Today’s a pretty unusual day. It’s Friday the 13th, and it’s the first time since 2006 that this significant day has fallen in the equally significant month of October for horror fans. So enjoy it, ’cause it won’t happen again until 2028.
That being said, the main reason this date chills so many is the iconic film franchise that started back in 1980 with Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. The franchise that made Jason Voorhees a household name to fear.
But, remember, the star of that first film wasn’t the man in the fearsome hockey mask. It was his Bowie knife-wielding mom, Pamela. So, what do we remember about that character?
OK, let’s start at the beginning. Pamela Voorhees–created by original Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller– is introduced as the mother of Jason, a boy who supposedly had drowned at Camp Crystal Lake, a vacation spot where she worked as the cook. So, using her handy-dandy knife, mom exacts revenge on those she holds responsible for her son’s death.
Understandably, the camp closes. Cut to two decades later, when a group of counselors try to reopen the site. Bad idea. Mom goes ballistic again, slicing and dicing, until she loses her head (literally) and a horror franchise is born.
All fans know that Betsy Palmer famously played Mrs. Voorhees, but can you picture Oscars winners Shelley Winters or Estelle Parsons in the role? They were both considered strong candidates, until producers eventually chose Palmer.
And, interestingly enough, one of the key reasons fans wound up with Palmer was an all-too-common desire: She needed the cash to buy a new car. It seems that her old vehicle had recently broken down, “and I desperately needed a new car,” Palmer said back then. “If I hadn’t needed a car, I don’t think I would have done Friday the 13th.”
Also, before Palmer arrived on set, Cunningham was already filming some key shots–including one where Annie (Robbi Morgan) has her throat cut early the movie. So, who did the dirty deed? Special effects assistant Taso Stavrakis performed the wet work in that scene. Talk about double-duty.
But you can’t say Palmer didn’t jump into the role when she finally showed up. Being a “method” actor, she quickly built herself a plausible backstory for Mrs. Voorhees. Palmer saw the character as hating sexual aggression because she had Jason out of wedlock with a high school boyfriend, and lived with parents who disowned her because that “isn’t something good girls do.”
Regardless which characters in the film you remember best (or worst), find time to watch the original Friday the 13th today. It only seems right.