Jason Was My Son, And Today Is His Birthday: Friday The 13th (1980)

If through this marathon I still chose Possession as the best viewing experience, it will be solely because the film proved a far more jarring and cinematically challenging work, one that caused me to reconsider the very nature of the genre and larger confines of cinema as a whole.  If it ends up getting relegated to second place it will be, almost certainly, in relation to Friday the 13th, which may well be one of the most fully realized works in the storied history of horror cinema, both in terms of how it choses to execute its scare tactics, as well as the ways in which it becomes very funny when considered in a post-modern context.  Knocking this off of my shame viewing list has proved quite rewarding and burst onto my screen, much like its title card with such force as to provide me an entirely new film with which to consider how I approach cinematic language both when needing to provide examples as well as in how I understand my own descriptions of cinematic tropes and tricks.  Indeed, the very nature of the camera within this film, much like Possession, proves not only integral to the feel and dread evident in the film, but very much exists as a second character within the plot, one that invades the narrative and changes the mood of scenes, indeed in a very physical manner in this film.  While the point of view shot in Halloween predates Friday the 13th by roughly two years, the use in this teen slasher pic, is so focused and deliberately disconcerting as to almost prove the sole influence on the found footage genre that did, and to a degree still is, sweep American genre film over the past five years.  I know much of the genuinely positive reaction to this film comes from the wonderful bluray upgrade the film has received, almost becoming an absurd simulacra of life in its glossy feel and dreary ethereal quality, yet the other factor that makes this movie work so wonderfully is quite certainly the ways in which it has seeped into the popular culture collective, whether it be through its now iconic soundtrack or for its understanding of the role sex and violence plays into a good slasher film, if not for this its final act, layered with various levels of scares, manages to provide for one of the most tense closing shots, despite choosing one of the most serene images imaginable.

The film begins in 1958 where two camp counselors of the presumably wholesome Camp Crystal Lake sneak away to engage in young teen sex, much as seems to be the case for all camp counseling scenarios.  However, before they can even engage in the act, an of screen presence attacks the man and depicts the screaming visage of the woman, before jumping to a present day depiction of Annie (Robbi Morgan) a young woman who has been hired to to cook at the newly reopened Camp Crystal Lake.  Lost and a bit confused as to why she is being warned about the camp, Annie, nonetheless, obtains a ride to about half way to the camp from a local, despite the warnings of doom that will befall her from the town crazy Ralph (Walt Groney).  The film then cuts to the counselors already present at the camp, including the semi-authoritative, but, ultimately, spineless Steve (Peter Brouwer), as well as the sex-crazed Jack Burrell (Kevin Bacon) and the wise-cracking and somewhat mean Ned (Mark Nelson).  The camp also includes a set of girl counselors, most notably Alice (Adrienne King).  While the camp preparations appear to be going off without a hitch, the failure of Annie to arrive at camp, a result of her being murdered as viewers are shown, doubled with a warning by a local police officer, make for a tense situation at the camp.  When various members of the group start disappearing things become more troublesome, despite varying degrees of ignorance by the other counselors who are either too engaged in games of strip Monopoly or drug induced sex to notice any thing going afoul.  This, however, excludes Alice who immediately becomes aware of the unusual situation and makes certain of her safety as she navigates about the now hyper-threatening space of Camp Crystal Lake, discovering the dead bodies of her friends along the way.  At this point she meets the seemingly innocuous Mrs. Vorhees (Betsy Palmer) only to discover that the elderly woman is indeed the one responsible for the murders, as it was her son Jason who was a victim of neglect in 1958 when the two camp counselors distracted by their own sexual desires, resulted in his drowning.  Mrs. Vorhees has thus taken upon revenge on the space of Camp Crystal Lake and attempts to kill Alice, who eventually evades her and incapacitates her with a frying pan, fleeing to the center of the lake to await the arrival of officers.  However, this sense of safety is quickly undermined as the closing moments suggest more than the vengeful Mrs. Vorhees preside over the space of the camp.

While I have already been made quite aware of the power of gaze and "to-be-looked-at-ness" in cinema through personal research and undergraduate courses in film studies, it has not been until this semester in a Feminism, Media and the Arts course that I have become somewhat hyperaware of how deeply this act goes in film, no more clearly than in this horror film from 1980.  In fact, I would even argue that director Sean S. Cunningham and cinematographer Barry Abrams are having a field day with the notion of the voyeur or looker in the space of genre film.  On more than one occasion in Friday the 13th the viewer is meant to be synonymous with the then unseen attacker, as though to suggest that it is their presence looking onward into the space of the film that is causing the destruction, perhaps were one to never view the film the murders would thus never occur.  I know it is a weird thing to say, considering it sounds as though one should not watch the movie, but it is indeed quite the opposite, it merely suggests on a very psychological and visceral level the ways in which a moviegoer is looking at a moving image with the hopes of consumption, even if such consumption has a high degree of violent destruction.  The thrill of cinema exists in its very fabrication, while also proving wildly realistic thus becoming a sort of reality detached from reality where desires and hopes can be projected on and upon the space of the cinema.  This is precisely what makes Friday the 13th such a post-modern work of cinema, because it is precisely in this projection that the film calls attention to itself, both in terms of the narrative it creates for viewers, as well as noting the ways in which viewers will project their notions onto the space of the film, even if on a cerebral or unconscious level.  We watch the young women run from the camera collectively and while most would agree that murder is wrong, given an awareness of its projected nature we, nonetheless, engage in the act by a complicit involvement in the cinematic experience.  The reversion of the traditional slasher identity adds a gendered component to the look as one assumes the violence to be enacted by a male, through traditional gaze theory, thus adding another layer of post-modern play.  Yet the most clever challenge to the act of looking at the film comes in the closing shot of a serene lake, wherein given previous reveals in the film manages to be so tense and disconcerting as to cause one to look away from the film, the reflective quality of the lake at play, is no less a point of coincidence in the larger consideration of the violent look.

Key Scene:  One of the best opening shots to title card in the history of cinema, without question.

Get this bluray, I accidentally ended up with two copies, so when I post mine to Amazon feel free t buy it and enjoy it in all its genius.

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