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A Comprehensive Look at “Friday the 13th”

Friday the 13th
Year: 1980
Genre: Horror
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Stars: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon

The month of July, 2012 brings us a Friday the 13th.  In observation of this, each Friday in July I will be presenting an in-depth look at the history and details of a different film in the popular Friday the 13th franchise.  This is a series that has been a huge part of my life since I was a child.  I normally end up watching all of these films two or three times a year and have done so for the bast 20 years.  In addition I’ve watched hours of documentaries, dozens of interviews with people associated with the franchise, footage from conventions where the cast and crew of these films have been on panels, I’ve listened to different commentary tracks on all of these films – the wikipedia page and the imdb triva page for any Friday the 13th film is amateur stuff.  So here begins a comprehensive look at the first and historic film Friday the 13th

The Production

friday 1In 1979 Sean S. Cunningham called screenwriter Victor Miller, whom he worked with on previous occasions to say:

“Halloween is making a lot of money.  Let’s rip it off.”   \

Victor Miller has said on at least two occasions (a 2008 convention panel and a featurette on the 2009 “Friday the 13th Uncut Ultimate Edition” DVD) that these were Sean S. Cunningham’s exact words.  “That’s a direct quote,” he says, “Halloween’s made a lot of money, let’s rip it off.”  Victor Miller had never written a horror film before so he went to see Halloween to pick up on the formula.  Of this he said:

Basically you start with a prior evil that starts before the movie opens.  You have a bunch of randy teenagers who are outside the help of formal authority.  Adults cannot come and save their asses.  And you knock them off one by one, especially the ones who fornicate.  At the end the evil genius is found.”

Miller immediately began work on a script entitled “Long Night at Camp Blood.”  Inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and the films of mario Bava, Cunningham wanted this to be a movie that would make people jump out of their seats, a “real horror movie” and “a roller-coaster ride.”  Standing by his original title of Friday the 13th.  In order to secure this title and prevent any lawsuits, one of the first things he did was publish this advertisement in Variety.

With a total budge of about $550,000, filiming commenced in September of 1979 around the townships of Blairstown and Hope, New Jersey with the majority of the shoot taking place at a working Boy Scout camp, Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco.  (As an interesting little side note, this camp is still in operation today and actually has a wall of Friday the 13th related material.)  As this camp provided most of the necessary locations, the only set that needed to be built was the bathroom.  The events of the film unfold on Friday, June 13th, 1980 which is accurate – June 13th did indeed fall on a Friday in 1980.  As the production was being filmed in the autumn, however, a lot of the leaves had already changed color for the season.  A lot of the crew’s job consisted of tying back branches full of yellow leaves in order to still give the appearance of summertime.  Though the weather was often cold and the water in the lake usually colder, actors still did their best to create the impression that this was indeed a warm summer.

The Characters

friday 2-Barry (Willie Adams) and Claudette (Debra S. Hayes)
These are the first two camp counselors who, in the film’s prologue, sneak off to fool around only to be murdered by our faceless killer.  Willie Adams actually servered as a production assistant during shooting and spend a lot of time behind the camera.  He was asked to play this small role and quickly agreed, now holding the special distinction of being the first person ever killed in the whole Friday the 13th franchise.  Claudette’s death is not shown on screen.  The image freezes on her screaming as the movie slams into the opening credits.  It was rumored for the longest time that Claudette’s murder was filmed and still existed as a deleted scene.  This was based upon the fact that there was a promtional image for the movie showing the character with a machete in her throat.  Make-up and effects artist Tom Savini has stated before that he never worked on the opening sequence and several other members of the crew have stated that no such scene was ever filmed.

friday 3– Annie (Robbi Morgan)
This is the pleasant and ultimately unfortunate hitchiker whom the audience follows for the first portion of the film.  Victor Miller states on the commentary track for the 2009 DVD release that it was his subtle intention to follow in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock’s *Psycho by making it seem that Annie was the film’s main protaganist only to kill her off partway through.  This is why there is slightly more character development given to her as well as following her story a bit more than others.  Interestingly, on the same 2009 DVD release, there is a featurette where Robbi Morgan talks about the pride she takes in being the first victim in the Friday the 13th series:

“Being the first one killed, in Friday the 13th part one it’s quite a lot to have that in my back pocket… They look at me differently.  All of the sudden they go ‘OH’ like their in the presence of somebody like… royalty.”

Not to intentionally spite her pride over this, but she’s not the first person killed, she’s the third after the two murders in the prologue.

friday 4-Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney)
The wacky old man in town who utters his warnings of “your all doomed” who would become a cliche staple of the genre.  This character, along with our heroine Alice, is one of the few to make an appearance in Friday the 13th Part 2.  In Victor Miller’s original draft of the script this character was named Ralph Ratcatcher and was supposed to be carrying around a bunch of dead rats.

Upon watching this film again recently I have noticed one thing that has always irked me about Ralph.  When Annie arrives in town she asks “How far is it to Camp Crystal Lake.”  The woman at the diner says; “About 20 miles.”  After the brief meeting with Crazy Ralph, Annie gets a ride towards the camp while Ralph gets on his bike traveling the opposite direction.  Somehow Ralph shows up at the camp only an hour or so later.  I have a hard time believing that Ralph is some sort of Olympic cyclist that made it 20 miles in such a short span of time.

friday 5– Ned (Mark Nelson)
The goofy clown guy that’s actually pretty irritating.  One does have to feel sorry for the actor, running around in one scene in his underwear knowing that it’s pretty cold outside when they were filming this.  His character is murdered offscreen and is only shown later with his throat slit.

There is one scne with Ned I dd want to discuss.  One of the other characters is setting up an archery range and Ned fires an arrow at the target, startling her.  First of all, it was actually Tom Savini who fired that arrow – Sean Cunningham suggested this because he’d seen Savini and another crew member shooting boxes out of each other’s hands with deadly accuracy all throughout the film shoot.  Second, this quick, startling moment would be an ideal place for a musical stinger but there isn’t one.  Composer Harry Manfredini has stated that it was Cunningham’s decision to only have music play when the killer is present so as not to unnecessarily manipulate the audience.  Therefore, since its Ned and not the killer who fires this arrow there is no music.

friday 6– Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor)
The characters in this film to have sex.  Prior to this she has a brief monlogue about a dream she had the night before where it was raining blood.  While auditions were being held and the script was going through it’s final rewrites this monologue was the piece used for most of the auditions and screen tests.

One of the more interesting effects in this film is when Jack is murdered when an arrow is plunged through the bed and into his throat.  One can see that there are bubbles in the blood that flows out – this is because Tom Savini had to blow air through a tube to create this effect – the bubbles weren’t intended but there was very little choice but to keep them anyway.

friday 7

friday 8Brenda (Lorrie Bartram)
This is the character who conceives the memorable game of “strip monopoly.”  Now, the rules of strip monopoly are that whenever somebody lands on a property and has to pay rent, they remove an article of clothing.  Somehow this game has gone on long enough to where Brenda has built up hotels but not a whole lot of clothing has been removed.

Her death is an interesting one to note.  After the rather dull scene of her in the bathroom talking to herself in the mirror, Brenda wanders through the rain when she hears a childlike voice shouting “Help me” and ends up at the archery range when the lights turn on.  We don’t see anything happen to her as the scene cuts away immediately and we hear her scream.  Later, during the climax of the film, her body is thrown through a window (actually it’s Tom Savini in a wig).  She writhes around for a little bit so I suppose this we do get to see her death onscreen after all.

Bill (Harry Cosby)
The name is not just a similarity, this actor really is the son of actor Bing Crosby. On working with Harry Crosby, Tom Savini had this to say:

“Harry Crosby… He latched onto us – cause we were doing stunts and we were physical… He got hurt one day.  He fell on his tailbone and hurt it pretty bad just flying backwards when we faked a punch at him and just hit a rock.  But he hung out with us and he was great.  He’d sit in the backseat of the car and just play guitar all day as we drove from location to location.  He’s Harry Crosby so we surely questioned him on what the relationship was and what Bing was like… We had to do some hideous stuff to Harry – the whole arrow in the head bit, and he loved it all.”

He is found during the film’s climax hanging from a door with arrows protruding from his body.  If one pays enough attention they can see his eyes twitching during this as the make-up Savini used to create this effect irritated Harry’s eyes.

friday 9Alice Hardy (Adrienne King)
The lucky survivor of that long night at Camp Blood.  Adrienne King has said that it was her scream that got her the part as the audition process consisted of lots and lots of screaming.  Contrary to popular belief, the character of Alice is not an innocent virgin.  She clearly has had a sexual relationship with the camp owner, Steve Christy and she openly flirts with Bill.  While the cliche is that the virgin girl is the one that survives, Alice makes it through the night because she is both lucky and resourceful.  Steve Miner, associate producer on this film and the director of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3 had this to say about the character of Alice:

 “Alice was a very special character: she was the hero of the first film and indestructible in a way.”

Alice is also something of an artist.  She draws a picture of Steve Christy and there’s this little dialogue about it:

Steve: When did you do this?
Alice: Last night.
Steve: Do I really look like that?
Alice: You did last night.

In an interesting coincidence, Adrienne King is also an artist – a painter to be exact.

friday 10Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer)
Either the best or worst mother in the world depending upon how you look at it.  She is the killer here, avenging the untimely death of her son Jason.  When the role was first offered to her she didn’t want to take it because she didn’t want to be associated with the horror genre.  However, the pay ($1000 a day for 10 days of shooting) was too good to pass up and, besides, she needed to buy a new car.  Though this is the role she is most remembered for, critics were shocked at her appearance in this film.  Gene Siskel, who gave the film a negative and angry review, pleaded with his audience to write to Betsy Palmer and let them know how ashamed they were that she would do this movie, he even published her home address.  Lucky for her, they got the address wrong.

Betsy has loved this role and loves the adoration shown for her character by fans.  She often makes appearances at conventions to meet fans of the film and talk to them about Pamela Voorhees.  She is the killer but she has a righteous reason for her actions.  She is a passionate actress and if you listen to her contribution to the commentary track of the 2009 DVD she gives Mrs. Voorhees entire backstory.  At a 2008 convention panel, she talks about her reaction upon learning that her son Jason was, in her words, “a mongoloid”:

“That night, when I got back to my hotel room, I said ‘My God, not only all this other stuff she’s had, there is her little boy who is so needy and will always be so needy… This woman has a great cross to bear.  So, when that little boy drowns – I mean, I lost it, I really did, and rightfully so and I tried to keep that camp from opening every year they tried to open it.

For a more comprehensive look at the list of deaths in this movie, I would like to recommend this article on the film  by Kaijinu at Sticky Red: A Bodycount Compendium.

The Ending

friday 11The ending to this film is important to discuss because it plays a significant part in both the whole franchise as well as the horror genre in general.  It remains on several different lists as being one of the scariest moments in cinematic history.  The original script ended with Alice beheading Mrs. Voorhees.  Tom Savini and Sean S. Cunningham both felt that the movie needed a final chair-jumper, like the ending to Carrie.  So this final dream sequence was written.

The scene was deliberately choreographed to provide the most startling effect possible.  The sun rises over the lake, police can be seen on the shore waving at Alice, providing the audience with a sense of safety and conclusion.  Gentle music plays (actually a variation of a previous composition from Manfredini called “Sail Away Tiny Sparrow”).  The scene goes on long enough to convince the audience that nothing is going to happen.  And that’s when Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman) leaps out of the water to assault Alice.  It was Sean Cunningham’s intention to have his son Noel play this role but the boy’s mother, upon learning that this water would be freezing cold at this time of year, refused to let her son partake in the shooting.  Sean instead cast the young Ari Lehman whom he had previously directed in the film Manny’s Orphans.

Manfredini explains the length of the ending best, saying:

“Someone who saw Carrie says ‘Something’s gonna happen.’ And it just keeps getting longer and longer and ‘Something’s gonna happen. Maybe? No, nothing’s gonna happen’  That’s how long we went – we went to the point where everyone, including the Carrie fans gave up on something’s gonna happen and that’s when we hit you.”

At screenings for the film, Victor Miller and Sean S. Cunningham would sit in the front row and slink down then, just before this moment, they would turn around  to watch the audience jump out of their seats at the shock ending.  At this point, Sean would turn to Victor and say “I got ’em!  Did you see that?!  I got ’em all!”

It is important to note that this is a dream sequence, was always meant to be a dream sequence.

friday 12Friday the 13th was one of the top-grossing films of 1980 earning nearly $40 million plus an additional $20 million in international box office receipts.  Critics panned it for being “too violent” and “too gory.”  There is actually only about 40 seconds of gore in the whole movie.  That’s how effective Tom Savini’s make-up and effects are – that 40 seconds of gore is what people remember so vividly about this movie.  The film’s popularity spawned countless sequels, parodies and homages (which I will explore later) and founded a long-standing franchise.

There have been several home video and DVD releases and I won’t begin to count them all.  I will say, however, that the 2009 “Uncut” release is really only worth it for the features.  Yes, the version of the film is an unrated version – but it only contains 10 seconds of additional footage.  A few of the death scenes (Annie, Marice and Jack) had been abbreviated by a few seconds in order to secure an R-rating.

That sums up just about everything about Friday the 13th.  I’ve loved this film from the moment I first saw it (Friday, March 13th, 1992 on USA Network).  I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen this movie since then – all the drinking games I’ve associated with this time, all the great memories of watching it with friends at least twice a year.  It is a classic in the genre and really does need to be seen by everyone who considers themselves a horror fan.  The sequels, while enjoyable for their own reasons, don’t really live up to the originality of this powerful film.  WATCH THIS!!!!

Next week, on Friday, July 13th, I will take a look at the next film in the series.

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats

Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski.
Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.

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