The Perfect B-Movie

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

While looking for a movie to write for the Grindhouse Database, I hit a roadblock. The movie that I had originally wanted to discuss didn’t interest me enough and I couldn’t find many ideas to work on. I kept on switching genres, actors and directors in order to find that perfect movie, but none worked. It was then I decided to turn to one fail-safe movie which I’d always loved in the hopes that it would help me get writing. It didn’t disappoint.

Friday the 13th will always remain my favourite slasher movie. Undoubtedly, there have been better movies made before and after it in the genre, but there is something about Friday the 13th which makes it a personal favourite.

Friday the 13th

It is as ‘slasher’ a slasher movie from the 80s can get: The basic plot revolves around the summer camp setting where a bunch of teenagers arrive to set up and manage a camp for kids, only for them to be attacked and murdered one by one by an unknown killer. There are a number of deaths in the movie, at the same time the director holds back on the action for majority of the film. What I mean by that is: a. the killer is mostly shown (barring a couple of shadowy appearance, where nothing can be made out) from POV angles, thus keeping a lid on their identity, b. The deaths in the movie aren’t overtly gruesome (exception being Marcie’s death) or detailed in comparison to some of the other slasher movies, for instance sometimes the act of stabbing in itself is not shown on-screen, although blood is shown later (Death of Barry), some shots freeze on the victim's face (Claudette’s death) and there are deaths which happen off-screen. (Ned, Brenda and Bill)

This inadequacy in violence and little information about the perpetrator, creates a tense build-up leading to the climax. In fact, the movie could be divided into three specific parts: The serene first half an hour or so, where the entire story develops: we are informed of a mysterious killer, a bunch of teenagers in a camp and the likelihood that they will be alone on a stormy night, it roughly ends around the time when Ned spots someone in one of the buildings and goes ahead to investigate. Over the next half an hour, the action moves pretty swiftly, we see the kids being stalked and bumped off one by one, their lives are in real danger and they are lured or hunted down by this unknown killer.

During the first hour, the fates of certain characters are left ambiguous. This helps with the last half an hour when Alice, the final girl, is made to confront with the horror that she’s alone in the camp with a serial killer, while all her friends have been mercilessly murdered.

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The movie doesn’t delve too much on creating suspense over identity of the killer. Surely, we are hinted at an unknown killer who is hell bent on killing anyone involved with Camp Crystal lake but the movie doesn’t try to drop red herrings, even with Steve having gone to town or Ralph being present around the camp, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of an effort to pin the blame on a specific person. In fact, the last few minutes see the entry of someone completely unknown to us, yet the ‘big reveal’ still manages to shock us when we come to terms with the reasons behind these murders. In the movie, the lurid crimes are shown to the audience first, and then a detailed explanation provided about the killer and their reasoning. It is the background story of a tragic loss which gives a different shade to Friday the 13th.

While the deaths in themselves are finished off quickly but there are sequences such as Marcie or Annie’s death which involve an element of stalking or preying on the victim. However, the creepiest death in the movie is of Brenda. At first, it is shown that she enters the communal bathroom to brush her teeth. The audience knows that Marcie had met her fate there and a strong possibility remains that Brenda’s life is in danger, this is further emphasized by the fact that Brenda is using the same washbasin that Marcie had used. She feels some presence around the shower stalls. (We know that Marcie had heard some noises near the stall as well, which she thought were Ned's work and had gone ahead to check on them)

While she doesn’t register it, as she is busy brushing her teeth, but the audience are made to realize that someone is inside one of the stalls. (A hand is shown which moves the curtains slightly).

Unlike Marcie, Brenda avoids any investigation and returns to her room after she's done with her task. However, any relief that the audience might have felt over her survival, evaporates with the shots of the killer stalking her as she tries to settle in to sleep. She hears the screams of someone pleading for help. As she goes out to investigate, we know that her fate is all but sealed. The poor girl takes a torturous journey in the rain as she is enticed towards the archery range, being dragged out not due to her curiosity in what is going on around her but because she felt that someone genuinely needed her help. She is last seen at the range, as the lights are suddenly switched on by the killer; startled by the act and drifting near an archery target board. This is the same place where earlier in the movie, Ned had tried to fool around with her by shooting an arrow close to her. The actual murder is not shown but we are left with an image of helplessness. This image returns as we witness Jason’s death towards the end.

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In many ways, Friday the 13th comes across as a movie which is perfect for its budget. The acting is okay but never becomes exceptional. The music is fine but doesn’t stand out. The story in itself is simple and straight-forward, there is a twist towards the end but no deep analysis of human nature or fear.

It is what I’d like to call a ‘safe’ movie, one which delivers exactly on the ‘slasher’ tropes that it is supposed to follow.

It is able to create a jovial atmosphere around the camp; in the beginning, the camp cook Annie looks forward to visiting the camp, other teenagers are shown fooling around in the camp. Later, there is the ‘snake’ scene which feels like a sequence out of the teen summer camp comedies from 80s. (It is a goofy sequence but ends with the unfortunate killing of a real snake)

A relaxed atmosphere is built around the camp for the viewers to soak in, while simultaneously a tension grips the screen with the crimes surrounding these events. There is the conventional thrill built around the mysterious killer. The teens are going about their business till they are stalked and killed off. They are unaware of what is going on around them, till Alice finds the bodies of her friends.

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It is made clear that Alice is supposed to be the final girl all along, as the killer fumbles and tumbles around her, while previously no trouble had been encountered in murdering other characters. Also, the contrived final sequence has the killer explaining it all to Alice, while all the other deaths had been silent kills.

And yet it works wonderfully, because Friday the 13th is seeking to deliver those exact thrills. The final sequence has the cold realization of the killer’s identity hitting Alice hard and she barely recovers from it to escape. The maximum amount of action takes place over the next few minutes, as we now understand what the killer is after and what our protagonist needs to do in order to live. Alice is able to summon all her strength to fight back and survive. (But only just)

Friday the 13th can be equated to that sports team, which is seen by its fans as decent enough to make the knock-outs, and then goes out to deliver a semi-final spot in each tournament in which it competes. In short, it does exactly what a ‘slasher’ movie is supposed to do, provide thrills and entertainment in the right quantity and keep you on your toes from beginning to the end.

by Divy Tripathi

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