Film Frame Friday is a regular series where one of our contributors will pick a film and highlight its unique cinematic style, from cinematography to mise-en-scene and editing. It is a great way to not only introduce someone to a new film but to bring new conversations to the table. Click here for more entries in the series.
Every Friday this month I will take a peek into some realm of the Friday the 13th franchise. At the end of the month, we will have an encapsulating piece on the franchise and its role in both horror and overall cinematic history. Now, we will look at the cinematography of Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2.
Friday the 13th
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Camera: Barry Abrams
Editing: Bill Freda
Music: Harry Manfredini
Friday the 13th Part 2
Director: Steve Miner
Camera: Peter Stein
Editing: Susan E. Cunningham
Music: Harry Manfredini
The Friday the 13th franchise isn’t known for holding any real artistic value. From the gory and violent deaths that plague each new installment, it makes sense why the films may be thrown off as cheap entertainment. Granted, later films in the franchise can feel tired and rehashings of their predecessors, but what I want to focus on today in this week’s FFF is how the first couple films actually manage to approach the medium with complexity and thought. The first couple Friday the 13th films may arguably be the most consistent, having some semblance of a story to tell. What these films managed to do was place the audience into conflicting and strange places to witness the horrors that fall upon these teens at the hands of Jason and his mother. Friday the 13th’s use of the horror P.O.V. is particularly interesting, taking into account the story and climax. Friday the 13th Part II’s opening scene is one of genuine beauty that you would be surprised to find in a campy horror franchise’s second installment.
Getting the necessities out of the way, the P.O.V. shot of the horror genre has been around almost as long as the genre itself. One of the most famous comes from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 pre-code masterpiece, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; the P.O.V. shot was used during the transformation scene. This, of course, put the viewer in the eyes of the protagonist. Later in the history of the genre, we would get the antagonistic P.O.V, the monster P.O.V.
Looking at a direct inspiration for Friday the 13th, we can use John Carpenter’s Halloween as a benchmark. In the opening scene, we are in the mask of Michael. This makes for a very jarring experience for the viewer. To be ‘in the head’ of the monster that is killing the very people we are rooting for to survive conflicts us as the viewer. It is a crafty and great effect in the horror genre, but Friday the 13th takes this idea one step further, mostly with its plot twist that distorts this antagonist P.O.V. we think we’re in. This is effective because it turns our expectations.
We begin the film with a simple vignette at Camp Crystal Lake where an unknown person walks in on a couple getting it on. The teens are not at first scared or in fear; they are just spooked by the appearance.
We continue with this P.O.V. killing and stalking, which actually provides us with clues as to the identity. Our character seems friendly enough to get a ride from; we’re known by the camp director, etc.
All of these teases and hints build up to the reveal that the ‘killer’, is, in fact, a woman, and not just any woman, but the mother of a boy who died at the camp years ago. This is a heavy load to digest and is extremely disturbing to process. We understand and feel for the cause of the killings. It is all in excess and to the point of a psychotic nature, but we understand. Now we go back and try to process what that all means for the P.O.V. The P.O.V. at the lake, the picking up of the hitchhiker, all these times we thought we were in the body of some monstrous thing, we really were with this grieving mother.
The Background vs. The Foreground
Something really interesting occurs in the second installment of the franchise. The camera and scenes had some amount of substance to them. Granted, depending on how you want to rate that substance is another matter.
The second film played with two levels of the scene in a number of ways. These were spaced out in such a way that built up suspense. Calm simplicity dominated the foreground, while conflict and chaos prevailed behind the characters. This reflected the chaos and horror that took place right behind the innocent unassuming teens.
The first instance was early in the film when two teens talk on the phone. The foreground is a simple phone call but behind them, their car is being towed.
This occurs again, and with the same characters. This time around the conflict is much lower, but the foreground is charged with more conflict, contrasting the previous instance of this shot.
The final or most significant foreground v. background is in the film’s closing minutes. The climax of this film finds the final girl discovering Jason’s house. I’ll leave the clip below to watch, but it is one of the most chilling moments in the franchise, and when I saw it, it made me squirm with fear and anxiety like no other moment in the film had before.
Friday the 13th Part 2 Opening
I want to explore one scene from the opening of the second film. There is some hidden mastery and grace in the way Peter Stein and Steve Miner accomplish here that I find is very underlooked. It uses not only the P.O.V. explored earlier but takes it one step further.
It is an up close and personal stalking feeling that makes the viewer both extremely uncomfortable and drawn in. We are with this girl, who has survived this trauma previously, but now we are so intimate with her, yet so far away. It is a step removed from the P.O.V. that makes for an interesting perspective.
Friday the 13th is not commonly seen as a horror slasher franchise with any artistic merit, yet there are moments, especially in these first two films, that created a space for the filmmakers to explore and flex some artistic muscles. Friday the 13th rests in a funny place: it is campy yet legendary. There is something that has made these films stick to the culture in such a way that makes Jason and the hockey mask so remembered. Maybe it is because there are twelve films, or maybe it is because of these first films that established a creative and clever idea that allowed for a franchise, strong or weak to be remembered forever.
I leave you with this final shot and these final sounds that truly capture the essence of the franchise.