It's hard to find a serious critic who admires the “Friday the 13th” series, and it's no surprise: the films are cheap, exploitative and artless, made for the express purpose of titillating a few bucks out of undiscerning moviegoers. But no two critics were more vocal about their hatred for the series than Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who made the films a special target of ridicule both separately and in joint attacks on their long-running syndicated series “At the Movies.” To celebrate this very special day, below you can find a brief history of the late critical duo's epic anti-“F13” vitriol.
1980: Gene Siskel takes down the original “Friday the 13th” in a famously scathing review for the Chicago Tribune
Calling director-producer Sean S. Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business,” Siskel was so outraged by the film that he spoiled the third-act reveal in the third paragraph (“It has been suggested to me that a great way to keep people from seeing a truly awful movie is to tell them the ending,” he wrote) and encouraged readers to write letters of complaint to both the chairman of Gulf + Western, then-parent company of Paramount Pictures, and — inexplicably — star Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), who was just trying to earn money for a damn car.
1980: Siskel & Ebert's “Sneak Previews” (the precursor to “At the Movies”) dedicates an entire episode to the “disturbing new trend” that is the burgeoning slasher genre
My favorite part is where neither Siskel nor Ebert seem to know that “The Howling” is a werewolf movie. (They also forget that “Halloween,” which they rightly judge as superior, took the P.O.V. of the killer a number of times.)
1981: Ebert publishes his first print review for a film in the franchise: “Friday the 13th, Part 2,” which he awards 1/2 star
It's not clear what the 1/2 star was for (that you could see everything?), but needless to say, the film nearly destroyed his fondest childhood memories. Roger concludes his takedown, which is about half plot explainer, with the following sentence: “*This review will suffice for the Friday the 13th film of your choice.” (That would hold until 2002's “Jason X,” which Roger also awarded 1/2 star and noted was released on the 16th anniversary of Chernobyl, “another famous meltdown.”)
1984: Roger opens a classic “At the Movies” rant by calling “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” an “immoral and reprehensible piece of trash”
– When Roger sarcastically calls the executives at Paramount “geniuses.”
– The way Roger says “Yeah, real great” after playing a clip from the movie.
– When Roger's alarmist tendencies take over and he announces that “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” will strike existential despair into the heart of every teenager who sees it, summing up the message of the film as follows: “It doesn't matter if you have a new boyfriend or a new girlfriend, or you've got plans for the future. You can forget those plans, because you're gonna wind up dead.”
– When Gene calls Roger's take “soapboxy.”
1985: In his “At the Movies” review of “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning,” Roger calls the film “more leftover, recycled garbage”
– When Roger charmingly pronounces “garbage” as “garbeege.”
– How Roger's glasses have seemingly increased in size since the last installment.
– When Roger openly wonders how Jason's hockey mask could look so good after being “burned, sliced and crushed” in the previous two movies, or how he could possibly have managed to buy a new one at the store being Jason and all.
– When Gene admits the film has one effective jump scare.
– When Gene wonders what people find so gratifying about watching someone being skewered by a pole. “What's the fun of that?” he exclaims. “I mean, 'gee, it goes all the way through?'”
– When Gene admits he slows down “a little” for traffic accidents, but doesn't get out and look at the dead bodies — which would, of course, be the equivalent of watching a “Friday the 13th” movie.
2009: Roger reviews the “Friday the 13th” reboot and awards it 2 stars out of 4.
Roger called it “about the best 'Friday the 13th' movie you could hope for.” Faint praise indeed.