What was ‘Friday the 13th’ About?

I have been contemplating this lately… most film critics (and even many fans) find little artistic value in slasher films, which are generally considered thoughtless, shocking and morbid for mere entertainment’s sake.

For me they always had a little more value. I posed a few thoughts and observations to Victor Miller, the creator of Jason Voorhees and screen writer for the original ‘Friday the 13th.’ Victor is a very cool guy and I’ve talked to him a few times on political topics over facebook. He basically agreed that there is a theme or moral to Friday the 13th, as with many horror films. Below is my email and his response.

Hi Victor

So I’ve been thinking about the horror era that the original Friday the 13th was written in and I have a question that really only you are qualified to answer.

A lot of the classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s were made by young, indie film makers, many with a social axe to grind. Halloween, for example, can be thought of as exploring the idea of latent evil in American suburbia… the underpinning theme of Nightmare on Elm Street films, according to Wes Craven, is teens dealing with parental neglect.

I have always thought of Friday the 13th as a commentary, even if unintended, on youthful indulgence and carelessness. Mrs. Voorhees was, through her rage and grief, attempting to correct an evil that can never be corrected, or really even punished, because it was committed accidentally by two careless, sexually indulgent teenage counselors. The 70’s were a self-indulgent time in many respects (so I’m told, I wasn’t quite born yet), and Friday the 13th, almost an urban (rural) legend in movie form, seems to me to be about the dark side of youth in that era.

I know a lot of former cast members, writers, directors, etc. have tried to distance themselves from the franchise and consider it a stain on their resumes, but I think the Friday films, and horror in general, have artistic/literary value sort of like a macabre Aesop’s fable. They tell a dark story, accompanied by a warning or a moral theme, with a conflict that isn’t necessarily resolved at the end of the story… at least the best ones aren’t. They leave you feeling uneasy, without being aware that you were even supposed to have digested any lesson or… really think at all. They may not really be complex or nuanced, but many stories, oral traditions, urban legends (the lovers out in the woods one, where the guy ends up swinging from a tree comes to mind) and such evolve similarly.

Anyway, my question is did you guys write this movie with the same intents or themes in mind as Wes Craven and John Carpenter, or were you just trying to put together a scary movie?

Thanks for your time,


Victor’s response:

…when we started out to make Friday the 13th, we did not have any social themes in mind, but we were quite obviously creatures of that period and the zeitgeist demanded that the plot come out as it did. Rather than a condemnation of teens, I think it had more to do with what happens when you are consumed by your own delight…that was the first sin. Lust causes others to suffer because it is so thoughtless. And, by the same token, revenge punishes the guilty and the innocent no matter how justifiable.

I like the theme of Friday the 13th – how the entire story begins with one innocent, tragic young boy who drowned senselessly, sending his mother into a schizophrenic rage. Driving her to murder not only those who were responsible, but all those who fit the same typology – the young, attractive and lusty. There is definitely a warning here, a campfire story intended to both terrify and titillate the young and remind them of their own mortality. Perhaps one of the reasons ‘Friday the 13th’ has been so enduring is that contrary to what Roger Ebert may think, it may, in its own twisted, low-budget way tell us something about tragedy, vengeance, and the darker side of human nature.

One thought on “What was ‘Friday the 13th’ About?”

  1. graveoctober says:

    Whether the writers were aware of a theme, the faults of lust are apparent in the film. It isn’t the most visionary plot, but I like to think of it more as some sort of “happening.” You put yourself in the shoes of the characters and feel their terror in this strange occurance. The story became an instant classic. I love the Manfredini score. and some of the kills and decor were very original. This movie picked up Savini’s career for it’s use of prosthetics and realistic gore.

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