19 Things We Learned From the Original ‘Friday the 13th’ Commentary

commentary friday the 13th

The original Friday the 13th caught a lot of critical heat back in 1980, and now many people see it as little more than another in a long line of generic slasher films, but it actually deserves a lot more credit than that. It obviously wasn’t the first of the genre, that honor would probably go to films like Black Christmas and A Bay of Blood, but it (along with Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street) began a long, three-way race for horror franchise supremacy that affected the genre for decades.

This week sees a new Friday the 13th release hitting shelves, appropriately enough on Friday the 13th, consisting of all twelve films in the series (including the 2009 reboot) in a Complete Collection. It’s not actually as complete as it could or should have been, but one special feature it does include is a commentary track for the very first film. It’s not screen-specific and instead consists of edited together snippets from interviews, but there are still some interesting tidbits to be found.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Sean S. Cunningham‘s Friday the 13th.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Commentator: Sean S. Cunningham (producer/director) and a bunch of other people who are difficult to keep track of

1. The film was initially viewed by Cunningham as a way to pay the bills, and it ended up working well beyond his expectations.

2. Cunningham got financing for the film based solely on a title shot of “Friday the 13th” approaching the camera and breaking glass. He had no script or story idea yet.

3. Screenwriter Victor Miller had hoped he’d become famous for writing a movie like Airplane!, but ended up doing this instead. This surprised him for several reasons, the least of which being he never liked horror films. He wrote the script in two weeks.

4. Most of the cast had theater backgrounds and little to no film/TV experience.

5. Lead Adrienne King recalls auditioning even as there was no script available. The actors were given snippets of possible dialogue to perform.

6. Betsy Palmer acknowledges that a man played the killer throughout the film until she reveals herself at the end. The hands, feet, and pants legs usually belonged to Tom Savini’s assistant, “a young Greek boy who did me all through the film.”

7. Estelle Parsons was apparently asked to star as Mrs. Voorhees, but she declined, opening the door for Palmer.

8. Gene Siskel was so upset that an actress of Palmer’s caliber would take this role that he published her home address so fans could express their outrage. She never got a single letter, at least in part because he had gotten the address wrong.

9. One of the camps they filmed in is now a Boy Scout camp. Their main hall features memorabilia from the film.

10. The role of Jason was originally going to be played by Cunningham’s 10-year-old son, but the cold weather and his wife’s concern put an end to that plan.

11. One of the commentators makes a point of detailing how far removed the film is from the sexist, misogynistic trash it was accused of being. The “final girl” Alice is far from virginal seeing as she’s had past relationships, flirts, and smokes pot. Plus, as many men die as women, and the killer is a woman.

12. Cunningham doesn’t buy the whole “sinners must be punished” scenario that many slasher films seem to support. Instead he simply sees it as “bad things happening to good people for no apparent reason.”

13. King first realized how big the movie truly was when Fangoria invited her to a horror convention. “They would all ask me that question, ‘Do you live because you didn’t take your clothes off?’ Or ‘Did you live because you were a good girl?’ I said ‘I just had a mean swing. You know, me and my machete.'”

14. Composer Henry Manfredini came up with the now classic “ki ki ki ma ma ma” vocals attached to the score. It’s his voice as well.

15. Cunningham always felt that the MPAA held him to a higher standard after this film due both to its success and his belief that other producers would point to it as an example that they should be allowed to get away with stuff, too.

16. Producer Steve Miner initially thought it was an idiotic idea to bring Jason back in sequels. “He wasn’t your villain, he’s just a figment of someone’s imagination…”

17. Palmer tells fans she has no idea who this character in the hockey mask is since her son Jason drowned in 1957. Obviously.

18. Miller was hot “for a minute and a half” after this film’s success, but he went on to find real satisfaction in writing daytime soap operas. Still not quite Airplane!, but hey, he was happy.

19. The film’s first screenings before having a studio attached led to a bidding war between United Artists, Warner Bros., and Paramount.

Best in Commentary

  • Cunningham: “The most important thing you can do in a film career is make money.”
  • Palmer: “There was one of them… Sizzle, Sizle & Ebert? Siskel & Ebert! One of them was fit to be tied because I had done this movie.”
  • King: “I have pictures where [Tom Savini is] baking Betsy Palmer’s head in an oven.”

Final Thoughts

The commentary here manages to offer some fun information, but there’s no doubt its lack of screen-specific comments hurts a bit. There are plenty of moments that scream out for explanation or background, but none of it is forthcoming. It’s also pretty damn difficult at times to distinguish who exactly is talking. King and Russell are obvious, but the five or so guys too frequently blend together. Still, there’s some fun to be had here as the group recounts how the film came together and how it was received.

Friday the 13th is available on Blu-ray from Amazon as both a single disc and the newly released Complete Collection.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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