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Friday the 13th (1980)

Paramount // Unrated // February 3, 2009
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Before that
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jaunt to space, before blackened hearts were being scarfed down, before the hockey mask -- hell, before Jason even picked up a machete for the first time -- there was Friday the 13th. With a remake lurking in the shadows, Paramount is bringing the camp counselor carnage of Sean Cunningham's seminal slasher to Blu-ray. For the first time on these shores, the 10 seconds of gore snipped out during Friday the 13th's original theatrical run have been reinstated as well. Fingers crossed that the next wave of Friday the 13th flicks will be unrated when they carve their way to Blu-ray too.

A few other stabs had been made at reviving the long-shuttered Camp Crystal Lake, but every attempt at reopening this money pit has been plagued by poisoned water or a mysterious rash of fires. Camp BloodCamp Crystal Lake has been cursed ever since a little boy drowned in the lake and two counselors were gruesomely slaughtered, but almost 25 years have passed since those horrors, and the summer camp is once again opening its doors. It doesn't matter if the locals twentysomething miles away speak in hushed tones about the death curse that supposedly plagues the camp -- it matters if they can shuttle in enough kids to pull a profit. That parade of buses and wide-eyed tykes are all still a couple of weeks off, though, and the counselors that start to roll in have their work cut out for 'em if they're going to get the camp ready in time. Of course, it'd go a lot faster if they weren't goofing around in the lake, puff-puff-passing, screwing each other, or...y'know, being butchered one-by-one by some unseen killer.

Friday the 13th wasn't close to being the first slasher flick -- Halloween, Black Christmas, and...hell, Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve, which was an obvious touchstone here, beat it to the punch by years -- but the glut of slashers that were churned out in the 1980s all owe a nod to this movie's colossal run at the box office. The original Friday the 13th may not be slathered in the red stuff and doesn't stick to that someone's-hacked-apart-every-ten-minutes rhythm of the sequels and knockoffs that followed, but the slasher that opened the floodgates still ranks up there as one of the genre's best. Director Sean Cunningham establishes a pretty much perfect sense of atmosphere. Camp Crystal Lake really does feel remote and rundown -- that there is no place to hide and no hope of escape -- and the leering, voyeuristic camerawork ramps up the tension even when the next kill is still off in the distance. The only horror cues more iconic than Henry Manfredini's shrill, stabbing strings are Jaws and Psycho, and Friday the 13th wouldn't be nearly as effective without his score in place.

Friday the 13th doesn't slosh around in its splatter -- there's really not all that much blood, and for the most part, these are fairly straightforward kills -- but Tom Savini's gore effects were monstrously innovative for their time, with a couple still catching me off-guard or making me squirm on my couch even my seventh or eighth time through. Unlike most of the indie slashers that'd follow in its wake, the cast tackling Friday the 13th's counselors are decent enough across the board. None of them are "die, die, die!" annoying, the first of these main characters to be butchered really is a shock, and...hey, it packs on an early turn by Kevin Bacon, so there's something to be said for that. Even stuff like a bunch of the kids playfully trying to chase down a snake that's loose in one of the cabins feels natural instead of the filler packed
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onto most slasher flicks.

There are really only a couple of scenes of stalking-and-slashing -- most of the Dead Teenagers don't know there's a murderer skulking around until a few seconds before being hacked to bits -- but the best of them are extremely intense, especially the wildly effective torment in the climax. The killer's identity is kept under wraps for almost the entire movie, even though it's cemented into pop culture so deeply that it's past that statute of limitations on spoilers. (Hell, the flipside of the cover even has a big shot of the murderer waving around a knife.) I'll halfway step around the reveal anyway just to be nice, but it breaks a lot of genre rules while still being perfectly logical and almost sympathetic. Then there's that ingenious final scare that takes its cues from Carrie...

What doesn't work? Again, jaded young gorehounds weaned on more visceral flicks will probably find Friday the 13th's kills too tame and the pacing unwatchably slow. To me, that somewhat slower burn is part of the appeal -- it's not much of a rollercoaster ride if you're only careening down the entire time -- and even though I've watched the movie more than enough to know what's around the next corner, I never find myself feeling bored. More terrifying than any of the murders are the tiny, tiny cutoff jeans, something that'd also filter into slashers like Sleepaway Camp further down the line. Masterful acting, lush characterization...? No, but why'd you head into an '80s slasher expecting anything like that?

Me, though...? I love Friday the 13th, and whatever shortcomings it has are all part of the charm of this creepy little rollercoaster ride I've kept hopping on over and over again for a couple of decades now. Paramount has done a hell of a job bringing this seminal slasher to Blu-ray, piling on lossless audio, a pretty decent high-def transfer, and a big stack of new extras, almost every last one of which is served up in HD. The biggest selling point to fans -- to the ones who haven't already imported Warner's DVD of this same cut from the UK, at least -- will probably be the grislier kills. The extensions are slight, clocking in around 10 seconds total across several different murders, but it's a thrill to be able to see the original cut of a movie that warped me so much growing up...and in high definition to boot. Here's hoping Blu-ray releases of the sequels aren't too far off. Highly Recommended.

For a movie shot
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independently and on the cheap almost thirty years ago, Friday the 13th looks alright in high-def. Reference quality it's not: the photography is softer than usual and can be really grainy. Shadow detail tends to be pretty weak, and during some of the chases in the dead of night, the entire frame can be a flat, murky, muddy, borderline-indistinguishable mess. That's just the way the flick was shot, though, and Friday the 13th translates about as well as it reasonably can to Blu-ray. Paramount's remaster is really clean -- there are only a few tiny flecks of dust scattered throughout the entire movie -- and unlike the restitched together My Bloody Valentine, those extra few seconds of splatter are culled from the same source and are seamless. Even though the image is a bit on the soft side, there's a stronger sense of texture and detail than I've seen in a big stack of other movies of this same vintage I've caught in high-def over the past few years.

I couldn't spot any edge enhancement, glaring hiccups with the compression, or any sign of clumsy digital noise reduction. Its colors are kind of muted but punchy enough, and Friday the 13th looks at least a couple of years more recent than it really is. Clarity and fine detail really pop when the camera closes in tightly, especially once the epilogue rolls around. Black levels are kind of lackluster, though, apparently having been elevated compared to previous releases. Direct comparisons also show that this Blu-ray disc is heavily cropped compared to previous releases. I'll admit that even with as many times as I've watched Friday the 13th over the years, the reframing didn't stand out to me, but it appears to be fairly dramatic. The review at Horror Digital has a set of very detailed comparisons, if you're curious. Taken on its own, I'm not disappointed with the way Friday the 13th looks on Blu-ray, but between the cropping and boosted contrast, there's plenty of room for improvement.

Paramount has opened the mattes a bit to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the video on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc has been encoded with AVC.

Friday the 13th's 24-bit Dolby TrueHD audio -- remixed in six-channel surround sound -- is a lot better than I waltzed in expecting, and a big, bloody chunk of that's owed to Henry Manfredini's iconic score. Its stabbing strings attack from every direction, boasting a hell of a presence as those fading ki-ki-ki-kis and ma-ma-ma-mas skitter from speaker to speaker. The remix doesn't waste a lot of effort shoehorning effects into the surround channels, instead reserving them mostly for Manfredini's score and that unsettling atmosphere of being trapped in the middle of nowhere. The dialogue stems are flat and dated, and although I did struggle to make out a few lines as Steve was finishing up in some out of the way diner, the rest of it's at least listenable. Shimmering highs and foundation-rattling lows...? Not really, but the muscular remix of Manfredini's score makes up for the middling quality of the rest of the track, and even those kind of lackluster sounding stretches really aren't any worse off than I would've expected. Good enough for what it is.

If you're not all that keen on remixes, Friday the 13th's original monaural audio is served up in lossy Dolby Digital alongside monaural dubs in French and Spanish. Subtitles are also offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish.

This...? This is a special edition. Friday the 13th carries over the commentary from Warner's British DVD from a few years back along with a couple of other older featurettes, and a slew of newly-produced extras are all served up in high definition.
  • Friday the 13th Reunion (16 min.; HD): This convention panel-slash-Q&A shot last September features writer Victor Miller, producer/director Sean S. Cunningham, wizard of gore Tom Savini, composer Henry Manfredini, and actors Ari Lehman (the first Jason for all of twelve seconds or whatever), Betsy Palmer, and Adrienne King. The whole thing is fairly short, and a lot of these same topics come up over and over again throughout the disc's hefty stack of extras, but there are some pretty decent notes in here. Among 'em...? Betsy Palmer shrugging off the script at first but being so won over after learning that Jason was a mongoloid that she refused to acknowledge the sequels, Adrienne King talking about suffering through life with a stalker after the colossal success of the movie, and Manfredini beaming about that long, deceptive leadup to the flick's seat-jumping last scare.
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  • Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th (9 min.; HD): It's kind of funny that a featurette with "fresh" and "new" in the title opens with Victor Miller almost word-for-word telling the same story from the Q&A about writing his Halloween knockoff, but it livens up a lot a minute or two in. This set of stories features the same folks from the convention panel -- who haven't even had time to change! -- along with Robbi Morgan joining in on the fun to talk about being the first kill in the Friday the 13th series. Okay, she's actually the third, but close enough... Also tackled in here are the awkward, unwieldy title Victor Miller tried pitching, Savini chatting about working alongside Bing Crosby's son, and Manfredini noting just how sparsely and deliberately his iconic score was used to pack the biggest wallop. A few other scattered notes include Savini's skill with a bow and arrow and Manfredini recycling a country song he'd been sitting on for the movie's final Carrie-inspired scare.

  • The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham (9 min.; HD): As Sean Cunningham gives viewers a quick tour of The House that Jason Built, Friday the 13th's producer/director chats about why he thinks this slasher made such a huge, bloody impact, how unusual the concept of a sequel for this sort of horror flick was back in those days, and how convinced he was at first that anchoring a followup around Jason was a terrible idea. It's one of the less compelling featurettes in the set, but there is some high-def footage from a few of the sequels scattered around in here.

  • Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 1 (8 min.; HD): Yikes. This amateurish short -- which, aside from Manfredini's iconic music, really doesn't have much of a connection to the movies at all -- carves apart a couple of lovebirds awaken in the dead of night by a prowler. "Lost Tales from Camp Blood" is a little bloody, sure, but it's pretty chintzy and corny too, and the killer doesn't look like any of the Vorheeses I've come to know over the years. The short is encoded in high-def, but the HDV camera they're using doesn't hold up well under low light, so the heftier resolution doesn't really amount to much.

  • The Friday the 13th Chronicles (20 min.): Despite the wide net the title makes it sound like this featurette casts, the first of the disc's pair of standard definition extras aims its sights squarely at the original Friday the 13th. Piling together the same folks featured pretty much everywhere else throughout this Blu-ray disc, "The Friday the 13th Chronicles" chats about publishing an ad in Variety back when Cunningham only had a title to work with, Betsy Palmer only taking the gig because it'd pay to the penny a new car she was eyeing, and lots of chatter about the extended fight in the climax and the cacklingly devious finalĂ©.

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  • Secrets Galore Behind the Gore (9 min.): The kills in Friday the 13th may not be all that gory by today's standards, but they were gruesome and groundbreaking back in 1980, and Tom Savini runs through how the movie's kills were designed and executed in detail, from a rubber axe to a severed head held on with toothpicks.

  • Audio Commentary: Hosted by Peter Bracke -- the author of Crystal Lake Memories and the reviewer heading up DVD Talk's corporate cousin High Def Digest -- this commentary track pieces together interviews from a half-battalion of the cast and crew. Featured here are director/producer Sean S. Cunningham, editor Bill Freda, assistant editor Jay Keuper, composer Henry Manfredini, writer Victor Miller, and actresses Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer. I'm not all that keen on these spliced-together audio commentaries: the conversations and interactions are an integral part of the appeal of a commentary track to me, and not only is that lost here, but it's almost never screen-specific. If it's going to be structured that way, why not just put a set of video interviews in its place instead? Bracke is the dominant presence, approaching the movie from more of a scholarly angle and even speaking at length about the appeal of the slasher film to gay men struggling with their sexuality.

    Some of the highlights in this track include the uproar Betsy Palmer's casting inspired -- even prompting Roger Ebert to publish 'her' address in a review so his readers could bombard her with hate mail, how the MPAA quickly regretted letting Friday the 13th slink past its scissors pretty much intact, a series of disastrous screenings at Paramount before the movie had been picked up, Palmer spelling out the backstory she envisioned for Missus Voorhees, and long, long conversations about how this isn't meant to be some sort of morality tale. Actually having at least some of these people together in the same room might've made it more interesting. I mean, there's one stretch where the movie's screenwriter chats about how the virginal Final Girl had to survive, followed immediately by Bracke noting how this particular character wasn't meant to be pure or virginal at all. There is quite a bit of information piled on in here that's not covered elsewhere on the disc, so it's still worth a listen, but I do wish this had been formatted a lot differently.

  • Theatrical Trailer (3 min.; HD): Rounding out the extras is a vintage trailer transferred in high-def.

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The Final Word
Halloween may have kickstarted the modern slasher flick, but it's Friday the 13th that launched the phenomenon, for better or worse redefining what horror meant for an entire decade. Even with all of the Roman numerals and colons that've been tacked onto the title over the past twentysomething years, the original Friday the 13th still stands out as one of the best in the series, and it's held up better over the years than a hell of a lot of other '80s slashers. Not only has Paramount given this seminal slasher flick a high-definition spit-and-polish, but they're releasing it unrated for the first time on these shores, and its release on Blu-ray is splattered with a slew of newly produced HD extras as well. Highly Recommended.
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