As I finish watching the original Friday the 13th on Netflix, I’m amazed at how well the movie has held up since being released back in 1980. Often overshadowed by other slasher films, and cheapened by the horrible follow-ups, the original is far more then just a simple slasher flick.
Not only is it a slasher flick, it’s also a peek into the lifestyle of young people in that era as well as a psychological look at grief that has manifested itself in homicidal ways. The credit for this goes to screen-writer Victor Miller, a writer unfamiliar with the horror movie genre .. in fact, he admits to watching Halloween, a classic horror movie, in order to get familiar with the genre. Not only does he prove to be an excellent student, but he also manages to put his own stamp on the format. It should be noted that he eventually did become a writer for soap operas in the 1980s and thereafter. Watching the movie, you can see elements of that in the motivations of the killer and the surprising amounts of character development for most of the camp counselors considering the 90 minute or so running time of the movie.
What makes this movie stand out are the motivations of the killer. Instead of a menacing figure, the killer appears as a nurturing middle aged woman. She isn’t killing people because she’s evil, but because of the intense grief she feels at the death of her small son many years before-hand. The movie mentions she was working at the camp when her small son drowns in the lake.. and you can reason that grief plus guilt over not being able to save her son eventually drove herself to murderous methods. Unable to deal with her guilt, unfounded as it may be, she places the blame on the camp counselors that were suppose to watch her son and were too busy having fun to rescue him. So in a very misguided way, she murders and causes fires to prevent other children from suffering the same fate as her darling only child. It is as if she’s making it up to her son for not being able to rescue him, even though she wasn’t to blame for his death.. of course, this had happened in the 1950s.. so she could have been influenced by societal mores and norms of the time.
Another interesting element that I’d mentioned before was that the camp counselors are actually fleshed out a little bit before the assembly line of death begins. In fact, if this wasn’t a horror movie.. I would have loved more focus on what was going on between the camp owner and one of the camp counselors that led her to consider quitting. There are also scenes of the counselors having fun, bonding, and getting involved in typical camp counselor hijinks including a game of strip Monopoly. To me, these scenes are very important because it enhances realism and makes the viewer care about these characters.. so when they are killed, the viewer cares.
Lastly, one of the most famous scenes of the original was the surprise appearance of little Jason. He literally pops out from the bottom of the lake and pulls the lone surviving counselor under the lake with him only for the survivor to wake up in the hospital bed. Had no follow-ups been made, you could conclude that little Jason really hadn’t pulled her into the lake.. that it was just survivors guilt manifesting itself in a horrible dream… maybe 🙂
So in conclusion, on the surface, this is a slasher film but it’s so much more then that when you peel away that outer layer. Had it just been a slasher film, it wouldn’t be considered a horror movie classic in its own right.
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