By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Don’t reopen the campsite.
(This review contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers)
Twenty-two years after two counselors were brutally murdered Camp Crystal Lake reopens, but as the young staff tries to get the place ready they are killed one-by-one by an unknown assailant.
I first saw this film back in 1986 and thought it was alright. I presumed I would dislike it this time, but instead came away entertained and although certainly not a perfect film it does deserve its classic status. Director Sean S. Cunningham shows more flair than a lot of critics give him credit for. I liked the idea that all the murders take place during one stormy night at a remote location. Every murder sequence has its own beginning, middle, and end and filming it at an actual campsite gives it a lot of flavor. In fact I believe that is the main element for why this film became such a big hit because it reminds everyone when they went to camp as kids and tried to frighten each other by telling ghost stories around a camp fire.
Some of my favorite aspects of the film are what most might consider minor stuff, but stands out for me. For instance when Brenda (Laurie Bartram) goes to the archery range during the storm and the killer turns on all the lights and she becomes blinded by them is an interesting visual sequence. It is just unfortunate that she was not slayed with a shooting arrow as this would have corresponded to an earlier scene where she was almost hit by one shot by Ned (Mark Nelson). They were apparently planning to this, but then for whatever reason changed their minds. I equally liked the part where the killer shuts off the power and the viewer can see the lights slowly fading from the campsite at a distance, which has a nice foreboding quality. The part where Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) rides off on his bicycle after warning the staff the they are doomed creates an eerie image because there is no music and the lake is amazingly still proving that sometimes less is more when creating an intended impact. Having shots from the killer’s point of view watching the staff from a distance is creepy.
I watched the film closely thinking that there would be a lot of errors due to its low-budget, but found surprisingly little, or at least none that would create any type of major distraction. I know Betsy Palmer, who played Pamela Voorhees and is exposed as the killer at the end, only participated in a few days shooting. The hand that you see that represents the killer’s during the first half of the film was not Palmer’s, so I presumed that seeing a big ring on the third finger of the left hand would prove a mistake, but when Palmer does finally appear a ring is indeed there and the filmmakers prove to be astute. I know some people consider the scene where Alice (Adrienne King) has trapped herself inside a cabin and piling all sorts of stuff in front of the door to keep the killer out is a mistake because the door pushes out instead of in. However, I don’t agree because in her panic she would not be thinking straight and putting chairs in front of the door gave her a false sense of security, which at the time she may have needed emotionally. About the only real annoying mistake I saw is the fake lightning. Clearly it is a bright yellowish light coming from a flashlight that was shown on the performers from a stagehand that was just off- camera. The effect looks stupid and when are filmmakers ever going to realize that thunder and lightning rarely occur at the same time. You will always see lightning first and then the sound of thunder will usually occur several seconds later.
Too much time at the beginning is spent on the crew getting the campsite ready. These scenes don’t build any tension, the characters are vapid and clichéd, and the dialogue is trivial. I also found Ned to be incredibly irritating as the ‘comedian’ of the group whose attempts at humor where lame to the extreme. I found it funny how his murder is one of the few you don’t see and I think that was because the filmmakers feared that viewers would end up enjoying it too much. A little more nudity during this segment would have helped it along. I found it ironic that the one cast member that does end up going topless, Jeannine Taylor, was in real-life a graduate from a conservative Christian college. There is also a part here where they kill an actual snake and it deserves some mention because it is rather gory and has hints of Cannibal Holocaust where the viewer starts to think ‘if they are willing to kill actual animals in front of the camera what’s to stop them from doing it to the people’.
I like Betsy Palmer and the final climatic segment where she terrorizes Alice who is the last remaining survivor is in many ways the best part of the whole film. However, Estelle Parsons had been their first choice and I was a bit disappointed because Parsons has a unique acting style and a more distinctive face, which could’ve given the character more depth. Still, upon my third viewing I must say that Palmer does well. The close-ups of her face are great as is her gray sweater.
The music of course is another plus. I always thought it sounded like ‘chi,chi,chi; ma,ma,ma’, but it is actually supposed to be ki,ki,ki; ma,ma,ma’ and used to reflect the voice of Jason that Pamela hears inside her head instructing her to ‘Kill her Mommy’. Composer Henry Manfredi actually said ‘ki’ and ‘ma’ into a microphone before using sound effects to get the intended distortion.
Despite the film’s reputation the killings seem rather quick and uneventful. The slitting of the throat is a Tom Savini specialty, but was starting to get old even here. The machete through the head is one of the better ones, but the shot of it is too quick. The decapitation of Pamela is far and away the best. I liked how her hands continue to move even when she is headless. Apparently this is unrealistic and would not happen in real-life, but it is a cool visual nonetheless.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: May 9, 1980
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming