Looking Back on 37 Years of “Friday the 13th”

When you hear the term “Friday the 13th” what do you think of? Maybe you think of black cats or bad luck? Or maybe you think of a small camp on the brink of reopening when all the camp counselors start getting killed in the middle of the night. Okay, maybe that’s just what I think, but I can tell you this, a lot of people think the same thing.

37 years. It’s been 37 years since Friday the 13th was unleashed on the public. Since then there have been 9 sequels, a spin-off film, a TV series, a Nintendo video game and a remake all based on a low-budget movie that began as only a title. Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original 1980 film, announced the title Friday the 13th in Variety before a script was even written. But screenwriter, Victor Miller, was about to create something amazing. Once the script was written it was up to Cunningham to get the film rolling. Complete with a group of unknown actors and a legendary makeup artist, they journeyed to New England to begin filming.

The original film had something that was still quite new to the horror genre – the twist ending. Though the twist was nothing original (see Carrie), the ending was something that blew audiences away. The name Betsy Palmer probably doesn’t mean much to many these days, but back in the 1980s she was a well-known actress, especially known for “goody two shoes” roles. Seeing Palmer revealed at the end of this film as the killer shocked the early ’80s audiences. And just as they were getting over the reveal of who the killer was, it was followed by a shocking decapitation scene, perfected by the legendary Tom Savini and then immediately followed by the big shock ending of Jason jumping out the water and pulling Alice under.

Betsy Palmer in "Friday the 13th" (1980)
Betsy Palmer in “Friday the 13th” (1980)

Many look back at Friday the 13th as a rip-off of Halloween which technically it was, but so was every slasher film that came out in the 1980s. The ending of the film is what saved it and helped begin one of the biggest franchises in horror. The original film was a smash hit and would be followed by 7 sequels in the 1980s alone with Jason as the star. In the ’80s, Jason attacked camp counselors, teenagers on vacation at a summer house (in 3D!), Corey Feldman and a group of horny teenagers, a mental institution (sort of), Camp Forest Green (it’s actually Crystal Lake), a telekinetic girl and went on a trip to New York! By 1989, the franchise had petered out and the mother production company, Paramount Pictures, was done with the series and sold the character rights to New Line Cinema. In 1993, Jason returned to theaters for one final film. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday wasn’t very good, with Jason being killed in the beginning and jumping from body to body before a final showdown at the end. The film was lukewarm at the box office and Jason died away along with most of the other ’80s slasher franchises.

In 2002 Jason returned again but this time, in the future! Jason X was released in the spring of 2002 and bombed at the box office, but it was only setting up the film that everyone had been waiting for since 1984. Freddy vs. Jason was released in the summer of 2003 and was a huge hit, grossing more than any of the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street films. But as it is with pretty much every horror film of the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before it got a remake.

Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger in "Freddy vs. Jason" (2003)
Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger in “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)

Released in 2009 the remake Friday the 13th was a big hit opening weekend, but had one of the biggest box office drops in history the following weekend. To me, the film completely misses the point of the franchise. It felt like they were just trying to cram in every cliché of the series into its run time. The film misses the point of Jason’s character by trying to make him sympathetic when he kidnaps a girl and keeps her captive. Needless to say, the remake pretty much killed any attempt at reviving the series.

2017 may be the year for Friday the 13th. This year a new video game is making its way to console systems and a new film is supposedly being released. So what does the future look like for one of horror’s longest running franchises? It could be good, gameplay footage of the video game looks pretty great, but as for the film? It was originally announced to be found footage, which I think would be the end of the series. However, I do believe that has been changed. Sean S. Cunningham is involved, but he was also involved in the 2009 “remake”, so hopefully they make a film that pays the original tribute in a better way. I, for one, will be waiting with eagerness.

Derek Mears and Julianna Guill in "Friday the 13th" (2009)
Derek Mears and Julianna Guill in “Friday the 13th” (2009)

Test your knowledge of the original film with our Friday the 13th quiz.

About Steven Lohmann 16 Articles
Steven J. Lohmann of Creepy Eye Productions has been a horror fan for 20 years now all starting with "Scream" and branching out from there. He is mainly a fan of 80s slasher films, but enjoys all things horror.

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