Ch ch ch, ha ha ha ch ch ch, ha ha ha
Argument: one version of self-care comes in the form of early 80’s slashers. Call me morbid, call me a final girl, call me paranoid. Horror is a form of modern-day prepping. Care to take a trip with me?
Tonight, I’m writing up the original, pre-ridiculous Friday the 13th [1980 directed by Sean S. Cunningham]. I saw this for the first time when I was really young, like in the second grade. Don’t ask me how that happened; I was shifty AF and always sneaking in horror I had no business ingesting at a young age. Anyways. I won’t say where, but I grew up near a summer camp that was called Camp Crystal, so I felt like I really needed to see what I was getting into before I showed up with my backpack and light-up sneakers. I think that must be why this one has a little corner of my heart. It’s not the best slasher of that era, the special effects are terrible, and Adrienne King is no Jamie Lee Curtis, but it’s a helluva lot of fun and a solid addition to the genre.
I will also argue that this is a franchise that never should have been. It should not get to the point where Kelly Rowland is trash-talking Freddy Krueger on Jason’s lakeshore. ENOUGH. Don’t agree? Have y’all seen Jason X, also known as Jason In Space? Yeah. That happened.
I ignore this franchise because to quote Victor Miller, who wrote the script, “Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain.”
On looking through people’s windows
Friday the 13th is sort of an odd film. There’s a creepy voyeuristic quality to the scenes. On re-watching, I realized that many of these scenes are showing the camp counselors alone, in private moments, like singing to themselves in the mirror. You get this feeling like you shouldn’t be watching it. Most of the horror is piggybacking off of that little feeling you can’t place.
One of the things I really love about the film is the weird way lighting is used on a figure either entering or leaving a frame. A lot of the movie is made up of darkened white space (meaning a fully darkened environment) punctuated by a character being fully lit up, usually in a brightly colored rain jacket. This reminds me of the old photograph technique spiritualists used to illuminate a “ghost” in frame – a sack-like ghost shape, a shock of color stumbling through the dark. It seems to have been used in the film as a way of lighting up a character right before they die.
There is also a dash of supernatural in here. And I’m not talking about the obvious superstition around Friday the 13th. Here’s what I mean:
- Marcie has had premonition dreams of how she would die: in a thunderstorm, with tiny rivers of blood.
- Ralph, the village Crazy, says he’s a messenger from God. And hangs out in people’s pantries. (sidebar: if no one’s working at the camp, does he just stay in the pantry for days on end? Where does he draw the line?)
- As Annie walks through town, we hear a drift of radio mention “Black Cat Day,” like the townspeople all know something that they aren’t sharing.
- Jason, our ghost boy in the lake, lurches out of the water to pull Alice under.
The 80’s: Jean short shorts, bad hair, corduroys in the summer
One of the successful elements of the film is the structure. There’s not a lot of outside story around these characters. We don’t know where they come from. I don’t even think we know what state Camp Crystal Lake is in, but it doesn’t matter. This is a snapshot of their horror and nothing matters outside of that frame. We believe these kids, and for the most part, they are normal, pretty likable kids.
Our final girl is Alice. A little unfeminine, a whole lotta wholesome, and the mother of all bowl cuts. Let’s review the rest of our crew of white people:
- Annie: a horribly cute hitchhiker who likes children, big dreams, bouncy hair, and being alive.
- Brenda: enjoys nude board gaming
- Marcie: solid Katharine Hepburn impersonator
- Jack: a bit of a golden boy, probably says stuff like “golly gee”
- Ned: ANNOYING. Needs a muzzle.
- Bill: trying hard to look like Ted Cruz in the 70’s
Something else I love about this: the smart use of the environment. Cunningham uses a certain technique a few times: the camera pans out of our characters moving, speaking in a scene and pulls out to show us a dead body or a cut phone line.
How To Not Handle An Emergency: Another Study
These kids are terrible at handling their problems. Alice, Senator Cruz – I mean Bill, I have two words for you:
STAY TF INSIDE.
That weird off-quality I mentioned completely falls apart when it’s used to separate characters. It’s fine to not explain why characters do everything single they do, but it makes zero sense for these idiots to be killed off, not see each other for hours, and for there to be only a mild sense of alarm between the two survivors who keep splitting up and wandering outside. There was just a biblical rainstorm, and everyone has gone missing. You heard screaming and the floodlights keep turning on in weird places. And Alice’s move is to take a snooze on the couch while Ted Cruz pulls on his poncho (now that it’s stopped raining) to go check the generator again.
No, I am not being too harsh on poor Alice. How about this: what’s her move once the Senator has been arrow’ed to a door?
- She flees screaming as loud as her body will allow.
- She enters the only lit-up cabin on the property.
- She doesn’t check the cabin for intruders.
- She doesn’t arm herself.
- She closes only one set of curtains.
- She pulls a bunch of small furniture pieces in front of a door that opens outward.
- She then stands in front of an open window for a bit before heading into the kitchen.
- Where she stands in front of another open window.
Is it really any surprise that a body was hurled through the window near her? NO. Honestly, I’m only surprised that that method was chosen. It was like a buffet of options for terrorizing this girl.
A final girl in repose
The final rundown between Mrs. Voorhees and Alice is really lengthy, about 20-25 minutes long. Alice does a lot of cowering and fleeing and shrieking for the first 15 minutes, but by the time they are both down on the beach, she’s like, “Oh, it’s on, bitch.” I think her calm walk down to the water may even have been deliberate, like she knew Mrs. Voorhees wasn’t dead.
Alice becomes a different girl – a final girl. She claws at Mrs. Voorhees and in what is still one of the funniest effing scenes in slasher history, grabs a machete and takes a running start towards her attacker. She yells out a battle cry, swings in slow motion, and decapitates her.
I’m very fond of what follows this ridiculous violence. Alice takes a canoe out onto the water and falls asleep until help arrives. The scene is really beautiful. She looks so artfully collapsed, her hand drifting along the surface, the early morning golds and greens skating across the water like an impressionist painting.
I’ll end on that pleasant note. Practice some self-care, kiddos. We’ve got a long haul ahead.