Warner Bros. // 1980 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // August 13th, 2004
In any language, "Ch-ch-ch...Ka-ka-ka" means death has come knocking at your cabin door.
You know the story, you know the score to be settled, but do you know the inside scoop of one of cinema's most successful slasher franchises? While it's completely confounding that Paramount isn't releasing their much ballyhooed Friday the 13th -- From Crystal Lake to Manhattan 8-disc boxed set on this Friday, August 13, 2004 (fright fans will need to wait to October 5, 2004 for some inane reason), there is still some Friday fear that many of you may have not yet feasted upon. Forget Paramount's prior stripped-down DVD of the first Friday and look, instead, to Warner Brothers disc from across the pond.
Friday the 13th became a surprise hit during the summer of 1980. Looking to catch the coattails of one particularly brutal (and gainful) Michael Myers, struggling young director Sean S. Cunningham sought to cash in on the emerging popularity of "splatter movies." Much like the porn industry had done during the 1970s, splatter films sought to push the boundaries of social "decency," this time trading explicit sex acts for unflinching violence and on-screen mutilations -- and audiences of the day lapped it up with unanticipated vigor.
In case you've been comatose for the past 25 years and aren't familiar with the Friday the 13th framework, here's how it all began: A group of young people converge upon Camp Crystal Lake, an East Coast retreat that has been out of commission since the shocking murders in 1958 and other peculiar goings on in the years since. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), son of the camp's original owner, has returned to the site, determined to restore and reinvigorate it, making it fit once again to welcome and entertain troupes of new campers. Aided by Alice (Adrienne King), Bill (Harry Crosby), and Brenda (Laurie Bartram), and soon joined by Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Jack (Kevin Bacon), and Ned (Mark Nelson), the would-be camp counselors labor to reopen the once-regarded Camp Crystal Lake. Never mind Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) who spits and sputters his warnings of a death curse that hangs over the camp and all who inhabit it. Yet, how crazy are the old coot's prophecies of doom in light of the brutal daytime murder of Annie, the final counselor en route whose agonized last gasp is at the hands of a mysterious knife-wielding killer. The others continue to toil, unaware that the killer is now nearby, watching and waiting, methodically slaughtering the young people, one by one, in numbingly vicious fashion. Who will survive the blood bath and what will they learn about the truth behind the legend of "Camp Blood?"
It's become part of our lexicon, references to "slashers," "body counts," and the seemingly immortal and omnipresent Jason Voorhees, all thanks to a low-budget quick-flick aimed at making a buck while never dreaming of establishing pop-culture prowess. Unwittingly, Friday the 13th became one of the lucky ones, a film that helped cement the cinematic foundation of gratuitous gore and grief in the name of entertainment. The film joined rank with other notable horror fests including John Carpenter's Halloween, Don Coscarelli's Phantasm, and George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead to deliver sick yet stylistic murders, egging audiences to guess who'll get it next and how will they be unceremoniously dispatched. It became an emerging spin-off genre that celebrated atrocities, not actors, and ushered a new breed of movie stars: the makeup and effects artists.
Ask any gorehound, one who indulges in all manner of "moist movies" and painstakingly pores over the pages of Fangoria magazine, which artist was most responsible for this dismemberment-for-hire and they'll unanimously agree on Tom Savini. A former Vietnam photographer who witnessed what he calls "anatomically correct gore," Savini developed a penchant for recreating brutal death scenes, following and advancing in the footsteps of his admitted makeup artist hero Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Altered States). After delivering the most painful and nightmarish effects ever seen in 1979's Dawn of the Dead, Savini's services were quickly secured to further astound audiences in this new splatter spectacle. Some charge this is work is just another form of pornography, others call it art, but film backers and domestic distributors Paramount Pictures called it $UCCE$$.
Fast-forward to the advent of DVD, the media of choice and one that inspired restorative efforts and the unearthing of extra content (thanks to the capacity to contain such bonus goods), and gore-goers were salivating at the prospects for such pinnacle features like Friday the 13th. Paramount Home Video, inexcusably, released an apathetic offering in the form of sparse 1999 release that offered only the feature film and a single theatrical trailer. Although DVD was the lauded as the impetus that motivated studios, filmmakers, and actors to regroup, relive, and rejoice in their past accomplishments, affording film fans and aficionados a sneak behind the scenes and an invitation into the inner circle by way of reunion featurettes, archival and deleted footage, and running commentaries, Paramount offered none here. And, the aforementioned 8-disc boxed set due in October 2004 still has hard-core Friday fans wringing their hands for the lack of special features for this flagship film. Why? Who knows, so forget Paramount and look to Warner Brothers instead.
Upon the theatrical release of Friday the 13th in 1980, Paramount handled domestic distribution while Warner Brothers managed international exhibition. Immediately, Warner outshined Paramount by including slightly longer versions of the various death sequences (likely the fault of the stateside MPAA and not necessarily the fault of Paramount). No matter because, on DVD, Paramount released the same US theatrical version rather than elect to present the longer international cut, further infuriating fans. But, as with the theatrical version, Warner Brothers has also managed a European release of the Region 2 DVD, made available on September 29, 2003; this is the DVD for your collection, blood brethren. The disc contains the international/uncut version of the film, featuring the additional frames in each of the death sequences (Jack's death being most notable as it includes a previously cut extended overhead view of his demise). The transfer itself, an anamorphic widescreen presentation framed at 1.85:1, looks better than the stateside Paramount release. Though it can't possibly erase the inherent low-budget look of the actual print, the source elements are quite clean and grain is kept to a minimum. The image is a bit dark yet that's a result of the actual production design and not the fault of the transfer itself. Detail is generally crisp and consistent but, again, this wasn't a high-end production to begin with so don't expect a miraculous new look. Still, it's likely superior to what you may have in your film library today. The audio is the same Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix as you'll find on the domestic disc yet it's suitable and not a real distraction to the overall presentation.
Extras? You bet! Here's where the Warner Brothers Region 2 disc eviscerates the Region 1 disc, hands down. First up is the running commentary that consists of assembled audio interview segments with director Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, editor Bill Freda, actors Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, and host Peter Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories. Though it's disappointing the participants weren't actually gathered together to speak to a screening of the film, the track delivers non-stop anecdotes and insight into the production; an interesting and educational listen for sure. Next up is an enjoyable 20-minute featurette, Return to Crystal Lake, again exclusive to this Region 2 disc. This intriguing documentary presents the same participants from the commentary track (Adrienne King seems to have barely aged) and, though it repeats some of the anecdotes imparted during the commentary, presents plenty of additional information that makes it an engaging feature. Of special note here is composer Harry Manfredini's admonition that it's not "Ch-ch-ch...Ka-ka-ka" but, rather, "Ki-ki-ki...Ma-ma-ma;" he explains fully the derivation of the iconic sound effect. On a somewhat down note, you'll also learn the disturbing details of Adrienne King's rationale for leaving feature film work following her role here; she's visibly shaken during this segment. The features wrap up with the same theatrical trailer as on the Paramount disc, the only difference being the Warner wraparounds.
But it's a Region 2 disc, right? Will my DVD player be able to decode it? Maybe. Maybe not. For various licensing and other legal reasons, some films are presented differently in the international market and some are only available on DVD in the international market. For these legal reasons, DVD region encoding was introduced to prevent unlicensed films or content from being readily viewable across markets. However, if you want to enjoy what's available on DVD from around the world (and you do, don't you?), then you have a few options to explore.
First, look online for "Region Free" DVD players, those that can effortlessly decode region blocks and even convert display formats (as in the case of the PAL format being used for Region 2 discs as opposed to the Region 1 NTSC standard). Most of these players have been professionally modified to toggle between region and display modes and are generally a bit more expensive than non-converted units. Next, search the trusty Internet for DVD player "hacks," that is special on/off and remote key sequences that allow you access to unlock factory-set region specifications. Some of these hacks are trickier than others and not all players can be modified by this method. Lastly, look to your laptop. That's right; most laptops and desktop computers with onboard DVD-ROM drives can switch their region code settings automatically to allow the viewing of discs from various international markets. Beware, though, as some allow only a limited number of region switches such that after perhaps five toggles, the fifth region code becomes fixed on the drive. Of course, there are surely ways around this minor hurdle though I haven't gone looking for them yet.
And is all this region and format switching worth the effort? Well, if you're eager to see different or more complete presentations of some of your favorite films, I say "yes." Where can you find these DVD? Easy. Visit www.amazon.co.uk to find this disc as well as many other intriguing titles not available domestically; you'll be amazed at what you can find and pleased that the site can accept your US credit card to pay for your foreign purchases. Incidentally, this Region 2 version of Friday the 13th is priced at £12.99 (that's $23.79 in U.S. dollars); almost double the price of the domestic disc but well worth it.
Despite the ongoing offenses by Paramount Home Video regarding the sometimes spotty but suitably entertaining Friday the 13th franchise, this year's horror-holiday can be brightened by Warner's superior edition from across the ocean. It's advisable to get your copy of the Region 2 disc soon since no one knows how the upcoming boxed set might adversely impact availability of this preferred DVD. And, no, Friday the 13th is not triumphant cinema but it's undeniable how the film and its bevy of brutal effects (physical, mind you, not CGI) has satisfied the audience of gore-mongers. Look at it, if you will, as a magic trick: at the next heinous hacking, ask yourself, "How'd they do that?" Enjoy your stay at Camp Blood.
This court finds absolutely no basis for the significant difference in material between these two discs and thereby sentences Paramount Home Entertainment representatives to spend two days in the stocks and on public display at the next Fangoria "Weekend of Horrors" convention, affording Friday fans their well-deserved right to vent their ongoing frustrations with the studio in any way they see fit.
As one irate devotee put it: "Fu-fu-fu...Yu-yu-yu," and this court couldn't agree more.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site