Making The Franchise: Friday The 13th (1980)

It is still amazing to for some fans to think that Friday the 13th (1980) was released over thirty years ago. The nostalgic feel of the film brings with it a resurgence of the horror genre not seen since the heyday of the Universal Picture days of the classic monster movies in the 1920's and 1930's. Before the hockey mask, the endless sequels, and merchandising opportunities, there was the demented Pamela Voorhees and her unwavering desire to avenge her mongoloid son's death.

The Friday The 13th franchise was initially conceived as a way to make a quick profit to help finance other film projects for Producer and Director Sean Cunningham. Cunningham himself started off directing sex education films, but really wanted to make films that would reach a broader audience and have the opportunity to make larger profits. During the production of his adult film Together, Sean needed help editing and enlisted the help of a person who has gone on to be one of the most influential people in modern horror. Wes Craven was a former English teacher who wanted to get involved in the motion picture industry, so when the call came, he indeed helped Cunningham complete the film and thus began a partnership that would help pave the way for Friday the 13th.

With Together completed, a meeting was set up with a trio of financiers that would help distribute his film. Stephen Minasian, Philip Scuderi and Robert Barsamian ran a Boston, Massachusetts based theater chain and were breaking into film distribution. They gave the money to Cunningham to distribute his film and also agreed to give him $50,000 more to develop a cheap, low budget horror film to appeal to a burgeoning genre in cinemas. That horror film would eventually become the infamous The Last House On The Left for which Wes Craven would make his directorial debut.

Last House would go on to be a financial success during its release in 1972, but the content of the film was looked upon poorly by the general public and made the creators of the film out to be disgusting promoters of sexual violence. Desperate to shake the stigma of such a degrading moniker, Cunningham and his partner Steve Miner looked to jump into a different genre to make a profitable film. So came along Manny's Orphans, a film that was in essence going to be a clone of The Bad News Bears. Victor Miller was brought on to Manny's Orphans to write the feature, but development of the film hit a few snags and production was at a stand still.

During this time, a very successful independent Horror film titled Halloween was released and completely changed the landscape of what horror films would be known for in the next ten years. Seeing the success of Halloween, Sean Cunningham convinced the Boston group of financiers to go all in on a clone of that film to bring in immediate profits. Writer Victor Miller was instructed to change course and begin constructing his very first horror film script. The Long Night At Camp Blood was the title of his draft for the new horror film for which the story would include very basic elements of a prior evil setting off the events against the backdrop of an isolated area. A Summer camp was eventually decided upon for the events of the film and Miller's script was then taken with confidence to the Boston investors for approval of the money needed to produce the film.

Sean Cunningham knew that he needed a hook to get audiences into the theaters and Victor Miller's working title of the film was probably not going to be enough to gain people's attention. Looking at John Carpenter's title of Halloween, Cunningham knew he needed a short, but frightening title and decided upon Friday the 13th. The now infamous ad for the movie was published in Variety without any film shot and boasted the tag line “ The Most Terrifying Film Ever Made!” The Boston investors loved the idea and would release the film under Georgetown Productions. However, the group had reservations about the script turned in by Victor Miller, so they hired Ron Kurz to author uncredited edits to the final draft that would be used for shooting Friday the 13th. Kurz would eventually go on to write, with credit, the screenplay for Friday the 13th Part 2.

Location scouting and casting soon began with the isolated camp location settled on at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. The camp is located in Blairstown, New Jersey for which a majority of the downtown scenes viewed in the beginning of the movie are filmed as well. Casting consisted of many young, up and coming actors and actresses with Kevin Bacon and Harry Crosby being a few of the famous participants. Bacon had recently starred in the 1978 hit college film Animal House with a small role, but would eventually go on to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Harry Crosby was already use to the entertainment business as he was the son of famous singer Bing Crosby.

Cunningham wanted a more seasoned veteran for the role of Mrs. Voorhees and auditioned a number of actresses for the role, including Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons who won for Best Supporting actress in the 1968 film Bonnie and Clyde. She turned the script down, however, and then Betsy Palmer was contacted for the role. Betsy had not acted in a film since the late 1950's, and was excited to star in a film again, however, she would only agree to the ten day shoot if she would be paid enough to fix her broke down car for which she was.

Besides having a catchy title such as Friday the 13th, Cunningham knew he needed another hook for the audience to make the film memorable and have repeat viewers, so he decided to make the movie as gory as possible. To do so, he needed someone who could pull off elaborate special effects, so he contacted Tom Savini, who himself had already created innovative make-up effects and death sequences for George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead. With a very tight budget and small shooting schedule, Director Sean Cunningham shot Friday the 13th between September 4th and October 3rd 1979.

The shoot was quite successful with just about every frame shot on camera being used in the final edit of the film. There was one area that had cause for debate and that was the finale of the film. Cunningham and crew wanted to have a memorable ending and drew from the success of Brian DePalma's Carrie for which a jump scare at the end of that film seemed to seal the deal for audiences. Although many people would take credit for creating the ending of Friday the 13th, having a young Jason Voorhees jump out of Crystal Lake to drag lone survivor Alice Hardy out of the canoe ended up being one of the scariest endings in Horror film history and is still effective today!

Paramount Pictures eventually took a chance on distributing the film domestically while Warner Brothers would release the film in International markets. With a big marketing push, Friday The 13th was unleashed in theaters on May 9, 1980 and would go on to gross roughly $40 million domestically with a paultry $500,000 budget. The success of the indie smash garnered talk of an immediate sequel as well as ushered in a new sub-genre of Horror known as the slasher film. The small production cost associated with making the film compared to the final box office grosses convinced Paramount to release seven sequels in the 1980's with much scrutiny from film critics and parent organizations claiming that Paramount was rolling out trashy, immoral films to make a quick buck. The mass populace was correct!
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