Blu-ray Review: Friday the 13th (1980) -- Uncut Version

The Original Slices
Its Way Onto Blu-ray

And to think all the filmmakers had originally wanted was to make a family movie about soccer! However, when producer and director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller couldn't score a goal when it came to finding a distributor for their soccer movie, they moved to the hottest trend in the late '70s-- the horror movie (in the tradition of The Exorcist, Carrie, Jaws, and Halloween among others).

Aspiring to essentially rip-off the largely successful John Carpenter independent shocker Halloween, Cunningham-- who already had the title in mind-- boldly took out an ad in Variety announcing Friday the 13th with absolutely no idea what the film was going to be about and without one page of the script even written.

It turns out that it was a bluff that paid off-- screenwriter Victor Miller did his homework by watching horror films to understand the basic ingredients and started with a primal idea to address what had scared him as a child since overall, a horror film's purpose is to make one comfortable with fears and conquer them.

Originally deciding that the underlying subtext of their film would be "bad stuff happens, let's look at it, and it'll become less scary," as they note in one of the many Blu-ray's behind-the-scenes featurettes--soon the sort of campfire tale approach was adopted complete with the lessons garnered from Halloween.

Employing the same formula for what they thought would ultimately be a low budget drive-in style shocker with as Cunningham states "de minimis kind of moviemaking" that abandoned any idea of a character study in lieu of the "single minded purpose" of scaring the audience silly with their own cinematic campfire tale--it seems as though everyone involved with arguably the most successful slasher franchise in history had absolutely no idea how popular it was going to become nearly overnight as audiences lined up around the block following the premiere and more films cropped up to copy its success.

As Betsy Palmer a.k.a. the film's shocking villainess Mrs. Voorhees noted, when she was originally offered the role, she turned it down upon hearing the genre with the firm dismissal upon the script read-through that is was a "piece of shit" and "nobody would go see it."

America's sweetheart on Broadway and from the I've Got a Secret game show-- Palmer was the ideal choice to pull the wool over audience's eyes and scare the living daylights out of viewers with her grand entrance late into the movie and when the actress realized she needed a new car in real, she eventually gave into the film and it's all the better for it.

Ultimately plot-less and critically panned-- essentially the cult classic centers on "camp blood" or the more official name Camp Crystal Lake that seems to have been plagued with murder and misfortune ever since a young boy drowned there in 1957 and in 1958, two counselors were murdered.

As the years went on, the New Jersey location was always prevented from reopening by horrific goings on but when a new owner and group of determined teenagers decide they're going to fix it up and relaunch it in 1980, shortly upon their arrival-- as the tagline reads-- "they began to die horribly, one... by one."

Eventually leading to a showdown as the sole survivor-- a wonderful Adrienne King (hired for her talent and unbelievable scream) darts in and out of cabins to hide from the villain-- composer Harry Manfredini's atonal, simple and Jaws reminiscent electronic infused score goes into overtime as we can barely sit still watching the heroine try to do anything to survive.

This of course leads to one of the most memorable surprise endings in horror film history as her character Alice drifts peacefully on Camp Crystal Lake in a seemingly idyllic shot that goes on so long that we're always assuming we'll either begin seeing the credits or finally be shocked and just when we've given up hope, a chilling surprise comes up out of the water and a franchise was born with Jason in the villain's role.

Never intended to become a series due to pure logic's sake as to most central figures involved including Palmer, the director, and writer, he was a deceased boy who'd simply drowned-- nonetheless it's that surprise (inserted to outdo the finale of Carrie) that still gets us today and comes through loud and clear in a dazzling transfer to Blu-ray.

Also upping the notch are the loads of extras included on this uncut version to go along with the re-releases of the other restored versions (including Part III in 3-D, despite my disappointment that this was the only one given the Blu-ray treatment). And while Halloween was the superior film and Jason's antics did grow monotonous over the life of the series--despite a few great twists (and I have yet to see the remake)-- Cunningham's film has actually improved with age.

While there are several factors at play for its success and most incredibly its revolutionary take on the extreme antics of the maternal instinct, a great nostalgic feel (especially when seeing Kevin Bacon and others) along with the realization that despite some of the gruesome effects crafted by Dawn of the Dead makeup effects gore wizard Tom Savini, it's far less exploitative than a number of other slasher films out there today in the torture-porn genre. And ultimately it's the indie underdog spirit of the twenty-eight day shoot and $550,000 budget that makes the result all the more incredible.

Managing to excel at the format of telling a simple B-movie story to the best of their ability and managing to give audiences a tremendous sense of both satisfaction as we live vicariously through our heroine as well as unease with that ending that's been forever etched in my memory-- Friday the 13th will never be a work of art, nor will it ever make the pantheon of horror classics such from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho to Wes Craven's brilliant Scream, but it is the little movie that started the great big horror blockbuster trend (for better and worse).

And moreover, thanks to the great featurettes including a "Friday the 13th Reunion" (from September 13, 2008) where Adienne King tells a moving story of her own encounter with real-life terror when she had a stalker within weeks of the release in an era when such an event wasn't taken seriously-- this Blu-ray version helps put a stop to some of the rumors of the series and gives the accounts of those involved firsthand.

Truly a family enterprise as Cunningham notes in an interview that his son Noel Cunningham took the franchise in another direction midway through as the two still have a cutting room over the garage in "the house the Jason built" before Friday the 13th become not just "a brand" but a "dependable blue collar horror film," that never deviated from its original set-up (to the delight of fans and to the distaste of critics). And thanks to this Blu-ray, it's been preserved in its glory to look and sound perhaps even better than the low-budget film did on its May 9th debut in 1980.

And perhaps because it's still raking in the green-- maybe now after all this time-- Cuningham and company can finally make that soccer picture after all... although, let's just hope the main character's name isn't Jason.

(Note: Most Images Courtesy of
Paramount Home Entertainment;
Extra Images from Blu-ray.com)