Classic and one of the first true slasher films of its kind though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. It is though, it’s good…not great. The silence and long shots to make you fit in place of the killer work really nicely but some hammy acting and mindless character choices leave it feeling slightly wafer thin, like a cardboard standee of a horror film though it survives as being much better than any of the sequels.
After an opening showing the murder of two camp counselors in 1958 we move to present day or 1979 Friday the 13th, as some new guys and gals start rustling up the abandoned and unkempt Camp Crystal Lake for some children to do activities in. The group arrive earlier of course to set up, but ignore the advice of a crazy village dude and stories of grisly murders in the past thinking it’s all baloney. Ned, Jack, Bill, Marcie, Alice and Brenda may soon realise their choice to say is ill fated as an unseen killer picks them off one by one.
The setup is pretty basic, creepy location big enough for plenty of young horny fooling around doubling up as a dark playground for a killer to have a field day. The village nut is now a staple device and always serves to either put the willies up people or get laughed at, in this case Ralph becomes the latter though, we the audience know better. The cabins themselves are so off track that it instantly makes the place scary as they are far away from civilisation and help. It might tick every conventional horror cliche box but Camp Crystal Lake has a fantastic name and works in putting the six counselors away from the world and closer to death.
The strongest aspect of this slasher is the music or lack of. Harry Manfredini only comes in as a good score master when needed, otherwise the film is just the diagetic sounds of the characters or their surroundings. It’s perfect symmetry to have the non-diagetic sound only rise up when the killer is doing their stuff. That way you start feeling creeped out at the right time and manipulation of music to push a scare is never used. I really like this decision as it lets the scenes play out naturally. The music to mirror the camp murderer is simple but 100% effective with echoing calls reverbing to produce an unnerving track of suspense. It’s a sound that will always be associated with this film and that’s a sign of good work.
The characters are generically done in being sexual, dopey or jock like. They also make horrendous decisions and especially in the case of Alice who does nearly everything wrong when facing the killer. It’s a case of most of the actors being pretty bad and obviously acting but for a cult horror film from the 80’s you can’t hate on it that much for it. They at least get the whole ‘young souls having fun’ down to a T which in a way makes you hate them and that’s where controversy for this movie came as critics didn’t like the way it made you root for the killer, which makes sense slightly but I like that take.
The reveal of the killer is brilliant and still feels fresh now, a clever and kind of sad unmasking to see who is haunting this camp and why. The actor in question may over act shockingly but their motivations and frightening face as they rampage come together as a cool twist for what could have been any other slasher horror. It’s a shame the sequels tampered with this story and messed it about, making the victim of an unwatched camp the killer in future films. You can’t deny that this film delivers on what it sets out to do so in that sense it succeeds.
Though looking at it today it feels extremely dated, there’s not a huge amount of scares, shock or gore, and you can see it tries to pick ideas and style from ‘Halloween’ but fails and becomes shoddy. It’s just odd that a rather tame horror film contributed to the surge in horrors of the time and kick started such an influential franchise. Kevin Bacon, the music (or lack of) and the killer reveal may be the only gilded items in this unoriginal, poorly acted formulaic slasher spree.