Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
Most years I show Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) as an example of a slasher film, but this year I noticed the likely date for a screening and it was only appropriate to show Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980).
Er, Friday the 13th.
Already the mould has become solidified – a range of teens, largely played by unknowns, are picked off one by one, leaving the final girl to fight back. On the one hand, this figure is a feminist rôle model as figure of identification, as active rather than passive, as complicating standard gender archetypes. On the other hand, she’s infantilised as a girl and her fight back extends the duration of the sadism directed at her.
The prologue here is the murder of a couple of teen fornicators at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958 by an unseen assailant, although the real fall is a drowned child from 1957. Two decades later – June 1979 or July 1980, although neither date is a full moon – Annie (Robbi Morgan) is hitchhiking her way to the reopening camp. This can’t end well, although there’s a neat bit when she misgenders a dog.
The real final girl is Alice, non-gendered at a push (Alice Cooper?), first seen chopping wood and doing DIY and resisting the advances of the slightly creepy Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer). Her fellow camp counsellors are killed off one-by-one, the women as spectacles-in-dying, the men more spectacles-as-corpses. Nobody sees nothing. But all the others had sex or drank or smoked – a young Kevin Bacon doing all three.
Should I be coy four decades on? Whereas in proto-slasher Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), the protagonist channels his mother, here the repetition-with-difference of popular culture sees the pattern reversed. Whereas in Halloween we see Michael Myers and see him seeing, here the slasher is kept offscreen. The film does not play fair – we neither have the thrill of deducing the villain and eliminating red herrings nor of watching a Columbo figure get their man. Is Christy a nod to Christie, she of Marple and Poirot and much more?
The opening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) references Richard Nixon in the soundtrack – a news broadcast – here a character describes someone as having the worst run of luck since Richard Nixon. Did Nixon have bad luck though? I think he was largely the architect of his own downfall.