FILM (1980)

Lucky for some - the start of a blockbuster slasher franchise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 2:35pm

Friday the 13th

Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

"There was a novelty in seeing a film that scrappy and that nasty being distributed by a big studio in a mainstream cinema. You were watching a nasty, grimy movie but in plush seats, in kind of polite surroundings. That was what made it something special, something that hadn't been seen before."

With this statement, British film critic Mark Kermode perfectly summarised the appeal of Friday the 13th: the film is low budget, the acting is terrible, and the storyline is simplistic, but it's gone down in history as the high point of the "slasher" film genre.

The title doesn't have much relevance to the story. (The working title A Long Night at Camp Blood was more appropriate.) Most of the killings on the film do happen on Friday the 13th but the film doesn't concern itself with the superstition.

The fear of Friday the 13th is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskevidekatriaphobia - so it's obvious why the film isn't named after the phobia.

There are many theories about the origin of the superstition. The earliest known documented reference is in the 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini - also known as the "Italian Mozart" - who died on Friday, November 13, 1868. It was said that Rossini, like many Italians, regarded Friday as an unlucky day and 13 as an unlucky number, making it all the more significant that he died on that day.

Other arguments claim this superstition has much deeper roots. In numerology, 12 is considered a number of completeness - hence 12 months in a year, 12 hours on the clock, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 signs of the zodiac, and so on. On the other hand, 13 is odd, incomplete and irregular - making it "unlucky" to some.

Friday the 13th was certainly unlucky for a snake that appears in the film. The scene in which the counsellors kill the reptile was not originally in the script. Make-up designer Tom Savini found the reptile during filming and the onscreen death was not faked. If director Sean Cunningham tried this these days, he would have animal rights activists on his doorstep and be buried by hate mail.

Jemma Zoe Rogers