Friday the 13th (1980) / **

f-13It’s time to come clean, as a horror fan. Yes, I love horror movies. I love the psychological turns of the screw of movies like The Shining. I love the visceral, inhuman terror of something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I love the creeping unease and beautiful pacing of movies like Night of the Living Dead, which start you in a normal world and slowly plunge you into madness and nightmares. I love the impact of them, from the intensity of Martyrs to the simple, no-frills approach of The Blair Witch Project.

But apparently, I just don’t like slashers. At all.

I mean, there are a couple of notable exceptions – I think the original Black Christmas is one of the all-time great horror films, and that Scott Spiegel’s Intruder is an underrated gem that I really loved. But it’s hard for me to get into classic 80’s slashers, which mainly just bore me with their flat characters and – more importantly – a complete lack of fear or unease.

Even so, I felt like I needed to see Friday the 13th, one of the seminal and original slasher films. Even with my ambivalent – at best – feelings toward slashers, I felt like I couldn’t be a true horror fan without seeing one of the quintessential entries in the genre. And so, given the chance to see the original Friday the 13th at a local theater, I took it…and got about what I expected.

Here’s everything you’ve come to expect from slashers, in its original form. A soon-to-open summer camp, filled with promiscuous teens without much personality; a slew of inventive and graphic kills of characters you probably won’t miss; a Final Girl who makes it through everything and has to face off against the big bad herself. (And if you’ve seen Scream, you probably even know the big difference between this film and all the others in the series.) There’s even the obligatory final jump scare, the stinger that’s mandated (and clearly, clearly inspired by Carrie).

All of which is fine, I guess. There’s nothing particularly great here – nothing, for instance, on par with that amazing boat sequence from The Burning. But more than that, the biggest issue with Friday the 13th is just that it’s not well made. Horror is a genre that demands a lot of its directors – you need pretty tight control over your film, over your atmosphere, and over every other aspect of the experience. And Friday the 13th is sloppy, at best; the shots go on too long, the lighting is bad, the performances weak. (I can’t help but compare the whole thing to Don’t Breathe; even though the two films have nothing to do with each other, Don’t Breathe‘s incredible craft and technical superiority are constantly on display, and aid in the tension, unease, and horror, and you can’t help but wonder how Friday the 13th would be if it had someone who knew what they were doing behind the camera.)

And maybe I could forgive more of that if I was more into slashers, or more into the kills and inventiveness (even though they’ve been outdone over and over again by now, of course). But mainly, I was just bored by it all – and that’s maybe the worst reaction you can have to horror, short of laughter. I mean, I’m glad that I saw it, simply as a completist. And it’s hard not to be interested in seeing how the genre really got its start. But as someone who apparently just doesn’t dig on slashers, I can’t say too much great about it.


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