Sunday, June 24, 2012

We Ain't Gonna Stand For No Weirdness Out Here!: Explaining My Love For Friday The 13th (1980)

When I was around twelve, I watched a film that forever changed my life.  No, it wasn't Ordinary People or anything pretentious like that.  It was Friday the 13th.  It was late, I was home alone while the parents were at a church group outing (!), and I was feasting on leftover Chef Boyardee pizza and Nestle Quik.  Why do I remember this so vividly?  Because it changed my life, remember?  Pay attention!

I saw it before Halloween (1978).  And while we're mentioning Halloween, I have never really understood the comparison between the two films. People say F13 is the "poor-man's Halloween" or that F13 was a major copycat of Carpenter's golden child.  I don't get that. Halloween is full of style and excellent direction, whereas Friday is more of a smash em up, flat out slasher flick.  Halloween is unnerving and ominous, Friday is more gory and straightforward.  Michael Myers quietly kills you with a knife, Mrs. Vorhees yells at you, rubs your face in the dirt, shoots an arrow through your eye, and throws you through a window.  Michael is out to get his sister for an unexplained reason, Mrs. Vorhees wants revenge for the death of her son, Jason.  Halloween takes place in a suburban neighborhood, F13 is set at a summer camp.  Michael wears a mask, Mrs. Voorhees just grins and pulls out a big machete. And when Michael gets up and sneaks off after being shot six times, Pamela Voorhees loses her head, literally. The end.
Almost.

While it's true that Friday the 13th may have taken advantage of Halloween's success and tried to emulate it, so did about a hundred other films after it. Maybe it's just because that's the film that happened to be on Showtime that cool November evening, I don't know... But I love it, and will wax poetic about it until the day I die.  I have a phrase I use:  "comfort horror", and while comfort horror is another post altogether, Friday the 13th is one of the films (along with Jaws and Psycho, to name a few) that I throw in when the chips are down (or in my case, up - and I'm wallowing on my couch with an entire bag of Lays plain) and I'm feeling melancholy.  So let's break it down a bit, shall we?  I think the only way to profess my love for the film in any kind of organized manner is by character.

Annie.  Oh Annie.  I'm so damn sorry that you got killed in the first ten minutes.  After the flashback to the past so we could see the whole "kill the helpless victims just as they are getting down to business", we are introduced to Annie, who is backpacking/hitchhiking her way to her job as a cook at Camp Crystal Lake. She stops off at a local restaurant asking for a ride and the entire place looks at her like she has three heads. But ol' Enos will transport her in his truck (after copping a feel helping her into his truck) to edge of town. After Enos drops her off, poor Annie just never had a chance.  She just jumped in that Jeep and it was goodnight nurse.  Guess we should have known when town crazy Ralph got all up in her business, warning her about Camp Blood.  I probably regret the loss of Annie the most because 1) she was nice to the dog at the gas pumps, and 2) she was the cook, dammit.  They could have been feasting on BBQ chicken instead of crappy burgers and bad coffee.

Steve. You're creepy, Steve.  Something about your bandana-sporting 'I've been listening to a lot of Grateful Dead lately'-look makes me squirm.  First thing out you're all bossy: "Come and help me push over this dead tree stump! Now!" When you should be making the introductions and thanking the other counselors for coming, instead you bitch about getting the place into shape that afternoon!  This is besides the unpleasant episode with Steve and Alice and him touching her face all skeevy-like.  Then he just freaking leaves the newbies and goes off to "get supplies". Not very fond of Steve, truth be told.

Though he did leave Sandy the waitress with the giant 80's eyeglasses a really nice tip!  Here's a tip for you, Steve...don't try to refurbish a "doomed" campground, okay? And by the way, Sandy - perhaps you need to take your uniform size up a notch, don't you think? Those puppies are busting at the seams....

Crazy Ralph.  I love your moxie. You always were facing an uphill battle, weren't you - trying to convince people that Camp Crystal Lake has a "death curse".  Why don't more people take the advice of their local doomsday messiah?  I don't get it.  He told you people, flat out, that you're all going to die.  And guess what? We have a bingo!  Though I'm not a fan of someone hiding in my pantry and jumping out at me, you meant well. I know that.  If only the counselors would have listened to your bike-riding, Freddy Kreuger-hat-wearing soothsayer ass. 

Brenda. Dear Brenda, why'd you have to go and wear those red mom-shorts?  I guess I can forgive you, but it wasn't easy when you slipped on that granny gown to sleep in.  I bet you were reading Valley of the Dolls, weren't you?  And if Ned had shot an arrow that close to my person I would have pounded the shit out of him but you just laughed.  You are completely and utterly forgiven though, because you play strip Monopoly.  That puts you in the eternal cool book.  That, and that sexy green slicker. But come to think of it, why did you venture outside in a thunderstorm in your granny gown to investigate the 'help me' screams when you owned a slicker? Smooth move, Ex-Lax.

Ned.  Comic relief Ned.  In other words, ain't no way Neddy's getting laid. Kind of a goof, but not as much of an asshole as most jerk-off funny guys in horror (i.e. Shelly from F13 Part 3 - Gah!!).  Ned's best moment came when he was bouncing around the yard wearing an Indian chief's head-dress and making "fake Indian whoops" in front of the local yokel cop (who incidentally provided the title of this post!). Later, Ned does what stupid characters do best: wander off alone to explore and end up dead.

Bill:  Now Bill is the token hottie, I assume.  Considering his dark wavy hair, rad guitar playing, and super-hunky flannel shirts, he's the man you want fixing your generator any old day of the week.  He's "the smart one" too, at least until he goes off to check on said generator alone.  But hey, he was already last man standing at that point.  And we all know, there's hardly ever a final guy, right? (Mostly because most men aren't virgins and those that are are like Part 3 Shelly!)  Additionally, while Deadhead Steve was the one hitting on Alice at every opportunity, Bill is the guy Alice wanted to get hot and heavy with, I think.  Alas, she had every chance to do so though, waited too long....and Bill ended up strung up on the back of a door with arrows mussing up his flannel.  I've decided: I mourn beer-guzzling Bill most of all.

Jack:  Bedding Marcie was always Jack's top priority.  Seems to me they were only at the camp to sneak off and have sex anyway, so they were bound to get offed quickly. Jack and Marcie stow away in the bunkhouse during a thunderstorm and make mad, passionate love in a stinky old twin bunk, then when she leaves to tinkle, he burns a quick doobie.  Strike two.  First you had sex, then you did drugs.  What's next? In any event, he was doomed.  At least he was able to take a few hits off that joint to lessen the pain of that arrow through his trachea.  Thanks to Ned, by the way, for being all dead and bloody in the top bunk the entire time Jack got his rocks off.

Marcie: The other half of the token sex-crazed couple, Marcie made some grievous errors, with the biggest one coming at her post-coitus trip to the bathroom.  Though she gets props for figuring out that the water was turned off in the sink and making that quick fix, she loses all contention when she hears a strange noise and goes to investigate the shower stalls.  My first thought with Marcie was, why the hell didn't you just step right outside the door of the bunkhouse to pee?  Your man has already seen it all anyway, and it was raining to beat the band - all your urine would have washed away in little rivers (like the blood in your dreams, dearie). But no...she treks to the showers and shazam!  Hatchet to the skull. Admittedly, it was my favorite death scene in the film.

Mrs. Voorhees: Oh Pamela, you were such a surprise! You're a tough bitch, I'll give you that.  And strong, too! I love how you were able to pick up those dead bodies and strategically position them to fall out of cars, trees and through windows. Very impressive.  How did you get Ned to climb into that top bunk before you slit his throat?  And heaving Brenda through that window, after dragging her all the way from the archery range?  Damn!  Besides having mad driving skills (and great taste in vehicles!), you know what revenge is all about.  I am blown away by your vengeful aptitude.  My only question is: where was Jason's daddy when all this negligence and drowning was happening?  Or maybe that's what really triggered all this rage.  Were you robbing the cradle with one of the young stud camp counselors all those years ago?  And for the love of all things good and sacred, why the hell would you take a job at a camp with a LAKE if Jason "wasn't a very good swimmer"? Perhaps you should have taken him to the Y for a few lessons, eh?  In any event, you were amazing as a crazed killer...that is until you lost your head.

"then he's still there...."
Alice. Sweet Alice.  Alice who rebuffed Steve yet tried to get Bill to fancy her. Alice who is able to hang a gutter with just one nail! Alice who rocks boots and mom-jeans like nobody's business. Alice who tried using MacGyver tricks to secure the cabin door.  Alice who enjoys relaxing by the fire while listening to some romantic guitar. Alice who is actually able to take a nap while Bill goes to investigate the power outage after they've found a bloody ax in one of the beds. Okay. All kidding aside, Alice is a fun final girl. NOT as awesome as Ginny in Part 2 (to which all other final girls are judged in my horror world)  She's tactful (because she lies to Steve about "maybe having to go back to California to take care of some things" - because white lies are better than hurting someone) and resourceful (most girls just hide in the corner and wait for the ax to fall - instead she tries rigging up the place and actually is prepared to use a gun if she can find bullets) and in the end, she was pretty damn good with a machete, right?  And best of all, when she says water it rhymes with goiter instead of daughter.  Well done, you.  See you in Part 2.  For a while...

Jason: Really all our little tyke gets to do here in Part 1 is hurl himself out of the water and scare the ever-lovin' hell out of everyone.  The first time I saw that scene I have to admit I almost pissed my pants.  It truly is one of the best jump scares ever, am I right?  Can anyone forget how they felt the first time that canoe-heavy scene?  You're thinking everything is going to be fine.  The cops have arrived, Alice is safe, all is well.  And then whammo!  I love that.  For a long time after the first time I saw that film, that particular scene haunted me when I closed my eyes to go to sleep at night.  That, to me, is the sign of a memorable horror film. When you just can't stop thinking about it.  So thanks for that, Jason.

None of these characters are that astoundingly interesting.  None of them are as cool as Lynda in Halloween or as complex as Norman Bates.  The film itself isn't ingenious or witty, or even terribly original. (After all, films had been slicing and dicing long before 1980).  But there is something about it that pushes my buttons. I believe it has to do with it being the first slasher film I saw. And the time period in my life in which I watched it.  Things start to change for kids at that age, and I don't just mean physiologically.  I mean it made an impression on my mind set.  It crawled up inside me and said "you LIKE this, don't you? You like to be scared shitless and feel helpless, don't you?

And yes, yes I do.  While I have seen countless better films over the years, Friday the 13th is a film that transcends all logical thought processes for me.  No, I shouldn't be so fond of it - the production value is for shit, the characters are fairly trite, and it has none of the style that films like Halloween and Suspiria have. But goddammit I love it.  It means something to me, and I will defend it until the day I get an ax through the head in my shower stall.  I'll love it and respect it for the place it has in my heart.

So there, haters.

3 comments:

Digital Orc said...

Very fun review. Well done! I'm looking forward to more like this.

As a relatively new member, I guess it's time to start reading through your backlog. Any particular suggestions?

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks very much for the kind words!
I have over four years of "backlog" and wow, wouldn't have any idea where to tell you to start. Though my lists from last October seem to get a lot of hits. I also have a post where I poke fun (in the most loving way) at Pet Sematary... gosh, there's way too much to even start to suggest. There are things on here that I forgot I wrote!!
Thanks again for stopping by!

J ROCK said...

Perfect comment. Couldn't have said it better myself. Kudos!