Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Friday The 13th’ (1980)
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Once in a blood moon, a franchise will come along which redefines a subgenre and takes it to the next level. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise — which essentially created the horror subgenre of slasher flicks as we know them to this day. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new installment in the series any time soon, now is still the perfect time to review this franchise as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have released The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-Ray! As such, I’ll be reviewing not only the movies in this franchise, but these new Blu-Ray releases as well. So, let’s go back to Camp Crystal Lake and take a look at the flick that started it all: Friday The 13th (1980)!
Like many movies that garner a devoted following, Friday The 13th was not created out of passion or a creative impetus. Quite the opposite, in fact, as producer/director Sean S. Cunningham’s primary motivation was “to keep the lights on.” This modus operandi comes as no surprise considering that Cunningham, like any ambitious independent movie producer, has always attempted to glom on to the cinematic trend of the day. He began his career by producing and directing a couple of “marital aid films,” — as they were dubbed at the time — which proved successful in their own right.
Following that, Cunningham and future genre legend director Wes Craven (1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street) teamed-up to triple-down on their previous successes in the adult film industry. The pair decided to make The Last House on the Left (1972). Cunningham served as producer and Craven wrote and directed the movie, which was initially supposed to be a pornographic picture. Thankfully, however, the duo decided to stray away from, in my estimation, this extremely misguided inclination. Instead, Last House ultimately evolved into a straight-up horrific rape/revenge picture. Doing so was the correct decision as the flick proved financially successful in the grindhouses and drive-ins of the era. It also quickly became known as one of the most brutal and disturbing horror films ever made. (A reputation the movie holds to this very day.)
More importantly, though, it got the filmmakers noticed; thus, making it easier for them to secure financing for their respective future projects. In Cunningham’s case, he decided to try to ride the coattails of the smash-hit sports-comedy The Bad News Bears (1976). As such, he practically ripped off that box-office boffo by directing and co-producing Here Come The Tigers and Manny’s Orphans. Both of these flicks were released in 1978 and, unfortunately for Cunningham, they both bombed. The experience led him back to the one genre which had proven successful for him: horror.
Cunningham’s M.O. was simple when he called up his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Victor Miller — “Halloween made a lotta’ money, rip it off.”
Well, that seemed like an easy enough gig to Miller, who designed a screenplay which took the stalk-and-slash concept of Halloween (1978) and moved it to a different spot on the calendar. But the script takes just as much — if not more — inspiration from Psycho (1960). Although, he might not have known it at the time; Miller later said as much after he came to realize he had essentially reversed that film’s mother-son elements.
All the while, unlike the majority of its sequels, Friday the 13th is designed like an Agatha Christie mystery. Originally titled Long Night at Camp Blood by Miller, it was changed at Cunningham’s insistence to Friday the 13th. After all, the whole goal here was to capitalize on the new subgenre of “Holiday Horror” which Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween originated.
Miller’s story (along with some uncredited rewrites by Ron Kurz) is as straightforward and simplistic as Cunningham requested. Formerly a summer camp, Camp Crystal Lake was shut down after a series of tragic events — a deformed boy named Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman) drowned in 1957, which forced the camp to close temporarily. The following year, the camp reopened, but was soon shut down again due to a series of murders. Throughout the next decade, various attempts to reopen Camp Crystal Lake were made; yet, all failed due to a series of fires and poison in the water.
Two decades later, campground owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) is fixing the place up with concrete plans to make Camp Crystal Lake a fully-functional summer camp once again. As a result, Steve’s hired a group of teenaged camp counselors, all of whom have arrived a couple of weeks early to help their boss finish getting the campground prepared for the kiddos. These camp counselors are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, unphased by the town loony, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), and his ominous warnings — not to mention the doubts from the rest of town’s folk. Their unheard pleas should have been heeded, because the camp staff is soon getting picked-off one-by-one by an unknown killer!
As work on the script continued, Cunningham took out a full-page ad in Variety, which was essentially nothing more than logo treatment for the movie, in hopes of attracting investors. This tried-and-true Roger Corman-inspired strategy paid off as Cunningham soon had financial partners knocking at the doors of his production company, Georgetown Productions Inc./Sean S. Cunningham Films, to invest in the picture. Having secured a production budget of $350,000, the director/producer soon assembled his cast and crew. While Cunningham had worked with much of the crew on previous efforts, there was one necessary addition to the production. Make-up effects creator and artist Tom Savini was sought to do the effects on this movie thanks to his work on Dawn of the Dead (1978).
Then, there’s the cast of mostly fresh faces, most of whom were local theater actors at the time. Cunningham purposely cast, as he put it, “Good-looking kids who you might see in a Pepsi commercial.” One of whom is a future movie star Kevin Bacon, who plays Jack. Since I’m covering the cast, I’m going to go ahead and state this right now: despite their amateur status, every camp counselor cast member is fantastic because they all feel like real teens. Not only does each of these actors inhabit a specific personality type, but they are also all quite likable. (Which is more than I can say for some of the teenage victims in future installments.)
But, since the cast is made up mostly of unknown performers, a name was still needed to play Mrs. Voorhees to lend a little credibility to the project. Initially, this pivotal role was offered to Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde, Dick Tracy), but she had to drop out due to scheduling. Following her departure, the part was offered to one of her contemporaries, seasoned actress Betsy Palmer. Ironically, Palmer had made a career out of playing the all-American girl next door type. So much so that her resume might lead one to believe she took Mrs. Voorhees’s role as a refreshing opportunity to play against type.
On the contrary, Palmer loathed the script, telling Miller and Cunningham to their faces that she thought it was garbage. Even still, the actress set aside her opinion and took the part simply because her car had just died and she needed a new one. Practicality is king, I suppose. While I don’t think Palmer was a bad choice, she’s a bit over-the-top as Mrs. Voorhees; and that’s saying a lot considering how unhinged the character is by the time we meet her. I think this movie’s composer’s Harry Manfredini, precisely sums up Mrs. Voorhees and Palmer’s portrayal of her when he said, “She’s crazy, she knows it, and she doesn’t care.”
Once assembled, cast and crew headed off to Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Hardwick Township, New Jersey. Over the next 28 days, they had complete run of the site and completed production on Friday the 13th. Following that, the film underwent post-production and was quickly snatched up for distribution. Paramount grabbed the domestic rights while the film was released internationally by Warner Bros. It should come as no surprise that, between two major studios, Friday the 13th gained worldwide exposure. After all, it was a titillating exploitation film that offered audiences just the right amount of violence, gore, sex, and nudity without becoming too much and heading into hardcore exploitation territory like the aforementioned Last House on the Left.
Well, that’s what I and many other horror fans think anyway. But at the time of its release, Friday the 13th was torn apart by critics and religious groups alike; all of whom thought the movie was trash that was “Nearly pornographic in its depiction of violence.” One of the most notable film critics of the day, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune newspaper and the TV show Sneak Previews (1975-1982), hated the film so much that he took it out on a couple of folks who worked on the flick in the most unprofessional and potentially dangerous moves I’ve caught wind of. After trashing Friday the 13th on his television program, Siskel openly published the respective personal addresses of both Betsy Palmer and Gulf+Western (Paramount Pictures’ parent company) chairman Charles G. Bluhdorn. His purpose in doing this was to encourage his audience to pen hate mail to Palmer and Bluhdorn, shaming them for their participation in the movie!
Not that it ultimately mattered as Friday the 13th was a smash-hit with audiences. In its original and revival theatrical runs, the movie grossed over $59 million worldwide on a $350,000 production budget. I’m not sure what the film’s detractors expected was going to happen. I mean, we all know if you tell someone that shouldn’t do something, that they only want to do it more. Perhaps that’s why much of that theatrical audience went back to see this flick multiple times. In doing so, these fine moviegoers insured not only a franchise but a future fan base which would span generations.
A fanbase of which I, and most likely readers of this review, are a part. While I wasn’t around when Friday the 13th or most of the Paramount sequels came out, I do fall into a specific age group. As a child of the 1990s, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger were still excitedly talked about at the school lunch table and their respective franchises were also always watched at sleepovers. (Well, at least the movies were seen by some of my childhood friends. On the other hand, I was forced by my parental units to wait a few years to watch them.) But when that time came, my maternal grandmother lovingly let me indulge in watching the Friday the 13th marathons at her house.
Why does the original film have and its follow-ups hold a special place in the hearts of horror fans and people of a certain age alike? Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Friday the 13th is fun to watch! Despite being primarily predicated on killing sex-crazed, grass-smoking teenagers, I wouldn’t say the movies are mean spirited. On the contrary, these movies are simply escapes that are innocent enough despite their R-rating. Moreover, the first film is almost like a warm blanket; a quality which I feel is derived mainly from its atmosphere. Between Savini’s effects, Manfredini’s music, and Barry Abrams’ cinematography of a real campground, Friday the 13th is just that inviting.
By no means is Friday the 13th a perfect movie. More accurately, it’s merely a pretty well-made independent exploitation flick. And frankly, some first-time modern audiences may find it slow and even tame by today’s standards. But, I think that’s the beauty of Friday the 13th, which is without a doubt a Franchise Expansion! While this original film almost serves as a prequel to the series that follows, this movie not only spawned a franchise; it generated a subgenre trend that ruled the 1980s!
Believe it or not, irrespective of the franchise that was borne from it, the original film’s legacy would live on in multiple forms on the page. Oddly enough, author Simon Hawke penned a novelization of the film in 1987, years after the film’s original release. Like any adaptation of a slasher flick from screen-to-page, the novelization had to pad the narrative. As a result, Hawke supplied more backstory for Pamela Voorhees (whose first name had not been revealed until 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter). Two decades after the belated novelization, her character was also given the prequel treatment in comic book from, courtesy of a two-issue story entitled Friday the 13th: Pamela’s Tale, published by WildStorm in 2007. Oh, and then there’s the new Blu-Ray of the film!
Before I delve into the Friday the 13th discs themselves, I need to stress what a big deal this boxset is for a multitude of reasons. Much like they did with the now out-of-print Halloween: The Complete Collection on Blu-Ray, back in 2014, Shout/Scream Factory has once again realized the dreams of many horror fans with this Friday the 13th Collection. Somehow, this boutique label has once again managed to get the two studios behind the films (Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros) to agree to license terms so we fans can have a complete boxset for the first time. On top of that, this Blu-Ray collection is a near miracle considering that Cunningham and Miller have been in a legal battle for years regarding their respective rights to the series. These legal proceedings alone have managed to bring everything else about the franchise to an absolute halt. On top of all that, outside of the courtroom, the world is amid a pandemic. Thus, the fact that this set even exists right now is amazing.
Now, let’s look at the Friday the 13th discs. We’re treated to the Theatrical Version on the first disc, while the second houses the Uncut Version. When it comes to this Uncut Version — which runs a scant 11 seconds longer — I’ve frankly never been able to spot the extra gore. Nevertheless, both versions look and sound better than they ever have on any prior release. Of course, it helps that they both have been transferred to Blu-Ray from a fresh 4K scan of the original camera negative. The picture looks beautiful and crisp, yet, it’s still evident that it was made in 1980. Any Blu-Ray collector knows that while high-definition is great, making an old movie look too new takes away from the film itself.
Now let’s look at the special features; I’ll note the brand new ones with asterisks.
Theatrical Cut Extras
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer
- *International Theatrical Trailer*
- *TV Spot*
- * U.S. Radio Spots*
- U.K. Radio Spots
- Movie Stills Gallery
- Posters and Lobby Cards Gallery
While the extras on this disc might not seem like a lot, I love that all these marketing materials are included. Back in the day, such was nearly required on a disc. Alas, these days, a movie’s marketing materials are often neglected. I know this will sound quite esoteric, but I honestly feel that a movie’s marketing is an excellent look into film history.
Uncut Version Extras
- Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th — This 14-minute featurette showcases short anecdotes from Victor Miller, Ari Lehman, Tom Savini, Harry Manferdini, and Robbi Morgan. While much of their stories are well-tread territory, I learned a few new facts here. Therefore, I think it’s worth watching for any fan.
- The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham — This interview with producer/director Sean S. Cunningham and his son, Noel Cunningham, is 8 minutes in length and recorded at Sean’s home. There are some nice nuggets of information here, such as Sean stating he wanted to “create a campfire tale without ambitions.” Interestingly, Cunningham also speaks of the franchise as a whole in the past tense, which I found quite melancholy.
- A Friday the 13th Reunion — Clocking-in at 16 minutes, this was part of a Q&A from the first-ever Friday the 13th cast and crew reunion panel in September 2008. It features Betsy Palmer, Ari Lehman, Tom Savini, Harry Manferdini, and Victor Miller. I may be biased as a horror convention-goer who fears he may never get to attend a con again, but this convention panel was an absolute pleasure to watch. More to the point, it also seemed to be the greatest hits of this particular panel, making it even better.
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood: Part I — Let me be clear, I can appreciate some fan love being displayed in multiple forms on this set. Beyond that, though, I was not particularly impressed with this 7-minute short fan film written and directed by Andrew J. Ceperley. It is competently made, but it just did nothing for me.
- Friday the 13th (1980) Uncut Version Commentary by Director/Producer Sean S. Cunningham with Cast and Crew, Moderated by Return to Camp Crystal Lake Author Peter Bracke — I’m generally not a fan of commentaries that are coiled together from separately recorded individual or group interviews; they’re often too choppy. Despite being constructed in this fashion, this track featuring Cunningham, Miller, Adrianne King, Betsy Palmer, and editor Bill Freda proves insightful.
Without a doubt, this disc, and the box set it’s a part of, is a must-have for any fan of Friday the 13th. The box and case art, along with the new 4K transfers, make it a worthwhile purchase. However, I was disappointed that the original intentions to include commentary tracks for each film by Joe Bob Briggs and the inclusion of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013) did not come to fruition. To be fully transparent, I should also note that many folks have received their sets, only to find that some discs are missing or have issues. Thankfully, I have yet to discover any potential problems with my collection. But you can reach out to Scream Factory for a disc replacement here: https://www.shoutfactory.com/blog/friday-the-13th-replacement-disc-program/ Authoring issues aside, this is still a beautiful, fully packed set which includes some reversible covers and a booklet by Michael Gingold.
The Friday the 13th Collection is Currently Available on Blu-Ray!
Next Time, Franchise Expansion or Implosion Will Return to Camp Crystal Lake for Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981)