So I’ve been doing my horror movie homework lately: the first two Friday the 13th movies and the first Nightmare on Elm Street. I’d’ve hit up the Halloween series, too, but the first movie is gone from Netflix insty and H2O sequel is…quite, quite dreadful. I watched it out of desperation on cable once when I was sick. Even my massive childhood crush on Jamie Lee Curtis couldn’t make it good; it only made it watchable.
(Admittedly, a cable edit is not ideal viewing at any time for anything except, perhaps, Stonehenge Apocalypse and then only because the ad breaks give you a chance to recover from your bouts of helpless hysteria.)
Lets do Friday first. I…wasn’t unduly impressed with this. Slasher flicks are not my favorite movie meat at any time of day and, while I’m interested in the Friday series for a number of reasons, the actual content of the story isn’t high on the list! I find the durability of the franchise fascinating (12 films, the last in 2009), the role it has in the development of modern horror, the impact it has on other films, on pop culture in general (who doesn’t have some faint “back of the brain” recognition of “Crystal Lake” or “Jason”?), and so on and so forth.
But the slasher film per se doesn’t do much for me: blood for the sake of blood…eh. The first Friday had enough other things to keep me interested: the characters were actually…a little character’y; it’s always fun to watch the back-story unwind (even when you already know it); and, honestly, the setting is quite gorgeous. This, really, was one of the things working against the scare value of the movie for me; I grew up somewhere that looks very much like “Crystal Lake” and, while I’ve seen plenty of horror movies with a woods’y setting that work just dandy to set my adrenaline going, this wasn’t one of them: there wasn’t a nasty vibe coming out of those trees, at least to my mind.
What I found particularly interesting sitting and watching the first two Friday movies in immediate succession was, among other things (sex = punishment!), was that the surprise, the shock, the horror (if you will) is supposed to come from the kill itself. There isn’t much emphasis put on the lurking killer, the mutilation of the bodies, the disposal or discovery of corpses, and all the trappings that I (and I suspect other viewers) have become accustomed to watching more recent films. The killer kills — and that’s it. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you get a shot of a corpse with a hatchet in her head or his throat slit (physiologically inaccurate, if anyone cares) and that’s about it. If that doesn’t scare you — too fucking bad!
It’s an interesting take: it assumes that your effect can be totally gotten across to your audience by a brief — seconds only — shot of a hatchet in someone’s skull. Okay, yeah, Tom Savini did a great job with the make-up, but…perhaps my palate is just jaded but — not really that scary.
In time and place, however — I remember once having a conversation with my sewing teacher back when I was in 4-H as a child about, for some reason, Jaws and how she remembered the summer it had come out and how terrified people were. I’m not sure if I remember her saying she’d been to see it or not, but I’ve always remembered her saying how scared people were and how silly it seemed now, etc., etc. Well, I’ve seen Jaws on the big scene and it was fucking terrifying and that was in 2009, 30 years after first release. I can’t imagine seeing Friday the 13th on the big screen and it having the same effect.