In the fall of 1979, a director hungry for a hit brought a special effects visionary and a cast of unknowns to the woods of New Jersey to make a super low budget slasher. Inspired by the unexpected success of the previous year’s Halloween, the filmmakers hoped to make a few bucks by cashing in on the new slasher craze.
Instead, they created one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. While you may consider yourself a Friday the 13th superfan, here are 13 facts about the essential slasher classic you may not know.
1. Location is Everything
Many rabid fans of the franchise know that Camp Crystal Lake was actually a real camp in New Jersey, Camp No-Be-Bo-Co, that is typically occupied by Boy Scouts rather than serial killers. The famous camp still stands today. And, while it’s actually quite a lovely summer camp, it’s not afraid to celebrate its lasting legacy as Camp Blood.
The original Friday the 13th was filmed during the camp’s off-season. The cast and crew had full reign of the camp, including unlimited access to the camp’s cabins, archery range and lake during the month-long shooting schedule. Fans of the franchise can explore horror history, as No-Be-Bo-Sco offers tours of the campground on various Friday the 13ths throughout the year.
If you can’t make it to New Jersey, can you still pick up some incredible souvenirs from the film from the camp’s website, including a framed piece of one of the original cabins used in the film, a keychain made of the original swim dock, or sand from the famous beach.
2. Camp Rock
Although the camp was located deep in the New Jersey Woods, it had quite a famous neighbor. Rock star Lou Reed owned a farm nearby, and he performed for free for the cast and crew.
Author David Grove drops this nugget in his book “On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th”. He explains, “They filmed at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey, and the property was owned by a man called Fred Smith. He kept talking to the crew about his neighbor, Lou. And the crew said, ‘Who’s Lou?’ And they discovered it was Lou Reed. He came by during filming and he sometimes played some music.”
According to Soundman Richard Murphy, Reed was just a really great guy who loved interacting with everyone on the set.
3. What’s in a Name?
The film was originally supposed to be called Long Night At Camp Blood. After identifying that the story should be about a serial killer terrorizing a camp, writer Victor Miller had the rather uninspired idea for the title. Luckily, director Sean Cunningham wanted a simpler option. Before the script was even complete, Cunningham took out an ad in the July 4, 1979 edition of Variety. He featured the film’s now iconic logo bursting through glass and his preferred title of Friday the 13th.
Obviously, the new name stuck. However, there was a film released in 1979 called Friday the 13th: The Orphan, and a settlement had to be negotiated in order for Friday the 13th to then be used.
Additionally, everyone’s favorite silent slasher was originally supposed to be called Josh, but the name was changed to Jason right before the film began shooting.
4. Mis-Fits and Out-Casts
Although it’s hard to imagine in retrospect, Friday’s the 13th’s iconic leading ladies were almost played by other actresses. For the role of Alice, the filmmakers actually wanted to cast Sally Field. When she turned it down, Adrienne King became one of the most memorable final girls in horror history.
For the role of Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, Cunningham wanted an actress with a recognizable name (but desperate enough to work for very little). Two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters was his top choice for the role. Winters wasn’t interested, but Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie & Clyde) actually negotiated to be in the film. When she backed out, other actresses were considered before finally landing on Betsy Palmer.
When Palmer was finally offered the role, she almost didn’t take it. In fact, she only agreed to the part after her car died on her, as she needed the $1,000-a-day fee to finance a new vehicle. Cunningham also wanted to cast his son Noel in the role of Jason, but his wife wouldn’t allow it.
5. Inspired Beginnings...and Endings
It probably comes as no surprise that Friday the 13th was heavily inspired by another holiday-based horror hit, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Sean Cunningham was looking for a model on which to build a commercially successful film, and he was very interested in the financial windfall enjoyed by Carpenter’s micro-budget slasher.
Outside of some broad slasher tropes, the two films share very little in common. But Cunnigham admits to being very influenced by the structure of Carpenter’s film.
However, Halloween wasn’t the only horror classic to greatly inspire the film. The ending of Friday the 13th was directly influenced by Carrie and was actually suggested by makeup designer Tom Savini. After seeing Carrie, he felt the film needed more of a ‘chair jumper’ at the end. That’s when the idea to bring in Jason at the end came from.
6. Kill Her, Mommy!
The soundtrack for the film has become one of the most recognizable and iconic in film history. When composing the score, Harry Mandfredini was looking for a distinctive sound to identify any point when the killer appeared in a scene (similar to the famous sound of the killer shark in Jaws).
When he first saw a print of the film, he heard Mrs. Voorhees, imitating Jason, saying “Kill her, Mommy!” and decided that was the key. So, he took two syllables from that line of dialogue, spoke them himself, and made the iconic sound.
“So I got the idea of taking the 'ki' from 'kill' and the 'ma' from 'mommy,’ but spoke them very harshly, distinctly, and rhythmically into a microphone and run them through this '70s echo thing. It came up as you hear it today! So every time there was the perspective of the stalker, I put that into the score,” Manfredini said.
7. The Mother of All Killers
Speaking of Mrs. Voorhees, the story of the woman with a killer maternal instinct was given far more development in the 1987 novelization. In the novel, Pamela had tried to move on after Jason’s death, but her psychosis got the better of her. When the camp was reopened, she was worried what happened to her son might happen to someone else. There was also a prequel called Friday the 13th: Pamela's Tale, which was a two-issue comic.
In the film, Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees is the top-billed cast member. But she’s actually on screen for only 13 minutes. Throughout most of the film, a male stunt double is used. In fact, Cunningham was still trying to cast the role when filming got underway. So many of the early murder scenes were shot with members of the crew standing in for the murderer.
8. Slashing Box Office Records
Like the film that inspired it, Halloween, Friday the 13th was made on a shoestring budget but became an enormous financial success. The budget for the original film was a mere $550,000. But it made a whopping $59 million in the US alone. Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $117 million now.
With 12 films to date, the franchise is the second most successful of all time (right behind The Exorcist). Current estimates indicate the franchise has made nearly $800 million, even surpassing the success of the Halloween franchise. The first film remains the most successful of them all, however, Friday the 13th Part III was the first film to remove E.T. from its number one spot at the box office.
But the cultural currency of the franchise extends well beyond its box office success — spawning television spinoffs, comic books, and novels. Most importantly, it’s a merchandising goldmine and has managed to turn a simple white hockey mask into a universal symbol of terror.
9. Everyone's a Critic
Although it went on to spawn one of the most successful horror franchises of all time, not everyone was a fan of the original film. Pamela Voorhees herself, Betsy Palmer, hated the script when she first read it. In an interview, she recalled her initial reaction. “I read it and said, ‘What a piece of junk! Nobody is ever going to see this piece of crap.”
Ironically, Gene Siskel of “Siskel and Ebert” famously disliked the film so much that he posted Betsy Palmer’s home address in his review. And despite the film’s commercial success, it was also nominated for two Razzies: Worst Picture and Worst Supporting Actress for Betsy Palmer.
10. Killer Effects
Tom Savini is now a makeup effects legend thanks, in part, to his work on Friday the 13th. But did you know he literally cooked up many of the infamous effects in a kitchen? According to Savini, many of the latex appliances ultimately used to create the film’s gruesome murders were baked in the pizza ovens at the camp where the movie was filmed.
And not all the effects went off without a hitch. In one scene, Bill (Harry Crosby) is killed by multiple arrows, one of which lands in his eye. Savini used a fake blood formula that made the effect look incredibly realistic. Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t “safe blood” for anything coming in contact with an actor’s face. As a result, the blood caused the actor intense pain, something Savini regrets. Crosby had to be taken to the hospital for treatment, but was ultimately fine.
Perhaps the most iconic death in the film occurs when Jack (Kevin Bacon) is killed with an arrow shoved through his throat from underneath the bed he’s lying on. While brilliant, it was also incredibly complex to set up. After hours of setup and latex building and planning, they had only one shot to get it right. But the elaborate device failed right as it was time to shoot. The scene was only saved by some very quick thinking and creativity.
11. Mama’s Boy
In Victor Miller’s original script, the character of Jason Voorhees was just a normal kid who accidentally drowned in Crystal Lake. But financier Philip Scuderi wanted something more sensational. He brought in screenwriter Ron Kurz for some rewrites, and one Kurz’s most important contributions was to transform the tragic boy into the deformed child we see in the final movie.
But fans of the film know that the current star of the franchise, Jason Voorhees, was not the central figure in the first film. His death may be the catalyst for the murders, but the real villain is his mother. For screenwriter Victor Miller, this was very important.
When the film became a huge hit, and the inevitable sequel made the Jason the new face of evil, Miller was not happy. He is quoted as saying, “I still believe that the best part of my screenplay was the fact that a mother figure was the serial killer—working from a horribly twisted desire to avenge the senseless death of her son, Jason. Jason was a victim, not a villain.”
12. The Men Behind the Mask
13 different actors have played Jason Voorhees. Some portrayed the silent serial killer in flashbacks and/or as a child, but the only actor who took on the role more than once was Kane Hodder, in four films: "Part VII: The New Blood," "Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan," "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" and "Jason X."
When actor/stuntman Kane Hodder took over as Jason Voorhees in Part VII, he wanted to make the role his own and become the first performer to play the character more than once. But nagging insecurity haunted him. During one scene, Hodder ended up with a concussion from a stunt. But he never told anyone for fear of being replaced.
The very first man to place Jason was child actor Ari Lehman, who starred in the film as the 10-year-old Jason. Interestingly, Lehman later went on to form a punk metal band called, what else, First Jason. In a 2012 interview, Lehman said: “First Jason is a musical experience that channels the inner workings of the mind of Jason Voorhees. Jason is silent: First Jason is the voice of Jason Voorhees.”
13. A Date With Death
While the first two movies in the franchise do in fact take place on the famously unlucky date of Friday the 13th, Part III actually begins immediately after the events of Part II. This would mean, Jason wreaks havoc on Saturday the 14th. And Part IV takes place two days after: Sunday the 15th and Monday the 16th. Later movies all drop reference to the fateful date the franchise is named after, but it’s not always clear what date the films are taking place.