Thursday, October 17, 2019

How To Improve Original FRIDAY THE 13TH (SPOILERS)

As part of the "Heavy Hitters of Horror" month on Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we did episodes on the original Nightmare on Elm Street and just recently the original Friday the 13th. Here's the Friday the 13th episode, in which you can hear us griping about how the movie really isn't that good and only spawned the sequels we know and love because it cost so little to make and made so much profit.

Well, criticism is easy. Here are some ways to make it better. Note that there are spoilers for a nearly forty-year-old movie contained herein:

*I'd begin the film in 1957 with young Jason drowning in the lake due to the counselors who are supposed to be watching him off having sex. His mother Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), perhaps sensing something is wrong, comes running from the camp kitchen where she works but is too late to save her son. She loses it, lashes out at the counselors who arrive at just the wrong time (per TVTropes, in the Pamela's Tale prequel comic Jason found the two counselors going at it and the male counselor chased him into the lake, so they're probably close by) and kills them. Then she sets the camp kitchen on fire. The fire spreads, destroying much of the camp, and Mrs. Voorhees gets arrested. She's taken off to jail or a mental institution (I doubt "temporary insanity" was a thing back then, but a newly-bereaved mother of a sickly son who died due to others' negligence is likely to get more sympathetic treatment than a premeditated stabber), but owing to the bad press and destruction of the facilities, the camp is closed. The actual movie prologue didn't really make a lot of sense. In 1958 the counselors sneak off for some lovemaking and get stabbed by an unknown assailant for unknown reasons (although the counselors do seem to know who's attacking them based on their initial reaction to being caught), then a time-jump of 20-30 years.

*The above scenario would deal with one of big problems that I and other members had with the film--Mrs. Voorhees isn't introduced until the last fifteen minutes of the film. If I hadn't already known the first movie's killer was Jason's mother rather than Jason himself, I'd have been in serious Flat What territory. If there needs to be a reference to her in the film's "present day," have the creepy trucker who drives Annie Phillips (Robbi Morgan) to the camp pass by the Voorhees family home and point it out to her and relate to how Mrs. Voorhees is in jail for the disaster at the camp back in the 1950s or was eventually released (two counts of manslaughter or second-degree murder and a couple counts of arson and reckless endangerment--she might've been released in the 1970s after serving 15-20 years) but secluded herself in the home and ultimately died. To cite the almighty Chekhov's Gun, if you fire a gun in Act 3 you need to reveal it in Act 1, and Mrs. Voorhees is neither discussed nor appears until the end of the movie.

*The first hour or so of the film need to be tightened up a bit--we see the camp getting repaired and get a little bit of characterization, but it takes too long. The scene where all six of the counselors kill a snake in the cabin after it startles one of them epitomizes the problem--were they all that bored they all had to pile into the cabin to deal with a snake?

*I was actually impressed by some of the cunning and tactical skills Mrs. Voorhees used. She's basically a 40-60-year-old woman (Pamela's Tale suggests she was pregnant with Jason as a teen, which means she could have been in her 20s when he died) and not a very big one, unlike her 400 pound muscle-mountain son of the later films. Physically overpowering most of the cast is going to be beyond her. So she strikes from ambush or uses lights (the archery range lights, her flashlight) to night-blind people before killing them with knives or other weapons. She also takes pains to cut the power and phone lines. When dealing with an alerted and younger, stronger opponent, she's notably ineffective as a fighter. My proposed new Act III would put this to good use.

*Owing to the spread-out nature of the kills and how nobody seems to be really aware of what's going on until the very end of the film, there's no tension and suspense. To remedy this and put Mrs. Voorhees' tactical skills to good use, I would have the counselors, many of whom seem to suffer from what TVTropes calls Too Dumb To Live, figure out what's going on much earlier. Perhaps when the obnoxious Ned (Mark Nelson) disappears on top of Annie not showing up like she was supposed to, they start searching the camp and find the body of Marcie (Jeanine Taylor) in the bathroom and the corpses of Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Ned in the cabin where they'd assumed Marcie and Jack were off having sex.

That still leaves half the camp staff alive and we can have them trying to hunt the killer themselves (it's ten miles back to town, in the rain no less, so they're basically stuck) or flee the campsite completely. Either way they get attacked in the dark by Mrs. Voorhees, who has just killed the new camp owner Steve Christy (Peter Brower). This would account for Brenda (Laurie Bartram), leading to a siege where Alice (Adrienne King) and Bill (Harry Crosby III) are barricaded in the cabin with Mrs. Voorhees prowling around outside. Mrs. Voorhees, going back to the arson in the new prologue, blocks the main door of the cabin they're hiding in and sets it on fire, killing Bill as he jumps out a window. Alice (Adrienne King) manages to get out of the burning cabin, paving the way for the final confrontation.

*During that confrontation in the actual film, Alice evades Mrs. Voorhees and even injures her multiple times, but Mrs. Voorhees keeps getting up and coming after her. After the second time this happens, even if Alice lacks the skill or inclination to actually kill her after all this crap, she should at least disarm her or tie her up to make good her escape. Perhaps in trying that, Mrs. Voorhees is able to injure her with a hidden second weapon or just hit her on the head really hard, leveling the playing field and putting Alice in very real danger. That would make the final confrontation less laughable and generate more suspense.

*Instead of the "dead lake Jason nightmare" and the hospital scene, end the film with police, fire, and ambulances arriving at the camp (perhaps drawn by smoke from fires Mrs. Voorhees has set) and discovering the injured Alice and the dead Mrs. Voorhees. We see Mrs. Voorhees being loaded up (in pieces) in the ambulance and cut to...

THE DISFIGURED ADULT JASON WATCHING FROM THE WOODS. Although the Wikipedia article about the first movie states the creator didn't like making Jason into the villain of the later films when he was the victim of negligent camp staff, I think the "dead lake Jason" was included as a sequel hook. This would show that Jason is not in fact dead, but grew up into the mute and vengeful machete-machine we all know and love.

You guys like? It keeps the few good parts of the film (Mrs. Voorhees as a tactical genius with a very understandable beef with the camp), but tightens it up and makes it a lot more suspenseful.

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