Friday the 13th is a sloppy, messy, and none too scary movie in which camp counselors are killed by a murderer we only see at the end, for reasons incredibly short in logic. It’s not a movie with large production values, it’s been shot in a way that makes you wonder who among the crew had held a camera before production began, and it doesn’t even have terribly creative deaths. In almost every area you can look for in a film, it doesn’t succeed.
Here is how the first 70 minutes of the picture play out. Camp counselors, both male and female, are abandoned by their leader, who goes into town for supplies. Left to their own devices, they do what you’d expect: they play games and they have sex. Meanwhile, someone is watching them from the woods, and every now and then, this figure — who aligns us with his/her point of view via POV shots — kills one of them. That’s it. We watch these teenagers fool around by the lake and the woods, and then we watch them die, one by one, at the hands of someone we don’t see for the majority of the film.
It would be fruitless and likely impossible for me to describe all of the teenagers for you. I can’t remember them well enough to do that, and the film does such a poor job of characterizing them that they all fall into two categories: (1) male, or (2) female. That’s the extent of the differences between them. The vast majority of them will wind up dead anyway. These deaths usually occur in the form of a knife to the throat, because creativity is something that would be too much work for the filmmakers.
In addition to characters who all seem similar, the dialogue written by Victor Miller is absolutely awful, and it’s delivered poorly by almost everyone involved. It’s like all the actors knew that nobody cared what performance they turned in, so they decided to act as poorly as they could. Combine that with the cringe-worthy lines they’re given and you’re going to be in for a lot of painful scenes. You might just want the characters to die so you can stop listening to them.
With these types of movies you want the audience to at the very least not hate the lead characters, and at best we should empathize with them. Even indifference would be better. As long as we’re still getting scared, because the director understands how to create tension and atmosphere, it shouldn’t matter. What you don’t want is ones that we hate, but that’s what happens here. The paper-thin characters exist to be killed, and we watch them get killed because we have nothing better to do. Such is life.
There are, admittedly, a few fun moments scattered throughout, but they do little to make the 90-minute running time not feel a whole lot longer. You know how you can watch a trailer a dozen times before getting bored, but after doing so, it loses its appeal? Friday the 13th is a lot like that. Once you’ve seen the first few deaths, some of which happen off-screen due to budgetary issues, you’ve basically seen them all. At that point you’re just waiting to learn who’s killing the kids, why he or she is doing it, and if anyone will survive.
I suppose you get the answers to all of those questions. If nothing else, there’s little ambiguity to Friday the 13th. You find out who the killer is in the last 20 minutes, you are given motivation, however silly and ridiculous the reasoning and logic might be, and there’s only one person whose fate you aren’t quite sure of. That leads to one of the only shocking parts of the film, and perhaps the only scene you’re going to remember more than a few minutes after the film ends.
What positives can one take from Friday the 13th? The musical score is quite nice, and while it’s not quite as impressive as the one in Halloween a year prior — which this film desperately wants to be — it’s nonetheless one of the least amateur aspects of the production. There’s that one good jump scare at the end, and the characters can all scream with the best of them. There are also a couple of clever edits here and there, although with such ugly cinematography, they might have just stood out because they actually looked like they were done by someone who had worked on a movie before.
Friday the 13th is a bad movie. It’s not scary, it’s not well-shot, its plot is bare-bones, its characters are cardboard and spout terrible lines of dialogue with the worst delivery they can, and the deaths aren’t even that creative. This is a movie where you sit down and watch people get killed for 70 minutes, and then you’re given a terrible motive for that to have happened. You’ll forget the majority of the picture as soon as it ends, assuming you remain awake for its entirety.