DirectorSean S. Cunningham
Release Date(s)1980 (September 13, 2022)
Studio(s)Georgetown Productions/Paramount Pictures
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
In 1979, Sean Cunningham decided that he was going to, in the words of screenwriter Victor Miller, “Rip off Halloween.” Quickly coming up with a story, cast, and crew, they not only succeeded, but unintentionally created a horror franchise. One of the first independent films to be released nationally by a major studio, Friday the 13th was highly successful, spawning sequel after sequel. Taking place at Camp Crystal Lake, where a group of camp counselors are preparing for a reopening, they’re quickly knocked off one after the other by an unidentified killer.
Looking back at it comparatively, Friday the 13th actually opens very much like Halloween. The beginning of the film takes place in the past in the first-person view of an unknown killer, not unlike Michael Myers, with a flash forward to the present where we see a young woman walking through town, not unlike Laurie Strode. However, this is where the film severs its visual detachment, following its own path without any heavy-handed allusions (or otherwise) to the horror films of yesteryear (other than a quick nod to The Shining towards the end).
When comparing the film to the rest of the franchise, one must remember that when it was being produced, there were no thoughts of sequels. Sean Cunningham thought the idea of bringing Jason in as the killer—somehow surviving and living in the wilderness nearby—was ludicrous, a view shared by others. Now that there’s a series, minor details that seemed inconsequential at the time stand out. And while continuity errors plague the series as a whole, even the first film has its share of issues. The biggest is that the killer is built up visually as a man (due in part to Tom Savini executing the gore effects), throwing off their identity entirely. It’s also odd that the Christys, the family that owns the property that Camp Crystal Lake sits on, is never mentioned again throughout the series. It’s a frivolous thing, but it was never explored or even alluded to.
On the other hand, you have a nice, likable cast of characters, including an up and coming Kevin Bacon; a skillful director (Sean Cunningham) building plenty of suspense into it; a maestro of makeup and gore effects (Tom Savini); and one of horror’s most memorable sound effects (Ki, Ki, Ki… Ma, Ma, Ma…), courtesy of composer Harry Manfredini. It may not be the best or the most interesting film in the series, but Friday the 13th is still effective. It also laid the groundwork for a memorable movie villain to emerge, improving upon and defining a horror movie formula.
Friday the 13th was shot by director of photography Barry Abrams on 35 mm film with Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Paramount Pictures brings both the theatrical and uncut versions of the film to 4K Ultra HD for the first time with a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, both graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). The differences between this presentation and the previous one released by Scream Factory on Blu-ray are apparent immediately, and not all of them are good. There’s a definite increase in fine detail, but noise removal has given much of the picture a softer, less filmic look. Grain is not really refined, so much as it is absent. It’s there, but it’s definitely not prominent. The biggest issue is the new color grade, which has boosted the contrast to the point of crushed blacks and a much darker picture overall. The scene in the opening when the first two murders occur is so dark that it’s difficult to make out what’s going on. Hues and flesh tones are mostly bland with no real dimension to them. Occasional greens and reds appear accurate enough, but it’s a mixed bag. The image is stable and clean, but there’s been a bit of revisionism in that the iconic fade to white at the beginning and end of the opening credits is now gone. Whether this was intentional or a mistake remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that this presentation of Friday the 13th is not an ideal one. It’s also not a completely poor one. Newcomers will probably not care about the alterations, but die-hard aficionados who’ve been watching the film over and over since the VHS days will definitely take notice. It’s not the worst presentation of the film to date, but it’s a far cry from similar restorations of films from the same era performed by other companies.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French mono Dolby Digital (English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD was included on the previous Steelbook Blu-ray release) with optional subtitles in English, English SDH, and French. This appears to be similar, if not the same track found on Scream Factory’s and Paramount’s more recent Blu-ray releases (losing count of them at this point). The track spaces out the various elements well enough, though it’s limited by its single channel source. Dialogue exchanges are clear while Harry Manfredini’s score rules the roost sonically. Sound effects often lack dimension, but they’re true to their source. It’s a shame that the restored mono track from the Scream Factory release couldn’t be included, but the surround track is mixed well enough without ever sounding muddled.
Friday the 13th on 4K UHD sits in a black amaray case with an insert and slipcover of the original theatrical artwork. A Digital code is included on a paper insert inside the package. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Peter M. Bracke, Sean Cunningham, Bill Freda, Harry Manfredini, Adrienne King, and Betsy Palmer
- Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th (HD – 14:07)
- The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham (HD – 8:58)
- Friday the 13th Reunion (HD – 16:44)
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood: Part 1 (HD – 7:31)
- The Friday the 13th Chronicles: Friday the 13th (SD – 20:34)
- Secrets Galore Behind the Gore: Friday the 13th (SD – 9:33)
The audio commentary for the uncut version of the film is hosted by Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke, segueing various interviews with the cast and crew. It’s a very informative and all-encompassing commentary, covering many aspects of the film’s production. Fresh Cuts speaks to most of the same members of the cast and crew, as well as others, telling random stories about the making of the film. The Man Behind the Legacy is a comfortable sit-down with Cunningham about the making of the film and its legacy. The Friday the 13th Reunion is a Q&A with the cast and crew, hosted by Michael Felsher, featuring Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Victor Miller, Ari Lehman, and Tom Savini. Lost Tales from Camp Blood is an ongoing series of slasher short films in the vein of Friday the 13th. The Friday the 13th Chronicles is an older but very good making-of, featuring the usual suspects from the cast and crew. Secrets Galore Behind the Gore is an extension of the making-of, focusing more on the special effects. The Return to Camp Crystal Lake documentary from the film’s UK release is still MIA, as are are the hours of extras (and other films) in Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray boxed set, not to mention the Crystal Lake Memories and His Name Was Jason documentaries. Also missing from the previous Steelbook Blu-ray release is the theatrical trailer.
Friday the 13th was nothing more than a low budget cash grab, pure and simple, and the filmmakers aren’t coy about admitting it either. That said, it spawned a series as beloved as any in horror. Other reviewers will likely be kinder to this new 4K Ultra HD release of the film, but if you already own the Scream Factory boxed set, there’s not much reason to pick this release up. Regardless of how it was shot, it can and should look better in 4K.
- Tim Salmons