A group of fun-loving teenagers take jobs at a recently re-opened summer camp, unaware of the circumstances that had led to its closure: the drowning of a young boy named Jason and subsequent murder of two counsellors over twenty years before. No sooner has the camp re-opened for business than the killing begins again, as the teens are picked off one by one. Followed by seven sequels.
No matter how many sequels they've made or how big a hit it was in 1980, it's difficult to view the first Friday the 13th
as anything but a quickie designed to cram in as many elements from horror movies that had been hits in the late 1970s--most obviously, Halloween
--while adding as little as possible to the formula. Director Sean S Cunningham has an archetypal plot at his disposal as a group of attractive, shallow teenagers out in the woods to reopen a once-cursed summer camp are murdered in manners designed to show off Tom Savini's gore effects. Kevin Bacon, killed early (arrow through the throat), is the only player who went on to have a career, and he hardly stands out from the strip-Monopoly-playing, goon-acting meat-on-the-hoof teens who fall prey to the mostly unseen murderer. That it's not a total write-off is down to a few neatly edited bits of classical suspense and, two decades on, a simmering nostalgia for a world of bouffant-haired bubbleheads in short shorts (and that's just the guys) observed by edgy subjective camera as the music hisses "kill kill kill".
On the DVD: Friday the 13th may be the least worthy of all horror "classics", but it's still nice to have an edition that (unlike earlier video releases) offers a 16x9-enhanced 1.85:1 restored image and a healthy dose of extras. The hard-sell trailer gives away most of the big scares, and so should be sampled after the film. The making of the movie is covered by a 20-minute "Return to Crystal Lake" featurette and a commentary track with input from many of the creatives (Cunningham, composer Harry Manfredini, stars Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, writer Victor Miller). Some anecdotes get repeated, but there's a lot of solid background material. --Kim Newman