Sunday, 26 October 2014
Friday the 13th
In its opening acts Friday the 13th comes on like a safe, corporate alternative to Halloween. There's no real attempt to make the teen victims particularly likeable, Sean S Cunningham's film delivering an in-built emotional distance between the audience and his characters. They act like Porky's extras even though they're in a dire situation. So when they get slashed and prodded we can delight in the Tom Savini orchestrated deaths.
On the face of it, 13th is the slasher film as product, ruthlessly hitting a series of bullet points passed down from realer, rawer examples. Tick them off - mild titillation, spook house gore and everyday objects re-purposed as anti-teen arsenal. The technique's not even really there. Shots that initially appear to be simulating the killer's POV often settle into that of a passive, invisible third-party. This observer is often, obviously, in the actors' way too. 13th can't decide if it's an immediate, Panaglide thriller or a baroque, marshland terror.
Eventually though it becomes clear that Cunningham was pitching something a little closer to a reverse-Psycho. Structurally, it was there all along. We opened with a bright, sparkly first girl - who we assumed was the lead - being casually despatched by the, then apparently male, killer. This detail was confused by introducing the rest of the cast half-way through the episode, breaking tension. The danger surrounding Annie wasn't really given a chance to percolate, coming off as a distraction rather than a shock.
Heavy breather percussion aside, much of Harry Manfredini's music is shrill, screeching strings swiped wholesale from Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score. When the killer finally arrives it's a middle-aged woman with a little voice in her head, egging her on. Mrs Voorhees is an odd proposition for a final threat, she looks like a TV busybody in the Jessica Fletcher mold and betrays little savagery beyond a few gleeful head bumps. The rolling confrontation between her and final girl Alice, despite a meaty conclusion, is an airless thing full of rubbish on-the-fly weaponry and arthritic movement.