Saturday, December 1, 2007

Friday the 13th

One nice thing about horror movies is that they seem to operate by a completely different set of rules than every other genre of film. For instance, while in most genres, a sequel is almost guaranteed to be inferior to the original work, here in the world of horror the reverse is true as often as not. While this isn’t always the case (as series like Pumpkinhead and Critters can show), it is certainly true with a great many of the more famous series, such as this one.

The plot shouldn’t need to really be recapped, but here’s a quick one sentence synopsis: a summer camp with a troubled history plans to re-open under a new management, but an unseen killer stalks all the counselors. There you go. I don’t know whether or not to approach this film as a product of its times, or if I should be judging it based on today’s standards. Either way, though, it’s pretty sub-par. The plot is basically just a body count-style horror movie revolutionized by Mario Bava, without managing to muster up the tension of previous slasher films like Halloween (its direct predecessor) or Black Christmas (Halloween’s direct predecessor). By today’s standards it’s extremely tame; there’s very little blood, and despite a game of strip Monopoly being played by several of the counselors, there’s pretty much zero nudity. As a film, it just doesn’t work. It also rather clumsily tries to emulate the style of Black Christmas or an early Argento giallo by showing most of the murders from the killer’s perspective, so that we can be appropriately shocked when the killer is finally revealed. This also doesn’t work.

Now, what does work? Well, the score by Harry Manfredini is much better than the film deserves, and goes a long way toward making the movie okay to watch. Additionally, you get an early performance by Kevin Bacon, in only (so far as I know) his second speaking role after Animal House, so if you’re like me and have a vested interest in seeing famous actors getting their start in no-budget horror movies, then this ranks right up there with Johnny Depp’s film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street (though Bacon’s death scene isn’t nearly as impressive). Finally, this film begins one of my favorite horror traditions: after the cast has been whittled down to one or two terrified survivors, the killer then begins heaving the corpses of the earlier victims through the windows at them. It’s a grand Friday the 13th tradition that was sadly not used in Jason X, but given that there weren’t really any proper windows in the spaceship for him to heave corpses in from, I guess it’s understandable. It’s interesting to see how fun several of the sequels were, considering how weak the original is, but that’s how horror movies work, you know.

Rating: *

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