Regardless of its critical reception, Friday the 13th is one of the most influential horror movies produced. While ‘Camp Blood’ didn’t create the slasher subgenre, it certainly crystallized the distinctly 80’s approach to horror. Sequels and remakes spanning three decades, cross-over media, a video game, and fan-made movies – few horror franchises can claim this impact.
One of the franchise’s hallmarks is the inventive approach it takes to its death scenes. Like Bay of Blood and the 1970’s Italian Giallo flicks, Friday the 13th is known for how it dispatches of its characters. Courtesy of effects wizard Tom Savini, the original Friday the 13th set the standard for its sequel and the subgenre. In this edition of The Chopping Block, I rank Friday the 13th’s deaths from worst to best.
Steve Christie – Camp Blood Manager of the Month
Chalk it up to budgetary constrainsts, but several deaths in Friday the 13th happen off-screen. Most slasher movies do it. A character says they’ll ‘be right back’, and later in the movie, ‘The Final Girl’ discovers their gruesome body. It’s hard to compare the ‘off-screen’ deaths as they all unfold in the same way. A big tease, shock edit, followed by ambiguity. Really, the value in these deaths lies in the shock value of the body’s later appearance. In this regard, Steve Christie’s death is the least interesting in the movie. Christie is a pretty transparent red herring. While his inevitable ‘appearance’ produces a good jump scare, it doesn’t register much beyond that jolt.
Brenda’s Just a Fool in the Rain
Slasher movies love foreshadowing. When Ned played that prank on Brenda at the archery range, you just knew it couldn’t end any other way. The build-up to Brenda’s death is what separates it from Steve Christie’s off-screen demise. If you’re watching Friday the 13th for the first time, the scene actually contributes a little mystery to the curse of Camp Blood. The appearance of Brenda’s body in the final act, however, is so-so at best. It’s a weaker jump scares, and it doesn’t help that you can kind of see the actress still breathing.
Bill – He’ll Be Right Back
So what exactly happened to Bill? Aside from Paul’s ambiguous fate in the sequel, is there any other question more pressing than what happened to poor Bill? Another pesky off-screen murder, but the later reveal is by far the best of the lot. Even though you know it’s obviously coming, Bill’s bloodied body appearing still shocks. It’s the combination of the practical effets and surprise of seeing him on the other side of the door. Of course, Bill’s death raises another question – just how did one person manage to get him up on that door?
Ned Double-Bunks at Camp Blood
Ah Ned, we hardly knew you. Every slasher movie needs the practical joker to deliver a few fake jump scares. Ned may be, by far, the most tolerable of the character trope. When Ned follows the mysterious figure into the cabin and never comes out … that makes for decent mystery. But did you expect to see him up in that top bunk while Jack and Marcie are making love. It’s shocking and, well, kind of gross. Add in the lightning and Harry Manfredini’s score and you have the best off-screen kill reveal in movie.
Barry and Claudette Break a Cardinal Slasher Movie Rule
This is where it all started. In contrast to what would follow, Camp Blood’s first murders almost feel a little quaint. Not surprisingly, director Sean S Cunningham doesn’t give away too much of the movie’s practical gore effects. Instead, he focuses on the suspense generated from shock of Barry’s murder and the stalking of Claudette. While it doesn’t feature the inventive kills that define the movie and the franchise, the scene’s final close-up does serve up the lurids thrills that would become very familiar.
Annie Never Makes It To Camp Blood
Annie’s death is the first death scene in Friday the 13th’s present timeline. The extended chase scene really does’t do much other than fill time between kills. In addition, you could argue the set-up is a little clumsy. Who just stands there and lets someone kill them? So clumsy, yes. Notwithstanding the awkward execution, Tom Savini’s throat-cutting practical effects are still shocking. In fact, I’d suggest that a lot indie horror movies today still feel like they’re a step behind.
Marcie Has An Axe to Grind
Like Annie’s death scene, Marcie’s on-screen kill feels a little awkwardly staged. Standing still, screaming, and watching while an axe hurtles towards your face doesn’t seem very proactive. But it’s the shock value of what’s put on screen that compensates for everything else. Horror fans probably weren’t expecting anything quite that visceral when they walked into theatres. And like all the other effects, Tom Savini convinces you that there really is an axe lodged into the character’s face.
Mrs. Voorhees Loses Her Head
On one hand, Mrs Voorhees may be one of the worst final act reveals in horror. But who really cares. Friday the 13th is a fun horror movie, and Besty Palmer makes for a great horror antagonist. The ‘cat and mouse’ stalking in Friday the 13th’s final act set the template for not only its own sequels, but countless imitators. But few of the imitators get the build-up and pay-off right, like Cunningham does. With Harry Manfredini’s score, the slow-motion, and Tom Savini’s practical effects, Mrs Voorhee’s death is as operatic as slashers get.
Jack Breaks Two Cardinal Slasher Movie Rules
Six degrees of Kevin Bacon! Jack’s Friday the 13th death scene isn’t just the best in the movie, it’s one of the best in the series. You know it’s coming after Cunningham shows you poor Ned’s body in the bunk above. But that’s all part of the suspense. And Jack’s death milks suspense, offers misdirection, and still manages to deliver a great jump scare. In fact, it’s probably the second best jump scare in the movie. Tom Savini’s practical gore effects are top notch here. You could get picky and argue that the uncut version exposes some of the effect’s limitations. Nevertheless, Jack’s death is a testament to old-school horror DIY innovation. Even after nearly 40 years, this scene still shocks.