The Movie: 'Friday the 13th' (1980)
The Scene: Just when they thought it was safe to reopen
Why It's Iconic: 'Friday the 13th', like any other film on this list, is required viewing for horror geeks. It is one of the basic pillars of the slasher sub-genre by which many of us swear. Like any successful horror film, it spawned an unstoppable string of sequels all featuring a masked (either by burlap sack or misused piece of sporting equipment) psychopath. That psychopath turns out to be the adult version of the creepy little kid that pulls Alice under the water. It's not simply that this scene is the first appearance of one of the most recognizable icons in horror, but few horror franchises are built upon a character that doesn't show up until the last five minutes of the original film.
This moment is also iconic for just how out-of-left-field it is given the rest of the film. Yes, it is a stinger ending that incites a few startled shrieks, but if that were the only reason it were effective, it would be no greater than any of the jump scares employed by nearly every current horror film. No, the main reason this moment is so iconic is that it is the sole supernatural element of an otherwise grounded horror film. Prior to this moment, this is a revenge horror movie and there is nothing about Mrs. Voorhees' madness that seems fantastical or even outside the realm of possibility. At no point during her violent acts of vengeance does she use any magical hexes or spells to end the lives of the counselors; simply sharp objects and good ol' physics. So by the time Alice kills Mrs. Voorhees and sets out in that boat, the audience has no reason to believe that any threat remains. So when the film's only supernatural event jumps out of the water and pulls her under, it's completely unexpected.
Another thing that makes this scene iconic is how the moments just prior to its occurrence feel like they are from a completely different film. As Alice drifts on the canoe, the score swells to something far more polished and grandiose than at any other moment in the film. I am a big fan of Harry Manfredini's random system of stabbing chords and the classic ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma theme, but he throws his own playbook out the window at the end just to sell us on the finality of her in the canoe. It sounds like a piece of music out of a tragic love story played with all the pomp and circumstance of a film with ten times the budget 'Friday the 13th' had and then, just when you've been suckered in, Jason leaps up and the striking, violent tones return and stick a knife in your side. The same can be said for the cinematography I think, which looks better at no point in the film than it does just before the moment of impact.
While the list of horror films that utilized the stinger ending is massive, even being imitated by a number of the 'Friday the 13th' sequels, I think the most interesting flatterer is Adam Green's 'Hatchet'; obviously not in the realm of surprising us with a character who is talked about but never seen, but as a playful spin on expectations in horror films. I'm going to get a little spoiler-y regarding 'Hatchet' so if you haven't seen it, do not read on.
When Marybeth and Ben believe they have taken out Victor Crowley for good, they climb into a boat and try to put the evening's proceedings behind them. As they console one another, music swelling, Victor leaps out of the water and pulls her under. This scene, as is the case with a majority of the film, is a direct homage to 'Friday the 13th'. But beyond homage, it also has a similar playfulness toward expectation. The next shot, wherein Ben's hand comes down to save Marybeth from drowning, you still believe they are going to get away; only to have those hopes dashed when it turns out to be Victor using Ben's hand as a prop as Ben himself lies dying in the boat. Credits!