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It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when the name Jason Vorhees wasn’t part of the horror lexicon. In 1980 director Sean S. Cunningham unleashed the original Friday the 13th, a film that would go on to define the slasher era through sequel after profitable sequel (though Jason’s iconic hockey mask wouldn’t actually show up until the third installment in 1982). On May 9, 1980, The Hollywood Reporter published its review of the film:
Gruesome violence, in which throats are slashed and heads are split open in realistic detail, is the sum content of Friday the 13th, a sick and sickening low budget feature that is being released by Paramount. It’s blatant exploitation of the lowest order.
Produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham through Georgetown Prods., there is nothing to recommend about this ghastly effort, which simply details a series of grisly murders. The script by Victor Miller introduces a group of young people who are working to reopen a summer camp, which had earlier been the scene of several unexplained murders and which is called Camp Blood by the locals. From there on out, the kids are knocked off one by one, with the killer and cliched motivation finally being revealed in the final sequence.
Cunningham seems obsessed with shock value, which is the only thing he achieves during the 91-minute running time. The performances are credible, although no real acting is required, and the technical production is slick, including Barry Abrams’ photography and Bill Freda’s editing, which allows the full impact of the mutilations but which mercifully cuts away quickly. —Ron Pennington
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