‘Friday The 13th’ – How Did Critics Get It So Wrong?

by Thomas Tuna

Today–in case you didn’t check yet–is Friday the 13th. Not only that, it’s Friday the 13th, 2020. Which means it’s the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking horror film named for this day.

So, given the day, we at Horror News Network wanted to look back at the original, iconic 1980 Friday the 13th movie–but from the perspective of how movie critics and reviewers saw it fresh and for the first time. Not as we look at it now–as one of a handful of truly classic slasher films.

As all fans now know, Friday the 13th was a huge box office success (grossing $60 million worldwide on a budget of just $550,000) and spawned a string of sequels and a 2009 reboot. But critical response was, in some corners, less than kind. Some reviews rightly praised the film’s cinematography, score and performances, but others…well, here are a few examples.

Many of the negative reviews condemned the movie for its graphic violence (no surprise there). The Hollywood Reporter said the film contained “gruesome violence” and added that it was a “sick and sickening low-budget feature.” The Boston Globe was succinct in its critique, saying the movie was “nauseating”.

Famed critic Gene Siskel want so far as to call director Sean S. Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business.” That’s a little too personal, Gene. Another noted reviewer, Leonard Maltin, called the film a “gory, cardboard thriller,” adding that the fact that younger viewers made it a box office sensation “is one more clue as to why SAT scores keep declining.”

And the brickbats just kept on coming back in 1980. Variety in its review wrote that the movie was “low-budget in the worst sense–with no apparent talent or intelligence to offset its technical inadequacies.” The Baltimore Evening Sun’s review was just as scathing, calling the flick a “shamelessly bad film–but then Cunningham knows this. This is sad.”

Other critics took exception to what they felt was an attempt to copy the earlier success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The Akron Beacon Journal said Halloween was “like Hitchcock when compared to Cunningham’s dreadful tale of butchery.” The Burlington Free Press agreed. Its review said Friday the 13th “copies everything, that is, except the quality” of Halloween.

And yet, despite all that bad press, horror fans today look at Friday the 13th as the enduring classic it turned out to be. It looks like Jason got the last laugh after all.

Click here for more on Friday the 13th.

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