Saturday, October 01, 2011

Sweatin' the Oldies

Friday the 13th (1980)
directed by Sean S. Cunningham
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Carnegie Library

It begins like Halloween and wouldn't be possible without The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but goodness does Cunningham build up a head of steam as Friday the 13th moves along. I've always been so enamored with John Carpenter that few subsets of the horror genre seem more disappointing than slasher films, even those, like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, made before 1978. Friday the 13th is most definitely a slasher film, but one where victims are not so much lured to their doom as spirited away in moments alone.

Part of that is the impression that no one is frightened of the murderer prior to each kill. Like something that appears then dissipates. The deaths are many, constant, and inspired. Think of the counselor in the bottom bunk, about to discover the ruined body above him. Just as the first drop of blood drips down, a hand reaches up from beneath the bed.

As always, displaced voices of kids unsettle, but it's the darkness itself that worms its way down the spine. The victims are like birds drawn from an oil spill, or else, when cinematographer Barry Abrams films a boy or girl running helplessly away, like something drowned in one. Nature is an imposition - the appearance of a snake in a cabin - but also a reminder of Camp Crystal Lake's isolation. The sound of crickets in otherwise silent scenes, the roar of rain and the feel of wind, the look of whitecaps on a lake before a storm: help is in town, and town is far away.

But nothing is better than the water itself, which rivals Fårö in Through a Glass Darkly for "eeriest ever." Rich with minerals like all old lakes in northern woods, it would be half frozen over for most of the year, waiting for summer to thaw. This is exactly the sort of horror movie I love, one that hews very close to the natural world, with the smell of summer, now past, thick with fallen foliage and decay.