Finally Watching Friday The 13th In 2022 Is A Shock

They’re really taking a long time to show Jason Voorhees. Wow, there’s like ten minutes left and they still haven’t shown Jason Voorhees. Okay, Jason Voorhees’ mom is here at least, maybe she's like the mini-boss before Jason shows up? Okay, so Jason Voorhees’ mom is actually saying that Jason died as a kid? And now she's talking to herself in Jason’s voice and trying to kill Alice, the final girl? Wow, and now Jason Voorhees covered in muck is trying to strangle Alice on the boat? Oh that was a dream? Okay, so Jason Voorhees just isn’t in this movie?

That's a pretty accurate representation of my internal monologue while watching Friday the 13th for the first time earlier this week. If your primary knowledge about the 1980 slasher is that it stars a guy named Jason Voorhees who kills people while wearing a hockey mask, actually watching the movie that spawned the franchise is a shock to the system. It takes a while to realize it, but none of that stuff is in this one.

You don’t notice that at first because for most of the movie, we alternate between the perspectives of the camp counselors and the killer's shaky handheld POV. When the killer is shown, it's one part of their body — their feet, a long knife in their hand — or they're obscured from view completely, by the car they're driving or the tree they're hiding behind. It takes over an hour before you see the killer and, even then, you don't recognize her as such at first. So, even 42 years on, after the franchise has long seeped into the cultural vernacular, the movie’s twist — that Mrs. Voorhees, the mother of a child who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in the ‘50s is killing off counselors at the behest of her son who inhabits her body as a separate personality — still got me.

I haven’t watched the other movies in the series yet. I’m currently waiting for Part 2 to arrive via interlibrary loan. But, from seeing the first film, this reminds me of the shift the Mad Max movies underwent between George Miller's first low-budget action movie and the sequels that followed. All of the iconic imagery — the dusty apocalyptic wasteland, the makeshift armor, the cars assembled from spare parts — comes from The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road. None of that stuff is in the first movie, which is effectively set in then-modern day 1980s Australia. There's a higher rate of crime, sure, but it's not the wasteland. Things are bad, but they aren’t apocalyptic.

It’s rare that a series’ first film is so overshadowed by the ones that come after, especially in horror. John Carpenter’s original Halloween, despite getting 12 sequels, is still the most iconic movie in the series. All of the imagery and narrative threads — the William Shatner mask, the knife, the empty streets, Michael sitting up ramrod straight, the fight between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers — that’s all there in the first entry. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street also contain the iconic themes and villains from the get go.

It’s strange that Friday the 13th is so markedly different. When does the mask show up? When does Jason become the actual killer? I guess I’ll find out when that DVD shows up.

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