The Test of Time: Friday the 13th (1980)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.



In the four long and fruitful years of administering The Test of Time, it’s almost unthinkable that we’ve never put the original FRIDAY THE 13TH through the wringer. Well friends, with everyone’s favorite unofficial horror holiday dated for next week (October 13th), that all changes today. After all, FRIDAY THE 13TH is not only one of the most popular horror flicks among genre fans, its near $40 million gross against a wee $550,000 budget makes it one of the most financially successful ones to boot. In addition to the countless imitations and outright spoofs, the Sean S. Cunningham movie spawned a whopping 10 sequels over the course of three decades (including a piss-poor remake), and of course launched into the pop-cultural ether a first ballot hall of fame horror villain in Jason Voorhees. My man!

But the query at hand is still outstanding. How does the movie play today, 37 years after its initial release? Does the semi-shocking twist ending still pack as forceful a wallop as it did back in 1980? Do the sights and sounds of the flick still unnerve the way it did all those years ago? Let’s cut right to the heart of these matters below when we square off FRIDAY THE 13TH with The Test of Time!

THE STORY: We all know the story. After a menacing preamble back to 1959 shows a couple of randy teenagers getting loose in the sack (or shed really), only to catch the death-blade of an unidentified homicidal interloper, we cut to the summertime in the present day, 1980. We meet a ragtag gaggle of cap counselors in the few days before officially reopening Camp Crystal Lake, aka Camp Blood to the locals, the very place we saw the initial double-slaying take place. The script was written by Victor Miller in a mere two weeks, admittedly attempting to capitalize on not just the blockbuster slasher HALLOWEEN, but also MEATBALLS, the successful campground comedy starring Bill Murray the year prior. Pretty good templates.

Of course, we know what transpires next. One by one, most of the camp counselors begin falling victim in extremely grisly and gory fashion. At the hand of whom? Well, you already know that too, but in terms of the story itself, we don’t find out until the final few minutes. Even more stunningly terrifying than the killer culprit, at least at the time, has to be the post-script quasi-dream sequence of Alice (Adrienne King) being scared shitless when Jason Voorhees, hideously deformed man-child, lurches out of the lake and yanks the poor gal out of her canoe and into the frigid water. And with that, an inviolable horror film franchise was born!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: One of the things I always loved about F13, and still do, is the way it sets you up to believe Annie will be the protagonist. It’s almost a PSYCHO-style rug-pull, where we track the young hitchhiking Annie en route to Camp Crystal Lake for multiple scenes, even developing a kind of affinity for her personality and concern for her well being. So when she actually gets chased through the woods and met with a gruesome demise – her throat slit with a hunting knife (a Sabre Monarch 171 Bowie knife) – there’s not only an unsettling emotional weight to it, but also an instant “holy shit” moment for the audience that tells us upfront, expect the unexpected…we’re in for an unpredictable ride. It’s isn’t until quite a bit later we come to realize Alice is poised to be the Final Girl.

We could wax complimentary about a number of aspects of the film, but having just re-watched the film again for the 50th time or so, three things instantly leap out as unassailable strong suits: The Score, The Gore, Mama Voorhees!

Also much like PYSCHO, Harry Manfredini’s FRIDAY THE 13TH score will live in infamy. The jarringly discordant clash of tones and sounds and manically driving musical arrangements are not only unique, they’re damn near unforgettable. It’s also used far more sparingly, than say, HALLOWEEN, and was done quite consciously by Manfredini. He wanted to really accentuate the score only when the killer is onscreen, which gave way to the equally infamous interstitial “chi chi chi, ha ha ha” sound FX that have too been lampooned in subsequent movies and TV shows. Of course, true fans of the flick know that the syllables aren’t “chi chi chi, ha ha ha” at all, but instead “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” which are truncated intonations from the murderous mama’s directive “kill kill kill, mom mom mom.” This was done by Manfredini himself speaking into a mic and running it through a delayed effect. And as they say, the rest is horrific history!

Speaking of, the great Tom Savini and his impressive practical FX work in F13 is as durable as any other aspect of the film. Straight up, with a body count of 10 humans (plus one snake), Savini’s work was so graphically brutal the MPAA barely passed the film with an R-rating instead of an X, and mandated the sequel have far less gore, which it does. Savini was one of the first crewmen on board, as the producers idolized what he achieved FX wise in DAWN OF THE DEAD two years prior. Standouts among the lot include Marcie getting an axe thrown and plunged into her face, Claudette getting her throat slashed via machete (which would become Jason’s trademark weapon of choice), Bill catching a quiver of arrows everywhere from his eyeball, to his throat, to his dick-piece before being hung out to dry.

But hey, none can really top our man Kevin Bacon getting a ferocious campground tracheotomy in perhaps the single most memorable fatality of all FRIDAY THE 13TH death scenes. What’s so great about this scene is how the bubbling effect was actually a happy accident, when Savini himself was forced to blow into the blood-tube after the device became clogged. The result was so cool it made it into the final cut of the film, and has since rightfully become a high-water mark in the entire franchise!

Now for the murderous matriarch, Mama Voorhees. Originally aimed for Shelley Winters to play the part, then auditioned for by Sally Field, the ultimate decision to cast Betsey Palmer as Pamela Voorhees turned out to be the right one. Palmer was on record hating the film so much she called it a “piece of shit,” but would warm up to the film after enjoying massive success in the years and decades to follow. No lies, her performance in the final frames of the movie are truly startling. That maniacal grin, that muscular body language and forcefully violent outburst, that sinister vocal tone and deranged schizoid dialogue with herself…it’s all so damn alarming. And still is, frankly. Now, much of this has to do with the shocking nature of her identity, made all the more difficult to guess by casting a man to do all the hand and footwork earlier in the film. In other words, great lengths were gone to in order to keep from guessing it was not only a women, but a disgruntled mother who was doing the slaughtering. It’s brilliant misdirection from Cunningham and a starkly memorable turn from Palmer.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The outmoded 80s fashion. Whoo-wee! Not for nothing, but when our guy Steve – lead counselor – is decked in cut-off jean shorts, dusty Timbs with hiked woolen socks, no shirt and a swaddled red neckerchief…dude comes off as little more than the lost Village People member. That’s bold! Really though, if there is one thing to grouse about in terms of the actual film, it just might be the momentum-halting dead-zone right in the middle of the story. I’m talking about that slowed-down, drug-out, overly protracted nighttime rain sequence that seemingly never ends. I get the need to mount suspense, but because the first part of the movie is cut to such a brisk, highly entertaining tempo, this one sequence does slog along a bit too much. Not that I’m complaining about Marcie’s sexy granny-panties, but I’ve always felt a bit antsy and impatient watching this part of the film. I still do. But really, we’re just splitting hairs at this point, as there’s very little about FRIDAY THE 13TH that does NOT hold up.

THE VERDICT: FRIDAY THE 13TH is a bona fide horror classic for a reason. Many reasons, in fact. It starts with the simple high-concept of melding the slasher film with a summer camp romp. It extends through the tremendous use of practical FX and the gory makeup employed by the great Tom Savini, it continues through the use of Harry Manfredini’s bone-clattering score and ends with not just the surprising reveal of the killer culprit, but the maddening performance of Betsey Palmer as Pamela Voorhees as well. These are just three ingredients that have made FRIDAY THE 13TH a timelessly tasty dish!



Source: AITH

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.