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The original Friday the 13th is a fun, campy nostalgia trip, revisiting when gore was cinema’s new frontier and Tom Savini’s pre-CGI horror effects were extremely cutting edge.

Camp Blood

The technical quality of this Blu-ray is astounding
The technical quality of this Blu-ray is astounding

There’s no pretense about Friday the 13th. Several times during the supplemental features of this immaculate Blu-ray presentation, director Sean S. Cunningham admits the driving force behind the movie was to cash in on the Halloween craze, make some money, and thereby be able to support his family and hopefully go on to make other movies.

This is the kind of low-budget movie that doesn’t even bother to list a single member of its cast during the opening credits. Not its biggest star, Betsy Palmer, and certainly not the names of all those unknown, untested kids, including Kevin Bacon. Yeah. This movie cuts to the chase.

For those living out in the woods for the past three decades, Friday the 13th starts in 1958, presenting the grisly murders of a couple sex-starved teens. Picking up 22 years after that incident — and 23 years after a kid named Jason drowned in the camp’s lake — yet another stab is made at reopening Camp Crystal Lake, dubbed Camp Blood because of its freakish run of bad luck. A previous attempt to reopen the camp in the 1960s met with only more death.

His Name Is Jason

Given its minor-league, low-budget aspirations, Friday the 13th proves to be relatively smart and clever for its genre, a genuine cut above the typical mad-slasher flick.

For one thing, none of the characters know anything is wrong. They’re all going about their games, left to their own devices and distractions while hanging out in their individual cabins as mayhem descends on the camp.

Nobody knows any better, that is, until Alice stumbles on her boyfriend-cum-door ornament. Then everything goes to heck. Heads roll and the final 30 minutes is a hum-dinger of gruesomeness and schlock that melds elements of Ten Little Indians and Psycho.

This “uncut” edition includes 10 seconds of footage deemed too gory back in 1980. But, while quite a bit more blood flows, don’t look for any hockey masks here. This is the original movie, before that boy in the bottom of Crystal Lake took on a life all his own.

Blu-ray Extras

Ari Lehman at the Denver Film Festival
Ari Lehman at the Denver Film Festival

This new release offers up a nice selection of new material plus a few prime cuts from previous home video incarnations. The downside is that some of the material should’ve been tightened up a bit as there are several stories or anecdotes that are shared two, three or more times among the various materials.

The new features are presented in high def and possibly the best of the bunch is a 17-minute short entitled Friday the 13th Reunion. Perfectly titled, it features a panel discussion with makeup guru Tom Savini, Ari Lehman (milking his brief role as the first Jason for all it’s worth), writer Victor Miller, Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), composer Harry Manfredini and co-star Adrienne King. There are some good juicy bits here, as when Palmer comments that she first thought the script was a piece of crap. And Miller makes it clear here (and elsewhere on the disc) that the plan was simply to “rip off” Halloween. The panel, recorded at a horror convention, discusses casting, the characters, the movie’s classic ending and King stands up to belt out another scream.

The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham is a decent 9-minute look at the man behind the whole bloody idea. He comes across as a really nice, mild-mannered guy who simply wanted to cash in on the horror craze started by Halloween with his own campfire tale.

On the other hand, Cunningham’s collaborator, Victor Miller, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and sporting extensive forearm tattoos, comes across as a bit creepy (more on that below).

Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th is a 14-minute featurette that reiterates much of the material presented in the reunion. Miller repeats his comments, as does Lehman, although this time buoyed with some behind-the-scenes photos. Also on tap are interviews with Robbi Morgan, the first 1980 victim, and Savini, who talks about working with Harry Crosby, son of Bing.

Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part 1is a brand-new 7 ½-minute dramatic sequence that simply rehashes the typical devices and elements of the theatrical releases. Look for subsequent chapters on the Blu-ray releases of Part 2 and Part 3 (in 3-D!).

Recycled Material

As for the old material making an encore appearance, at the top of the list is a running commentary with Peter Bracke (author of Crystal Lake Memories), director Sean Cunningham, editor Bill Freda, writer Victor Miller, Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer and composer Harry Manfredini. While it’s a carefully edited collection of comments rather than one recorded conversation among the participants, it offers some pretty darn enlightening insight into the movie, the series it spawned and horror movies in general.

Particularly interesting are the comments that put things in perspective in terms of the sensibilities at play when the movie was released in 1980. Listen as Betsy Palmer talks about Gene Siskel’s vicious review of the movie, in which he actually published her address and told people to chastise her for appearing in the movie. Fortunately, he had the wrong address.

It’s also interesting to hear Cunningham discuss how the movie’s horror was more like a magic act and, rather than fueling a blood lust in the audience, it simply wowed them with a “how’d they do that?” sense of wonder. Remember, CGI didn’t exist back then.

And, along with that, Cunningham backs off the popularly-held belief that horror movies are all about punishing promiscuous drug users. From his view, it’s about the fright of terrible things happening to generally good people for no apparent, rational reason. And Adrienne King expounds on that notion, explaining that she survived not because she was a virtuous virgin but because she had a mean swing with a machete.

As for Victor Miller, the guy who seems a bit creepy in the video interviews, well the big revelation is that, aside from working on a couple children’s movies with Cunningham before Friday the 13th, he confesses that if he had his druthers he’d be known for writing something like Airplane!because that’s more in line with his own sensibilities. Ahhh. Once again, appearances can be so deceiving.

Secrets Galore Behind the Gore is in standard definition, 1.33:1, and is a 9 ½-minute behind-the scenes look at the effects trickery Savini put to use on set. A lot of it seems so obvious now, but it’s a fun bit of revelation.

The Friday the 13th Chronicles is also in standard def, 1.33:1, and is a 20-minute featurette that repeats and expands on some of Cunningham’s comments on his thoughts behind the horror and Betsy Palmer repeats some of her comments from the reunion segment.

Also on tap is the original theatrical trailer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Blu-ray Exclusives

There are none.

Picture and Sound

The technical quality of this Blu-ray is astounding. The movie is 29 years old, but aside from the dated hairstyles and outfits, the movie looks brand new. It’s a real treat to see this movie presented so well in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

And that goes double for the sound. The English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is a revelation and something of a mini-miracle, particularly given the movie was originally released in not-so-glorious monaural sound. While the dialogue can sometimes be a bit muffled and soft, when it’s straight music score and sound effects, the results are downright top-notch. Given the age of those original audio elements, this soundtrack earns the highest rating.

But, for the purists, fret not. A mono Dolby Digital track is available in English, French and Spanish.

Also on board are subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

How to Use This Disc

Revisit Camp Crystal Lake and savor the gory... er, glory... of this horror classic in Blu-ray high definition. For those who are so inclined, check out the audio commentary if it’s still new to you and, simply for the “where are they now” value of it, check out the reunion segment.