Ki Ki Ki, Ma Ma Ma… or, in other words – Kill her, mommy!
Dir. Sean S. Cunningham
Runtime: 95 minutes
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon
Back in 1980 horror films were trying to push the boundary of what was acceptable, there had been many a video nasty already released, and some big hitters in the horror genre were birthed. “Friday the 13th” was made for around $550,000 and would go on to earn almost $60 million globally, not to mention spawn sequels, prequels, games, comics, and various entries into contemporary cinema. This is one of my favourite horror/slasher films of all time, and anyone that is serious about horror must watch this, if they have not already watched it hundred of times already.
In 1957 a young boy drowns in the lake at Camp Crystal. A year later two camp councillors are brutally murdered while having sex in a storage cabin. Fast forward to the future and twenty-two-year-old camp councillor Annie Phillips is on her was to the reopened Camp Crystal to work the summer. She never quite makes it because after being dropped off close enough to walk, she is chased through the woods and gets her throat cut. And thus, the fun starts. At the camp, a group of councillors (Ned, Jack, Bill, Marcie, Brenda, and Alice) and the site owner (Steve) are preparing for the season. A storm comes in but by this time the fun has already started. Some of the camp councillors are killed in creative and brutal ways. Alice and Bill investigate as best as they can, while trying to survive while all around them hell is breaking loose. Alice meets a new arrival at the camp, Mrs Voorhees, a middle-aged woman who claims that the boy who drown in 1957 was her son Jason. She blames his death on the councillors who were supposed to be looking after him but were having sex instead. Mrs Voorhees is not revealing everything she knows though, and soon enough Alice has a fight on her hands again.
This is a low-budget film that became bigger than most people would have anticipated. It came about primarily due to the success of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), and like that, managed to cement itself into horror film folklore. It was produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who as well as taking inspiration from Carpenter, had also worked with Wes Craven on exploitation horror film “The Last House on the Left” (1972). With this film Cunningham wanted more of a rollercoaster horror that would scare the audience. Something like “Black Christmas” (1974) but for a warmer season.
Fun Fact: The original screenplay for “Friday the 13th” was titled “A Long Night at Camp Blood”.
When it came to casting, there was more emphasis on hiring people who seemed right for the role of camp councillor rather than seasoned actors. Most of the cast came from soap operas with a handful being auditioned from adverts. Using adverts worked well as a way of marketing the film to kids too. The role of Mrs Voorhees was given to Betsy Palmer after Estelle Parsons snubbed the film on account of it being too violent. Palmer though was not a fan; she thought the film was “a piece of shit” and only accepted because she needed to buy a new car. A lot of people tend to forget, this film has Kevin Bacon in it – yes, “Footloose” (1984) Kevin Bacon.
Fun Fact: The character Bill is played by Harry Crosby. He is the son of famous crooner Bing Crosby.
Filming took place in Hardwick, Blairstown, and Hope in Warren County, New Jersey). The camp which was used is still standing and still operates as a summer camp, it is a boy scout camp called Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. The lovely make-up effects that you can see on screen are courtesy of make-up genius Tom Savini. He got the call after having success with George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). As well as the genius make-up, there a special twist in the musical department which was headed up by Harry Manfredi. He wanted to keep things to a minimum and only used music when the killer was about. The idea was not “manipulate the audience” unnecessarily but give them enough of a clue when the killer is present. He had to create a musical score which represent the killer in their absence and for that he took some inspiration from the score created by John Williams for the 1975 smash-hit “Jaws”. The famously chilling sound of “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” actually comes from the reciting “kill her, mommy!” …… and just like that I have given a clue to the killer – damnit!
Fun Fact: Jason’s appearance at the end of the film was suggested by make-up genius Tom Savini. He had recently seen “Carrie” (1976) and thought that a “chair jumper” at the end would be a fitting way to end the film.
Using Mrs Voorhees as the killer was a stroke of genius. Nobody was expecting it and a lot of people who claimed to love horror but had not seen this would often get it wrong, assuming that Jason Voorhees is the killer when in fact it was his mother. If you have seen Wes Craven’s “Scream” (1996), it famously uses this knowledge in its dialogue when the killer is doing a pop-quiz to potential victims. Cunningham revelled in inventing a serial killer and enjoyed settling on a matriarchal murderer. “I took motherhood and turned it on its head, and I think that was great fun. Mrs Voorhees was the mother I had always wanted – a mother who would have killed for her kids”.
On its release, despite facing very stiff competition from the likes of “The Shining” (1980), “The Fog” (1980), and “Prom Night” (1980), this was a massive success. It might not have been a film that would garner many prestigious awards, but it set itself up as a success in the world of horror. Most of the critics in contemporary cinema actually hated the film because the plot wasn’t that deep, and it was pretty straight forward – serial killer stalks sex mad kids. Some saw it as self-indulgent nihilism, inherently voyeuristic, slow paced, and over ambitious with trying to make the gender of the villain a twist. At the time though, some of those same critics did not have foresight enough to see that this film, like some of its contemporaries (including “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and “Halloween” (1978) were part of a developing sub-genre of horror, the slasher film. There are now at least 10 sequels, a cross-over with Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), reboots, novels, comics, and a video game.
I love “Friday the 13th”. It is iconic and genre defining. It is super low budget in comparison to other horror films, but it stands tall and proud as a success. It managed to create a tone and style for horror films which is still emulated 40 years later. With a dark and atmospheric set up there is something raw and voyeuristic about this film. Right from the off we are following the killer, we do not see the killers face till it is too late, all we get is the thrill and black humour of watching kids being brutally killed in creative ways. That is something that follows the franchise through its lifecycle and something that makes the horror almost amusing to fans of the horror genre. This film does not claim to be something it is not; it does not claim to be an intellectual film, it’s refreshing in its approach as a straight-up thrill packed scare movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie in every decade that I have watched it. It might not have aged spectacularly due to the way the world has changed, but for atmosphere and thrills it is hard to beat. Do yourself a favour, get some popcorn, turn the lights off, and sit back.