Gateway Film Center, Columbus, Ohio – Friday, October 13, 2017*
Columbus, Ohio’s Gateway Film Center is a nationally recognized bastion of chameleonic quality cinema independent in origin, intention, and execution, run by grateful, energized movie lovers for grateful, energized movie lovers. Art house fare, draft house fare, and grind house fare all coexist here in surprising harmony with standard but still carefully selected multiplex fodder. Add into the mix a dizzying number of Ohio premieres and classic film revivals with the accent equally on “classic” and “film” (as in 35 millimeter film, the format in which I saw “Creepshow” earlier this year, or 70mm, in which I saw an exclusive engagement of Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” a year and a half ago). With so much variety in the offing, each new week already has the distinct feeling of a slightly disjointed but still invigorating mini-film festival. This is to say nothing of GFC’s actual, curated film festivals – “Nightmares” and “Hitchcocktober” celebrate our favorite time of year and director respectively, and the jaw-dropping “Cult 101” runs all year – which are the talk of cinema blogs everywhere.
To celebrate the most recent Friday the 13th falling in October, Gateway pulled off a wonderful idea in high style: a back-to-back screening of the first four Friday the 13th films – known colloquially by many fans as “the good ones” – starting at 7pm on the day itself and ending in Saturday the 14th’s wee hours, just like Friday the 13th Part 3 technically did. Naturally, I was second row aisle for all the carnage, and what follow are breathless field reports from the scene, covering all the scenes. Read on if you don’t mind
*Obviously embellished after the screening, much as Kiss’ “Alive!” was later augmented (allegedly) with studio tricks – increased and/or focused crowd noise and the like. No way was I going to further disturb my already disturbed fellow patrons by whipping out my cell phone, or deny myself the pleasure of absorbing “Friday the 13th” on the big screen. I did, however, jot down big ticket items in between showings, and made sure to take copious mental notes throughout. It was a blast.
Friday the 13th (1980)
7:10 PM (approx.) – As a kid, it was one of my ambitious early acts of VHS movie piracy that would prove to have the longest lasting effect. I recorded the first four Friday the 13th movies onto a single, perfectly engineered, six-hour tape – drew the logo on the spine and everything, making it look, frankly, just about as badass as a homemade tchotchke with a stuck-on Polaroid label can. Because I’m not only one of those people who find it difficult to sleep without noise going on in the background but also someone who revels in wondrous variety, I often started the tape at bedtime and just let it play. If you’ll spare me the value judgments while we get rolling here, I just want to mention that, in addition to an above average fan’s knowledge of the series as a whole (of course I also made a companion tape featuring parts V through VIII, though I visited it rarely by comparison), I have the first fifteen minutes+ of Friday the 13th memorized cold, though instead of quippy, award-worthy dialogue on the order of Pulp Fiction or Ghostbusters, all that really affords you is extra familiarity with cheesy campfire/hootenanny strum-alongs like “Down in the Valley “, “River of Jordan” and “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley”. And, while soon-to-be-late 1958 counselor Claudette proved once more she could convincingly hold a guitar but couldn’t play one, I mouthed those words with a pretty wide smile, let me tell you.
7:13 PM – One of the roughly 80 things that director Sean Cunningham lifted wholesale from Halloween was its use of the camera as the killer”s point of view, just without Dean Cundey’s revolutionary Steadicam expertise to guide it. Finally seeing Friday the 13th on the big screen really magnifies how stuttery that operation was. I’d never really lingered on it before.
7:15 PM – The GFC marathon was a first class affair for all but its opening minutes, where Harry Manfredini’s shrieking, overheatied main title score turned into the closest ad hoc approximation of one of those piercing, chirping, overwhelming indoor fire alarms I’ve ever heard. I steeled myself for an extended auditory exploration with potential long-term effects for my hearing, but the sound thankfully leveled out to a comfortable but still impactful level soon after. On the ball.
7:16 PM – From the looks of things, boarded up Frank’s Delicatessen has seen better days. Times sure are tough here in “The Present”.
7:18 PM – Like any local color worth its salt, the diner patrons seem more concerned with vague warnings and dismissive general harrumphery than actually helping Annie. That doesn’t take into account the patron saint of lunatic biblical portent, Crazy Ralph, who waits just around the corner.
7:19 PM – Uneasy audience laughter at the sight of Enos “assisting” Annie up into his truck butt-first, and this after asking her if, “all the girls up there are going to look as good as you.” Hmm. It also occurs to me that Cunningham and Co. could’ve made a small fortune flooding Halloween stores with Crazy Ralph masks, at least in the two-year interlude before a certain hockey mask became ubiquitous. Fully animated, the late Walt Gorney had a face effects wizard Tom Savini couldn’t have conjured alone on his best day.
7:21 PM – As told by Enos, Camp Crystal Lake’s sordid history of arson, accidental death, poisoned water, and general bad luck is pretty fascinating. Fun to realize after the fact that Mrs. Voorhees was probably responsible for all or most of it.
7:21:30 PM – Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees, is the killer. SPOILER ALERT for the three of you out there who have either never seen Friday the 13th, never seen Scream, never read anything or had anything described to you about those two movies, or thought somehow you were reading The New Yorker’s recently rebranded weekend alt-entertainment blog – “Yecch!”
7:22 PM – As far as I can tell, the city branding on Enos’ truck and the cemetery at the crossroads where he drops Annie off are the only things that really earmark Crystal Lake as being in and of New Jersey. Think of the serendipity around this convenient accident. It really could’ve been anywhere (they filmed part 7 in Georgia swampland, for heaven’s sake). How would they have eventually found a way by sea to access Manhattan from inland Georgia? How would those plucky Elm Street kids have transported Jason’s tranquilized body from Springwood, Ohio to his final showdown with Freddy in Crystal Lake, GA? By Greyhound? Cargo Jet? Bullet-train?
7:24 PM – Meanwhile, entering Stage Left to traditional banjo accompaniment is a truck transporting bland lovebirds Jack (Hollywood’s own Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (that girl who once made out with Kevin Bacon in ‘79), plus execrable comic relief Ned, a character, single-handedly, for whom I will never forgive writer Victor Miller, and who, for us, only his blessed death will provide a modicum of relief. I do smile reflexively at his retort to Marcie asking if sex is all he thinks about: “No, sometimes I just think of kissing women.” Today, Ned would be on the fast track to a job as a White House staffer.
7:26 PM – Somehow, camp owner Steve Christie is pulling off this odd “shirtless-jean-short-bandana-as-scarf-red-socks” ensemble. He looks like an Off-Broadway lumberjack. His off-clock relationship with Alice is drenched in pensive innuendo and, at the time, probably had much more soap operatic punch to it. The principals play it to the hilt. Now, it plays like a corporate anti-sexual harassment training video.
7:29 PM – For even deigning to shoot an arrow in Brenda’s direction, Ned should face the maximum possible penalty, up to and including being drummed out of whatever amateur clown guild in which he’s currently a member, and being buried under the jail. He passes the whole thing off as harmless (albeit potentially fatal) flirtation, and Brenda splits a fine difference between exasperation and morbid curiosity. What else have I been getting wrong about courtship all these years?
7:32 PM – Annie, of course, is Cunningham”s true table-setter, the murder of an “established” character that both propels the movie into motion while simultaneously reconfiguring and heightening the audience’s expectations. Writer Victor Miller would have cannily cribbed/condensed this from the Janet Leigh arc in Psycho; Kevin Williamson would later pay similar homage to both moves with the Drew Barrymore character in Scream. Really is kind of a shame Annie never made it to camp. Because of her uninterrupted screen time and scene-setting duties, she was certainly as well-written and realized as anyone else here.
7:33 PM – Corny joke, Marcie. You should write a blog.
7:37 PM – Quite a zealous, overachieving team Steve Christie has assembled. Earlier, we saw them react to a one-man nautical practical joke as if they were the freshly mobilized U.S. Coast Guard. Here, they respond to a free-roaming snake sighting by demolishing the cabin in a down-filled attempt to flush it out. So intent were Cunnigham and Miller to follow through on their “bad luck” thematic angle that they actually sacrificed a noble snake to the gods of plot contrivance, making Friday the 13th, in reality, a semi-notorious snuff film only just behind Cannibal Holocaust on most credible lists. Everyone is, of course, a comedian in the snake’s immediate aftermath except for machete-toting Bill, who has officially traded in his suspenders and white pants look for one that presages Indiana Jones by a good two years.
7:39 PM – Is it possible I’ve actually missed the boat on Ned all these years? Our near-capacity crowd seems to be heartily and reliably laughing at his antics (almost shooting Brenda with an arrow, faking his own drowning in an attempt to get her to perform mouth-to-mouth, not shutting up ever). Oh, wait, there he is in an indian headdress and what looks like a diaper fashioned out of his t-shirt, war-dancing and hyperventilating his way across the yard right as the gruff, groovy motorcycle cop pulls up. Yep, still a bottomless toolbag. The cop’s patter is pretty humorous though.
7:41 PM – So if Alice hadn’t opened the pantry, would Crazy Ralph have just waited patiently in there until someone did, maybe even springing out as a special guest referee during her final showdown with Mrs. V? That would’ve been kind of awesome.
7:44 PM – When Ned follows the mysterious person into the last cabin he will ever enter under manual power, we get an extended partial glimpse of what looks very much like a blonde, older woman before she turns for the door. Dunno why, but I’d never much noticed it before, and ended up digging on it so hard that I almost missed Kevin Bacon’s subsequent, award-worthy “storm” monologue.
7:46 PM – It’s Marcie’s counterpoint to the more famous Bacon line (“I’ve been afraid of storms since I was a little kid…yada yada yada…and the blood washes away in little rivers.”) that is actually the real humdinger. Victor Miller can come off as kind of a pretentious, self-aggrandizing sod in interviews, but I find it hard to discount his work here too much, especially given what the sequels would subject us to.
7:48 PM – Having watched this movie many times on TV did not adequately prepare me for the revelation of seeing (and hearing) it from the second row on the big screen. First, Manfredini’s sound effects – the killer’s iconic “chi-chi-chi, ha-ha-ha” breathing, plus other instrumentally created mood setters – are so wonderfully on point in a 5.1 surround theater, to say nothing of the legions of perfectly integrated forest sounds – chirping crickets, cicadas, birds calling, hooting owls and the like, all struggling for soundtrack domination. Wind, rain, and the lack of creature comforts inherent in any camp scenario are all visualized and dramatized pretty well. It also never before truly registered on me just how physically dark this movie is. There were points where audience members, had they tried, would’ve been hard-pressed to see their own hands before their faces, and late arrivals and wanderers alike stumbled around like boulders getting settled in, even occasionally missing entire steps as they trudged up past my aisle seat. I loved it, of course. I personally hate being able to see anything in a theater but the movie.
7:49 PM – Brenda proposes a game of “Strip Monopoly” to her bored housemates and immediately declares she’ll, “be the shoe”…presumably because she kicks ass.
7:52 PM – Mrs. Voorhees deserves a Nobel Prize for combined ingenuity in the killing arts and body control (they give those) for her dispatch of Kevin Bacon’s Jack, though she obviously has the upper hand mentally. How exactly is Jack, a runway-worthy New York pretty boy who can unironically rock speedos with naught but a shrug in terms of audience condemnation – short enough to somehow not notice Ned’s corpse on the top bunk of his bed, or distracted enough in both his pre-coital agita and post-coital bliss to not notice a handsome older woman hiding under the bed waiting with inhuman patience to thrust an arrow upward through, in order, the box springs, mattress, and his throat? While we’re on the subject, how the hell did Mrs. V survive their lovemaking session without getting crushed, or at least grunting?
7:55 PM – Following Ned’s utterly atrocious, inexplicably chipmunk-themed Humphrey Bogart impression, Marcie stands in front of the bathroom mirror and whips out a perfectly acceptable Kate Hepburn. These were pop culture signifiers that, crazily enough, would’ve still possibly had cache to college kids in 1979. Those little details don’t date the movie at all, no.
7:56 PM – So, yeah, Tom Savini sure knows how to convincingly make an axe look it’s buried waist-deep in someone’s forehead. The irony is traceable here in multiple directions, in that A) there is literally no other job but makeup effects specialist for which this is even a palatable qualification to have, and B) in an imaginary viewer’s poll conducted by Quinnipiac, “forehead” was listed as a tie for Marcie’s fifth most attractive feature.
7:58 PM – As Alice narrowly escapes the perverse clutches of Strip Monopoly (it seems poor Bill was mere spaces away from Pacific Avenue and “skin city”), Brenda, driven by the sudden certainty she’s left her cabin windows open, becomes the second nubile teen in as many scenes to succumb to Crystal Lake Fever, the dread affliction that causes young women to run maniacally from cabin to cabin through the driving rain in little but their underwear. See also the fetching, be-sweatered, heavily perfumed Vicki in Part 2.
7:59 PM – Steve Christie’s errands, which originally were intended to have him away from camp until a little after lunch, certainly seem to have gotten away from him. On the other hand, he did get the “supposed to rain like hell” part right. And, hey, that same weird country song that was playing at Annie’s diner in town is playing on the outskirts. Must’ve been the only thing they could afford to license, not that they could be bothered to list it in the end credits. Independent filmmaking, FTW!
8:01 PM – No way I’m trusting that water to brush my teeth with, Brenda. Just saying.
8:02 PM – Dramatically convenient car breakdown alert! That’s what you get for buying a rugged, heavy terrain-rated vehicle with an apparent water allergy, Steve.
8:04 PM – Again with the darkness. As ever, Cunningham strains to set a scene in effective ways that never occur to his successors. Onscreen, counselors sleep and read by candlelight, a stop-start portable generator turns out to be a significant plot point, and everyone basically seems one false move from being swallowed up by the surrounding wilderness at all times. Of course, this is all just a convenient dodge to momentarily avoid mentioning the best sequence in the whole movie, as inveterate do-gooder Brenda wanders out into the torrential rain only to be ambushed by a homicidal outdoor lighting enthusiast.
8:10 PM – The extended sequence where Bill and Alice set out in rain slickers to investigate is about my favorite thing in the movie, I realized, because it reinforces not just the geography but the isolation of the camp, emphasizes the spookiness of the storm, the mounting frustration and confusion over the search’s futility/the fate of their friends, and because, for once, our intrepid cast is not only not splitting up but purposely seeking strength in numbers. Foiled at their attempts to call for help or escape by car, we see how much the two depend on each other, even as Alice tries to hold her doubts together and Bill swears they’ll, “be laughing about this tomorrow”. How cool would it have been if Mrs. Voorhees had been able to force a division somehow and attack anyway?
8:13 PM – Turns out the sheriff isn’t just a font of full moon trivia, or a not-at-all-reassuring latecomer to crime scenes. Crazy Ralph is married?! My god, I always forget that, no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie. Guess you/us single dudes out there really ARE losers, huh? Either that, or it means instead that there really IS somebody out there for everyone? Since he has permanent sour apple face, and the bulging, free-standing tendons in Ralph’s neck make the dude look like Henry Rollins’ derelict great-great-uncle, all I can really do is applaud his success.
8:16 PM – The scene where Bill fumbles with the dead generator for what seems like forever, his back to an incredibly conspicuous, never quite filled open door, is probably the closest the film comes to a Halloween-worthy setup. Those who would dismiss Friday the 13th as a completely uninspired rip-off are only half right, and while Cunningham’s senses of subtle framing and deliberate pacing never desert him – he leaves Bill’s fate momentarily unresolved to cut back to Alice, just waking up from a nightmare – here their results are well above the line.
8:20 PM – Dude, she straight nailed Bill to the back of a wooden door with naught but an arrow through his eye. That is raw animal strength and, shall we say, clarity of purpose. I wonder what Mrs. Voorhees benches.
8:21 PM – More scattered/muffled laughter at Alice’s hysterical impromptu killer-proofing spree back at the cabin. The tied off doorknob is a solid idea, I’d say, just a bit shaky on the execution. She’s a suburban art student – back off! More to the point though, every window in that place is just a gaping maw, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that drawing the curtains will provide almost no additional protection. I don’t blame her; indeed, I sympathize hard. The idea that you could ever successfully barricade yourself inside one of those cabins without first making a couple of truck-worthy trips to Home Depot for reinforcement is the very pinnacle of can-do optimism.
8:24 PM – Okay, so I know Alice is going through some things at present, what with discovering her murdered friends being nailed to the backs of cabin doors, hung from trees, and flung through windows for maximum dramatic effect, but I need to pause a moment in delayed memory of Brenda. Brenda’s death has stuck with me over the years in a way that the cavalcade of others simply hasn’t. First off, that build-up, with the “little girl” crying for help off in the distance leading the good-natured den mother off into a headlong, track-lighting abetted death trap, is just so eerie and unsettling. Later, when we see Brenda close up again as human window dressing, it looks as though she was somehow beaten to death in a fit of Savini-esque pique (“I’ll show you I can do more with SFX than slit throats!”), which I think we’ll all agree is a weird look for the series, not to mention completely outside the M.O. of Mrs. Voorhees, who, otherwise, seems to rely unduly on stealth and the element of surprise.
8:26 PM – I lead the masses in collective laughter at, by far, my single favorite line in the series, a joke that lands due, in equal part, to delivery and context:
ALICE: “No, no. No, please don’t leave me. They’ll kill you too!”
MRS. VOORHEES: (smiles, breezily) “I’m not afraid!”
8:28 PM – Like most crazed monologues, I detect trace amounts of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now in the famous bipolar soliloquy where Pamela first introduces the concept of her drowned child, Jason. Whereas Brando was largely measured in his reveal, however, Betsy Palmer leaves nuance at home in a big pile by the door, affecting instead the staggered, see-saw rhythm of one of those office desk toy birds that drinks water. Her Cheshire Crocodile grin, flashed early and often, is another useful tool for “acting” crazy, as it happens.
8:29 PM – So Mrs. Voorhees basically drove her jeep around for the entire movie with Annie’s corpse just propped up in the front riding shotgun? A bold choice. Seriously, therapy might’ve been useful.
8:30 PM – “In the deep forest, keep your guns out for all to see…but lock up your ammunition with chains!” Another rejected NRA slogan debunked in real time by Friday the 13th.
8:31 PM – Epic, albeit one-sided, slap-fight between Alice and Mrs. V! Based on the evidence here on display, I think Pamela’s hand-to-hand skills can be charitably summed up as lacking. So what exactly did she hit Brenda with? A post-hole digger? A jackhammer? An Orcan battering ram?
8:33 PM – Pamela displays some disturbingly pearly two-foot-tall whites in her various dissociative close-ups on the big screen. I love Betsy Palmer’s performance from front to back, but I will say her spates of speaking commands in Jason’s wee voice remain hard to sit through consistently without at least cracking a smile. I think that was not merely a conscious choice on her part but also kind of the point.
8:34 PM – Here’s the moment where Crazy-Ralph-in-the-Box should’ve sprung out of the pantry and severely harshed everyone’s mellow. Instead, we get the first of three consecutive movies where the final girl locks herself into a confined space and the Voorhees du jour has to bust his or her way in. The Halloween closet sequence remains one of the most potent wells to return to in all of horror, so no complaints. Wait, since when are pantries supposed to lock from the inside?
8:36 PM – Frying pan! That was a compact swing, Alice, but a home run cut.
8:37 PM – Whoever came up with the gag where Mrs. Voorhees repeatedly rams Alice’s head, Broken Matt Hardy-style, into the beach is a genius, knowing it’d be both brutal and draw the same kind of laughs routinely garnered by a Road Runner cartoon. The same choreographer intuited that bit could only be possibly topped by, in close succession, Pamela trying to impale Alice with a broken canoe oar (oh, if she’d been able to stick the landing), and, finally, the unequivocal greatest decapitation in movie history.
8:38 PM – Widespread, extended laughter, and a healthy smattering of applause, as mousy Alice – terrific person, blossoming wallflower, and the human definition of “runs like a girl” – dramatically beheads the Crystal Lake PTA Mom of the Year with a single, wild swing of a rusty machete. And that’s before “Mrs. Voorhees’” disembodied, hairy, stand-in man-knuckles arise and begin grasping at the air her head used to occupy. What, does this somehow strain credibility?
8:38:30 PM – Mrs. Voorhees’ disembodied left hand was wearing a man’s class ring I only just now noticed? In an unreleased deleted scene that serves as an elegy, the camera rack pans to a nearby tree, into which has been carved “Pammy + Elias 4EVER”.
8:39 PM – Alice, victorious, pushes a canoe out into the lake and hops in, only to discover it’s missing its oars and she’ll need to doggy paddle. Seriously, chuckling audience members, lay off the girl. She’s had a busy day.
8:40 PM – Having built an entire movie on shamelessly ripping off Halloween, it’s almost the height of creativity to transition to crafting a coda that rips off Carrie with equal zeal. But, seriously, it’s all well done. And, as with the remainder of the movie’s success, so much rests on the wide, capable shoulders of horror’s master manipulator, composer Harry Manfredini, who basically blasts muzak at the audience in an effort to force them into giving up any and all hope of a final scare. Only then does the film provide a masterful one, just to spite them.
8:40:30 PM – Also, that bisected widescreen shot of Alice’s canoe drifting against the forest backdrop, with a mirror image of the entire composition reflected in the water beneath her, was, and is, pretty damned stunning.
8:41 PM – Surprise!
8:43 PM – So – The shower curtain being whipped open in Psycho; Regan’s head spinning ‘round in The Exorcist; And l’il Jason springs, moss-eaten and weather-beaten, from the lake to take Alice down out of her canoe at the end of Friday the 13th. Those are my top three indelible moments in horror film history, and I’m straining, in vain, for a fourth that has near the same kind of visibility and staying power. Maybe Hannibal Lecter locked up and glowering elegantly from some cell or other…though that’s not a single shot but, rather, an overarching memory as visual collage. The point is, underestimate Friday the 13th’s place in the grander scheme of things, and its lasting impact, at your own peril.
8:43 PM – In closing, I love any cinematic presentation big enough for me to clearly count the pores on Adrienne King’s face…were I so inclined. This was just a great time at the movies.
Next up: 9:10 PM (approximately), and Friday the 13th Part 2…It’s the Bag-head!
If you still remember the summer of ’81, click HERE.
For my worthless but considered opinions on the Friday the 13th series as a whole, pack a lunch and then click HERE.