Friday the 13th

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(Reviewed in 2002 as part of a retrospective on the “Friday the 13th” series.)

For years now, horror fans have held that “Friday the 13th,” despite its shortcomings, is a significant film because it was instrumental in launching the genre of teen slasher movies. This may be true, but it overlooks two crucial facts: Teen slasher movies don’t make for a very good genre anyway, and “Friday the 13th” is a dreadful piece of trash.

The original 1980 film has spawned nine sequels, plus the crossover “Freddy vs. Jason.” Let us take this opportunity to re-examine this “landmark” film and discuss any merits we happen to stumble across within it.

The film begins with a prologue set in 1958. In this prologue, more or less stolen from “Halloween” (witness the killer’s point of view throughout), two counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are gettin’ frisky in the attic when darned if someone doesn’t come along and kill them.

We skip to the present (well, 1980), where a smiling but clearly unintelligent girl named Annie is on her way to Camp Crystal Lake to work as a cook for the summer. Seems that after a couple decades, the place is being reopened. All the townsfolk call it “Camp Blood,” and Annie is warned by a doddering bicyclist that she is “doomed” if she goes there. The redneck who gives her a lift in his truck tells her several hundred times to quit. She blithely ignores all the counsel and is murdered by an unseen slasher on her way there. (Don’t worry, you won’t miss her.)

Meanwhile, at the camp, we are introduced to a scrawny band of horny teens, all of whom smoke weed so much that now they only wear Daisy Duke shorts. These are the counselors for the upcoming camp season, and the guy in charge of them — a curly-haired porn star of a fellow named Steve — has had an ill-defined relationship with one of them. The lucky gal and allegedly our main character (insofar as she is the only one who doesn’t die) is Alice, who is so nondescript and dull as to warrant never mentioning her again in this review.

Steve goes into town to do goodness-knows-what, leaving the teens behind to be killed. This occurs with methodical precision and admirable efficiency, and usually to a soundtrack stolen outright from “Psycho” and “Jaws,” as though someone said, “THOSE movies were scary; we should probably use their music to make OUR movie scary, too.”

One of the teens is Kevin Bacon. He gets killed immediately after having sex, and we see half of his butt being scratched by the girl with whom he’s doin’ it. Later, Kevin Bacon was in “Hollow Man.” I don’t know that Kevin Bacon’s career has really progressed much.

Nearly every cliche now associated with slasher films is present in “Friday the 13th.” People who fall while running, people saying “I’ll be right back” and then not coming back, idiotic cops, teens having sex, cars not starting, people supposedly being dead and then turning out to be alive and very angry, a killer who proves to be very incompetent indeed once he or she is actually challenged face-to-face — it’s all here. I will grant you that in 1980, most of these things were not cliches yet. You will have to grant me, however, that the acting, dialogue and story in “Friday the 13th” are pitiful. Being cliched is the least of its problems.

The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer, in which we are shown the deaths of several people — which removes any possible suspense over who will live and who will die. It’s clear no one ever expected us to watch the movie for any reason other than the thrill in seeing people we don’t know or care about being butchered.

For that matter, there’s no suspense over who the killer is, either. The film’s point of view is omniscient; that is, we are privy to the thoughts and actions of all characters, not just a select few. When a murder is being committed, we are often shown what’s going on simultaneously back in the cabins. This gives everyone an alibi, and we know the killer is not one of the characters we already know. Which means, who cares who it actually turns out to be? Just some random psycho, or someone with a grudge, or a strange act of God. Everyone winds up just as dead either way.

Despite the trailer’s promise of 13 murders, there are only nine in “Friday the 13th.” Just another example of the film failing to live up to itself.

F (1 hr., 35 min.; R, lots of bad stuff.)

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