Countdown to Halloween Part 4 – Always Listen to the Town Crazy
Friday the 13th | Directed by Sean S. Cunningham | 1980 | Horror | R | 1 H 35 M
By Jocelyn Illing
One of the most important components of a contemporary slasher flick is its opening sequence. During these first moments we get a feel for the tone the film is going to take, what kinds of characters we are going to be dealing with and, most importantly, the style of horror and murder that the film with portray. You can tell a lot from the first few moments of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. We see young people, innocently singing songs by the fire, the hopelessly in love couple trying to find privacy and, of course, murder. However, the film takes a unique direction when it comes to the killings. Instead of showing the act of murder itself, the camera takes the perspective of the killer, providing the audience with a first-person point-of-view of the terrifying expressions on the victim’s faces. The establishment of the camera as the killer is gives the film its edge, and fosters a deep sense of paranoia and anxiety throughout the film.
Friday the 13th tells the story of a group of young people heading out to a secluded lake to prepare a long-abandoned summer camp for reopening. On the way to the lake one woman, Annie (Robbi Morgan), is warned by a truck driver (Rex Everhart) to turn back, for the camp is cursed as a result from the drowning of a boy there many years ago. She, and the other camp counsellors, dismiss these warnings as they reason that the townspeople are just being overly superstitious. However, after Annie goes missing and the rest of the counsellors settle in, it becomes apparent that there is something truly sinister going on at the campgrounds.
I think the best thing about the film is that it knows what it is and what it is not. To begin, it knows it’s a horror film and does not try to be serious. Unlike a lot of horror films, Friday the 13th also doesn’t rely on the cheap tricks of gore and raunchiness to make the film entertaining. Instead, it relies on the campiness of its characters and the power of the camera to keep the viewer engaged. Rather than an in your face approach to horror, the film chooses instead to allude to acts of violence. A film does not need blood and guts to be scary.
What the film does instead, as mentioned in the introduction, is create an overwhelming sense of anxiety over who’s perspective the camera is taking. After the obvious first-person perspective during the first murder, we cannot help but wonder if the camera will take the same position for the rest of the film. The camera’s voyeuristic stance not only creeps us out because the killer is spying on its victims but also because we assume the same position as the killer, thus making us feel just as villainous. The obvious presence of the camera thus does not call attention to the constructed qualities of the medium, but actually brings us into the world of the film, so that we are not just a viewer but an active participant.
Because of its “tame” direction, in regards to the murders, and experimentation with perspective, I would argue that Friday the 13th is the perfect film for first time slasher-flick viewers. It’s not scary enough to push them away but it’s also entertaining enough to keep them watching. There’s blood, but it’s not too graphic, and there are jump scares, but not too many. If not for the amazing 1970s fashion and the witty banter people the characters, watch it for its climax. It’s sure to not disappoint.