The cast was comprised of attractive unknown teenagers, the audience made to see many of the events directly from the killer’s point of view, and the musical score assigned a signature theme (“ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma”) for the killer which was used to both indicate when a fake scare was coming (no sound) and when the killer was really around (signature theme plays). Yep, there’s no doubt that 1980’s Friday the 13th had studied and stolen from John Carpenter’s formula-setting Halloween, and aimed to give the world more of the same thing, just bloodier and cheaper.
Much to the chagrin of the moral authority (and probably John Carpenter), the blatant thievery worked. Released in 1980 by Paramount Pictures on May 9th in the U.S. and by Warner Bros. on June 13th overseas, Friday the 13th was a colossal hit, grossing $38 million domestic on a $600,000 budget which converts to grossing $120 million domestic at 2013 ticket prices. This kickstarted a horror film franchise which endures to this day, over 30 years later. There have been a total of 12 Friday the 13th films, one television show, and countless tie-in novels, with plans underway for a 13th film in 2015.
So, in honor of today’s date, Friday the 13th, let’s look at some things you may not about the first Friday the 13th film:
1. Director/Producer Sean Cunningham began his film career making soft-core porn, and gave Wes Craven his big break
In the early 1970s, Friday the 13th director/producer Sean Cunningham quit his job as a theater director/stage manager to make movies, starting off with two soft-core pornos, The Art of Marriage and Together (starring a pre-Behind the Green Door Marilyn Chambers). Cunningham and Together’s assistant editor, Wes Craven, partnered to make Last House on the Left in 1972, parting ways in 1975 when Craven left for Hollywood to pursue more legitimate film-making and Cunningham stayed in New York to make family friendly films.
2. Sean Cunningham & Friday the 13th’s screenwriter met while ripping off kids movies
Cunningham and Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller met in 1977 while making a low-budget rip-off of Bad News Bears called Here Come the Tigers, which Cunningham directed and Miller wrote. By that point, Cunningham had experienced no success since Last House on the Left, and Miller was a former novelist/playwright just getting started with screenwriting. Here Come the Tigers failed as did the next Cunningham/Miller G-rated family friendly film, Manny’s Oprhans.
3. Cunningham called Victor Miller and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money at the box office. Why don’t we rip it off?”
Cunningham and Miller reverse engineered the entire concept for Friday the 13th from there, deciding to set it at a summer camp because they needed a remote location and Victor Miller remembered the scary stories his brothers used to share of their summers spent at camp. The name “Jason Voorhees” was Miller’s idea as well, “Jason” being the combination of the first names of Miller’s two sons (Josh and Ian), and “Voorhees” the last name of a girl he went to school with.
4. Friday the 13th was a title Cunningham had previously considered for one of his family films
While making Manny’s Oprhans, Cunningham had struggled with distributors pressuring him to change the title-it sounded both too sad and too ethnic. One alternate title he brainstormed was Friday the 13th, which was completely wrong for a movie about soccer playing orphans. However, it sounded cool, and popped back in his head when he was looking for a better title than what he and Victor Miller originally had for their Halloween knock-off: Long Night at Camp Blood.
5. They secured all of their financing based solely off of a Variety ad
Cunningham was so sure the title Friday the 13th would sell the movie alone he took out a full page Variety ad over the Fourth of July Weekend of 1979:
It worked, as the financiers behind Together and Last House on the Left contacted him and offered to cover the entire cost of the proposed $500,000 budget. Cunningham initially turned them down as the actual long term part of the deal was going to royally screw him, but nobody else was offering to put up the entire budget like that. He changed his mind the next morning.
6. The cast was mostly comprised of New York stage actors
The casting was done by TNI Casting, a New York-based casting agency well-known and respected in the theater community in New York. Friday the 13th was their first horror film, and many of the actors were stage brats drawn to the auditions based upon the stellar reputations of the casting directors, having only the vaguest of clues as to what kind of film they were truly auditioning for.
The most famous of these actors was Kevin Bacon, who had been in his first film, Animal House, six months prior, but had, to his surprise, returned right back to the life of a work-a-day actor. He was the only one they auditioned for the part in Friday the 13th.
7. Adrienne King only got to audition because she had a friend in the Casting Director’s office
King had been acting in commercials since she was 6-months-old. At the time of the casting process for Friday the 13th, she had just finished work as an extra dancer in Saturday Night Fever, and was auditioning to be in Grease on Broadway.
Of course, Alice’s love interest, Bill, was played by Harry Crosby, who was attempting to make a go of it as an actor without leveraging any connections available to him as the son of Bing Crosby.
The producers have been accused of casting Harry to further mimic Halloween, which cast the daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) of well-known actors (Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis) as its female lead. Today, they claim that the prospect of having Bing Crosby’s son as the ostensible male lead was something they only later realized could be used in marketing down the road.
8. Camp Crystal Lake was actually a Boy Scouts Camp
The movie was mostly filmed at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Blairstown, New Jersey, a Boy Scouts Camp. They were only allowed to use the camp after making a sizable donation to Boy Scouts of America. Most of the crew and several cast members also lived in the camp’s cabins while filming the movie.
9. There was a distraught, weeping animal handler just outside the frame when they killed that snake
The idea behind the scene where the counselors have to kill a snake they find in one of the cabins was to differentiate the film somewhat from Halloween by having an early fake scare turn out to be legitimate as well as establish the characters as capable of taking action if need be. However, there was no PETA around that film set meaning they actually took a machete to a real, live snake. When they filmed the scene the snake’s owner was standing off to the side and crying.
10. There is only one reference to Friday the 13th in the entire film
I know what you’re thinking – but, wait, Mrs. Voorhees makes a pretty big deal at the end about how her killing spree came on the anniversary of her dead son’s birthday. She’s referring to Friday the 13th, right? Actually, she never specifies the date. They almost forgot to even mention Friday the 13th at all until Cunningham told Miller they can’t call it Friday the 13th, as cool as a title as it may be, without at least one reference to that day in the actual script. So, at one point a side character exclaims, “It’s a full moon and a Friday the 13th.”
11. Who actually wrote the funny parts? Or the ending? That depends on who you ask
Victor Miller is Friday the 13th‘s sole credited screenwriter, but Ron Kurz claims he was hired by Cunningham’s financial backers to punch up Miller’s script. Kurz further claims he is the one who added more humor into the script, specifically the character of Officer Dorf, and turned Jason from a normal kid who drowned to a mongoloid.
Kurz also claims he wrote the ending, but special effects makeup supervisor Tom Savini, Cunningham, and Miller all claim the ending came when they saw Carrie and decided to rip off its “one last surprise scare” finale.
12. Betsy Palmer only agreed to play the villain because she needed a new car
Betsy Palmer was well-known to 1980 audiences as the squeaky clean actress from films, TV morning talk shows, and Broadway. So, she was the perfect choice to play the wholesome-looking killer you’d never suspect, but she hated the script, regarding it as little more than trash. Good thing she really needed some quick money.
Palmer was commuting to theatre work in New York from her Connecticut home, and her old Mercedes car was constantly threatening self-destruction. Then along came this project she detested, but it was offering a salary that was the exact amount she needed to buy a new car: $10,000. On top of that, she’d only have to film for 10 days. So, she pulled a Michael Caine, and just thought about how awesome her new car would be while also taking comfort in the assumption that no one would ever see this piece of crap film anyway.
13. Cunningham once had to ask the crew to work for free in exchange for a share of back-end profits. They said no.
The final production budget was $600,000, which the financiers were frequently late or delinquent to pay out meaning Cunningham frequently struggled with meeting payroll for his non-union film crew. He offered them back-end profit points in exchange for working for free. This is the part where you have to remember that absolutely no one working on Friday the 13th thought the film was worth a darn, and there was no guarantee it would ever even make it into theaters. So, to the crew an offer for a cut of hypothetical back-end profits seemed insulting, as many of them had fallen for similar deals on other independent films in the past and ended up making absolutely nothing. They turned Cunningham down, and he was able to keep paying them throughout the shoot. Obviously, the crew members now wish they had taken a cut of the insane profits instead of settling for their meager salaries.
To find out just how close Friday the 13th came to being an anthology film series check out our list for Friday the 13th Part 2.
You can use the following links to check out all of our other Friday lists: Part 3, The Final Chapter, A New Beginning, New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, Freddy Vs. Jason, and Friday the 13th (2009).
You can also use the following links to check out all of our Nightmare on Elm Street lists: Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Plus, you can head here to see my lists about the Halloween franchise:
Source: Pete Bracke, Camp Crystal Lake: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (Enhanced Edition).Amazon.com