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Logline: A group of camp counselors are stalked by a mysterious killer.

In 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween established the slasher subgenre and proved that a low-budget film about a serial killer stalking teenagers could make a lot of money.  Many imitators followed in Halloween‘s wake, including Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th.  This slasher flick, which borrows heavily from Halloween, became an instant success and earned over $39 million at the box office.  It was followed by nine sequels, a crossover film with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and a reboot.

The Friday the 13th franchise is most associated with the hockey mask-wearing Jason Vorhees.  However, in the first film, Jason’s mother, Pamela Vorhees is the killer.  Jason was the victim of a drowning decades earlier, motivating Mrs. Vorhees to kill the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, whom she holds responsible.  In the sequels, Jason is the main antagonist.  I have seen most of the sequels and they are pretty atrocious.  The first Friday the 13th is the only film in the franchise with any merit but even so, it is still a mediocre film at best.  Everything about Friday the 13th feels cheap and uninspired.  At a slim 95 minutes, Friday the 13th drags and both the acting and dialogue are terrible.  The characters are stupid and unsympathetic.

The film does have some things going for it, though.  The makeup effects by Tom Savini are solid and worthy of praise.  The iconic musical score by Harry Manfredini, which borrows heavily from Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho (1960) and John Williams’ score for Jaws (1975), fits the mood perfectly.  There is one scene in the film that I love and it comes at the end.  After Alice’s campy battle with Mrs. Vorhees that ends in decapitation, she inexplicably decides to take a canoe out onto the lake, where she falls asleep.  She awakens the next morning and is unexpectedly attacked by the boy Jason who pulls her underneath the water.  While absurd, this scene is a fun and memorable ending to the film.

Friday the 13th has become a cult classic and I cannot deny its place in horror film history.  It has spawned numerous sequels and has left a lasting legacy on the genre.  Halloween may have established the modern slasher flick but Friday the 13th redefined the formula for an entire decade.  Friday the 13th has its moments but overall, it is a dated and cheap knockoff of a much better film.

Rating (out of ****): **1/2

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