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Friday the 13th

(1980) ** 1/2 R
96 min. Paramount Pictures. Directors: Sean Cunningham, Sean S. Cunningham. Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King (II), Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Kevin Bacon.

/content/films/3318/1.jpgThe ultimate in "camp"-y horror, 1980's Friday the 13th has always gotten by on low expectations. Producer-director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller had a plan (and freely admit it): rip off John Carpenter's Halloween for a quick buck. The resulting cheapie succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, cementing the slasher picture for good: not only did it turn a huge profit, but Friday the 13th spawned eleven sequels (and/or "reboots"). It's an object lesson in how the slasher-horror genre is elemental: sex, violence, scares and laughs. Deliver those, and audiences won't be complaining about little things like plot.

The movie opens in 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake, where the wholesome singalong of camp counselors can't disguise their teenage hormones. When two sneak away, they learn the first lesson of slasher movies: premarital sex is punishable by death. Flash forward to the present day: nubile blonde Annie (Robbi Morgan) wants directions to Camp Crystal Lake, but what she gets is an earful from the locals. They call it "Camp Blood," including one nutter--the "town crazy" Ralph (Walt Gorney)--who correctly tells Annie, "You'll never come back again!" Turns out Annie is one of a whole new group of horny teens converging on the camp partly to help ready the camp to reopen, but mostly to swim, play "Strip Monopoly," and have premarital sex. Uh oh.

Turns out Camp Crystal Lake was not only the site of a double murder in 1958 but also the accidental drowning, a year earlier, of unattended "mongoloid" boy Jason Voorhees. These events might just have something to do with what goes down after sunset, as a serial killer sets to work picking off the teens. Halloween was a cut above, but Friday the 13th's blood simpleness makes it the prototypical modern slasher flick, which has been repeated and refined ever since. After the premonitory buildup, there's slashing, more buildup, more slashing, and so on, until the last person standing goes toe-to-toe with the killer, finally revealed in all his (or her, as the case may be) glory.

Especially in hindsight, Cunningham's film is corny as all get out, without ever stepping up to witty (exception that proves the rule: the a weird cop who tells the teens, "We ain't gonna stand for no weirdness out here"). As such, Friday the 13th now seems hopelessly dated, even though it's the original teens-getting-picked-off-in-the-wilderness flick. It's the killings that are creative, escalating from throat slittings to much, much worse and executed (pun intended) by special make-up effects man Tom Savini. All hail the Godfather of Gore, who punctures young Kevin Bacon and Harry Crosby (son of Bing) in ways no one but Savini would have dared to dream.

Cheap and virtually plotless, Friday the 13th keeps cycling back to those low expectations: as a scary campfire tale, it gets the job done. Complaining about the inane dialogue seems beside the point, as the heroes are all supposed to be "dumb kids," fodder for a ridiculously resourceful killer. Feel free to complain about that latter point, but all is forgotten if not forgiven by the Carrie-esque post-climactic seat-jump. Nothing succeeds like success: it seems that we'll be hearing Harry Manfredini's Herrmann-knockoff score--or at least its heavy breathing innovation ("chh-chh-chh-haa-haa-haa") in perpetuity. Whether you want to credit or blame Friday the 13th for its role in influencing modern cineplex cinema is a matter of taste.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 1.0

Street date: 1/21/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment

Paramount brings Friday the 13th to Blu-ray in its "Uncut" form, restoring approximately 10 seconds of gory footage. That might not sound like much, but just ask the MPAA. The audio-visual transfer is outstanding, with a film-like look that isn't undone by an excess of grain. No digital artifacts interfere with the presentation, and strong detail easily puts this above any previous release. The original mono soundtrack is included. That's a good thing, as some may find the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track sounds suspiciously good (has the score been rerecorded?) and therefore a bit jarring as accompaniment to the 29-year-old film.

The disc comes loaded up with extras, beginning with a commentary by director Sean S. Cunningham with cast and crew. Hosted by Friday the 13th expert Peter Bracke, the track cobbles together the comments of many who worked on the film.

The "Friday the 13th Reunion" (16:45, HD), taped in 2008, gathers 82-year-old Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), Ari Lehman (Jason Voorhees), Adrienne King (Alice), writer Victor Miller, make-up man Tom Savini, and composer Harry Manfredini. The talent's comments are often amusing (and most of the stories have been well honed by repetition), but the most disturbing tales come from King, who was stalked after the franchise launched.

"Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th" (14:07, HD) includes yet more stories from Miller, Lehman, Robbi Morgan (Annie the hitchhiker), Savini, and Manfredini.

"The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham" (8:58, HD) profiles the director and looks at his life and work, including time spent with son Noel.

"Lost Tales from Camp Blood--Part 1" (7:31, HD) is an original short film that gives a horror filmmaker some practice and an audience.

"The Friday the 13th Chronicles" (20:34, SD) is a documentary from the archives, featuring interviews with Cunningham, Palmer, King, Savini, and Lehman.

"Secrets Galore Behind the Gore" (9:32, SD) puts the focus squarely on Savini and the movie's various "kills."

Last up is a "Theatrical Trailer" (2:34, HD). Without a doubt, Friday the 13th: Uncut on Blu-ray is the definitive home video experience of the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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