Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)

Stop the presses!  I’ve never seen Friday the 13th from start to end until just now.  Loved it.  A true cornerstone of the modern horror genre and a cog in the evolutionary horror wheel as it transformed throughout the 70s and into the 80s, F13 takes the handheld/POV camera and utilizes to only slightly less effectiveness than its 1978 predecessor, Halloween.

Things worth noting: the Psycho-tinged score.  Is this a Brian De Palma film?  I almost expected a full medical explanation in the ending hospital scene just to top things off.  Kevin Bacon might be the least clothed person throughout this film.  Also, his bellyflop is phenomenal.

Do characters in horror films have peripheral vision?  When a character walks by camera (and therefore, by Mrs. Voorhees – more on that later) she completely misses the killer lurking behind a tree.  A bifurcated tree.  Meaning easily seen between.  How is this possible?  Isn’t the nature of vision more than a 30 degree field of view?

The POV camera is really interesting in here.  From the prologue, Cunningham sets up the idea that handheld camera = killer.  But this isn’t always true (note the handheld camera from the dock in the aforementioned (and awesome) bellyflop scene).  So must it be handheld camera with movement and things in the foreground?  Also not true.  Note the scene where Ned tries to restart the generator.   Basically the POV camera is the equivalent of an unreliable narrator.  Who do I believe?  Cunningham, Mrs. Voorhees, or the innocent camp counselors?  When a camper turns away in the bathroom and the camera quickly dollies in on her without eliciting a reaction to what should be footsteps, am I supposed to think that she is being snuck up on and has suddenly been struck deaf?  Or that director/producer Cunningham is well aware that an unmotivated moving camera has already been directly linked with murder and is therefore going to use said ploy to death (is that a pun?  I want it to be.)?

It’s really interesting to watch this film and see how horror tropes have evolved.  I kept waiting for negative space to be filled by the killer – a technique common in post-90s horror.  Never happened.  The horror here is indicated through shadow largely.  Through POV.  And occasionally (but surprisingly rarely) through sound.  In fact, I think that F13 is actually still scary only because it unintentionally (for non-time travel reasons) goes against the popular form today.  It therefore ironically plays on modern expectations.

Restart the presses.


About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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2 Responses to Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)

  1. J.B. Rodgers says:

    Great review! So much of what Cunningham was drawing on seems to be Bava’s Bay of Blood (in fact director Steve Miner rips off an entire kill sequence from BOB in the Cunningham produced Friday the 13th II). Also, I absolutely love the schlocky Miner dir./Cunningham pro. “House” from 1986.

    • dcpfilm says:

      Nice! Will definitely check House. It’s funny you mention the Bava connection. I know you saw Bava in some of those misty exteriors (did Bava ever not have a misty night exterior?).

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