Three Fridays: An Examination of ‘Friday the 13th’

When it comes to horror franchises, few are as well known as Friday the 13th. Created in 1980, this series has gone on to include twelve films, countless books, comics, action figures, and video games, not to mention spawning the legendary Jason Vorhees, who remains one of cinema’s most famous slasher villains, with over two hundred (!) kills to his name.

Yet, even with its prestigious history, I’ve never sat down to watch all the films, the one exception being ‘Freddy vs Jason.’ I thought it was a fun film, but it didn’t get me interested in watching the rest of Jason’s filmography. All that changed, though, when I took a look at a recent, fan-made remake of the 1980 film, which made me curious to see how it fared to both the original, and the 2009 remake, leading to the rare scenario of being able to see the same story being told three different ways.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at all three interpretations: The 1980 original, the 2009 remake, and a 2019 fan-made version that I’ll keep a secret for now. If you haven’t seen the original film, I’d recommend not reading any further until you have, as this series will spoil major plot details.

With all that said, let’s begin with the film that started it all: 1980’s, ‘Friday the 13th’

As said so memorably in 1962’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and 2012’s, ‘Prometheus,’ “Big things have small beginnings,” perfectly sums up Jason’s first big-screen outing, a small-scale slasher flick that finds camp counselors facing certain death when stranded at a small summer camp in a remote forest. Thanks to pop-culture osmosis, I knew all the twists before watching the film: that Jason is barely in the film, that his mother is the killer, and that everyone but one girl dies. Still, knowing the plot before seeing a movie isn’t always going to ruin it: I knew how ‘Alien’ and ‘The Shining’ turned out before watching them, and they were still scary, effective films that became personal favorites.

I’m afraid the same can’t be said for ‘Friday.’

For all the praise put upon it as one of the best films in the series (or the best, depending on who you’re talking to), I found ‘Friday’ to be surprisingly dull. It gets off to a good start, with Annie coming into town and learning about Camp Crystal Lake, and then heading off to join her fellow counselors… only to be killed before she even reaches the front gate. Killing off who you think is going to be the main character in the first act is a great way to suck people in, and I was eager to see how the film went from there. Regrettably, ‘Friday’ follows the standard trope of building up doomed teenagers before killing them off in an isolated location. There’s nothing wrong with that (and Crystal Lake at night in a thunderstorm is an effective horror setting), but the problem is that the film’s glacial pace results in numerous periods of boredom, to the point where I even fast-forwarded to get to the inevitable killings, which are quite tame compared to what came later (the arrow-through-the-throat kill is quite memorable, though).

While ‘Friday’ was mostly a disappointment for me, it does have one element that saves it from the pile of over-hyped movies: Pamela Vorhees, Jason’s mother. At first glance, a middle-aged woman with no fighting skills or unique abilities doesn’t sound like a compelling villain, but Pamela elevates herself with one of the most sympathetic backstories to be found in slasher cinema: A mother who lost her only child due to negligence, who is driven by unimaginable pain to get revenge on those who let him die, and stop other children from suffering the fate her son did. I can think of few other killers in cinema who are so sympathetically evil; Pamela’s so easy to relate to, even if we don’t agree with her killing innocent counselors who had nothing to do with Jason’s death. And to twist the knife even further, the revelation that Jason is still alive means that all her killings and her twisted quest for justice was all for nothing, turning the film into a tragedy where nobody wins, nobody gets justice, and all the suffering everyone goes through was for nothing.

Wow.

When looking at ‘Friday’, both as the start of a franchise, and as a standalone movie, it’s my opinion that it isn’t very good. If it was removed from the ‘Friday’ franchise and stripped of it’s historical status, ‘Friday’ would probably be remembered as a rather standard slasher film that would struggle to stand out among its peers, especially surprising how Pamela’s existence isn’t even hinted at before her reveal, making her appearance feel like a cop-out (and proof that there should always be a hint on who the killer could be in whodunits).

Still, Pamela’s effective performance manages to save ‘Friday’ from being a complete disappointment. While, in my opinion, it’s not a good film, it does deserve to be recognized for its villain, and for starting one of the most famous slasher franchises in history… well, that, and the hilarity of knowing that Pamela’s little boy will one day blast off into outer space and hack people to death on a space station as an undead demonic cyborg.

Tune in next week, where we’ll take a look at the 2009 remake of ‘Friday’ and see what a modern-day take on Jason’s origin has to offer.

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