I’ve been to Camp Crystal Lake. In fact, I even dipped my toe into the resting place of Jason Voorhees, though I’m getting ahead of myself. Camp No-Be-Bosco is a gorgeous, lushly green Boy Scouts’ camp tucked away in beautiful Blairstown, New Jersey. I visited the spot during the summer of 2007 and was struck by how quiet and serene it is. The camp feels untouched by time, removed from the noise of contemporary life, and a place to lose yourself entirely. I love that camp, though I was there as a tourist, noting how much it still looked like Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th, which was filmed there decades ago.
The original Friday the 13th is now as quaint and stately as Camp No-Be-Bosco; in its day, it was tremendously shocking, envelope-pushing, and highly disreputable (but still enormously popular and influential). The tale of high school-aged camp counselors who, one-by-one, are murdered over the course of a few days while working at Camp Crystal Lake provides a telling contrast to Halloween. The former, John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, is high art and Hitchcockian while the latter, the cheap 1980 Halloween rip-off, is trashy and artless. Yet, what Friday the 13th lacks in intelligence and suspense, it makes up in dread, spooky ambience, and nightmarish jolts of horror.
In the early stretch of Friday the 13th, the rich, vaguely sinister atmosphere of Camp No-Be-Bosco is a key asset in establishing the eerie mood and campfire scare story that ensues. There’s a great, quiet scene early on when a young man tells his girlfriend he dreamed about it raining blood. Shortly after, a rainstorm hits Crystal Lake, the teens running the camp pair off for sex and drugs, and then things get very bad and extremely bloody.
What was the height of teen horror at one point is, of course, now campy and kitschy. The characters all dress like shaggy, post-’70s burnouts and the dialogue is as lacking sophistication as the direction. Nevertheless, Betsy Palmer’s iconic turn as Mrs. Voorhees is still a kick and so is a young Kevin Bacon in one of his first roles. Walt Gorney’s scene-stealing bit as “Crazy Ralph,” the local loony who warns the teens of their impending doom, is funny but carries a weird edge. A major plus is Harry Manfredini’s score, famous for its “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” motif that plays like an evil chant over the soundtrack. If Friday the 13th lacks polish, it makes up in plucky charm and the cruel spectacle in its stalk n’ slash scenes.
Some may assume there’s no intellectual value in a movie so transparently an exploitation movie, but that’s actually untrue. Camp Crystal Lake is an Eden for teens to explore their love for traditional young adult activities (swimming, bonding, storytelling, camp activities, and recreation), as well for experiencing romance, sex, and action deemed taboo outside of camp. The Killer on the Loose (whose identity I won’t spoil for the uninitiated) is the threat of death, the need for responsibility and an intrusion from the outside, adult world.
The concluding scenes couldn’t be more perfect and still get the desired chicken skin effect. Whether viewed as the origin story of the forever-ongoing Jason Voorhees legend or a stand-alone work that, against all odds, became a genuine classic, Friday the 13th still works. Halloween was Carpenter’s opportunity to make a canny suspense thriller that mattered and Friday the 13th was a calculated effort to make a profit, but the two can coexist in their importance to the horror genre. If Halloween is top-to-bottom professional and classy, then Friday the 13th is scrappier, meaner, and has one of the biggest jump scares of all time, which counts for a lot.
Friday the 13th is showing Wednesday, June 19th at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Theatres at 7pm for one night only.
Rated R/95 min.
Image courtesy IMDB