Friday the 13th (1980) Movie Explained: 1974 was a pivotal year for the American slasher genre, which was influenced by Italian Giallo films and classic psychological horrors like Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960). That year saw the release of Tobe Hooper’s gruesome and gritty Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It strengthened the ‘Redneck’ or ‘Hillbilly’ menace trope utilized by John Boorman’s disturbing feature, Deliverance (1972). In Canada, in 1974, Bob Clark made Black Christmas, which sort of became the blueprint for the slasher narrative in the subsequent decades. In Clark’s film, a mindless killer terrorizes sorority sisters.
Leatherface flailing his chainsaw in the sundrenched Texan landscape became one of the iconic images in American cinema. Then, in 1978, a budding horror auteur took the existing slasher horror tropes and elevated and reshaped them through his unique fear-inducing aesthetics. John Carpenter’s Halloween – made on a shoestring budget – introduced a ‘blank slate’ killer (a faceless evil), who is basically a super-efficient killing machine in human form. The film’s success on the commercial and artistic front set a new benchmark for the slasher genre.
Carpenter’s monumental blockbuster inspired a few independent filmmakers and producers to take a calculated gamble and make some money. But not many were as influential and commercially successful as Sean Cunnigham’s Friday the 13th (1980). Unlike John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper, Sean Cunnigham was not a talented filmmaker (he produced Wes Craven’s 1972 directorial debut Last House on the Left). In the short documentary Return to Crystal Lake (2003), the scriptwriter of Friday the 13th, Victor Miller, says Cunnigham called him up and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money at the box office. Why don’t we rip it off?”
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It’s interesting how a project conceived as a cash grab set the stage for the development of an iconic horror villain (Jason Voorhees) and influenced the genre in its own way. From Hitchcock’s Psycho, giallo horror Bay of Blood (1971) to ‘Redneck’ horror fares, and Carpenter’s Halloween, Cunningham’s Friday the 13th borrows from multiple sources and yet manages to make a decent horror flick with some memorable kills and few great thrills (thanks to the extraordinary makeup effects by Tom Savini and Taso Stavrakis). Moreover, by today’s slasher standards, the blood and gore in this film are relatively moderate. Now let’s see what happened on this specific violent day and night at Camp Crystal Lake (on Friday the 13th, June 1980), where nobody is safe, particularly the horny teenagers.
Friday the 13th (1980) Plot Explained:
The Eerie Setup
Friday the 13th opens at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958 with a group of teen camp counselors singing a song around the fireplace. It’s cut to the menacing presence of an individual walking through the wooden cabin and looking at the sleeping kids. The shift to point-of-view shots, apart from concealing the killer’s identity, hints at the looming presence of something malevolent. This has been used quite a few times in American cinema, but more effectively in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Most importantly, by putting viewers in the killer’s point of view, we feel trapped and unsettled even though the camera steadily glides through the space. In Friday the 13th, however, the subjective camera feels more like an imitation and merely sustains the tension over the killer’s identity.
After the singing session, two of the camp counselors – a boy and a girl – move away from the group. They make out in the loft of a cabin as we follow the killer climbing the steps and disrupting the teens’ euphoria. The boy is stabbed first, and the girl runs around the cramped space, and there’s a freeze-frame shot of her screaming, followed by the movie title.
What’s the Lore Behind Camp Blood?
The narrative moves to 1980, June 13th Friday, as Annie (Robbie Morgan), a cheerily optimistic young girl, arrives at a small town. She gets into a diner and inquires about Camp Crystal Lake. The patrons at the diner direct a suspicious gaze at Annie. The locals call it ‘Camp Blood’ due to the mysterious drowning of a boy and the subsequent murders of two teenagers in 1958, whose killer is still unidentified. They scoff at the idea of opening the camp again. Nevertheless, Enis, a truck driver, offers to take Annie to the crossroads closer to Camp Crystal Lake.
As they leave the diner, Annie is stopped by Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), who, as his name suggests, is the town’s prophet of doom. He warns Annie that Camp Blood has got a ‘death curse.’ In the truck, Enis calls Annie’s boss – the camp owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) – a troublemaker and a nuisance. He questions whether Annie knows about the place. Annie says she’s there to cook for fifty inner-city kids and ten young staff. The truck driver also warns her to quit, explicating the alleged curse surrounding the camp. Annie, naturally, brushes it off as a tall tale and gets off at the crossroads.
The Arrival of Mixed-Sex Group of Camp Counselors and their Recreational Activities
Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Jack (Kevin Bacon), and Ned (Mark Nelson) are the first to arrive at the camp. Marcie and Jack are the tale’s promiscuous teen couple, whereas Ned is a sexually frustrated guy who directs his energy to silly pranks. The three are greeted by Alice (Adrienne King), a Tomboyish, introverted girl and a fine equivalent to Jamie Lee Curtis’ protagonist in Halloween. Steve Christy is also there, engaged in some minor works related to refurbishing the cabins. A conversation between Alice and Steve hints at a romantic relationship between them, but Alice is soon leaving the camp to California. Then, we are introduced to two other camp counselors: the level-headed Bill (Harry Crosby) and the gregarious Brenda (Laurie Bartram).
As they all get acquainted, there’s a subjective shot of someone looking at the new camp staff. Soon, Steve leaves the camp in his jeep to run an errand in the town. He promises to return before the rain. The flirtatious and messing around nature of the youths’ are unleashed once Steve is gone. At the archery range, Brenda is surprised as Ned hits the target while she is standing close to it. Meanwhile, Annie is still walking through the empty forest roads. She stops a jeep to hitchhike to the camp. As Annie gets into the vehicle, the point-of-view shots signify that the driver is the killer.
Annie is, as usual, chatty, but she panics once she sees the driver passing the camp and driving faster. She jumps out of the vehicle. With an injured leg, she tries to run away from the killer into the woods. But of course, the killer catches up to her, and Annie’s throat is slashed – her latex neck looks a bit apparent as blood gushes out of it.
Back at the camp, the young counselors are fooling around near the titular lake. Their carefree shenanigans and sunbathing are briefly interrupted by Ned’s foolish drowning prank. At the same time, Brenda feels the intrusive gaze of someone obscured by the dense treeline. In the cabin, Alice comes across a snake and hollers for help. Amidst others’ panicked behavior over the snake, Bill hacks the snake into two with his machete. The killing of the snake was real, and such disgusting on-screen cruelty against animals was prevalent in the movies of that era.
The archery range, the lake, and the snake scenes serve as a foreshadowing element as later in the narrative, the killer stalks and preys upon his victims in these various settings.
In Slashers, Promiscuity = Gory Death
A local police officer visits the camp to inquire whether they have seen Crazy Ralph. He comes across the annoying Ned, acting foolish while wearing a Native American headdress. The swaggering and condescending police officer questions if they are smoking weed and cautions them about its dangers. The police are the only authority figure we see in the narrative, who obviously has a myopic view about the teenagers of the era. Later, Alice opens the pantry, and she is scared by Ralph’s presence, who, as usual, spouts his “You’re doomed and cursed” speech. As the sun sets, and finding that there’s no power, Brenda, Bill, and Jack go to the generator cabin and start it.
Ned watches Jack and Marcie fooling around from a distance. The dispirited guy then sees someone entering a cabin. He follows the person into the cabin. Marcie talks to Jack about a haunting dream she repeatedly has. Soon, the storm approaches, and the two run into a cabin with bunk beds. They have sex, and just as the couple climaxes, the camera moves to the top of the bunk, where Ned is lying down, his throat slashed and eyes open.
Meanwhile, Brenda initiates a game of strip monopoly with Bill and Alice. Each piece of clothing is used in place for the money. After the post-coital embrace, Marcie goes to the restroom. Jack lights up a joint while lying in bed. He sees blood dripping from the bed above. Suddenly, a hand sprouts out from below the bed and holds his forehead as an arrowhead slowly pierces through a spot below his neck. There’s a shot of blood spouting from his neck (with bubbles), and this is perhaps the most memorable and disturbing kill of the film.
Marcie enters the restroom cabin under the heavy downpour and rumbling thunder. While looking at the mirror, she feels the presence of someone. Marcie – like all teens in slashers who are about to be brutally killed – thinks she is the subject of a prank. Alas, Marcie can only scream before an axe cleaves her face. It’s interesting how out of the three teen on-screen kills in Friday the 13th, two victims are killed right after having sex.
More Disruption and More Kills
Brenda and Bill aren’t doing well at the strip monopoly. But just as shy Alice is about to strip her first piece of clothing, the strong winds open the door with a thudding sound. Brenda remembers that she hasn’t closed the windows of her cabin. She says goodnight and leaves. At the cabin, after changing into a nightgown and reading in the bed, Brenda hears a young boy calling, “Help Me.” When she repeatedly hears the call despite the steady rainfall sound, Brenda walks out with a torch to investigate. The voice leads her to the archery range, where all the bright lights are turned on.
After looking at the generator room, Bill returns to Alice, who says she heard someone screaming, possibly Brenda. Since the lights are turned on at the archery range, they decide to look around and see if Brenda is alright. At Brenda’s cabin, the duo only finds a blood-soaked axe in her bed. Distressed and petrified, Bill and Alice, after searching the cabins, break into Steve’s office to use the telephone. But the lines are down – not because of the storm, but someone has cut it.
Steve Christy is seen heading back to the cabin when his jeep breaks down. A police officer gives him a lift. He talks about the curse of Friday the 13th and the age-old superstitious belief that a full moon causes an increase in crime. After reaching the camp, Steve is interrupted by someone wielding a torchlight, and Steve is stabbed. Now the power is down.
After a fruitless search, Alice sleeps on the couch. Bill takes a lantern and ventures out alone to check the generator. After waking up and observing Bill’s absence, Alice goes to the generator cabin. Alice only finds Bill’s discarded raincoat. But when she gets out of the cabin and closes its door, Alice finds Bill pinned to the door, his throat slashed. She emits a scream and, with a jolt of fear, runs back to the main cabin.
Friday the 13th (1980) Ending Explained:
Who is the Camp Crystal Lake Killer?
Alice makes sure the killer doesn’t breach the cabin’s door by tying the door knob to the wooden beam and placing heavy objects in front of the door. But the killer throws Brenda’s tied-up corpse through the glass window. Subsequently, Alice sees a jeep approaching the camp – the same vehicle that picked up Annie. She calls for help and meets a woman named Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). The middle-aged woman introduces herself as a friend of Steve Christy. Alice takes Mrs. Voorhees inside the cabin to look at Brenda’s body.
A visibly distressed Mrs. Voorhees rants that Steve shouldn’t have reopened the cabin. She talks about the drowning of a boy named Jason. Mrs. Voorhees blames the boy’s death on the distracted teen counselors. Furthermore, the woman says she was working that day, cooking for the kids. Now, it becomes clear to Alice who the mentally disturbed Mrs. Vorhees is – Jason’s mother. In fact, it is Jason’s birthday today.
The central twist of Psycho is repurposed in Friday the 13th as Mrs.Voorhees’ homicidal avatar makes its appearance through her inner Jason persona. But as Betsy Palmer’s Mrs. Voorhees says, “Kill her, Mommy,” in a childlike Jason voice, it’s unintentionally hilarious than terrifying. While running away from her killer, Alice stumbles upon the corpses of Annie and Steve. A long chase ensues. Eventually, Alice fights for her life with Mrs. Voorhees at the lake shore. Alice saves herself by wielding the machete and cleanly shaving off Mrs. Voorhees’ head.
Is Jason Alive?
The following morning, the local police reach the camp. An exhausted Alice is seen sleeping in the canoe in the middle of the lake. She wakes up and is relieved by the police presence. Right at that moment, a boy with a disfigured face emerges from the lake and takes her down. The jump scare moment is cut to Alice waking at her hospital bed, terrified by the nightmare. After calming down, Alice inquires if everyone is dead. She further asks if the boy, Jason, is also dead. The police officer doesn’t say Jason is long dead. He simply says they didn’t find any boy. To which Alice ominously says, “Then he’s still there.”
It’s cut to a shot of the eerie lake. We wonder if the final shot will offer a glimpse of Jason as if he is a ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ But it fades to black, leaving Jason’s fate open-ended. Of course, Jason became the chief antagonist in the sequel that was released in 1981, and from the third film, he stalked and killed his victims while wearing the now iconic hockey mask. To date, there have been thirteen Friday the 13th movies, including the 2003 crossover movie Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 reboot.