An admittedly blatant rip-off of Halloween, Friday the 13th is an undeniable classic of the genre for a number of reasons. It set a standard of teenagers out in the woods, slowly being picked off by a killer of unknown origin. Despite what feel like genre conventions today, the original film is still a fun shocker on a low budget with effective scares.
What makes the original film so unique is its lack of a true, creepy killer. No, Jason wasn’t the major antagonist in the original. It was his mother. Held off-screen for much of the film, Betsy Palmer’s first appearance is creepy and effective. The name Friday the 13th is undoubtedly more well known for the sequels to follow than the original, although that makes it no less effective as a stand alone.
It’s a wonderful pay-off to a rather slow, plodding film. However, it works in the movie’s favor, making the final moments truly involving. A number of kills happen off-screen, using the “Jaws effect” if you will to elicit scares from the audience.
Sean S. Cunningham directs with an in-your-face style. The ‘80s style works for the film instead of against it. The shaky-cam effect is in use years before it became an overused, nauseating cliche. There’s an odd sense of voyeurism to some scenes, such as the fake drowning, that work incredibly well. Tom Savini’s gore effects lead to some classics, including a young Kevin Bacon’s chest stab.
All of the compliments aside, the clear lack of plot, character development, or any stand out features, Friday the 13th is fairly pedestrian. However, despite being dated, the first screen appearance of any Voorhees family member remains a classic for doing everything the genre required of it… and does it well.
It should be noted from the start that the community at large discovered Paramount’s Blu-ray of the film has been cropped on all sides by approximately 10%. It’s an odd choice, one that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. On the other hand, without prior knowledge of this error (or possibly even intentional cropping), you’d probably be hard pressed to tell there’s anything wrong.
Aside from that, if you’re familiar with the format, you can instantly tell from the opening frames this is a ‘80s movie. It carries a look similar to countless others from the era, from the specific shades of certain colors, faded blacks, and limited detail. It’s not terrible (in fact it’s surprisingly solid), but it’s obviously using a common style of the day. Sharpness is high, the print is in remarkable condition, and flesh tones are accurate.
Some minor artifacting is noticeable in the opening moments along the walls, but disappears soon thereafter. The best looking shot in the film comes in the final moments inside the hospital. Suddenly, the transfer takes a wild turn for the better with facial detail and contrast popping off the screen. It’s a shame the entire film doesn’t look like this, but given the rather dim nighttime photography, it’s not a surprise either.
This TrueHD 5.1 effort is far less impressive than the video restoration. Dialogue is flat and strained. The rears are dead for nearly the entire film, save for some wind rustling trees before a storm and the music struggling to bleed into all channels. The subwoofer can be turned off as the low end never kicks in. There are a few uses of the stereo channels for effect as cars move between them. This is where the age shows.
Extras for this edition are beefy and interesting, despite some redundancy between them. A commentary is hosted by Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories. It features Sean Cunningham, composer Harry Manfredini, editor Bill Freida, actress Adrienne King, and Betsy Palmer. This is followed by Friday the 13th Reuinion, a panel of the above cast/crew members for 17 minutes. Fresh Cuts is a collection of more interviews with some of the same questions and answers as the previous piece. The answers are informative and intriguing, but not worth hearing twice.
The Man Behind the Legacy is a piece on Sean Cunningham, Secrets Behind the Gore interviews Savini along with some photos on the effects, while Friday the 13th Chronicles is a nice 20-minute featurette on the film. Finally, there’s a weird short entitled Lost Tales from Camp Blood that goes unexplained, but appears to be an amateur death sequence. This is only part one however, as the second half sits on the sequel’s DVD.