As a kid I was too scared to go to summer camp like some of my friends. The reason, at the time, was a mystery, but now, looking back, I have a feeling I was somehow tuned into my future horror genre loving self and knew such a place could be dangerous, especially if it was on a lake in the middle of the woods. It just never seemed like a good idea, and even though the kids almost always came home safe and sound and full of stories, I didn’t envy them. Not when I felt like they had somehow dodged a bullet. What I didn’t realize at the time was that being a kid I probably would have been okay at the summer camp because such pre-teen beings generally are not the intended target of lakeside killers -- unless of course the killer is a fellow camper, then anything goes. Instead lakeside killers seem to like their victims a little older and more developed, especially in the chest region. Being sexually active is a quality they often seek out as well, though it isn’t always a must-have prerequisite. Because of this I had a window of opportunity to enjoy summer camp, one that was eventually pulled shut around the age of fifteen. After that the risk I always feared became genuine. Adding to it any visits to a summer camp once I reached that age wouldn’t be as a camper (who goes to summer camp at that age?), but as a camp counselor. Thankfully, being well versed in the horror genre by then, I always turned down such offers despite how much money some of my friends were earning. I just couldn’t take the chance.
In 1980 several camp counselors and the new camp owner learn the hard way that lakeside camps in the woods can be dangerous. It all happens one Friday in June -- on the 13th to be exact. Ignoring the rumors that the place holds a “death curse” due to a boy drowning in 1957 followed by the unsolved murder of two camp counselors in 1958, the owner and counselors go about readying the place for its new opening the following week. The name is Camp Crystal Lake and once ready it will house fifty young campers from the inner city and about ten staff members, unless one counselor, Alice, quits before everything gets going, something that she has threatened to do for unspecified reasons. Another counselor named Annie, the camp cook, may be a no-show as well, her suspected arrival time having come and gone during the day time hours. Knowing a storm is brewing, the camp owner, Steve Christy, heads off into town to grab supplies and leaves his new team of counselors with a list of choirs. What no one knows is that they aren’t alone at the camp site. Someone is watching and waiting. For what? The answer is simple: isolated counselors. It happens frequently as day turns to night and the storm rolls in. Couples run off to be alone, while others visit the bathrooms to relieve themselves or get ready for bed. Some visit the generator hut to switch the power back on, their investigations into why the generator was shut off never given enough time to reach a conclusion. One by one these counselors venture off never to return until only two remain. Fearing something is amiss they go off in search of their peers, but turn up nothing but empty cabins. Thinking its time to call for help they go to the only phone the place holds, but for some reason it doesn’t work. Driving out of the camp site is also a problem since the cars won’t start. Hoping their boss will return soon, the two decide to wait in the main cabin, only to have the power go off again. Will either live long enough to see the sun rise over the lake, or will they too meet an untimely demise?
Though over thirty years old now, Friday the 13th is a horror movie that still has the power to terrify audiences. It is also one that can surprise them the first time around, their supposed knowledge on who the killer is going to be given how iconic the hockey mask wearing sharp weapon wielding camp counselor slashing series villain has become throwing them for a loop. Even those who know the true identity of the killer going in may find themselves forgetting it as they sit in silent terror while watching the dark scenes unfold. I know because this happened to me. I saw Friday the 13th for the first time on Halloween night during my freshman year in high school and though I was sure nothing on screen could scare me at that point in my life, viewing this and its 1981 sequel back to back left me completely shaken to the core. In fact, I was so startled by the two movies that I actually waited until after midnight -- until Halloween finally ended -- before calling it a night, my mind finding a bit of relief in knowing that the creepiest night of the year was over. Even more impressive, later the following year, I stumbled upon Friday the 13th again one night while I couldn’t sleep and found myself frightened a second time around, which is something that has only happened a few other times with movies. Because of this I will always hold Friday the 13th and its sequel Friday the 13th Part 2 in high regard and encourage its viewing anytime I find someone who has yet to sit through it. I will also always argue the ridiculousness of creating a remake for this movie, and shake my head in sadness for anyone who watches that over the original the first time around.