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More than 25 years since its release, more than 10 sequels and an infinite number of imitations, most people seem to remember "Friday the 13th" as just another slasher with good-looking teens being killed by a seemingly unstoppable psycho while roaming in an isolated location. However, what most people seem to forget, is that "Friday the 13th" looks so typical nowadays precisely because it was the first film of its class, the origin of all those clichés and the film that redefined the mainstream horror genre during the 80s and the 90s. At its time, it was a film as daring enough to be called controversial yet at the same time accessible enough to be appreciated by the mainstream audiences; for those reasons and more, this films can be proud of being the first one, the definitive one, the film that gave birth to the slasher sub genre.
Our story begins 22 years after a series of unsolved murders happened at Camp Crystal Lake and forced the closure of the beloved Summer Camp and started the legend of the death curse of Camp Crystal Lake, now known as "Camp Blood". Now, the new owner, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), decides to reopen the infamous "Camp Blood" with the help of six new counselors. Ignoring the warnings of the locals, Steve and his young assistants begin the restoration of the long abandoned Camp, but on the night of Friday the 13th, the group of teens will discover that there may be some true behind the local legends, as the death curse of "Camp Blood" returns and a mysterious killer starts to claim fresh, young victims.
Writer Victor Miller claims to have taken a crash course in horror writing when he wrote "Friday the 13th", as both he and director Sean Cunningham were in desperate need of a success and saw that the horror genre had potential, but knew very little about it. So, by taking John Carpenter's "Halloween" as a model, Miller crafted his story about the nightmarish night where a group of teens end up isolated and at the mercy of an unknown serial killer, with the sole purpose of making a successful horror film. And he succeeded, as he took the many different elements that would create the "slasher rules" and turned the simple and derivative plot into a roller-coaster of horror, with the perfect mix of fun, horror and mystery that just keeps getting better and better until it reaches the climatic finale.
Just like Miller took ideas from other horror stories, Cunningham too employs elements from "Psycho", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and specially "Reazione a Catena", mixing them and taking them one step further, in a simple but very effective approach that slowly develops Miller's plot while at the same time offers a quite graphic vision of violence (thanks to Tom Savini's excellent effects) that completes what we know as the "slasher set of rules". Cunningham may not be an original filmmaker, but his "Friday the 13th" remains as one of the most effective suspense tales that despite the bad reputation earned by its sequels, still packs up some good chills thanks to its remarkably well done set pieces and the good use of visuals and music to create tension.
The acting of the film is one the level of the horror films of its time; sure, those may not be the best performances in horror but are miles ahead most of what was delivered by the film's sequels. While the cast is nothing really special, two exceptions are easily noticeable: the young Adrienne King, who becomes our main character, delivers a very good performance that makes her decision of stop acting even more surprising. And of course, Betsy Palmer, who gives the performance of her lifetime as Mrs. Vorhees, a former cook at Camp Crystal Lake that knows more about the Camp's curse than what she may tell. Palmer truly created an iconic character that sadly has been overshadowed by the image of the killer with the Hockey Mask.
While it's true that Cunningham and Miller made a film heavily based on previous horror classics, "Friday the 13th" doesn't feel as derivative as it should, as the many "borrowed" elements here work together with frightening perfection. And despite having average acting, and a fairly low-budget, what truly has become the movie's fatal flaw is the poor reputation that its sequels, its parodies and its imitators have given to "Friday the 13th"'s name, making the film the source of laughs instead of scares, and making the series to be synonymous with stupid horror tales.
The many sequels have truly harmed this film's reputation among the classics, but the truth is that while this movie is far from being a perfect movie, it's creepy and entertaining enough to deliver fun even more than 25 years after its initial release. To enjoy "Friday the 13th", one must try to forget what it's known about the series, and simply enjoy the film as if it was the first time one heard about the infamous crimes of "Camp Blood". 8/10
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