What a great time it was to be a teen in the late 1970’s. No, I’m not referring to disco music. It was a great time to go to the movies. It was the culmination of the perfect date, and Hollywood was riding the beginning of a trend that remains alive and healthy today. I’m talking, of course, about the slasher film. You could argue that Hitchcock started the ball rolling in 1961 with Psycho, but it would be decades before that film would find its true audience and plethora of imitators. Although The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween came before Friday The 13th, can it be argued that any horror film franchise is as widely known? The truth is that even the man behind the film, Sean Cunningham, never really knew what it was that he had. It was never his intent to follow the film with a barrage of sequels. He also scoffed at the idea that Jason could become the centerpiece for future films. By now Jason has become such an iconic character that there is an entire generation out there that doesn’t know that Jason wasn’t the culprit in the first film. Jason’s stature has reached the heights of the classic monsters of the Universal days. While some of us hesitate to put his name and hockey mask up there with the likes of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula, and The Mummy, the recognition and sheer dollars generated make it difficult not to. By the beginning of the 1980’s names like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers would be scaring audiences around the world, rendering the classics somewhat silly in the eyes of a more visceral generation of teens.
It’s hard to believe, but in 1980 the slasher formula had yet to be born. And while Halloween laid down the foundation, this was the house that Jason built. By now it’s all old hat. You know exactly how it’s supposed to happen. There have been spoofs like the Scream series where these rules and expectations have been lampooned. It’s a shame, really, if you never got to see Friday The 13th before this style was so bloodily ingrained in your head. A group of teens gather at a lakeside campground in remote New Jersey. The camp was the scene of a horrific accident and subsequent murder rampage some 5 years earlier. Now someone wants to reopen the place the locals refer to as Camp Blood, but which moviegoers would long remember as Camp Crystal Lake. Despite warnings from the townsfolk, the teens gather to whip the place in shape for a summer filled with kids and fun. But on a stormy first night these teens would be eliminated one by one in “Ten Little Indians” fashion at the hands of a brutal killer. Victims would meet their ends under the most bizarre of circumstances. They would find themselves axed, skewered, and slashed. And as you know by now, but didn’t then, one will survive. The film would end with one of the most clever and effective jump scenes in movie history. No one knew then that a short epilogue intended only to deliver one final kick in the spine would give birth to one of the most infamous monsters in screen history.
It all works because these imaginative kill scenes are revealed through the magical touch of Tom Savini. There’s no denying that Savini has been a pioneer in the industry of bloody makeup effects. I’ve talked with Tom many times over the years, and even visited his workshop on one occasion. He has a healthy respect and reverence for the classic makeup artists that came before him. All around his work area are homages to the likes of Lon Chaney, Sr. and Jack Pierce. Here is where Friday The 13th delivers the bloody disgusting goods. This stuff was more realistic than anyone had ever seen before. Although your mind knew that none of this was real, your eyes kept convincing you that it must be. The unsettling effect on your nervous system brought a smile to the likes of Savini. Combine these wonderful effects with some of the genre’s most atmospheric music, provided by Harry Manfredini, and this film made an impact no matter how many times you watched it. The eerie whispered echoes of Choooo Haaaaa still raise a hair or two on the arms of anyone fortunate enough to have been able to attend a screening in 1980.
If it seems I’m pining away for a bygone era, I don’t really mean to be. With today’s computer generated environments, anything you can dream you can now put on the screen. I thrilled at the marvel of Jurassic Park and was just as dazzled by the incredible work I saw on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I’m happy for the advances that have been made in the nearly 30 years since the first Friday film. What I hope you might be able to do (it’s hard, but I was able to accomplish it somewhat) is to pretend you’re back in 1980 and you’ve never heard the name Jason Voorhees. And just try hard, not to be afraid.
Finally these early slasher films were great beginning roles for promising young teen actors. Johnny Depp got his start facing Freddy in that first film. Discover Kevin Bacon here as a young victim of the darkness.
Friday The 13th is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image comes to you courtesy of a strong AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Paramount did a pretty smashing job bringing the old film back to life. I frankly did not have high hopes for an impressive HD image here. To be honest, it’s nearly 30 years old, and it plays out mostly in a dark rainy night. There was plenty of grain, just as I remembered it, but it did not spoil the HD effort here at all. Black levels are pretty dang solid here. The image was a little soft, but it does look every bit as I remembered it looking. The daytime shots show remarkable color and the entire film sports a sharp sense of detail. I was really impressed on the close-up of Crazy Ralph. You can see his dirty whiskers like never before. There was some nice shadow effect, particularly in low light areas where the light source swayed. You could absolutely follow the shadows like I never could on my laserdisc version of the film. Don’t expect it to ever look any better.
The Dolby Digital True-HD 5.1 track is pretty much everything you can expect. It definitely places you there at the scene. Manfredini’s score whisks about you like a phantom all of its own inviting you to immerse yourself in this terrifying experience. In fact, the score is so bright and clear I never before realized how much he ripped off from Psycho. Except in the score there is only the most subtle of surrounds, but they play very well into the atmosphere. This was not a surround film originally, and I was glad that it wasn’t overly tampered with. You will hear the dialog and all of those screams of horror just fine.
There is an Audio Commentary by Sean Cunningham. He is joined by many members of the crew including Tom Savini. It’s not the typical describe what was going on here commentary. They appear to have a lot of fun and talk about almost everything and anything.
All but the last two features are in HD.
Friday The 13th Reunion: This 17 minute feature was shot in September of 2008. Members of the film gather at a panel discussion and talk about their days working on the film. The panel includes Tom Savini and the first actor to play Jason Ari Lehman. They take questions from the audience.
Fresh Cuts – New Tales From Friday The 13th: Unfortunately there isn’t anything fresh in this 14 minute piece. Many of the interview subjects repeat word for word what we heard in the previous segment.
The Man Behind The Legacy – Sean S. Cunningham: Cunningham again retells stories you already know. He admits that he misread the whole Jason appeal. He compares the film’s methods to modern techniques. The feature also includes his son and partner, Noel.
Lost Tales From Camp Blood: This 7 minute vignette is the first in an ongoing series that I assume is intended to be carried on with subsequent Friday releases. Here a killer stalks and kills a young couple in their home.
The Friday The 13th Chronicles: This 20 minute making of feature is more vintage, and it shows. This along with the next feature are the only extras in Standard Definition. Follow the ideas that led to the film’s development.
Secrets Galore Behind The Gore: This 10 minute feature takes you on a kill by kill look at the victims of the film and how the f/x were achieved.
I have to admit that this film brought me back to my teen years. I sat and collected my moments of nostalgia watching what was a milestone event in the lives of us young moviegoers at the time. Now we’ve gone so far beyond this film that terms like “torture porn” describe where the genre has gone. It’s no coincidence that this film is being given the HD treatment just as the reboot/remake is making its way to the theaters. I’m not sure if I’ll get to see the new film yet or not. For now I want to remember some things just the way that they were. If you’re a fan of the film or genre, this one is a must own. You say you haven’t ever seen it? “What, did you just get off a spaceship or something?”