DirectorSean S. Cunningham
Release Date(s)1980 (June 16, 2020)
Studio(s)Georgetown Productions/Paramount Pictures
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
In 1979, Sean Cunningham decided that he was going to, in the words of screenwriter Victor Miller, “Rip off Halloween.” Quickly coming up with a story, cast, and crew, they not only succeeded, but unintentionally created a horror franchise. One of the first independent films to be released nationally by a major studio, Friday the 13th was highly successful, spawning sequel after sequel. Taking place at Camp Crystal Lake, where a group of camp counselors are preparing for a reopening, they’re quickly knocked off one after the other by an unidentified killer.
Looking back at it comparatively, Friday the 13th actually opens very much like Halloween. The beginning of the film takes place in the past in the first-person view of an unknown killer, not unlike Michael Myers, with a flash forward to the present where we see a young woman walking through town, not unlike Laurie Strode. However, this is where the film severs its visual detachment, following its own path without any heavy-handed allusions (or otherwise) to the horror films of yesteryear (other than a quick nod to The Shining towards the end).
When comparing the film to the rest of the franchise, one must remember that when it was being produced, there were no thoughts of sequels. Sean Cunningham thought the idea of bringing Jason in as the killer—somehow surviving and living in the wilderness nearby—was ludicrous, a view shared by others. Now that there’s a series, minor details that seemed inconsequential at the time stand out. And while continuity errors plague the series as a whole, even the first film has its share of issues. The biggest is that the killer is built up visually as a man (due in part to Tom Savini executing the gore effects), throwing off their identity entirely. It’s also odd that the Christys, the family that owns the property that Camp Crystal Lake sits on, is never mentioned again throughout the series. It’s a frivolous thing, but it was never explored or even alluded to.
On the other hand, you have a nice, likable cast of characters, including an up and coming Kevin Bacon; a skillful director (Sean Cunningham) building plenty of suspense into it; a maestro of makeup and gore effects (Tom Savini); and one of horror’s most memorable sound effects (Ki, Ki, Ki… Ma, Ma, Ma…), courtesy of composer Harry Manfredini. It’s may not be the best or the most interesting film in the series, but Friday the 13th is still effective. It also laid the groundwork for a memorable movie villain to emerge, improving upon and defining a horror movie formula.
For the film’s 40th Anniversary, Paramount Pictures has given Friday the 13th the Steelbook treatment. Unfortunately, it’s the same Blu-ray disc that’s been available in previous releases, meaning that there’s nothing new other than the packaging. It’s the same transfer that dates back to 2009, which is not bad at all, but could see some improvement. The film is quite dark and grainy, but the transfer manages to soak up fine detail after the opening credits. Speckling is frequent but not intrusive, though occasional staining does pop up from time to time. Blacks are a tad crushed and contrast is a bit too high. The color palette is fairly lush, though it doesn’t fully lend itself to the presentation. The image is fairly stable as well.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and English, French, and Spanish mono Dolby Digital with optional subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. The 5.1 track widens out some of the sound effects, but all of the score, leaving the dialogue front and center. The Ki, Ki, Ki… Ma, Ma, Ma… segments are definitely improved, often moving from speaker to speaker. It’s tough getting much out of such a low budget film’s soundtrack, but the 5.1 manages to do the most with it that it can. A lossless mono option would also have been preferable.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Peter M. Bracke, Sean Cunningham, Bill Freda, Harry Manfredini, Adrienne King, and Betsy Palmer
- Friday the 13th Reunion (HD – 16:45)
- Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th (HD – 14:07)
- The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham (HD – 8:58)
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood: Part 1 (HD – 7:31)
- The Friday the 13th Chronicles (SD – 20:34)
- Secrets Galore Behind the Gore (SD – 9:32)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:34)
The audio commentary is hosted by Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke, segueing various interviews with the cast and crew. It’s a very informative and all-encompassing commentary, covering many aspects of the film’s production. The Friday the 13th Reunion is a Q&A with the cast and crew, hosted by Michael Felsher, featuring Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Victor Miller, Ari Lehman, and Tom Savini. Fresh Cuts speaks to most of the same members of the cast and crew, as well as others, telling random stories about the making of the film. The Man Behind the Legacy is a comfortable sit-down with Cunningham about the making of the film and its legacy. Lost Tales from Camp Blood is an ongoing series of slasher short films in the vein of Friday the 13th. The Friday the 13th Chronicles is an older but very good making-of, featuring the usual suspects from the cast and crew. Secrets Galore Behind the Gore is an extension of the making-of, focusing more of the special effects. The Return to Camp Crystal Lake documentary from the film’s UK release is still MIA. Then again, the sequels and the extras related to them, as well as the Crystal Lake Memories and His Name Was Jason documentaries, are all absent as well. A Digital Copy code is included on a paper insert within the package.
Friday the 13th was nothing more than a low-budget cash grab, pure and simple, and the filmmakers aren’t coy about admitting it. That said, it spawned a series as beloved as any in horror. Though it’s clear that Paramount is trying to cash in on the film for its 40th Anniversary, nothing new is brought to the table. For Steelbook collectors, this is a nice release, but others may want to hold off for now.
– Tim Salmons