Weekly Post-mortem 10/7 – 10/13

10/10/12 Friday the 13th (1980)

Last week saw the debut of the trailer for Hitchcock, a film that quickly filed itself under ‘boring autobiographical’ in my mind, but also a film that promises a narrative on the production of Psycho. While it’s nice to see appreciation for the thriller today, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th is a tribute to Psycho in its own right. The opening glass shatter and the cold open murders give way to a very Bernard Herrmann-styled score, complete with staccato strings and brassy barks. And what could be creepier than the inverted mother-son relationship? Norman Bates living vicariously through his mother’s business (and clothes) is swapped for Pamela Voorhees, acting out a decades-long revenge scenario against Camp Crystal Lake and those “responsible” for the drowning of her son Jason. Even the identity of the both Bates and Voorhees as the suspected killers remains a mystery for much of the film, an aspect later Friday sequels do not adhere to. To make one final comparison, Psycho’s final basement reveal of Bates in wig and mother’s bathrobe has always given me the heebie jeebies — blame the smile maybe. Friday echoes this as well, as Pamela Voorhees sports a rigor mortis grin and mythologizes her character’s legend forever in a single moonlight ‘pledge’ to Jason. It ranks up there with Kubrick’s furries as an all-time best WTF horror moment:

Once again, that mother-son relationship is milked to great effect, not mention plenty of delusional… ahem communication with the deceased party. The mere thought of an unhinged mother stabbing teens on a campground she knows better than her victims is as unique as it is disorienting in its rejection of a stereotypical male culprit — a stereotype Cunningham even teases once or twice.

Picking on the acting and dialogue, much of which is laughably terrible, would be unfair, especially if something like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre can get a free cult pass in those departments. And none of its detriments completely diminish Friday the 13th’s mood, which it still excels at creating thirty years later. Mrs. Voorhees’ manic streak and the isolated setting are lasting bits of iconography, and a resurrected Jason’s ‘gotcha!’ amidst Crystal Lake’s tranquility has stuck with me since first seeing it at a fifth grade sleepover, back when I believed Mountain Dew and cold pizza were a part of every healthy Saturday morning breakfast.

10/13/12 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Memories of a film can also work against it. My only recollection of A Nightmare on Elm Street was Tina’s first dream sequence, where a mostly faceless Freddy chases her through foggy catwalks and pipelines of some hellish boiler room. Like Jason’s surprise appearance in Friday, Tina’s dream has made a lasting impression.

I think I must have repressed the rest of this one.

Made four years after Friday, Nightmare’s acting and dialogue are arguably worse than the former’s. Characters shift between irritating to outright intolerable, begging the question of whom director Wes Craven really wants us to root for here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Freddy Krueger is easily the best element, but he has very little true screen time. Of course, the then-fledgling New Line Cinema would increase his presence in subsequent films following the tremendous success of Nightmare; there’s a reason the studio was often referred to as “The House that Freddy Built.” Still, its story and concept provide some redemption. The conceit that Freddy can only get you when you’re sleeping, is a brilliant one, especially as characters realize they can only put off rest for so long. Knowing what I do about Krueger’s eventual commercialized jokester status, the real terror might be how the ‘anything goes’ sandbox elements of dream horror were somehow missed along the way.

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