If I’m ever out fishing or camping and hear those strains, forget calling the park ranger. Notify the SWAT team or the National Guard as Crystal Lake’s most famous son is in the vicinity.
But it’s mom who gets top billing over her netminder butcher of an offspring in the first Friday the 13th.
In 1950s rural New Jersey at fictional Crystal Lake, two camp councillors bail while hearing that fireside staple for guitar beginners, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” That would have me beating a hasty retreat as well, even if I wasn’t in the company of a beautiful woman.
The amorous duo is set upon by an unseen POV killer, ironically, in that since then no horror film has become more associated with its very seen protagonist.
Fast forward a few decades and creepy locals like “the town crazy, Ralph” now call the place Camp Blood and say that it’s cursed.
But that doesn’t stop an intrepid group of camp councillors from going there. And they have a penchant for jean shorts and frolicking, and councillor “Ned” does Humphrey Bogart impressions: “You know, you’re beautiful when you’re angry, sweetheart” (with the latter said like “sha-weet-heart”).
Now, Casablanca this is not and we can’t see how impressions of Bogie would impress the fair sex in any recent decade. Anyway, for better or for worse Friday the 13th contains every single staple of what we’ve come to associate with 80s horror:
-A local legend
-un-PC language/sentiments (“I told you to sit on it, Tonto!”)
-Vehicles that don’t start
-High body counts
Friday the 13th throws a wrench into the proceedings by having a doting mother murderer rather than a woebegone mommy-obsessive a la Maniac. Her beef is with indifferent camp councillors, whose duty dereliction results in her “sweet innocent Jason, her only child” drowning in the placid waters of Crystal Lake.
The series really didn’t get rolling until Part II but one thing horror directors can learn from it: Silence is golden. The soundtrack is among the most memorable in horror history but it’s not overused. Composer Harry Manfredini puts it thusly:
Sometimes the fact that there’s no music can be stronger than when there is. Two more things about this movie: watch when something is about to happen. The music will always cut out, just before something happens. When the music stops, that’s when something’s about to happen. Because you want to get the audience to relax…
In addition to the terrific music, there are some great kills. “Annie” (Robbie Morgan Walberg) gets an axe between the eyes and as a bonus there’s a young Kevin Bacon who gets an arrow through the neck courtesy of special effects maverick Tom Savini. A game of “strip monopoly” unfortunately never gets off the ground (“instead of paying rent, you pay clothes”) and there’s even a nod to Katherine Hepburn to go along with Bogie.
***1/2 (out of 5)