“Friday the 13th” (1980) may be the unlikeliest kickoff to a major franchise in film history. Prior to this viewing, the only Jason movie I’d seen was “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003), and I’m not even sure if that counts. My expectations were thus: a bunch of horny teenagers at a remote lake camp would get killed one by one by someone wearing a hockey mask.
Already a thin premise, but imagine my surprise when the hockey mask didn’t even appear.
I was left wondering why this film resonated with audiences so strongly. The premise wasn’t new. The slasher had been seen before in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), and much more effectively too, since its killer was creepier and its main character more endearing.
“Friday the 13th” was just one of a number of “Halloween” rip-offs. Its characters are underdeveloped and the time between kills feels like filler. But it stuck with audiences, mainly I think, based on the strength its final moments.
The Reveal of the Killer.
“Friday the 13th” depicts its killer with point-of-view shots. This type of shot was also used in “Halloween,” but there it was just a hook for the opening scene. Here, it’s used for almost the entire movie to hide the identity of the killer.
Throughout the film, we see other characters interacting with the killer. They smile. They’re warm and friendly. This is a clue. The killer doesn’t look threatening on the surface. And yet, after seeing so many teens stabbed and axed, we still expect some sort of menace. When she’s revealed, the killer is wearing a sensible cable-knit sweater and looks like the picture of an aged public school secretary. One gets the feeling that even if she did have a mind for murder, it would be a simple thing to escape from her by jogging lightly away.
She is, of course, Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s mother. We learn that Jason drown in the lake years ago due to the negligence of his camp counselors who were busy humping and getting high. The camp had been closed since then, but is about to reopen, and Mrs. Voorhees, determined to cancel those plans, sets about murdering all the camp employees. And this all occurs on Jason’s birthday, Friday the 13th.
I think all of this works. Her non-threatening appearance plays as comedic, but unintentional comedy is always welcome in a B horror movie. Mrs. Voorhees may make you smile more than cringe, but she’s a memorable villain with a compelling motivation.
The Surprise Ending.
The way this film ends is ridiculous. It makes no sense, even within its own world. But it still gets you.
Inspired by the ending of “Carrie” (1976), the filmmakers tacked on this goofy epilogue hoping to leave the audience with one last fright. They succeeded, and as a bonus, a major film franchise was born.