Friday, January 13, 2012

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) - ironically the definitive camping movie



You should already be familiar with the movie, so I'm not going to post the trailer. Instead, here's the Angry Video Game Nerd's take on the Friday the 13th NES game, which I of course own, because I am a loser.

If Halloween is the story of an evil force infiltrating the suburbs, Friday the 13th substitutes a town setting for a rural one. The film is correspondingly raw and rustic, while maintaining the stripped down structure of John Carpenter’s earlier film. There is something primal about being in the woods and suddenly feeling as if a stranger is stalking you from afar.

The sleek steadicam point of view shots in Halloween, stealthily intruding in on the space of the characters, is replaced here by a hand held point-of-view camera that is vague in its approach. It doesn’t stalk with efficiency, but rather, wanders and lurks, its location and purpose not clearly defined. This lends itself more to an atmosphere of menace, rather than being strictly suspenseful.

The other big difference between the two films are the scores. Where as Halloween has a very effective, stark keyboard score, Harry Manfredini’s score here reworks Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score, adding his own creepy, avant garde sounds. While the “kill, kill” vocal sounds are far more well known, the other sounds (keyboard bits, screeching violins and cellos, etc.) are effective and distinctive. The stalking sequences rely heavily on the Psycho score blueprint, but the rest is tantamount in creating the atmosphere of an unforgivingly brutal, natural landscape, where death may only be a moment away. I would rank it as one of the most effective scores in film history, in terms of what it add to the film. Without it, much of the film would be lifeless, reduced to young people standing around talking with the occasional cutaway to a shot of trees.

The later sequels attempted to be more dependent on suspense than atmosphere (I did say "attempted"). The body counts also increased, as well as the novelty factor (not to mention the trash factor). Of course, Jason’s mother is the killer here, and Jason starts up in part 2 (minus a twist-ending detour in part 5). I’m not going to go through and talk about every film in the series, listing everyone that Jason hacks into schmuck fillet, as it would get redundant and boring real quick. I’ll just add that I only consider the first eight made at Paramount to be the real series, and view it as a single twelve hour epic, sort of a longer version of Shoah with a much smaller body count.



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My parents took me to see Cronenberg’s The Fly at a drive-in when I was six years old. While I’m currently a big Cronenberg fan, back then I became quickly bored with the initial drama and characterization, having expected to see a film with a fly monster running around ripping people’s limbs off. I told my mom I was going to the official drive-in playground, but looped around to check out what I really wanted to see all along: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. After all, I had to see where this saga was headed, having already seen parts 1-4 through the magic of illegal cable. I just stood next to a car speaker, and soon I was watching Jason decapitate three people with one machete swipe. I was royally stoked. Later, Alice Cooper would close out the show with the song “Man Behind the Mask”, a synth laden tribute to the big fella. This song would also show up on the Constrictor album, along with:

A. a song about Jason Voorhees
B. a song about someone attempting to bang schoolgirls
C. a song about some mongoloid loser (not Jason, but some other asshole)
D. a song about evolution
E. a song about banging whores (presumably no longer in school)
F. a love ballad where Coop proclaims that a girl has “grabbed his heart by the throat”

Yes, the man is a fucking genius. Oh yeah, his guitar player on the album (Kane Roberts) played a machine gun guitar. Fucking genius.



Anyway, I was in the ideal situation to enjoy these films. I believed that the victims were three-dimensional human beings, didn’t notice that the scripts were borderline retarded, and didn’t think to deconstruct them in terms of forms and clich├ęs and genres. These were real people I could identify with (at least in a visceral sense), in settings I could identify with, having frequently gone camping as a child. I joined them in their feeble attempt to escape a brutal, unstoppable force, whilst being enveloped by the unforgiving maw of nature.

2 comments:

  1. This was one of the first scary movies that I ever saw and it's always stuck with me, even if the ending and/or transition to Jason being the killer doesn't make a lick of sense.
    This movie was filmed in in Blairstown, NJ, which isn't too far from where I grew up. Local pride!

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    1. Welcome! I deactivated the code thingy, so comments should be easier to post. Yeah, I was I think 5 when I saw my first Friday the 13th on cable (I don't remember which one I saw first though). That's pretty young, to say the least, so it certainly left an impression.

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