Friday the 13th is one of the most iconic horror films in history. But apart from that oh so familiar hockey mask, why is it that the franchise became so influential and important to the genre?
I was wondering this myself, so thought it would be fun to revisit the first three films in the series, starting with ‘Friday the 13th’.
I watched Friday the 13th in what was probably THE ideal setting. I was part of a group of young teenage boys and girls that had decided to meet up in a ‘no parents’ environment and watch a scary movie.
Thinking back, all of the important stereotypes were represented; the jock, dweeb, the popular attractive girl, the bad boy, the promiscuous girl, the virgin and the German exchange student. (The last one is a horror stereotype, right?)
It was probably thanks to the atmosphere that Friday the 13th stuck so vividly in my mind, and it’s exactly this sort of audience that the original film was aimed at.
When a group of young camp counsellors turn up to prepare Camp Crystal Lake for summertime use they don’t realise that someone is lurking in the woods, stalking them with the desire to seek bloody revenge for events that took place some 21 years earlier.
As the teens get picked off in increasingly gory ways you can’t help but be drawn in to the terror and with the odd surprise and twist along the way, this first film offers more than just a straight out stab-fest. But it’s simplicity and the masterful use of some great devices contribute to making Friday the 13th so strong.
One of the most important elements of the film is the use of first person perspective. That is, during many of the chase scenes and murders you see events from a first person (the killer’s) perspective. This helps to build tension, giving you the feeling that you’re actually involved in what’s happening on screen, whilst also helping to keep the identity of the killer a secret.
This technique was first used to great horror effect in Peeping Tom (1960) and is commonplace today, but Friday the 13th stands out as being a film where it is most expertly applied.
The film gives you just enough story and dialogue to allow you to connect with the characters and story before throwing you straight into the action and terror. It strikes a balance which is missed on far too much of a regular basis by other horror films.
Every period of dialogue or backfill is made interesting with an unexpected jump or cut away to creepy, stalking first person shots from the surrounding undergrowth.
The woodland itself is important as it gives the cover that the killer needs and offers a confusing and uneven landscape for the chase scenes to take place in. Indeed, Friday the 13th is cited by many to be one of the first backwoods horror films.
And then of course you have the trademark ‘chi, chi, chi, ah, ah, ah’ sound. It’s the noise that accompanies the approach of the killer and gives the impression of blood thirsty panting or deranged whispering. The sound has become almost as important a device as the hockey mask (with the latter not appearing until part 3).
The gore is plentiful and unforgiving and there is surprisingly little compassion shown for the victims, which makes this deadly game of cat and mouse all the more terrifying.
It was no surprise that sequels followed soon after (too many, some might argue) and that countless future films would copy/borrow elements from this impeccably crafted film.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable and significant films from the golden era of horror.