Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Producer: Sean. S. Cunningham
Writers: Sean S. Cunningham, Victor Miller
Stars: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Robbi Morgan
SPOILER ALERT: THE DEATHS OF SOME CHARACTERS ARE REVEALED IN THIS REVIEW. SCENES FROM THE FILM ARE DETAILED FOR ANALYSIS.
“… and the rain turns into blood … the blood washes away in little rivers …
… and then the sound stops.”
Marcie’s (Jeannine Taylor) premonition is a recurring dream she has—a performance of the subconscious, an omnipresent force in Sean S. Cunningham’s masterpiece. “It’s only a dream,” Marcie’s twinkle-eyed beau, Jack (Kevin Bacon), assures her, but as if to defy him, the skies open and rain pours. The sky darkens. Thunder pitches.
It is Friday, June 13th: Jason Voorhees’ birthday. And the storm has only just begun.
Marcie and Jack—along with fellow camp counselors Ned, Alice, Brenda, and Bill—have only just arrived at Camp Crystal Lake. Summer camp doesn’t begin for another two weeks, but the six are required early to clean up the dilapidated site in preparation. Camp Crystal Lake has been all but abandoned for over ten years. Rumor has it that “Camp Blood”—as the locals refer to it—is cursed. First, in 1957, a little boy drowned—the hormonal teenage camp counselors, busy taking advantage of their unsupervised time together, failed to keep a close eye on him—and then, in 1958, two counselors were mysteriously killed. One businessman attempted to revive the camp in 1962, dumping $25,000 into its restoration, but his restoration ultimately failed because “the water was bad” (another hint at a troubled subconscious).
The current counselors, for their part, remain undiscouraged, despite the camp’s seedy history—if less than enthused about the daunting task of restoring the grounds. Alice (Adrienne King) is the most hardworking of the bunch, hammering gutters back into place, hauling paint out to the peeling docks, and cleaning with vigor. Nonetheless, the new owner of the camp, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) notices her unease. “This really isn’t your cup of tea, is it?” he asks. She agrees, telling him that she might just head back to California. He convinces her to stay the week and give the job a chance and she reluctantly assents.
It becomes apparent early on that Alice will be our Final Girl, the Scream Queen to endure the gore and despair of the film’s final moments. To understand why, we need only to refer to Carol J. Clover’s examination of the Final Girl in Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992). Clover’s Final Girl, though gendered female, is coded masculine and stringently morally upright, much like the classical hero. Alice exemplifies both: she has short hair, is tall and angular, and dresses androgynously in a button-down and slacks—a uniform noticeably different from Marcie’s bright babydoll tee and Brenda’s (Laurie Bartram) shorts and crop top. She is the most dedicated to the job at hand, despite her admitted ambivalence about her position as camp counselor. Significantly, she is also the only girl in the bunch who does not sexually transgress in some way—besides poor Annie, who is killed off before she even reaches the campground—and is attentive to both staying on task and the other counselors’ safety. (For the part of the men, the only one to flirt with her is Steve, suggesting that she is different—perhaps more mature, beyond the fantasies of boys and worthy of the attention of adult men.) In the end, the masculine signifiers that characterize Alice will lend her the capability to save herself without male assistance.
As for Annie (Robbi Morgan)—the aforementioned first victim—she symbolizes something completely opposite from Alice, yet also quite different from the ultra-feminine and naïve Marcie and Brenda. Annie is the first counselor that the spectator is introduced to. When the film opens, she is wandering around town outside of Camp Crystal Lake, searching for a ride to the campground. Her request is, for the most part, met with stubborn silence, until Enos (Rex Everhart), a gruff local, agrees to take her—but only halfway. The two leave to walk to his truck, only to be interrupted by “Crazy Ralph” (Walt Gorney), a mentally ill local who trumpets Camp Crystal Lake’s legacy: “YOU’RE GOING TO CAMP BLOOD, AIN’T YUH?” he shouts. “YOU’LL NEVER COME BACK AGAIN! … IT’S GOT A DEATH CURSE!”
Annie is quick to brush him off—and Enos seems to, as well, until later, in the car, he recounts the camp’s history to Annie, hoping to dissuade her from going. “Quit,” he says bluntly. Annie glibly refuses. She insists that she wants to inspire the campers, most of whom are “inner-city,” and that helping children—she announces that she doesn’t refer to them as “kids,” as it “makes them sound like goats,” a humorous example of the tendency of the young activist to miss the big picture in favor of minute details—is her dream. Annie’s conviction that she is acting selflessly by maintaining her (paid) position as the camp’s cook evidences a youthful narcissism that is punished in many forms in horror. For example, consider the student activists in Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO (2013), butchered by the natives that they deigned to “help.” Of course, the viewer knows that the students are acting out of self-interest—a motivation that is not lost on the tribe that holds them captive in the film. Similarly, Annie’s refusal to quit the job at Camp Crystal Lake brings on her demise. Annie’s death could be read, if cynically, as a discouragement of idealism and activism, broadly—not a far cry from what was occurring off-screen in the beginning of the ‘80s, the hallmark decade of Reagan-era backlash.
What astounds me the most about FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) is that the film has been so widely dismissed critically, yet it is written with such depth and nuance. Don’t be fooled by the superficial thrill of following the killer through Camp Crystal Lake, quietly eliminating teen after teen … FRIDAY THE 13TH is a cinematic triumph. The breathtaking establishing shots of the lake, forest, and rows of log cabins—each scene poignantly filled with the diegetic noise of birds calling—paints a picture of absolute wilderness, terrifying when, as the film goes on, the viewer comes to understand that the wilderness and Voorhees are one and the same. The isolation of the counselors that these shots additionally establish is even further astounding when one views the film today, in the ‘10s—these youths lack not only civilization, but also the technology of cell phones, Wi-Fi, and Google Maps. Even short of meaning, the aesthetic tension between the extreme beauty of the scenery and the ugliness of the massacre is deeply affecting, as are the musical swells of both the film’s famous theme and the orchestral music in the famous penultimate scene (hint: you’ll know it’s coming when our heroine is finally safe and June 14th dawns). The chilling final scenes of the films leave me with goosebumps every time—but you have to see the film to understand. Some things transcend typed words on a backlit screen and must simply be felt—like lake water lapping around one’s toes.