Random Film of the Week: Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th_MPAmusingly enough, I wasn’t planning on doing a RFotW at all (well, for a few days at least) until I was walking home and realized that it was indeed that day where superstitious people go out of their ways to avoid danger and paradoxically set themselves and others up for accidents. If you’ve ever spilled a hot or cold beverage on yourself or someone else or the ground because some idiot was jumping out of the way of a black cat, diving past a ladder, threw a handful salt over their shoulder into your eyes or anything else deemed to ward off bad luck, you probably know what I mean, correct?

Anyway, taking its cues from !950’s “B” horror and Italian giallo films and adding a few (for the time) modern twists Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 horror flick is to many, a classic. Granted, back when it was released it was labeled as “misogynistic” (despite a girl being the last survivor and a plot twist I won’t spoil here for those who still haven’t seen this one) along with a bunch of other genre films that put BOTH male and female characters in peril and if you want to see it as such, I’m not going to change your mind. However, when you take into account the guys get it as badly as the gals here, I’d say the film is shocking because it actually doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who gets the axe, arrow, machete or other modes of mean-spirited dispatching…

Plot-wise, it’s pretty much a common revenge tale with an interesting twist that made me wonder how the film would have been with more emphasis on more story and less to none of those great, disturbing Tom Savini gore effects. Then again, the film was made to be a budget cheapie exploitation number and on that account it succeeds with flying colors (mostly red). For what it’s worth, the skillful manipulation of the audience pulled off by Cunningham and composer Henry Manfredini is so much a part of the experience that even if you spend half the time with your eyes covered, the use of music here adds to the scare tactics considerably. The film is also notable for being one where Kevin Bacon gets killed off like nearly everyone else, in a particularly shocking manner. When I saw this in a theater, part of the “charm” was figuring out how all those kills were done.

As this was the pre-internet age, we needed to rely on horror film and other movie magazines to spill the beans on how the “blood” was spilled and the great Tom Savini’s FX work made him the man to watch (often from behind your fingers with someone digging their fingernails into your arm). I recall reading about how some of the effects were done and seeing the film again a great deal less to not at all frightened by the gore, but fascinated at how well it was done. Pretty much all the effects hold up today and as they’re all practical work and not CG, there’s a certain amount of purity to seeing this sort of movie gore without any silly camera angles or other tricks that SCREAM computer generated at you and are less scary than annoying.

I vague remember watching Siskel and Ebert rant against this film and others for an entire episode of their review show and I thought that was overkill because even though this was a “mainstreaming” of what was formerly a genre only seen in seedy theaters, the movie was genuinely scary outside the gory bits. Again, once you get to the plot twist, if your head is still screwed on right, you may feel something for the killer at some point. Not to the point where you’re justifying murdering sex-starved teens, mind you… but maybe enough to wish someone would have gotten and stayed on some medication while letting go of the past…

But I won’t say any more because I think you need to suck it up and check this one out. Yes, it’s pretty brutal on the eyeballs, but it’s a cult classic for a good reason. With the proper preparation (a blanket to hide behind and a friend who’s seen this to grab onto every few minutes) and the realization that this isn’t SUPPOSED to be a “great” movie at all, you just may find yourself forgiving me for recommending this one on a day where you’ve been running scared since the moment you rolled out of bed. Just have a nice comedy queued up (Saturday the 14th is recommended, although its a REALLY lousy cult fave comedy riff on the genre with no blood and less laughs) to wash the blood off afterwards and it’s all good…

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