October Horrorshow: Friday the 13th

There’s bad cinema, and then there’s bad cinema. Some movies are just unwatchable, displaying a profound lack of skill on the part of the filmmakers. There is nothing to them, not even the satisfaction of shock value. Take, for example, something like Theodore Rex, a film I wrote about last year. That movie was pathetic, with no redeeming qualities at all. It was even uncomfortably racist. But, had the title lizard gone on a murderous rampage, the filmmakers may have had something. Imagine that, a film so bad that it elevates grisly murder to the level of ‘redeeming quality’. Truly, a film that must be seen to be believed.

Because of Friday the 13th, when I think of summer camp, I think of blood. Swimming in the lake, singing campfire songs, roasting marshmallows, we’ve done that, but when I was at camp, I’d lay there on the bunk after lights out and dream of a sickly murderous and unstoppable killing machine terrorizing the camp. Yeah, that’s weird, but that’s what happens when a twelve-year-old kid catches a fetish for slasher flicks. There’s no accounting for taste in the young, after all.

Friday the 13th hit theaters in 1980 and found huge success. Built off of the success of such predecessors as Halloween and The Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th traded in sophistication for violence, character development for body counts. Made on the cheap, it’s still raking in dough almost thirty years later.

Most of us, by this point, know the deal. Horny teenagers descend on summer camp, trouble ensues. The formula is so simplistic and bizarrely moralistic that it has been remade and ripped off countless times, including ten more times within this franchise alone. But, we only have ourselves to blame. If we didn’t get our jollies from watching films like this, and shoveling money at the filmmakers, then the genre would quietly disappear from popular culture. As it is, there must be a sickness to explain why we seek out the cheap thrills of horror films. It can’t be because we like fear. Fear does not feel good. And fear is misused in cinema, for crying out loud. Don’t people know that we should only be fearful when politicians tell us to be? Being fearful during a movie is wasting valuable emotion that could be used by our betters to manipulate us. But I digress.

Of course fake fear is fun. It’s fright without the consequences. We get to watch pretty people get chopped up on screen and thank the lord that it’s not us. We get to watch them and ridicule their poor decision making. We know what’s around the corner, at the top of the darkened stairway, hiding in the closet in the bedroom. And in the theater, or at home, we’re safe. So are the actors. After all, it ain’t real. So there’s a feather in our cap, America. We like snuff films, but not ones where people actually die.

But is Friday the 13th worth watching? Well, that depends. It’s a bad movie. But it never tried to be a good movie. There’s no trickery in its intentions, nor is it a failed effort. It’s a simple film about murder. It doesn’t try for realism or weight. The intention is to startle and frighten. In 1980, it did the job well. If one has seen more horror films than they can remember, especially in the ensuing decades since as the art of special effects continued to progress, it may seem, well, quaint. Friday the 13th is as predictable today as horror films from the 50s were when it was made.

Friday the 13th has crossed over into the realm of cinematic history. It is more a museum piece now, nestled near the back of the horror wing, next to the fire exit. If it had found no success, it would be just another b-movie. But since it raked in the bucks, it launched a powerful brand name. The good news is, once a person has seen it, there is no reason to ever see it again.

There’s one moment in the film I’ll always remember, though. That’s when Kevin Bacon is lying on a bunk and gets an arrow shoved up through the nape of his neck. I’m tempted to say that was my favorite death in the movie, because, well, it’s Kevin Bacon getting wasted. But it’s not. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Annie (Robbi Morgan) get hers. Her acting was so bad, so awful, that her death couldn’t have come soon enough. I hate, hate, hate her character. Had I been in the film, I would have killed her myself and saved Mrs. Voorhees the trouble. Seriously, I would have. She needed to die.

Friday the 13th is a worse film than Alien: Resurrection but, paradoxically, it should be viewed while Alien: Resurrection should be avoided at all costs. Why? Because Friday the 13th is a classic slasher flick, and if you like the genre, it’s a must-see. That being said, this verdict was close, because of Robbi Morgan. Never again, Hollywood. Never again.