In 1978, the film Halloween changed the horror genre forever by proving that a low budget, independent movie could hit the jackpot at the box office. Made for just $300,000, Halloween ended up grossing more than $70 million worldwide, and the only sound that was louder than the screams of fans that year was that of Hollywood studio execs shouting “CHA-CHING!” With only a pair of kids’ movies under his belt, director Sean Cunningham took notice and decided to bring his idea for a horror film called Friday the 13th to the big screen. After all, he pitched it as “the scariest movie ever made.” The only problem was… he needed to make it first.
Cunningham called on his best friend, screenwriter Victor Miller, to help him create Friday the 13th, a movie that was supposed to be as scary as Halloween, but with way more blood. Despite developing their idea on the fly, working with a cast that had little to no horror experience, and running out of money several times, Cunningham and his crew completed their slasher pic, and thanks to a cast member’s mother’s blood-curdling screams, it soon found a home at Paramount. Like Halloween, Friday the 13th was a box office hit, and while Cunningham and his cast and crew had never imagined it, this movie would be the catalyst for a franchise that would run for 29 years. Even today, Paramount has the wheels in motion for a new chapter in the death and resurrection of Jason Voorhees, but the hockey-mask-wearing monster still doesn’t hold a candle to the murderer who started it all… his mom.
Om celebration of this iconic film, we spoke to Cunningham and Miller about the creation of Camp Crystal Lake; as well as Betsy Palmer, the woman who masterfully turned Mrs. Voorhees into a terrifying mother on the hunt for vengeance; Tom Savini, the award-winning special make-up effects creator lovingly known as “The Godfather of Gore,” about the dawn of the “Splatter Era”; and stars Adrienne King and Kevin Bacon, whose grass-smokin’ camp counselors paved the way for bloody big screen murders for years to come.
“Think You’re Gonna Last All Summer?”
It couldn’t have been clearer or more evident as to what were the good elements in a modern horror film.
In 1979, director Sean Cunningham was coming off of back-to-back kids’ sports movies, “Here Come the Tigers” and “Manny’s Orphans,” which he worked on with his good friends, Victor Miller and Steve Miner. Neither film had Cunningham’s phone ringing off the hook with studios looking to hire him — and he had bills to pay — so he decided that it was time to tap into the horror genre with his idea, “Friday the 13th.” Well, it was actually just an idea for a title, and as it turned out, there had already been another horror movie with that name. That didn’t stop Cunningham and Miller from making this film, though. All they needed was a group of young actors that would be happy to collect small paychecks and a chance to pad their résumés a bit.
Sean Cunningham, Director and Producer: I had done two childrens’ films as it were. One was on baseball and one was on soccer. And the second one on soccer I liked, but it got optioned by United Artists and I didn’t have any money coming in because of it, so I couldn’t go back to my investors. I thought, well what could I do? I’ve got to keep working somehow. So I said, “Well, let’s try this,” and this, as it turns out, was trying to make a scary film called Friday the 13th.
Victor Miller, Writer: He called me and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money, let’s rip it off.” It was clear from the experience with the two G-rated movies that America did not want as many G-rated movies as they wanted horror. Basically, I was just trying to survive and so was Sean. We were facing what is best known as the condition of being penniless. And so I went and saw Halloween and figured out how to write a horror movie and that was that. It’s kind of mundane in its basic outlines.
Cunningham: I loved the title, but the question was, could we use the title? So I put together an ad for Variety that announced “Coming Soon, Friday the 13th, the most terrifying film ever made” [Laughs]. And really, what I wanted to see is if some lawyer was going to write me a letter saying, “You can’t do that, we own the title.” And nobody did. In fact, the only correspondences I got were from distributors who were interested in buying it. Based on that, I scampered around and was able to get enough money to shoot it and we did.
Miller: The title of Friday the 13th was suggested by Sean after I had already done a first draft of what I tentatively called – and I’m a terrible title maker – Long Night at Camp Blood. Thank God Sean came up with Friday the 13th instead, because if it had been called Long Night at Camp Blood we would not be talking right now. I’d already had at least a first draft, maybe even a draft-and-a-half of Long Night at Camp Blood when Sean said, “I want to call it Friday the 13th.” I said, “That’s great. Unfortunately, there’s no reason for that.” So he said, “Stick one in.”
Cunningham: It was all a process. We’re going to make a scary movie. Okay, what’s that? There’s a level Socratic process. Well, we have to get a remote location and not have any help, and let’s get a bunch of kids. Okay. And a serial killer or something is out to get them. Okay, what’s scary? What Victor and I came up with is the idea of you can’t sleep at night, your mom comes in and turns on the light and says, “See? There’s no monster in a closet,” and opens a closet door and there’s no monster there. There’s nobody hiding under the bed, there’s nobody hiding behind the curtain. Just go to sleep. And the assumption was to take those feelings, except your mom’s not there to help you when there is somebody there in the closet or under the bed [laughs].
Miller: I’m not a particularly brave human being which makes me an ideal candidate to write horror movies because you certainly don’t want anyone who’s fearless, otherwise how would he or she know what should go in a movie? That was pretty easy. John Carpenter and Debra Hill did such a magnificent job of structuring Halloween. It couldn’t have been clearer or more evident as to what were the good elements in a modern horror film. I just launched out from there using them as a model. I’m not really a horror person, I should have been born one of the Zucker brothers. I really would rather have written Airplane! than Friday the 13th because at heart I’m a very silly human being and I love laughing a lot more than screaming.
Cunningham: We ran the ad 4th of July and we were shooting in the middle of September. The whole thing was done, pretty much a dead run. It wasn’t like there was this long development process of we get a first draft, give a whole bunch of notes then hope the second draft has corrected some of that, then doing a third draft, maybe a polish, punch up the dialogue. No, this was just GO, GO, GO. We’d put it in different places, we’d look at them, we’d mess with them, move them around, “How ‘bout this, how ‘bout that?” Then we would just run off and do some more stuff. Also it was colored by what can we shoot? What can we shoot given our budget and all the problems that go into shooting? Finally, what can we do with special effects? We had Victor and me, Steve Miner, who was my friend and editor, and became my line producer.
Adrienne King, “Alice”: Sean was really smart. He got the best casting people on Broadway, Barry Moss and Julie Hughes. Barry just passed last year. Everybody in New York knows these guys were the best, and Julie still is. Right there he was smart enough to surround himself with good actors. Then he was smart enough to sit back and let them do what they do. And then, if it wasn’t quite what he was looking for, he had the knack of having you feel like you came up with it, but really it was because he wanted you to come up with it [laughs]. He was a great director because he didn’t over-direct and he knew what would work on screen.
Kevin Bacon, “Jack”: I was out there auditioning and trying to get any kind of work I could. I was in New York and considered myself a New York actor, which, I don’t think it’s so much a big deal anymore, but it meant something back then. There were certain actors in New York who were really devoted to theatre and every once in a while there would be a movie that would come into town and shoot in New York, and you would keep your fingers crossed that maybe you could get one of those movies in order to support your theatre habit. I had done Animal House, but when I finished that I was back working as a waiter. I think I was doing a play on Broadway at the time before Friday the 13th. Horror movies, they were starting to become popular, this kind of low-budget, slasher movie, so I auditioned and I got the role.
King: It was an open call that I went on with every other actor in New York City, between the ages of probably 16 and 26. Most of the cast members, we were all acting, doing off-Broadway shows and taking lessons with the best teachers and really trying to hone our craft. Ironically, I couldn’t get a legit agent, so I stood in line with 300 or 400, waiting to meet the director and read the scene. At the beginning they were casting generally, not for specific characters, so I read for everything. I read for Marcie and Brenda. I might have even read for Annie. Eventually they got it down so they had a couple of young ladies including myself that they thought might be good for Alice, so they put us up on a screen test. And I remember a very intense screen test where Sean had me literally acting the entire scene, screaming, and I had no clue how I had done. A couple of hours later I got a phone call directly from him and he said, “Well, you survived. You’re Alice.” So that was the casting process. It was drawn out but it was monumental.
Bacon: I needed rent money. So I wasn’t in a position to be picking and choosing between jobs at all. There was no part of me that, I was like, yeah, a job, perfect, I’m there. What do I have to do? Tell me where to show up. I was literally hand to mouth. Not starving but always a week and a half away from starving. I had no apprehensions about the film.
Miller: The week before Friday the 13th opened, and I’ve told this story many times, I was literally trying to sell my blood to this company in Bridgeport, Connecticut and they were doing a study of antibodies. I went and they drew a little blood to see if I had enough antibodies for the study and if I did then they would take a pint and would have paid me $25 dollars. They called me back the next day saying, “You don’t have enough antibodies, sorry you don’t qualify for this study.” I didn’t get the $25 dollars.
Bacon: I literally needed to work just because I needed to live. But I also, I’ve never walked away from a job, Friday the 13th included, without learning something. Every single job that I’ve had has been a learning experience, so when you learn something and take something from the experience, then there’s no second guessing, regrets or looking back and saying, “Why did I do that?” So I’m glad I did it.
King: Sean allowed me to come to a screening at a small theatre where the buyers, the head of buyers and distributors, would come to watch it, and he allowed me to bring my mom. It was the first time I saw it and I saw it with her and, of course, in the Monopoly scene she gets a little nervous. Then we get through that. Then coming to the end and we’re sitting there, she starts to grab her coat because it’s March and it’s cold in New York City and I put my hand on her lap like, “Chill, cool, chill down, don’t get up yet.”
At the point where Jason pops out, she launched out of her seat and screamed so loud that I turned around and there’s Sean, he’s shaking hands with the distributor. And I knew, genetically speaking, where I got my scream from. It was hysterical. It couldn’t have worked out better. Here he was doing me a favor letting my mom come. Well, my mom’s scream I think sold that movie. It was Warner Brothers and Paramount in the back and they both wanted it. Unheard of. And the rest is history.
“You’re Going To Camp Blood, Ain’t Ya?”
The one phrase that stayed the same from movie to movie was ‘more blood.’
With Tom Savini, Cunningham saw a chance to make a new type of horror movie that would have people jumping out of their seats and maybe even covering themselves with tarps. Not yet the “Sultan of Splatter” or “Godfather of Gore,” Savini played the crucial role of making the blood pouring from Kevin Bacon’s neck look terrifyingly real, before finding a realistic way to make Betsy Palmer’s head pop off. He also helped develop the story and the look of a young boy named Jason Voorhees, who was the inspiration for one woman’s murderous rampage against helpless camp counselors. With time and money working against Cunningham and his cast and crew, they were fortunate enough to get by on Savini’s incredible talent.
Cunningham: Tom Savini came up from Pittsburgh and had become a friend. He just had this passion to do sort of magical special effects. He’d say, “It be really cool if…” and then we’d say, “Yeah, but how do you do that?” Then we’d try to figure out how to do it. What angles we could shoot. If we could sell the gag. And so it was one of those communities dedicated to figuring out what’s possible then going ahead and doing it.
Tom Savini, Makeup and Special Effects: Dawn of the Dead and then Friday the 13th kind of began the “Splatter Decade.” I was inspired by all the great artists at the time: Jack Pierce, Dick Smith, Rick Baker, to name a few. I got a call from Sean to come to a meeting and we discussed the effects and he hired me to do all the special make-up effects and to create Jason.
Cunningham: We were before the advent of modern special effects. It’s like doing an old-fashioned magic show and it’s only subsequently that you could do special effects in such specificity that you had to really worry about it. The real issue was whether or not we could pull it off. There was one scene where Harry Crosby, we had him strung up on the inside of a door. I thought there was no way to cut around that but you had to cut around that. So I shot an alternate thing where he was discovered behind a box or a refrigerator or a heater or something.
King: Being an art major at FIT, what really did it for me in terms of the script versus the actual gore factor was working with Tom and watching him in his studio and how it was all done. It kind of took the mystery away and was so fascinating, but after the movie came out I actually became a horror fan because it was such an incredible magic that some man could actually create this. We’re not talking CGI. He was creating it the same way we were all creating as we were going.
Miller: Now with the CGI, in it’s own way it looks so real it’s fake. We had stuff that was all in real time and Tom Savini worked with his assistant there and did this incredible job. But compared with CGI it does look fake. And yet I respect that and love it because it’s real talent, real artistry working in real time.
Savini: When the light was fading and the sun was going down, and they wanted to squeeze in Robbi Morgan’s cut throat scene, Sean asked me how long it would take. I said we will be back on set with her in a half hour, and in one half hour I arrived with her on the back of my motorcycle prepared to have her throat cut. Sean remarked that never had he experienced someone telling him how long something would take and sticking to it and actually being on time.
King: We ran out of money a couple of times, we didn’t think we were going to finish it. It was so low-budget that when the leaves starting turning colors and falling off the trees and we had to do that scene with Alice in the canoe three different times, and each time we did that scene in the canoe it got progressively colder. You can see the leaves actually turning color. The last time we did that scene it was 38 degrees that morning. I remember sitting, warming my buns on the kitchen grill in the cafeteria at the Boy Scout camp. Sean and Ari [Lehman] and Tom were already out there and we didn’t have enough money for bodysuits, so I only had one change of clothes. One pair of boots.
Miller: I had written down all the ways I thought would be fun to kill people, and I shared them but it came out organically from writing the thing. Kevin Bacon dies in bed and then you go into the bathroom where his girlfriend is doing her nightly ablutions. I had already decided that someone was going to get an ax in the face and that seemed like the ideal place for it so she got that one. It wasn’t so much generated by the fact that she was vain or not vain, and I had already foreshadowed the death at the archery range. I’ve gotten much better at characters since then, by the way.
Cunningham: One of the first murders is a girl in the bathroom. She gets her head split with an ax. But the ax gag itself was one of those things you buy for two dollars in a magic store. It sits on the top of your head with elastic or something like that, and because all we did was we brought the real ax down on a metal lamp. Then when you cut out of frame and when you cut back to the girl she put the knife across the top of your head and she went down out of frame. For all the world you think she got hit over the head and had her head split open with an ax and she didn’t. That was kind of cool.
Miller: When I met with Sean and Tom and had the pre-production script, Tom had outlined the whole script and written notes and everything and he looked at me and Sean and said, “Okay, I see on page 42”—or whatever it was—“you got an ax in the face. So do you want a real ax in a fake face or a fake ax in a real face?” [Laughs]. I just fell over laughing. It wasn’t my job to try to figure out any of that stuff but I just loved, here was a man who was being paid to take my stupid italics seriously and figure out a way to make it look like a woman had an ax in her face. Sean said real face, fake ax, and we went on. You have an actress who has a Styrofoam cutout in her own profile, wandering around with this thing glued to her face for a while and finally they do a quick shot of it. And the rest is cinema history.
Savini: I was never told to tone it down on Friday the 13th or any other film. The one phrase that stayed the same from movie to movie was “more blood.”
Cunningham: The big one, which was just fun to help with, was cutting Betsy Palmer’s head off. Now that had never been done before. Today it’s just absolutely common. But the question is, how could you cut somebody’s head off in the movies and not have to cut around it. How could you do that? Savini was obsessed with trying to figure out how to do that. When we wrote that scene we were writing it at the very end, writing it in a way that was just almost like a shot list and Savini was able to make a good match with a head and then put a head on a shoulder rig and it just worked and people had never seen that. That was a really delightful sort of magic trick. It’s the equivalent of sawing a girl in half on stage. People know you didn’t saw the girl in half but they’re just looking at it and they just saw her cut in half. It’s doing the things that magicians do.
Betsy Palmer, “Pamela Voorhees”: All scenes require preparation – and this particular one was no different. There is an art to all of it coming together. With regard to me losing my head, it was a memorable first — and, to date, last — for me.
Miller: It hearkens me back to when I used to teach English and you had to teach high school students about the willing suspension of disbelief and the Shakespearean audiences knew there was a cloak of invisibility. So if a character was on stage wearing that cloak, the audience all agreed, we can’t see you. And I think that’s what was wonderful about that era of horror films because it wasn’t CGI and everyone knew we were working in real time with real stuff and real ketchup—or whatever it was—and so everybody cooperates in fooling themselves. I have nothing but marvel for the artistry of these computer generated graphics, but it sure takes the fun out of it for me.
“Jason Was My Son, Today Is His Birthday”
Mrs. Voorhees is my fantasy mom. A mom who would kill people if they’re bad to you.
If things had gone according to plan, Betsy Palmer would have never ended up at Camp Crystal Lake. Estelle Parsons was the first choice for the role of Pamela Voorhees, but she turned it down because the script was too violent. Hell, even Palmer was ready to pass on the project, since she had never done horror before, but fate always has a funny way of intervening. Around the time that Cunningham had called, Palmer’s Volkswagen Scirocco had broken down and would cost thousands to repair. Palmer could have just bought a new car, but she liked hers, so she took the role of Mrs. Voorhees just to get her car fixed. While she famously called the film a “piece of shit,” she still approached her role as the ultimate professional.
Palmer: I needed a new car. Seriously, I was driving back home to Connecticut after spending the day in New York City when my car broke down. It was so frustrating, as these things always are, and they never happen at a good time. Luckily, I wasn’t far from home and was able to have the car towed to a nearby mechanic. After sizing up whatever it was that went wrong, I was told that it would cost $10,000 to repair the car. That was a lot of money, but it was certainly a lot less than buying a new car would have been, but still I was really unsure what to do. I told the mechanic that I wanted to sleep on it and that I would call him the next day. The next morning, as I was considering my options, my agent called and told me about a job offer that had come in. It was for this, as he put it, “little horror film.” He said it would be a couple of weeks of work in nearby New Jersey and that no one would probably ever see it anyway, so why not take the gig and earn some money. I wasn’t convinced. Then I asked, “How much money.” He said “$10,000.” I took the job, took the money and had the car repaired, and after reading the script, was (also) convinced that no one would ever see the film, which was titled, Friday the 13th.
Miller: The first person they arranged to be Mrs. Voorhees was Estelle Parsons and then a scheduling change made it impossible for Estelle to be in it, and we were about to start shooting very shortly. Sean sent the script to Betsy, who was living only about 15 minutes away, so Sean and I went to talk to her at her house and we got there, she read the script and said, “Your script was wonderful and I just loved it.” Which is relevant because actors will cover their own personal feelings about a project if they need money for a car or anything else. This is part of the business of being an actor. You don’t say, “I’ll be in your movie but I’ll hate it.” That’s no way to get the job. And if she hadn’t wanted the job she would have said, “No, this is too repulsive and it’s shit and I don’t want to be in it.” Making movies may be about making entertainment but it’s also about making a living.
Cunningham: It wasn’t malicious. Betsy Palmer was kind of like Katie Couric at the time and I think, I wanted to get an actress to be able to play the part, and then when Betsy said she would do it, and I think she needed $10,000 dollars for I-don’t-know-what-it-was, my thinking was the idea was she would show up and no one would say, “Oh my God, that must be the villain.” It was hopefully going to be a misdirection, at least for a little while. Betsy was just trying to be totally professional. She was then and continues to be a pleasure to work with. I don’t think she expected anyone to ever even see the film. There was no history of low-budget horror films having wide distribution and so she showed up and did the work and did as well as she could and just moved on.
King: I think all of the actors felt that this might not have been a film that they were going to be known for or do anything. Like Betsy said, she needed $10,000 dollars for a Scirocco and “No one is going to see this shit.” At the same time, she was going to do 150 percent and that’s why all of those actors, we were going to give it every single thing we had.
Miller: Betsy could not have been better, she was just wonderful in the role and there’s an incredible amount of sympathy for her, in my heart anyway, even though she’s gone ’round the bend.
Palmer: It’s important to create a life for a character that begins long before the audience first sees her in the film, any character, any film – and a great director can really bring out the best in the actor’s creative process both before and during filming – and Sean was very much that catalyst for me.
Miller: My conscious mind basically said they had Michael Myers in Halloween so the last thing I want is to be accused of stealing Michael Myers. So, I invented a female. I said it’s gotta be a female who is going around killing all these people and you will not see her until the very end. And I said, what would make a female homicidal? That’s when I spun for myself the story of Jason and the single mom who was working as a cook at the camp and her son who was special. I had never foreseen Jason as a monster. Basically, I saw him as a mentally and physically challenged kid who was not a good swimmer. He was a challenged child and the counselors were making love while he was swimming and that’s why he drowned. And that just worked for me…I can’t really speak to how much “influence” I had on the role. I created her with the same process I have approached every and any role I have ever played. Regardless of the story, the character is a real person, in the world of the film, and she needed to be played in a true enough way to allow her behavior, and her motivation, to be real and emotionally-based for her.
King: When Betsy showed up, my God, I thought I knew what I was doing and then she just brought my game way up. Like, when you play tennis and you play better with a better player. That was Betsy for me. Once she showed up, there was no holding back. That woman just kind of let loose on me. Even during rehearsal she full out slapped me and I was like, “Whoa!” And I’m going “What is this?” And she says, “Honey, you never hold back. I come from the theater, I come from the stage.” You think you know what you’re doing with your character, but no. In rehearsals I could see we’re playing for real out here. God bless her, after that, it was no holds barred, and my gloves were off.
Palmer: Acting is acting. The genre doesn’t matter. Actors who are serious about building and having long-term careers in this business must be versatile. There is no such thing as simply studying “Acting for Horror Movies” – and there shouldn’t be. The arc of any character and an actor’s ability to play any character is vital regardless of the genre. The job of guiding and mentoring actors on any set is really the role of the director – and a great director is able to get great, convincing performances out of any actor who is willing to trust the director’s instinct. Sean was great at this and the end result was the performances you saw – and like a master class for those actors.
King: Betsy, she had an incredible backstory and that’s why when she opens her mouth you believe her. You believe that this woman is killing out of love. It’s not because she is a horrible woman. That’s secondary. The reason she’s killing is because she loves her son. And these camp counselors were responsible for letting him die. And as a mother, not that I am one [laughs], but as a mother you could probably understand that even though it’s a crazy point of view.
Miller: Years later I had a shrink tell me that the reason I came up with Mrs. Voorhees was because she was the mother I never had. I said, “I beg your pardon?” And she said, “Well, if you had drowned I think the mother you described to me would have said, ‘Well, it was your own damn fault, you never should have gone swimming so soon after eating lunch.’” So Mrs. Voorhees is my fantasy mom. A mom who would kill people if they’re bad to you.
Palmer: For fans to embrace a character the way they have Mrs. Voorhees, they must really like her in some way beyond just her action moments in the film; they, in some way, like the person she is in spite of what she does. I like that.
“What You Been Smoking, Boy?”
There’s gotta be someone under the bed and Kevin Bacon will die.
In 1980, Kevin Bacon was young and barely a blip on Hollywood’s radar, having played Chip Diller in “Animal House” in between a few forgettable roles. Obviously, with the incredible success that he’s enjoyed in film and television it’s a lot of fun for us to look back at that time that he was laying on a random dirty bed in a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake, smoking a doobie and thinking about the sex he just had with Marcie. Because in a matter of moments, this handsome, young nobody delivered one of the most memorable murder scenes in the entire “Friday the 13th” franchise. And despite the fact that it didn’t make much sense and was pretty complicated to put together, it ended up being almost everybody’s favorite scene.
Bacon: I love the fact I have such a classic horror movie death. Because if you have sex, if you do one of these two things: do drugs or have sex, you die in a horror movie. That’s pretty much it for you. And I did both. I did both, one right on top of the other, so to speak. It was classic horror death in that movie. And the actress who was in the scene with me, she was very enthusiastic and we just had fun.
Miller: Even as I wrote it I said, “This is absurd, this is impossible.” First of all, Mrs. Voorhees is an old lady. Second of all, there’s no chance under a bed that you can get a back swing to follow through with your arm and she had to drive the hunting arrow through the springs, the mattress, Kevin Bacon’s spinal cord, up through his chest muscles and out. And I don’t care because I love it and finally I have a pay-off of something awful under the bed.
Cunningham: There’s an arrow that comes through Kevin Bacon’s throat and that was really cool to set up because we put a dead body above him. The audience is focused on this dead body above him and nobody remotely thinks that there might be some danger from under the bed. So the whole focus was on another place which really allowed that gag to work well.
Miller: I find the shooting of movies more boring than watching paint dry. Really. And I’m ADHD and by the time they’ve done one take that’s fine by me, let’s move on, but no, they keep going. The one thing I saw of Friday the 13th being filmed was the Kevin Bacon death with the hunting arrow underneath the bed. The reason that was important to me was because from age 4 or 5 on I looked under the bed every night to make sure no one was under it. So, I finally got a chance and I didn’t even think about it. I just basically said there’s gotta be someone under the bed and Kevin Bacon will die.
Savini: I’ve killed many A-listers, Kevin was just one of them. I saw him again recently after 35 years since I killed him and we remarked, as we were having our photo taken, that we should have taken a photo together back then. Kevin was actually on his knees under the bed with only his head resting on a fake body in the bed. The arrow was pushed up and through a blood bag and the neck of the fake body as Kevin reacted like he was being impaled.
King: I was in the cabin when Kevin Bacon got it through the poor little neck. I mean, poor Harry Crosby on the door, I saw it all. That’s why I truly appreciate the genius artistry of special effects.
Bacon: It’s a good one. The hand coming out from underneath the bed, and the arrow in my throat. One take. I had to be on my knees underneath the bed with my head at this complicated angle. And the blood got in my mouth, and I asked him if it was bad to swallow the blood. And he said, “Well you better spit it out, there’s developing fluid in the blood,” so that was a little weird. Later on Harry got some in his eyes and his eyes got all screwed up from the blood. So I learned something about blood consumption. I remember we had to shoot this from one side or something like that.
Savini: He was not in a position to swallow any blood as it was pumping out of his throat, that is a fake rubber dummy throat. But there was a bit of truth to the blood being harmful as Harry Crosby got his eye a little burned by the chemicals in the blood in his death scene when the blood was being pumped past his eye for the arrow-in-the-eye gag. Since those days, a number of new safe blood formulas have been invented specifically for use in the eye and in the mouth. Nothing is really dangerous. Safety is one of the main concerns even when you are faking killing people, and I’ve killed a lot of people… in the movies.
Bacon: My mother was nervous. Super anti-violence. I can’t remember, either she surprised me because she actually went to see it, or she surprised me because she refused to see it… I can’t remember which one it was. But people were enthusiastic. I came from a family that has always been super supportive. It’s funny now, regardless of what the project’s been, I’ve gotten a lot of like, “Well, good job Kevin.” My friends and family, “Great job, not necessarily my thing but you’re in it!”
Palmer: He had that certain “something,” a quality, that made it clear that he had tremendous potential – and look at the wonderful career he has built for himself.
Cunningham: When I knew him he wasn’t Kevin Bacon, he was just a kid in New York starting out. But he was really a nice kid and I thought he was a good actor and was very pleasant and very professional. Again, it’s just one of those things, you don’t expect anybody to come out of Friday the 13th and go on and become a movie star. But he did and I’m glad for him.
Miller: When I do talks I say, “Alright, everybody in here, you’re now two degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon ‘cause I was there when he got the arrow through his chest.”
“You’re Doomed… You’re All Doomed!”
We were in the Top 10 movies in the box office and that was the only review that meant anything.
What’s interesting about the month of May in 1980 is that “Friday the 13th” and “The Shining” were released within two weeks of each other. Today, they’re considered horror classics, but back then they were both mostly panned by critics. “Friday the 13th,” though, was reviled so much that Gene Siskel invited people to write letters to Palmer to let her know that they were disappointed in her decision to take this role. However, had it not been for that hatred and poor response, people might not have waited in long lines to see Mrs. Voorhees get her revenge. Funny how that works. Over the years, thanks to an incredible, lasting response from fans, Palmer has embraced this iconic role and while kids might wear hockey masks instead of blue sweaters on Halloween, her fans know who started it all.
King: Every review, including the Oregonian, the Sunday New York Times, everybody panned it and said it would never see the light of day.
Miller: One critic wanted Sean and me arrested. That was that idiot on The Today Show, Gene Shalit. He said we should have been put in prison, and that just made the movie more popular. It was always Sean’s intent that we appeal to, not necessarily the 19- to 20-year-olds, but the younger brothers and sisters of those people. So, anytime you get a mustachioed film critic on television saying that authors and producers should be arrested for a horror movie, that’s going to drive them to the box office. If you do a wonderful, tender love story, the reviews can kill you. But if you do a horror film, I think the worst thing that could have happened is if Gene Shalit had said, “I love this movie, I adored it. All adults should go see it immediately.” [Laughs]
Bacon: It was probably not too long after that that I stopped reading reviews. And I vaguely remember that it was not a critical darling. But I never really expected it to be. It’s not the type of job that you go into thinking, “Well maybe this will change, like The Godfather or something.” I don’t think I gave it too much thought.
Cunningham: It didn’t bother me at all. I mean, nobody goes out and tries to make a bad film, but on the other hand there are films that can’t possibly get good reviews and certainly Friday the 13th is one of them. You can get reviews for craft, maybe, or for cinematography or something like that. Then what would be interesting would be later on from the success of Friday the 13th and Halloween and then subsequently A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then when there would be hundreds of low budget horror films they’d always compare to the classics like Nightmare or Friday the 13th [laughs]. Suddenly, they became really good movies. And it was just amusing. But yeah, Friday the 13th wasn’t a cri de coeur, it wasn’t one of those movies that I had to make and “God, if only people understood my vision.” No, c’mon [laughs]. If I was invested in something I’d be much more invested in the film that just preceded it, a bunch of kids trying to overcome incredible odds to win the day.
King: Siskel actually gave out Betsy Palmer’s address because he was so disgusted by what she had done in this movie. And he considered her an incredible actress, which she was, having starred in films with James Dean and Henry Fonda, and he took it personally that she had taken 10 grand for a Scirocco for this “piece of shit” that no one would see. And she really took it hard.
Palmer: I have never made it my business to read reviews. Everyone has an opinion and that’s okay, but I’m the harshest critic of my own work. When a film you’re in does well, it’s a “win” for every single person who was involved with that project. Actors, production people, make-up and special effects people, director, producers, anyone who had a hand in “birthing” the project feels a sense of accomplishment when any project they worked on does well. Am I surprised that the film has endured and become this, what many people call, a cult classic? At my age, nothing surprises me anymore – and let’s face it, no one can predict how an audience will respond to any film or characters in that film. I can tell you that I’m very happy that fans have embraced Mrs. Voorhees. That lets me know that, in spite of her behavior, they understand the “why” of it all.
King: It wasn’t until we reunited and became best friends – seriously, good, good friends — that we both started doing conventions together and she finally embraced the fact that Mrs. Voorhees was the thing she was going to be remembered for. It was a beautiful thing, to sit in the back row of this beautiful old theatre in Chicago, we sat in the back row of this theater with Harry Manfredini, who wrote the music, on a midnight showing. It was the first time we had ever seen it together and here we are 30 years later, it was one of her last conventions because she’s not doing them anymore. And she kept hitting me on the leg going, “Oh, that still holds up! Doesn’t it?” You could tell she had gotten over what the critics had done to her.
Cunningham: To be a good film critic you sort of had the view that the review was the important event, not the movie. One of the great pejorative words that they like to use is manipulative. It’s like, what are you talking about? The whole purpose of telling a story is to manipulate the audience and encourage fear or whatever. Of course you’re manipulating. That’s what you’re trying to do. I don’t know about you but I don’t go to the movies for great intellectual insight. I go to the movies to be moved. It’s a place where emotional things happens and we get emotion and safety and it’s fun. That’s why you go to the movies. You don’t go there for other reasons. And if someone is telling their story well, you get sucked into it and I think that’s really cool. I think that’s what we do. If a person is not manipulative, he’s not doing his job. But critics and film criticism are a completely different animal than filmmaking and certainly a very different animal from film distribution.
Miller: After Friday the 13th there was that thing where anytime there was a serial killing, Sean and I were blamed or John Carpenter or Debra Hill were blamed, or horror movies in general because we obviously fueled the homicidal minds of these crazy people. We’ve taken a lot of flack, but the more flack we take, the more money we make at the box office.
King: It was before Entertainment Tonight, before the red carpet events. Everybody took a taxi or took the subway to the show on Broadway and as I’m driving past to see lines around the corner at every theatre that was playing Friday the 13th… oh my God. It was the most insane thing that to this day I’ve ever seen. It was crazy and it lasted. It opened in May and lasted through Labor Day. That doesn’t happen anymore. So who cares what the reviews said? It was all word of mouth.
Miller: What I kept seeing every week in Variety was that we were in the Top 10 movies at the box office and that was the only review that meant anything. Anything after the bad reviews that looked good was fine by me and for 20 seconds, I was very famous.
King: I’ll get these people who saw it that opening weekend and can remember what they were wearing and what they ate, it was that big a deal that it’s just been ingrained in memories. When we watched it, it was so packed that there were lines for the next show. Somebody screamed at the end and we all thought it was a joke or a gimmick, but literally somebody had some kind of heart attack and there was an ambulance. The guy, he was fine, but what I’m saying is it was that kind of insanity. Just the word of mouth, without social media, just a fuse to a fire.
“Then He’s Still There…”
The fans are so loyal to this movie that they pray that Paramount’s going to get it right.
As Cunningham explains, “Friday the 13th” wasn’t written and filmed with a massively successful film franchise in mind. At no point did he or Miller think that fans would one day be celebrating Jason’s inclusion in a “Mortal Kombat” game, so there were mixed reactions when it came to the unofficial passing of the knife from mom to son. For Miller, the idea of Jason rising from his watery grave contradicts the first film and almost negates what his mother did for him. But for mom, it’s actually a little heartwarming. As far as the film’s legacy, though, no one involved believed it would ever end up such a massive success and beloved horror institution, but they’re sure glad they were a part of it. And with Cunningham back in charge of what happens next for Jason, we should feel confident that everything will be done with our best interests in mind.
Cunningham: I had the investors in Boston who we had worked with, and they thought having something like that would be good. I resisted it because the movie was grounded in reality. It just doesn’t make any sense. But there was a sense that if you could end the movie on a scare, have something unexpected like that, would be kind of cool. There are two things: you’re going to have this guy come out of the lake, what does he look like? And what is it? And the film answers that question. Then, what I insisted on, and maybe the hardest part of the movie to write, was the scene that followed it. That girl waking up in the hospital and inquiring about this boy that came out of the lake. There’s no boy. So it becomes one of those, did I dream that or is it real?
Miller: One day Sean called, I had finished a couple drafts, and he said, “We need a chair jumper at the end.” I said, “You mean like Jason coming out of the water or like Carrie at the end of Carrie?” So he said, “Yeah,” and that’s how that got made. But what a lot of people don’t want to pay attention to is that all of the appearances of Jason in my movie are imagined. There’s no real Jason because he was dead, dead, dead in 1980.
Cunningham: Nobody even knows that that scene is in the movie, but I thought it was critical. I think that scene sort of played out just before the end titles and people have spilled their popcorns and they’re laughing and scratching, nobody is really paying much attention. But that’s kind of how it happened. I can’t tell you when it happened, I don’t think it was in the original pages, but I can’t remember anything that might have been marked original pages. We just kept going along trying to figure it out. That’s what I remember. [Laughs] That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Miller: They brought him back to life ex-post my film, and I know it made money and made the series continue, but in essence it works against what’s in the first episode, which is the reason Mrs. Voorhees killed everybody, because they allowed her son to drown. If you bring him back to life it means that everything she did was for nothing, because he was always alive. If that’s the case, where was he hiding? He was under some lily pad or whatever at Crystal Lake and why didn’t he come to see his mom instead of letting her run around killing people all the time? And they said the reason Jason killed people is because they killed her. It becomes the snake that eats its own tail.
Cunningham: Franchises didn’t exist at that point except for maybe James Bond. I would have said, it’s going to be about this kid that lives at the bottom of a lake and comes and haunts and kills people who come to camp? What? [Laughs] That’s impossible, come on. I think that what we discovered over time is that if any movie is successful, it doesn’t matter how you end it, there’s always a way to come back and do it again, and I think that when you start worrying about creating a franchise when you go in with the first movie, the tail is wagging the dog. The real trick is trying to make and tell a good story. If it’s a good story and it is well told then there’s a chance that maybe you will do a sequel or more. But it’s all predicated on telling a good story in the first place and not trying to set it up.
Palmer: When you’re working in any acting job, in whatever the role is, there isn’t the time or the opportunity, at least for me, to think about anything other than the job at hand and the work to be done on any given shoot day. When filming was completed and I later saw the finished product for the first time, I began to consider the possibility that this thing might have “legs.”
King: Sean told me that Paramount wants to do another one and it was supposed to be out this past year, or coming November 15th, but they haven’t found the right script yet. Hopefully they’ve figured out that they need to infuse good writing and good acting to keep the franchise alive because the fans really want it and they’re not getting what they want, but they’re so hopeful and so dedicated. I can’t begin to tell you, the fans are so loyal to this movie, especially the first one and the second, that they pray that Paramount’s going to get it right. Instead of, like they say, “They’re ripping us off to pay our ticket prices.” They really want them to get it right. And Sean I know wants them to get it right. Hopefully they will.
Bacon: It’s interesting, I have had the opportunity to do a few kind of iconic movies like that, that have established, or at least spearheaded, a genre. Animal House was like that. It was the first of the kind of college-themed comedies. And it was the best of that, it spawned a whole bunch of others—imitators. Like anything else, if something does well in business you gotta do it again, do it again, do it again. In my opinion I never would have thought that it would, not to mention this idea of a slasher movie with cute young people who are somehow thrown together and are doing drugs or having sex and die. I was surprised that it evolved the way it did. And I can’t say it was the greatest move in my career, it’s not like people were like, “Oh, we gotta get that kid who was in Friday the 13th.” At that time I don’t think that, for me, it wasn’t a career builder necessarily.
King: No matter what I do in this life of mine, and I’m looking forward to a big Act Three, they can’t keep me down. I have my Crystal Lake wine. She just really inspired so much out of me, she really did, she inspired me to do more. It’s true, that association, no matter what I do I know that the first line of my obituary is going to be, “The first final girl, sole survivor, of Friday the 13th.” And it’s okay, and I think it’s okay for Betsy now, too. Which is a great thing. It’s a good thing to be known for something you’re proud of and I’m glad she got to the point where she is embracing Mrs. Voorhees and the fact that that’s what she’ll be remembered for.
Miller: I haven’t seen any of the sequels because my loyalty is to Mrs. Voorhees, and I have a personal stake in Mrs. Voorhees as the killer because she is my personal savior. But it’s fine. Sequels are sequels. Hollywood is about making money. I just have a personal, emotional, and artistic stake in the one I wrote, that’s all.
Palmer: Why would it upset me? I taught him everything he knows.