Film Review: The ‘Friday the 13th’ Film Series, Part I – The Original Trilogy (1980-1982)

Friday the 13th was a cultural phenomenon when I was growing up. While I have always been a bigger fan of Freddy Krueger, I still loved these films, which followed Jason Voorhees, as he murdered sexually active teens that got too close to Crystal Lake.

This is one of the most successful film franchises in cinema history, despite being panned by critics. There have been a total of twelve films between sequels and a remake, as well as an entry that saw Jason fight Freddy of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame. There was even a television show that didn’t directly tie into the movies but was inspired by their tone and spirit.

It is rumored that there is a new films and a television show currently in development. Although things seem to be at the very early stages.

In this review, I am going to cover the first three films. The second review will cover what I call The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy as Parts IV, V and VI focus on the character of Tommy Jarvis and his three film battle with the masked killer. Part three will cover Parts VII, VIII, Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X – the films featuring Kane Hodder as Jason. I will review Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 remake at a later date.

Friday the 13th (1980):

Release Date: May 9th, 1980
Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham
Written by: Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

The first film was created to cash-in on the success of its slasher predecessor Halloween. It was also the first film of its type to be distributed by a major studio – Paramount Pictures. The studio heads were geniuses taking a risk like that because it turned into a massive franchise. Well, they sold the rights to New Line Cinema years later but someone definitely got a huge bonus.

The first film sets the tone for all the others. It even features a young Kevin Bacon.

What makes the first film so unique, is that people have come to associate these films with Jason as the killer. However, in the original film, Jason was not the killer. I thought this was pretty much common knowledge until my girlfriend watched it with me and was shocked at the reveal. While she had seen many of these films, the first movie was not one of them and it was cool to see someone effected by the reveal for the first time.

This seems to be considered the best film, despite Jason only being in it for a few seconds. It’s a good slasher movie but I don’t feel that it is the best, as the films evolve and develop over time.

It still plays well today, and it is still effective despite aspects of it coming off as cheesy. The practical effects still look better than modern CGI blood splatter and gore but I constantly beat a dead horse with that point in my reviews of older horror movies.

The atmosphere of this film is great. It has a similar environmental vibe to Wes Craven’s Last House On the Left but it is lighter in tone, with comedic elements being sprinkled in. It certainly doesn’t make you as uncomfortable as Last House On the Left. Oddly enough, Sean S. Cunningham, who directed and produced this film, worked with Craven on Last House. He wanted to distance himself from that film and wanted to create something a bit more approachable and fun. He succeeded.

Friday the 13th, Part II (1981):

Release Date: April 30th, 1981
Directed by: Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham (additional scenes)
Written by: Ron Kurz, Phil Scuderi
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer

Paramount Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

The second film picks up with Jason looking for revenge. Revenge for what? Well, watch the first film, if you don’t know.

Jason is finally the killer and introduced as a menacing hulk for the first time. Although he doesn’t have the hockey mask yet and walks around with a potato sack over his head. While that is bizarre, there is still something scary about it and about his one eye – peering through a small tear in the sack.

Another group of teens show up at Crystal Lake and the body count starts to rise.

This isn’t as strong of a film as a few of the later installments but it does set the course for the franchise. It becomes the template to follow, even more so than the first part. There is more violence, more boobies and the most important element: Jason!

The only real negative about this chapter, is that they kill off Crazy Ralph. That dude should have been in every Friday the 13th movie.

Friday the 13th, Part III (1982):

Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson, Petru Popescu
Based on: characters by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz
Music by: Harry Manfredini, Michael Zager
Cast: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Richard Brooker

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

This was a 3D film. It is funny to watch because there are all these bizarre shots done that were made specifically for the 3D format. So when you watch them now, they look bizarre and out of place. But even if you didn’t know this was a 3D film, it is made pretty obvious with some of the gags and angles.

The most important thing about this movie, is that Jason finally gets his hockey mask! And even though it takes three films to get to completely familiar territory with this franchise, I do love the slow build over three movies. While it wasn’t necessarily intentional at the time, it now plays out really well. It also keeps the films from becoming too similar, up to this point.

Another group of teens show up because Jason likes killing a specific type of people and a senior citizens convention wouldn’t be as exciting.

Teens die, other people die, Jason fucks shit up and then we get our final battle of the heroine versus the monster. Not to give too much away but the final fight sees Jason take an axe to the head, which is how he got that iconic mark at the top of his mask.

This film is more comedic than its predecessors, especially in regards to the marijuana jokes and hippie characters that were obviously put in the film to appeal to the Cheech & Chong crowd at the time.

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