Why ‘Friday The 13th’ (1980) Has Stood The Test Of Time – Retro Review

Here there be spoilers… beware!

I’m going to be honest. The first time I watched Friday the 13th (1980), I was disappointed that Jason wasn’t in it. I knew he was the franchise’s bad guy because I’d seen VHS boxes for the sequels at the video store, but it was still too early for the internet, so there was no way for me to find out that the omnipresent madman that already haunted my dreams wouldn’t even appear until the sequel. It was similar to the feeling I had the first time I watched Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982 – read our retro review here). Where the hell was Michael?

Friday the 13th 1980 poster
Poster artwork for ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

Now that I’m older (and possibly wiser), I can appreciate how shocking the end of Friday the 13th really is. In the 21st century, we’ve become jaded to surprise endings in horror movies. Some of us actually go into them trying to figure out the twist right from the start because we know there will be one. In 1980, turns like this were still relatively new, or at least, not so common that audiences came to expect them.

I’m not just talking about the fact that Jason isn’t the killer. That’s a twist we’ve seen before. There have been plenty of movies where a red herring is dangled in front of an audience, making them focus on a certain character… at least until the final climax, when the real bad guy is exposed, and the entire theater gasps at the revelation. In Friday the 13th, the maniac murdering teens at Camp Crystal Lake is not an escaped psycho with a hook for a hand. It’s not even a he. The one responsible for all of the bloodshed and gore is, in fact, a rather frumpy, middle-aged woman. She’s wearing a sweater, for Pete’s sake! How dangerous could she possibly be?

The teenagers in Friday the 13th know all too well. At first glance, Mrs. Voorhees looks like somebody’s mom. She is somebody’s mom, and that’s the problem. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially if you hurt her children. But on the other hand, aren’t mothers supposed to be gentle, loving, forgiving and tender? How could a mom hurt and even kill another mother’s kids? She’s like a bullet heading straight down a path of revenge, flying so fast that she doesn’t see all of the pain and horror she’s left behind her. She’s the reason to be terrified.

Friday the 13th, Ralph

Plus, how terrifying is it that she was still this pissed after so many years? While we don’t get an exact date as to when these Camp Crystal Lake murders take place, we do know it’s been a few years since Jason Voorhees drown in the 1950s, and her anger is still burning white hot. She lost everything when her son died, and wanted to make the world pay. Since she couldn’t get back at the actual counselors who were having sex when the boy drowned, she was going to go after anyone who fit that description. The likable, non-stereotypical teens in Friday the 13th didn’t do anything wrong per se, yet they get punished. It makes you wonder if there’s any ex-[your job here] running around out there, just looking for the right time to strike. This aspect alone makes repeat viewings of the film all the more creepy and terrifying. 

Now, the entire film is turned on its head. Are you trying to tell me that Jason is a victim and not a villain? Wait, what?

Unfortunately, movie critics don’t agree with my assessment. As a mater of fact, most of them hated Friday the 13th. Gene Siskel even went so far as to publish Betsy Palmer’s home address so other disgruntled moviegoers could flood her mailbox with hate mail, calling Director Sean Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business.” They said the film has no redeeming value, and call it a hack-and-slash not worthy of the attention it gets. Even Rotten Tomatoes lists it at 62% rotten. Am I the only one who sees its greatness?

Critics also like to say say that Cunningham is just an asshole who wants to punish young people for goofing off and having sex. But here’s the rub. The reason Mrs. Voorhees is so pissed off is because the people who were supposed to be watching her son were literally screwing up, choosing their own desires over their responsibilities. She has a reason to hate teens who do this kind of shit. There’s no societal or religious reasons for it. She just hates people who remind her of the couple that let her son die. Of course, that’s who she chose to kill.

Betsy Palmer, Friday the 13th
But she looks so sweet!

I’ve also heard people call Cunningham and his other slasher directing cronies misogynists because they always leave the final battle down to the psycho and a woman. To me, the opposite is true. After slashing their way through men and women alike – most of whom went down with barely a ripple – maniacs are left with a single person, the one who has survived all other attempts to impale or dismember, the toughest in the crowd. Nine times out of ten, that person is female. She is the bravest, the strongest, the most adaptable… the only one that can defeat the monster. Most of the time, she does just that (at least, until the sequel gets released). In 1980’s Friday the 13th, Alice looked straight into the eyes of a woman who could have been a part of her own mother’s Bridge club and hacked her head off in one adrenaline-fueled slice. How is she not a badass?

Friday the 13th
From Fangoria #6 (June, 1980). In an interview, Savini describes his Friday the 13th experience as “one of the greatest times [he’s] ever had.”
I also want to mention Tom Savini’s excellent special FX. The work he did on Friday the 13th helped cement his position as one of the greatest FX artists ever. Baking the latex appliances right there in the camp’s pizza ovens, Savini made horror movie history with his Camp Crystal Lake creations. Not only did he design the original face of Jason, but he also engineered that amazing arrow to the throat impalement that took out Jack, played by Kevin Bacon. Talk about an iconic kill.

Friday the 13th

Last but not least, there’s Harry Manfredini’s iconic score. You don’t even need to be watching Friday the 13th to get the creeps from this music. Knowing that he himself spoke the instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma,” the first syllables in Kill Mommy, makes the composition all the more unique and terrifying.

Paramount is releasing a 40th anniversary steelbook of the uncut version of Friday the 13th, which includes previously released bonus content including commentary, interviews with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a digital copy. You can get your steelbook Blu-ray at the link above, which was released on May 5, 2020.

Final Thoughts On Friday the 13th

If you look at Friday the 13th as a standalone film and disregard the sequels, you’ll see a unique, thought-provoking movie that deserves more than its slasher status. Are you a Friday the 13th fan? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!


Friday the 13th

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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