After the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, producer/director Sean Cunningham decided to rip it off, according to screenwriter Victor Miller. In doing so, they, along with make-up artist Tom Savini, created a pop culture sensation that returned more than 70 times its budget at the box office. Unknowingly, they were starting a horror movie franchise that would create more sequels and earn more money than its inspiration.
Friday the 13th opens in 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey. A young couple of counselors sneak off to have sex in an attic and are killed. We flash-forward a couple of decades to present day, Friday, June 13, and meet Annie, whose vocals all sound dubbed. She is heading to Camp Crystal Lake, which is being re-opened, to work as a cook. She meets some townsfolk who warn her the camp is haunted. A truck driver informs her a young boy drowned and a young couple was murdered.
Other counselors are arriving and work to help Steve, the new owner, spruce up the place. He has some errands to run and leaves the camp in his truck. Annie gets picked up hitchhiking, but we never see the driver. When they pass the camp, Annie realizes she is in trouble. She jumps out of the car and is chased into the woods, but there’s no escape and she gets her throat slit.
Back at the camp, the counselors do what comes natural to young people when their supervisor is away: they soak up some sun, get high, and have sex. As horror fans know, this means, to quote Thunderdome’s Dr. Dealgood, “dyin’ time’s here.” No doubt to the delight of many male viewers, Marcie runs around in a tight, pink top and no bra, so it’s natural for her to sneak off with Jack (Kevin Bacon). You expect them to get killed during sex, but it is revealed Ned is dead in the bunk above. It’s a good twist on expectations and creates suspense. As the movie progresses, the characters get isolated and start dropping like flies. Alice is the last person standing and eventually battles with the killer. I was surprised to learn the killer’s identity and was impressed that it was cleverer than I expected.
Albeit a bit dopey and amateurish, Friday the 13th is a good time for those who like chills and thrills and is an undeniable landmark in the history of cinema. Along with Halloween, Hitchcock’s Psycho is also an influence in its music and story, and there’s a nod to Carrie at the end. The packaging states, “This unrated version contains 10 seconds of footage different from the original R-rated version.” I don’t know what has been added, but I believe the movie would still get no worse than an R in this condition. Nearly 30 years later, it might be too slow and not gory enough for modern movie watchers.
The Blu-ray has been released to coincide with the remake, but not much was done to prepare the movie for high definition, which is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There’s a lot of grain throughout, especially in dimly lit scenes and during a freeze frame that zooms in on the image. The colors are muted, the blacks can barely be called that, and the details aren’t in sharp focus. On the plus side, the picture looks clean and free of dirt and defect.
In regards to the audio, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 didn’t offer much. The music sounds like it’s been remixed and is too loud, which contrasts with the low levels for the dialogue. The front speakers do almost all the work as the surround offers very little beyond faint ambiance. I’d recommend going with the Dolby Digital Mono as it creates a more authentic experience.
There are a lot of special features for F13 fans. Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories, and interview clips with cast and crew are edited together to create the commentary track, which sounds like it was recorded close to the 20th anniversary of the movie.
A number of special features are presented in HD. The highlight is the film’s original trailer. It is very evocative as the narrator counts down the bodies. A reunion of cast and crew from Kentucky’s 2008 “Scare Fest” contains anecdotes about the movie and lets fans who haven’t gotten a life ask questions. What looks to have been recorded at the same time is “Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th.” Composer Harry Manfriedi claims the “chi chi chi” sound on the soundtrack is actually “ki ki ki” to represent “kill,” but I don’t hear it. The movie clips used here are letterboxed, which begs the question why they aren’t on main feature. “The Man Behind the Legacy” is an interview shot at Cunningham’s home and he’s done well for himself. Something called “Lost Tales from Camp Blood Pt 1” is some vignette where Jason kills some a couple in their home. It’s terrible and utterly pointless.
Presented in standard definition and likely from a previous DVD release is “The Friday the 13th Chronicles,” which covers some of the same ground from other extras, and “Secrets Galore Behind the Gore.” It’s comical that they always inform the viewer that the clips shown are from Friday the 13th. They may have been from a larger feature about the franchise.
Considering the better technical capabilities don’t offer much to the presentation, I would recommend buying the new DVD version instead of the Blu-ray. If it’s already in your collection, it’s not worth a double dip unless your F13 devotion is high and you have to own the new extras.