and maybe Betamax) as I own it now on CED, VHS and DVD. I hear that the Blu-Ray release kicks major ass but I don't see myself owning it in that format anytime soon.)

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