Producer of Wes Craven’s 1972 drive-in shocker LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, as well several skin flicks and family-oriented flops, Sean S. Cunningham fashioned the perfect model of celluloid exploitation in 1980, one that would go on to spawn as many sequels as it did imitators. Popularizing the “body count” film like no other in history, FRIDAY THE 13TH concreted the slasher genre as an American institution, one that hasn’t seemed to let up yet. Paramount Home Entertainment is finally releasing the film to Region 1 consumers in its much desired uncut and unrated form in both standard and Blu-ray DVD.
In 1958, two pubescent camp counselors stray from a bonfire hootenanny to make love, only to be violently murdered by an unseen (to the audience) assailant. Twenty-two years later, the woods-enclosed Camp Crystal Lake (dubbed “Camp Blood” by the superstitious locals) is about to re-open with a new generation of young male and female counselors, and on Friday, June 13, retribution will take place on the mass murder level. On that very stormy night when the horny counselors aren’t smoking pot, playing strip Monopoly or having sex, they’re being offed one by one in the most grisly ways possible by a determined stalker with a 22-year-old settle to score.
Often accused of being brainless with no redeeming social values and no significant characterization, FRIDAY THE 13TH was universally panned by critics upon release, but its relentless shock machine of bloody sensationalism clicked with theatergoers worldwide. Shot independently on location in New Jersey, Paramount bought the film for distribution, endorsing it with an ingeniously lurid TV ad campaign suitably promising one sickening murder after the next, and one of the most popular franchises in horror movie history was born.
With a youthful cast of mostly unknowns – Adrienne King, Harry Crosby (Bing’s son), Laurie Bartrom, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan and a baby-faced Kevin Bacon – the passable players weren’t even listed until the end credits. Only screen and TV game show veteran Betsy Palmer had any name recognition, and her presence warrants an unexpected climactic twist for those who saw it on its initial release. The real star of FRIDAY THE 13TH are the gore and make-up effects by Tom Savini, who had recently worked on George Romero’s epic DAWN OF THE DEAD, the ultimate showcase for his talents. Here, throat slittings, a hatchet in the head, an arrow through the eye and a spear-punctured neck are just some of the nasty displays of graphic violence, and Savini orchestrates these depictions like a composer conducts a fine symphony. The violent content was considered a bit too much at the time of release, so the MPAA saw fit to remove a few seconds of gore to secure an R rating, but alas, 10 seconds have been restored for this unrated and uncut version which here makes its U.S. home video debut.
For Paramount’s new DVD of FRIDAY THE 13TH, the film has been mastered in High Definition and presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The quality is excellent, and it pretty much appears like it could have been shot yesterday. Detail is strong, as are black levels, and colors are bold and beautiful, and there isn't much at all in the way of dirt or debris. A newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track mixes dialog, sound effects (lots of loud rainstorms) and Harry Manfredini’s pulsating score to great effect. The original mono track is also included, as are French and Spanish language tracks. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
Extras on this “Deluxe Edition” include a commentary which features input from producer/director Sean S. Cunningham, Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke, screenwriter Victor Miller, actress Adrienne King, actress Betsy Palmer, editor Bill Freda, assistant editor Jay Keuper and composer Harry Manfredini. The commentary is not scene specific, meaning that the participants speak about the film in separately recorded intervals, and all are clearly identified before doing so. It adds up to a lot of interesting anecdotes and personal experiences involved with the making of the film, solidly edited together to fit the running time. “A Friday the 13th Reunion” (16:49) is a recent convention panel gathering of Tom Savini, original “Jason” actor Ari Lehman, stars Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, and writer Victor Miller. Taking questions from the audience, one of the highlights if that King is requested to recreate the scream that supposedly got her the role, and she does so enthusiastically, much to the audience's delight. “Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th” (14:12) features sit down interviews with Savini, Manfredini, Lehman, Miller and Robbi Morgan (the actress who played the first victim), all talking about their experiences on the set, and Miller admits (as he does a few times on this disc’s extras) that Cunningham was keen on ripping off HALLOWEEN from the beginning. “The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham” (8:59) has a home interview with the man himself, discussing how the film affected his life and his career, and his son Noel (who has collaborated with his father) is also seen in front of the camera. “Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 1” (7:40) is short film, written and directed by Andrew Ceperly, which has a Jason-like killer assaulting a young couple in their house. The unforgettable theatrical trailer, done in a “murder countdown” style, rounds out the extras. (George R. Reis)
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