I mentioned in my most recent post (and I think I’ve said it before) that I don’t have much respect for the Friday the 13th film series. Since this is such an extensive and iconic franchise in the horror genre, I thought I should explain myself a little further. It’s not as if I don’t enjoy the series; I watch the marathons every year around this time and I do find Jason the scariest of the main horror icons, but I just can’t manage to muster up much respect for the series as a whole. Why? Basically, it boils down to its overall lack of depth.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Even starting with the first movie, which is easily one of the best of the series, there’s a lot that is clichéd and trite. The stock characters, the flat acting, and the poor screenwriting are all painfully apparent at the outset. I remember watching this movie for the first time in middle school, when my interest in horror was growing rapidly, and being so excited to finally see this legendary film I’d heard so much about. I was more than ready to love it, but I just found it so uninteresting. I lost track of how many characters there were (let alone their names) because their personalities were so bland and paper-thin that they were nearly indistinguishable from one another. If I can’t even remember the characters, you can guarantee that I won’t care if they’re killed or not.
What the first movie had going for it were the special effects, music, and surprise ending. The effects in this movie are so good that they still hold up pretty well, even by today’s standards. The team didn’t shy away from the gore, but didn’t make it so overpowering that it was difficult to watch. Well… actually it may still be a little difficult to watch, but after all, it is a horror movie so it should push the audience out of their comfort zone! Likewise, the music adds to the uneasy mood of the piece. Tense and memorable, the soundtrack is possibly one of the most well-thought aspect of the movie. The iconic hook, made up of a fragmented recording of the phrase “Kill, mommy”, is sheer brilliance and adds more to the story than most of the movie’s actual writers, since it relates to the surprise twist at the end in which Jason’s mother is the killer.
This twist is one of the most satisfying surprises of any horror movie, and I think that that’s not only because it was so unexpected, but also because it comes just early enough that the audience has time to slightly digest the shock and still invest in the remainder of the story. It definitely doesn’t hurt that Mrs. Voorhees is the most developed character in the film despite her incredibly brief screentime.
Still, I didn’t really find the movie all that incredible upon my first viewing, or any subsequent viewings. It wasn’t until I watched the Behind-the-Scenes documentary that I was really able to understand why. According to the film’s own creative team, Friday the 13th was made for money and almost no other reason. They saw that John Carpenter’s Halloween was a wild success and wanted to replicate it. The screenwriter admits to lifting the key elements of Halloween—the director says he knew that if he had a movie called Friday the 13th he could “sell that”—and no one in the documentary seems to mention anything about having an idea or passion for the film, just an idea that money could be made of it. With such a shallow reason for existing, is it any wonder that the movie suffered? No one was personally invested in the piece, so things like character and plot development got the shaft.
Once the sequels started pouring in, any artistic vision the film may have had, however hidden, quickly fell by the wayside. The film’s main strength (violence) and reason for existing (money) became the driving force of the series, so the sequels had more gore and were churned out as long as sales remained high. There was no continuity from one film to the next, as each film basically disregarded the one which came before it. Even when characters returned from previous films, they were either killed off quickly or were unrecognizable from their previous incarnation.
The bottom line is that this film series doesn’t even respect itself and thus I can’t see much reason for me to respect it either.