While the Friday the 13th mythos has long been synonymous with Jason, the hockey mask wearing, axe wielding, indestructable psycho that has ruled the roost in the series nine sequels, offshoots, and, now, remakes, one often forgets that the original Friday was actually more of an American giallo than the sort of slash by numbers shockers the sequels would become, borrowing many of the Italian genres staple elements and weaving them into a very suspenseful low-budget horror flick that would unknowingly change the face of horror.
Camp Crystal Lake has been reopened and a staff of new camp counselors are being trained at the facility for the two weeks prior to the camper's arrival. The history of the camp is marred with a mysterious murder, and the accidental drowning of a camper over 20 years before, but the legend of Camp Blood is something that the camp's new owner would like to put behind him. However, someone doesn't want to let that legend go so easily. What follows is a series of grisly murders in which Crystal Lake's newest counselors are axed, knifed, bludgeoned, and generally put out to pasture by any means necessary.
Friday the 13th was one of the progenitors of the 1980's slasher epidemic, but, in my opinion, has been unfairly lumped in with the decades lesser examples, thanks mostly to the film's overwhelming success and the lackluster sequels which followed. The original film, however, owes more to Hitchcock, Bava, and Argento than to Carpenter, and this is most apparent in the film's use of its antagonist. We get lots of P.O.V. shots, the gloved hands, and creative killing methods that are staples of the Giallo genre, and Harry Manfredini's compelling score adds a Hitchcockian element to the proceedings that certainly raise this film above mere slasher level. Throw in the abundance of Red Herrings and the surprise twist ending, and you have a film that is on par with some of the best Giallo's of the period. And, perhaps, it's no accident, as many have claimed that Friday the 13th and the subsequent "Part 2" used Mario Bava's "Bay of Blood" as a blueprint, shamelessly "borrowing" bits from the maestro's most violent and underappreciated film (most notably - and damning; the human shish-ka-bob sequence in Part 2, which was directly lifted from Bay of Blood).
Friday the 13th is a genre staple that is arguably the most influential American horror film of all time. While "Halloween" is credited with starting the slasher craze, Friday the 13th perfected the formula, and served as the blueprint for countless imitators. It also (almost accidently) served as the launching pad for the most enduring horror icon of all time in Jason Voorhees; a character who is as vital to the genre - hell, to popular culture in general - today as he was nearly thirty years ago.
Friday the 13th carves its way onto Blu-ray with a very impressive 1.85:1 MPEG 4 AVC transfer that is just a joy to behold. While the transfer is spotty in places, and sports a fair amount of cinematic grain, I was really floored by the vibrancy and level of detail on display, here, as well as the fantastic balance in the film's darker moments (of which there are many). While this isn't the sort of transfer Blu-ray aficionados would show their friends to showcase the medium's finer points, this is precisely the sort of film I'd show my horror loving friends, just to give them an idea of just how good our old favorites can look in HD.
The Dolby True HD 5.1 track does an admirable job of bringing the film's original mono soundtrack into the new millennium, with some nicely implemented directional effects, a robust representation of Manfredini's fantastic score, and crisp and clear dialogue. The sound effects and speech are a bit on the brittle side, and understandably not nearly as organic sounding as a more recent film, but, considering the source, Paramount's done a fine job here.
Extras abound in this set, with many new features created specifically for this release (and presented in 1080p), as well as some fan-favorite carryovers from the DVD release a few years back. Things kick off with an entertaining and informative commentary by Sean Cunningham, who is joined by several other contributors who occasionally chime in with bits of wisdom and factoids. The commentary is culled together from several sources, so it's not so much conversational as it is analytical, but it's still a great listen.
Friday the 13th Reunion is a panel discussion from a 2008 convention and features cast members Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Manfredini, and Ari Lehman (Young Jason), amongst others, each of whom offer some great insight into the production, their experiences following the release of the film, and interactions with fans.
Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th is a mix of interviews and video snippets that further delves into the inspiration behind the film, and supplemental information about casting, FX work, and more.
The Man Behind the Legacy sports a longform interview with Sean S. Cunningham, which offers a more personal look at his involvement in the creation of the film and the series it spawned. Much of this is already covered in the commentary track, but there are some fresh nuggets of insight to be gleaned here.
Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 1 is a bit of a throwaway piece, featuring a shot-on-video short in which Jason dispatches a group of "campers" (in what appears to be a regular house). The only good thing I can say about this is that the label of "Part 1" means that other parts may be in the offing, hinting at, hopefully, more Friday films on Blu-ray!
The remaining special features include two standard definition carryovers from previous DVD releases, including The Friday the 13th Chronicles and Secrets Galore Behind the Gore, each of which offer even more behind-the-scenes material. Rounding out the goodies is the film's theatrical trailer in HD!
While there are other films out there that would certainly prove more beneficial of an HD makeover, few of them would have me as excited as Friday the 13th. This is one of the most suspenseful and well-crafted horror films in the genre's history, and still stands up well nearly three decades after it originally terrified audiences. If you consider yourself a fan of horror, consider Friday the 13th on Blu-ray an essential purchase.