Friday the 13th is a 1980 American slasher horror film directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller. The film concerns a group of teenagers who are murdered one by one while attempting to re-open an abandoned campground, and stars Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Kevin Bacon, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson and Robbi Morgan. It is considered one of the first "true" slasher movies.
Prompted by the success of John Carpenter's Halloween, the film was made on an estimated budget of $550,000. Released by Paramount Pictures in the United States and Warner Bros.. When originally released, the film received negative reviews from film critics. It grossed over $39.7 million at the box office in the United States. It developed a cult following in the years that followed and it has become one of the most profitable slasher films in cinema history. It was also the first movie of its kind to secure distribution in the USA by a major studio, Paramount Pictures. The film's box office success led to Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), a long series of sequels, a crossover with the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and a 2009 series reboot.
In 1958, Barry and Claudette, two camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, sneak away from a gathering to have sex. An unseen assailant stalking the two of them attacks them and kills them both, one with a hunting knife and the other with a machete. Twenty-one years later, on June, Friday the 13th, 1979, a young girl named Annie is making her way to Crystal Lake under the employ of the original camp owners' son Steve Christy who intends to reopen the camp. The history of the murders, water poisonings and fires has the town wary, and Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), a local man, warns her that the counselors are doomed. She shrugs the warnings off and hitches a ride with a truck driver Enos who has similar warnings for her.
Meanwhile, the other counselors, jokester Ned (Mark Nelson), his best friend Jack (Kevin Bacon), Jack's girlfriend Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), handyman Bill (Harry Crosby), good girl Brenda (Laurie Bartram) and Steve's ex-girlfriend Alice (Adrienne King) arrive at the camp and they begin repairs and fixes around the camp, enjoying a little free time in between the chores. Annie hitches a ride in a Jeep CJ-5 with an unseen driver. When the driver refuses Annie's stop at Crystal Lake, she flees and is chased through the woods before having her throat slashed by the killer's hunting knife. After Steve returns to town for supplies, Ralph arrives at the camp, and tells Marcie, Ned and Alice that they're all doomed. Ned encounters a stranger at the camp and goes into a nearby cabin in search of them while Marcie tells Jack about a dream she had that terrified her during storms. As a storm comes up, they seek shelter in their cabin and have sex, unaware that Ned is lying dead on the top bunk, having had his throat slashed. Marcie soon leaves the cabin and Jack is killed by an assailant who impales his throat with an arrow from under his bed; the assailant then follows Marcie to the outhouse and kills her with an axe to the face. Elsewhere, Steve returns on foot to the camp after his Jeep breaks down and recognizes the killer before being stabbed by the unseen assailant. Alice, Brenda and Bill finish their game of strip Monopoly when Brenda realizes her cabin windows are open and she turns in for the night. She is lured out into the storm with what sounds like a child calling for help and is killed on the archery range. Suspicious of the happenings, Bill and Alice find many strange things wrong with the camp but are unable to find their friends. Thinking it is all a joke, Bill convinces Alice to return to the cabin. The killer turns off the generator and Bill heads out alone to fix it as Alice falls asleep. Soon after, Alice awakens to go find him and discovers him pinned to the generator room door with arrows.
Horrified, Alice runs off just as a vehicle pulls up to the cabin. The driver is Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who at first seems very concerned and tries to comfort the hysterical Alice. Almost immediately, though, Mrs. Voorhees begins to grow violent as she talks about her son Jason, who had drowned as a boy in 1957. She becomes schizophrenic and pulls a hunting knife on Alice who flees. After several encounters that Alice narrowly escapes, Mrs. Voorhees attacks her by the lake; in the fray, Alice gains control of a machete and decapitates her with it. She then climbs into a canoe and falls asleep offshore.
The next morning, police arrive to find a dazed Alice in the canoe. When they call to her, she is attacked by a young decayed Jason and pulled out of the boat, which is in reality a dream. She awakens in the hospital and discovers her friends are all dead, but remembers and asks about the boy. The sheriff tells her that no boy was found, and Alice says "Then he's still there..." as the final shot shows the lake supposedly at peace, before fading to black.
- Adrienne King as Alice L. Hardy
- Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Pamela Voorhees
- Harry Crosby as Bill
- Mark Nelson as Ned Rubenstein
- Jeannine Taylor as Marcie Stanler
- Kevin Bacon as Jack Burrel
- Laurie Bartram as Brenda
- Peter Brouwer as Steve Christy
- Rex Everhart as Enos the Truck Driver
- Walt Gorney as "Crazy" Ralph
- Willie Adams as Barry
- Debra S. Hayes as Claudette
- Ari Lehman as Jason Voorhees
Friday the 13th was produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who had previously worked with filmmaker Wes Craven on the film The Last House on the Left. Cunningham, inspired by John Carpenter's Halloween, wanted Friday the 13th to be shocking, visually stunning and "[make] you jump out of your seat." Wanting to distance himself from The Last House on the Left, Cunningham wanted Friday the 13th to be more of a "roller-coaster ride."
The original screenplay was tentatively titled A Long Night at Camp Blood. While working on a redraft of the screenplay, Cunningham proposed the title Friday the 13th, after which Miller began redeveloping. Cunningham rushed out to place an advertisement in Variety using the Friday the 13th title. Worried that someone else owned the rights to the title and wanting to avoid potential lawsuits, Cunningham thought it would be best to find out immediately. He commissioned a New York advertising agency to develop his concept of the Friday the 13th logo, which consisted of big block letters bursting through a pane of glass. In the end, Cunningham believed there were "no problems" with the title, but distributor George Mansour stated, "There was a movie before ours called Friday the 13th: The Orphan. It was moderately successful. But someone still threatened to sue. Either Phil Scuderi paid them off, but it was finally resolved."
The screenplay was completed in mid-1979 by Victor Miller, who later went on to write for several television soap operas, including Guiding Light, One Life to Live and All My Children; at the time, Miller was living in Stratford, Connecticut, near Cunningham, and the two had begun collaborating on potential film projects. Miller delighted in inventing a serial killer who turned out to be somebody's mother, a murderer whose only motivation was her love for her child. "I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I'd always wanted—a mother who would have killed for her kids." Miller was unhappy about the filmmakers' decision to make Jason Voorhees the killer in the sequels. "Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain."
The idea of Jason appearing at the end of the film was initially not used in the original script; in Miller's final draft, the film ended with Alice merely floating on the lake. Jason's appearance was actually suggested by makeup designer Tom Savini. Savini stated that "The whole reason for the cliffhanger at the end was I had just seen Carrie, so we thought that we need a 'chair jumper' like that, and I said, 'let's bring in Jason'".
A New York-based firm, headed by Julie Hughes and Barry Moss, was hired to find eight young actors to play the camp's staff members. Cunningham admits that he was not looking for "great actors," but anyone that was likable, and appeared to be a responsible camp counselor. The way Cunningham saw it, the actors would need to look good, read the dialogue somewhat well, and work cheap. Moss and Hughes were happy to find four actors, Kevin Bacon, Laurie Bartram, Peter Brouwer, and Adrienne King, who had previously appeared on soap operas. The role of Alice Hardy was set up as an open casting call, a publicity stunt used to attract more attention to the film. King earned an audition primarily because she was the friend of someone working in Moss and Hughes's office, and Cunningham felt she embodied the qualities of Alice. After she auditioned, Moss recalls Cunningham commenting that they saved the best actress for last. As Cunningham explains, he was looking for people that could behave naturally, and King was able to show that to him in the audition.
I didn't even really think of this movie as a horror film. "To me, this was a small independent film about carefree teenagers who are having a rip-roaring time at a summer camp where they happen to be working as counselors. Then they just happen to get killed.
—Jeannine Taylor on how she viewed Friday the 13th
With King cast in the role of lead heroine Alice, Laurie Bartram was hired to play Brenda. Kevin Bacon, Mark Nelson and Jeannine Taylor, who had known each other prior to the film, were cast as Jack, Ned, and Marcie respectively. It is Bacon and Nelson's contention that, because the three already knew each other, they already had the specific chemistry the casting director was looking for in the roles of Jack, Ned, and Marcie. Taylor has stated that Hughes and Moss were highly regarded while she was an actress, so when they offered her an audition she felt that, whatever the part, it would "be a good opportunity."
Friday the 13th was Nelson's first feature film, and when he went in for his first audition the only thing he was given to read were some comedic scenes. Nelson received a call back for a second audition, which required him to wear a bathing suit, which Nelson acknowledges made him start to wonder if something was off about this film. He did not fully realize what was going on until he got the part and was given the full script to read. Nelson explains, "It certainly was not a straight dramatic role, and it was only after they offered me the part that they gave me the full script to read and I realized how much blood was in it." Nelson believes that Ned used humor to hide his insecurities, especially around Brenda, whom the actor believes Ned was attracted to. Nelson recalls an early draft of the script stating that Ned suffered from polio, and his legs were deformed while his upper body was muscular. Ned is believed to have given birth to the "practical joker victim" of horror films. According to author David Grove, there was no equivalent character in John Carpenter's Halloween, or Bob Clark's Black Christmas before that. He served as a model for the slasher films that would follow Friday the 13th.
I went in to audition for [Moss and Hughes] for something else. They said, "you know, Robbi, you're not really right for this, but there's a movie called Friday the 13th and they need an adorable camp counselor.
—Robbi Morgan on how she obtained the role of Annie
The part of Bill was given to Harry Crosby, son of Bing Crosby. Robbi Morgan, who plays Annie, was not auditioning for the film when she was offered the role; while in her office, Hughes looked at Morgan and proclaimed "you're a camp counselor." The next day Morgan was on the set. Morgan only appeared on-set for a day to shoot all her scenes. Rex Everhart, who portrays Enos, did not film the truck scenes with Morgan, so she had to either act with an imaginary Enos, or exchange dialogue with Taso Stavrakis—Savini's assistant—who would sit in the truck with her. It was Peter Brouwer's girlfriend that helped him land a role on Friday the 13th. After recently being written off the show Love of Life, Brouwer moved back to Connecticut to look for work. Learning that his girlfriend was working as an assistant director for Friday the 13th, Brouwer asked about any openings. Initially told casting was looking for big stars to fill the role of Steve Christy, it was not until Sean Cunningham dropped by to deliver a message to Brouwer's girlfriend, and saw him working in a garden, that Brouwer was hired.
Estelle Parsons was initially asked to portray the film's killer, Mrs. Voorhees, but eventually declined. Her agent cited that the film was too violent, and did not know what kind of actress would play such a part. Hughes and Moss sent a copy of the script to Betsy Palmer, in hopes that she would accept the part. Palmer could not understand why someone would want her for a part in a horror film, as she had previously starred in films such as Mister Roberts, The Angry Man, and The Tin Star. Palmer only agreed to play the role because she needed to buy a new car, even when she believed the film to "be a piece of shit." Stavrakis subbed for Betsy Palmer as well, which involved Morgan's character being chased through the woods by Mrs. Voorhees, although the audience only sees a pair of legs running after Morgan. Palmer had just arrived in town when those scenes were about to be filmed, and was not in the physical shape necessary to chase Morgan around the woods. Morgan's training as an acrobat assisted her in these scenes, as her character was required to leap out of a moving jeep when she discovers that Mrs. Voorhees does not intend to take her to the camp. Betsy Palmer explains how she developed the character of Mrs. Voorhees: Being an actress who uses the Stanislavsky method, I always try to find details about my character. With Pamela ... I began with a class ring that I remember reading in the script that she'd worn. Starting with that, I traced Pamela back to my own high school days in the early 1940s. So it's 1944, a very conservative time, and Pamela has a steady boyfriend. They have sex—which is very bad of course—and Pamela soon gets pregnant with Jason. The father takes off and when Pamela tells her parents, they disown her because having ... babies out of wedlock isn't something that good girls do. I think she took Jason and raised him the best she could, but he turned out to be a very strange boy. [She took] lots of odd jobs and one of those jobs was as a cook at a summer camp. Then Jason drowns and her whole world collapses. What were the counselors doing instead of watching Jason? They were having sex, which is the way that she got into trouble. From that point on, Pamela became very psychotic and puritanical in her attitudes as she was determined to kill all of the immoral camp counselors. Cunningham wanted to make the Mrs. Voorhees character "terrifying", and to that end he believed it was important that Palmer not act "over the top." There was also the fear that Palmer's past credits, as more of a wholesome character, would make it difficult to believe she could be scary. Palmer was paid $1000 per day for her ten days on set. Ari Lehman, who had previously auditioned for Cunningham's Manny's Orphans, failing to get the part, was determined to land the role of Jason Voorhees. According to Lehman, he went in very intense and afterward Cunningham told him he was perfect for the part. In addition to the main cast, Walt Gorney came on as "Crazy Ralph", the town's soothsayer. The character of Crazy Ralph was meant to establish two functions: foreshadow the events to come, and insinuate that he could actually be the murderer. Cunningham has stated that he was apprehensive about including the character, and is not sure if he accomplished his goal of creating a new suspect.
When Harry Manfredini began working on the musical score, the decision was made to only play music when the killer was actually present so as to not "manipulate the audience". Manfredini pointed out the lack of music for certain scenes: "There's a scene where one of the girls ... is setting up the archery area ... One of the guys shoots an arrow into the target and just misses her. It's a huge scare, but if you notice, there's no music. That was a choice." Manfredini also noted that when something was going to happen, the music would cut off so that the audience would relax a bit, and the scare would be that much more effective.
Because the killer, Mrs. Voorhees, appears onscreen only during the final scenes of the film, Manfredini had the job of creating a score that would represent the killer in her absence. Manfredini borrows from the 1975 film Jaws, where the shark is likewise not seen for the majority of the film but the motif created by John Williams cued the audience to the shark's invisible menace. Sean S. Cunningham sought a chorus, but the budget would not allow it. While listening to a Krzysztof Penderecki piece of music, which contained a chorus with "striking pronunciations", Manfredini was inspired to recreate a similar sound. He came up with the sound "ki ki ki, ma ma ma" from the final reel when Mrs. Voorhees arrives and is reciting "Kill her, mommy!" The "ki" comes from "kill", and the "ma" from "mommy". To achieve the unique sound he wanted for the film, Manfredini spoke the two words "harshly, distinctly and rhythmically into a microphone" and ran them into an echo reverberation machine. Manfredini finished the original score after a couple of weeks, and then recorded the score in a friend's basement. Victor Miller and assistant editor Jay Keuper have commented on how memorable the music is, with Keuper describing it as "iconographic". Manfredini says, "Everybody thinks it's cha, cha, cha. I'm like, 'Cha, cha, cha? What are you talking about?'"
In 1982, Gramavision Records released a LP record of selected pieces of Harry Manfredini's scores from the first three Friday the 13th films. On 13 January 2012, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 6-CD boxset containing Manfredini's scores from the first six films. It sold out in less than 24 hours.
Rotten Tomatoes reports that 59% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 50 reviews. Its most vocal detractor was Gene Siskel, who in his review called Cunningham "one of the most despicable creatures to infest the movie business". He also published the address for Charles Bluhdorn, the chairman of the board of Gulf+Western, which owned Paramount, as well as Betsy Palmer's home city and encouraged fellow detractors to write them and express their contempt for the film.
Friday the 13th was first released on DVD in the United States by Paramount Home Entertainment on October 19, 1999. The disc sold 32,497 units. On February 3, 2009, Paramount released the film again on DVD and Blu-ray in an unrated uncut, for the first time in the United States (previous VHS, LaserDisc and DVD releases included the R-rated theatrical version). The uncut version of the film contains approximately 11 seconds of previously unreleased footage.
In 2011, the uncut version of Friday the 13th was released in a 4-disc DVD collection with the first three sequels. It was again included in three Blu-ray sets: Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection, released in 2013, Friday the 13th: The Ultimate Collection, in 2018 and Friday the 13th: 40th Anniversary Limited Edition in 2020.