Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), Director: Sean S. Cunningham.

Can it really be nearly thirty years since the seminal stalk-and-slash/mad slasher film debuted in movie theaters [a remake has just opened]. One studio executive said he didn't worry about the reviews the film might get because, to paraphrase, the people who go to see movies like this can't even read. Well ... not quite.

Actually this story of a summer camp beset by a series of murders of counselors and others isn't exactly Psycho, but on its own terms it isn't at all bad. There are moments of real suspense, some genuine shocks and surprises, and a consistently rich and eerie atmosphere [largely due to very well-chosen locations]. The cast is professional, with a lot of appealing young people as the counselors, and a host of flavorful if unknown character actors as the older townspeople. Betsy Palmer probably has the most distinctive role of her career as Mrs. Voorhees (she's good, too), whose son Jason drowned in the lake twenty-three years earlier. [In subsequent films, the supernaturally evil Jason would turn out to be alive.] Admittedly, there are times when the film threatens to turn into a burlesque, especially when the heroine keeps popping into one corpse after another near the end, but mostly the tone is horrific. It's a monumental understatement to say that the film's composer Harry Manfredini is a far cry from Bernard Herrmann, but his score is nevertheless effective.

Despite the movie's popularity and fame, appearing in it didn't do much good for most of the cast, with the exceptions of Mark Nelson (Ned), who went on to other appearances, and of course Kevin Bacon, who's had for the most part a high-profile career. Some cast members made no other movies, and heroine Alice (Adrienne King) subsequently did only voice-over work. The curse of Jason Voorhees?

Verdict: Heavens to Betsy! ***.

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