When news broke that a new version of Friday the 13th would be issuing forth from the bowels of the Hollywood studio machinery, I was not terribly distressed. Whatever they want to call it -- remake, sequel, or reboot -- the franchise had been soundly broken and thoroughly devalued for many years. I mean, c'mon: Jason on a boat? Jason in space? Freddy vs. Jason? Talk about flogging a dead horse ... So what's the harm in yet another cynical cash and dash enterprise? Like that would be anything new?
And then I took another look at the original and was surprised at how well it holds up.
Maybe it's because I haven't watched Sean S. Cunningham's film all the way through for many years, so many that I can't honestly recall the last time. I have vivid memories of my first viewing, weeks (or maybe months) after it opened, on the front end of a budget double feature at a second-run theater in the San Fernando Valley playing with, of all things, Apocalypse Now. Then as now, I tend to flinch and shield my eyes at explicit gore shots; still, all the kill scenes left deep impressions on my psyche. I would have been happier if they had played the strip monopoly game through to completion; I developed a crush on Adrienne King; and I couldn't get over seeing Bing Crosby's son Harry Crosby in a disreputable horror movie. (Kevin Bacon didn't register as anything more than a pretty boy.) What I saw of the gore shots were scarily gross in 1980 -- as in, how the heck did they do that? And the "reveal" of the killer's identity: wow.
Rewatching Friday the 13th via the newly-released uncut DVD edition, which Scott's recent preview prompted me to order online, awakened old memories and helped me better appreciate its qualities beyond the enduring musical score by Harry Manfredini and gruesome special makeup effects by Tom Savini.
Chiefly, I came away with renewed respect for director Sean S. Cunningham. Rather than slowly ratchet up the tension, as John Carpenter did so well for Halloween, Cunningham maintains a fairly tranquil, deceptively peaceful pace, punctuated erratically by fiendish murders that erupt out of the forested countryside. (I'll just cite one example, that of "Alice making coffee," as a master stroke of a scene.) The counselors / victims are all likable kids, none of whom we want to see killed. The final 15-20 minutes contains three great, jolting "WTF?" moments that still hold an electric charge.
Not everything in the movie works, but I was caught up in watching a very decently-made picture work its mojo on me. I still flinched from the gore -- those extra few seconds in the uncut version make a slight difference -- and couldn't help breathing a sigh of relief when it was over. Watching the original reminded me that the filmmakers behind next week's Friday the 13th release have more to live up to than I would have reckoned.