Entertainment Magazine

20 Things You May Not Know About the Production of the First Friday the 13th Film

Posted on the 13 September 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

It had to have been the hockey mask.  Maybe I had an irrational fear of masked hockey players leaving the ice and slowly-but-surely stalking me in the crowd.  Or I self-identified as a definite geek and noticed that those types of characters never survived his movies?  Either way, I was terrified of Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th films when I was a kid.  By the time the Jason vs. Carrie one (Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood) came around my screams had turned to laughter, but for a while there it was neck and neck between Jason and Freddy Krueger for my biggest boogieman.

However, when we think of Friday the 13th we tend to look past the original couple of films and go straight to the period where Jason finally got his hockey mask. i.e., halfway through the third film up to the present.  After all, a recent re-viewing of the 1980 original reveals a surprisingly meandering pace and slightly laughable last-act reveal (the mother we’ve never heard about until now did it?).  That’s all in the past.  Paramount Pictures recently re-acquired the rights to Friday the 13th, and is said to be heavily investing in getting a new film made and released very soon to follow-up the 2009 re-boot.  Onward and upward, right?

Wrong.  None of this – the 12 films, a TV series, and countless tie-in novels – could have happened had that first Friday the 13th in 1980 not been such a colossal hit, grossing $39 million on sub-$1 million budget.  That would be like grossing $120 million at 2013 ticket prices.  So, on this Friday the 13th let’s look back at some things you may not know about the 1979 production and 1980 release of the first Friday the 13th:

1. Director/Producer Sean Cunningham Began His Film Career Making Soft-Core Porn, and Gave Wes Craven His Big Break


In the early 1970s, Friday the 13th director/producer Sean Cunningham quit his career as a theater director/stage manager to make movies, starting off with two soft-core pornos, The Art of Marriage and Together (starring a pre-Behind the Green Door Marilyn Chambers, who despite legend had done nude, simulated scenes prior to jumping to hardcore).  He and Together’s assistant editor, Wes Craven, did Last House on the Left together in 1972.   After failing to launch any follow-up projects, the two parted ways in 1975, Craven to Hollywood to pursue more legitimate film-making and Cunningham staying in New York to try (and fail) to make successful family friendly films.

2. Sean Cunningham & The Friday the 13th Screenwriter First Met While Ripping Off Kids Movies


Cunningham and Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller met when the former directed and the latter wrote a low-budget rip-off of Bad News Bears called Here Come the Tigers in 1977.  By that point, Cunningham had experienced no success since Last House on the Left, and Miller was a former novelist/playwright just getting started with screenwriting.  Here Come the Tigers failed as did the next Cunningham/Miller G-rated family friendly film, Manny’s Oprhans.

3. Friday the 13th is Just As Much Of An Intentional Rip-Off as Halloween As You’d Guess

According to Victor Miller, one day in 1979 Cunningham called him and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money at the box office.  Why don’t we rip it off.”  They reverse engineered the entire concept from there, only deciding to set it at a summer camp after passing on other ideas for remote locations.  The idea for the summer camp came from Victor Miller’s life wherein he was always too scared to go to a summer camp as a kid, but his brothers weren’t and the stories they brought back from camp terrified him.

4. The Film’s Original Title Was Long Night at Camp Blood

According to Miller and Cunningham, the first three or four drafts of the script had the title Long Night at Camp Blood, which probably sounds far more whimsical than they had hoped.  It was Cunningham who waved goodbye to Long Night and hello to…

5. Friday the 13th Was Just a Title Cunningham Thought Would Be Easy to Market

On his most recent film at the time, Manny’s Oprhans, Cunningham had struggled with distributors pressuring him to change the title.  He brainstormed alternate titles, and Friday the 13th sounded cool.  Of course, it was completely wrong for a movie about soccer playing orphans thus did not become the title for Manny’s Oprhans.  However, it popped back in his head when he was looking for a better title than Long Night at Camp Blood.  

Convinced that the title Friday the 13th would sell the movie alone, Cunningham took out a full page ad in Variety over the Fourth of July Weekend of 1979.  Here it is:


It worked.  The financiers behind Together and Last House on the Left offered to cover the entire cost of the proposed $500,000 budget.  Cunningham initially turned them down as the actual long term part of the deal was going to royally screw him, but nobody else was offering to put up the entire budget like that.  He changed his mind the next morning.

6. The Cast Was Mostly Comprised of New York Stage Actors

The casting was done by TNI Casting, a New York-based casting agency well-known and respected in the theater community in New York.  Friday the 13th was their first horror film, although there wasn’t as much of a stigma on horror at the time due to the success of Halloween.  However, many of the actors were stage brats drawn to the auditions based upon the stellar reputations of the casting directors at TNI, having only the vaguest of clues as to what kind of film they were truly auditioning for.

7. Kevin Bacon – The Women Loved Him, Guys Wanted to Be Him

Kevin Bacon was waiting tables at the time he auditioned for Friday the 13th.  He had been in his first, Animal House, six months prior, but had, to his surprise, returned right back to the life of a work-a-day actor.  He was the only one they auditioned for the part in Friday the 13th because, well, just look at him:


Many of the actresses in the film admit to having simply adored Bacon while filming, with Adrienne King joking that Bacon appeared to mostly spend his free time doing sit-ups and push-ups.  The actors admit to maybe harboring some jealousy because he was just so dang handsome.

8. Not Just Halloween, They Were Also Ripping Off Psycho

Remember her? No? Well, way back when this movie came out the first time you saw it you were supposed to believe that this girl was the main character right up until the moment she dies halfway through.

Remember her? No? Well, way back when this movie came out the first time you saw it you were supposed to believe that this girl was the main character right up until the moment she dies halfway through.

Robbi Morgan’s character Annie was purposefully designed to be the Janet Leigh of the film, i.e., the actress you are led to believe is the protagonist only to see her end up being the first victim ala Psycho.  Unrelated to the character of Annie, they also famously ripped off Steven Spielberg and John Williams’ sound cues for the shark in Jaws, utilizing their killer’s musical theme (“ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma”) in the exact same fashion as Williams identified the iconic three notes with the shark.

9. Adrienne King Only Got to Audition for the Actual Female Lead, Alice, Because a Friend of Her’s Worked in the Office of the Casting Director


Hey, so what if it took a good word from a friend to get the audition. She looked wholesome and had a killer scream. That’s why she got the part.

King had been acting in commercials since she was 6-months-old.  At the time of the casting process for Friday the 13th, she had just finished work as an extra dancer in Saturday Night Fever, and was auditioning to be in Grease on Broadway.

10. Remember Adrienne King’s Love Interest, Bill?  That Was Bing Crosby’s Son


Yeah, that’s great. Your dad sang “White Christmas.” So, how many arrows can we put in you when you die? How about one through the eye?

In 1979, Harry Crosby was attempting to make a go of it as an actor without leveraging any connections available to him as the son of Bing Crosby.  The producers have been accused of casting Harry to further mimic Halloween, which cast the daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) of well-known actors (Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis) as its female lead.  However, they say that’s giving them too much credit.  They weren’t thinking that deeply about it.  Instead, Crosby looked right for the role, and the prospect of having Bing Crosby’s son as the ostensible male lead might help with marketing down the road.  Or so they say.

11. Camp Crystal Lake Was Actually a Boy Scouts Camp

The movie was mostly filmed at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Blairstown, New Jersey, a Boy Scouts Camp.  They were only allowed to use the camp after making a sizable donation to Boy Scouts of America.  Most of the crew and several cast members also lived in the camp’s cabins while filming the movie.

12. Sean Cunningham’s Then-12-year-old Son Noel Has a Cameo as One of the Kids in the Film’s Opening Prologue.

Like Eugene Roddenberry before him, Noel describes the process as not being cool or particularly notable but instead just a kid going to see his dad at work.

13. Remember When They Have to Kill a Snake in the Film’s First Half?  Yeah, That’s Not Fake.  

The idea behind the scene where the counselors have to kill a snake they find in one of the cabins was to differentiate the film somewhat from Halloween by having an early fake scare turn out to be legitimate as well as establish the characters as capable of taking action if need be.  However, there was no PETA around that film set.  When they filmed it, they actually took a machete to a real, live snake.  According to Adrienne King, when they filmed that scene the owner of the snake was standing off to the side and crying.

14. There is Actually Only One Reference to Friday the 13th in the Entire Film

One character exclaims, “it’s a full moon and a Friday the 13th.”  That’s it.  They threw it in because Cunningham told Miller they can’t call it Friday the 13th, as cool as a title as it may be, without at least one reference to that day in the actual script.   Depending on well you remember the movie, this might be kind of surprising.  After all, Mrs. Voorhees does make a pretty big deal at the end about how that day is the anniversary of her dead son’s birthday.  So, given the title of the film you’d assume she’s clearly referring to Friday the 13th.  However, she never actually says that.  If not for that one throwaway line they shoehorned in, the date could be Friday the 17th for all we know.

15. Who Actually Wrote the Funny Parts?  And That Ending?  Depends On Who You Ask

Victor Miller is the sole credited screenwriter, but Ron Kurz claims he was hired by Cunningham’s financial backer to punch up Miller’s script.  Kurz claims he is the one who added more humor into the script, specifically the character of Officer Dorf, a police officer who shows up at Camp Crystal Lake, badgers the counselors with inane questions, and then disappears from the film until the dream sequence at the end.


Kurz also claims that in the original script Jason was a normal kid who drowned, and it was he who altered it to make Jason a mongoloid to heighten the sympathy for the character.  Furthermore, he claims he wrote the ending.  However, special effects makeup supervisor Tom Savini, Cunningham, and Miller have all claimed the original script ended with Alice killing Mrs. Voorhees until they each saw Carrie and decided to rip off that ending.  Miller maintains he wrote the scene, and really, really does not like Ron Kurz.

16. Betsy Palmer Only Took the Part in Friday the 13th Because She Needed Exactly $10,000 to Buy a New Car

20 Things You May Not Know About the Production of the First Friday the 13th Film

Betsy Palmer seemed like the perfect choice for the wholesome-looking killer you’d never guess, known to audiences at the time for having been the squeaky clean actress from films, television morning talk shows, and Broadway.  However, how did you get someone to play a part they’ve never wanted to play before?  Catch them when they need money.  Palmer hated the script, but she was commuting to work in New York from her home in Connecticut at the time and her old Mercedes car wasn’t going to hold out much longer.  Along came this script she hated that was going to give her exactly what she needed for a new car in exchange for a mere 10 days of work.  So, she pulled a Michael Caine, and just thought about how awesome her new car would be.  Plus, she figured no one would ever see this piece of crap film anyway.

17. While Growing Up, Betsy Palmer Spent Her Summers at Crystal Lake in Warsaw, Indiana.

No, seriously.  You can’t make that kind of thing up.

18 The origin of the name, Jason Voorhees is… 

It’s the combination of the last name of a girl screenwriter Miller went to school with and the first names of Miller’s two sons (Ian and Josh).

19. They Were Constantly Running Out of Money

The production budget ended up being $600,000.  However, the financiers were frequently late or delinquent with payments thus meaning Cunningham could sometimes not afford to pay the crew.  He attempted to negotiate with the crew and offer them back-end profit points in exchange for working for free.  Even they were non-union, the crew refused, and Cunningham was able to keep paying them throughout the shoot.  Some of the crew members would later regret turning down Cunningham’s offer as they would have made exponentially more money from back-end profits than their meager salaries.

20. For Some Reason, Paramount Released It In Early May of 1980  Instead of Waiting for the Friday the 13th Weekend in June

1980 had a Friday the 13th in June.  However, Paramount somehow missed out on the obvious tie-in appeal of that release window, instead putting Friday the 13th out in early May.  Warner Bros. did not miss the chance, though, releasing the film on the Friday the 13th weekend of June in multiple foreign territories.

Source: Pete Bracke, Camp Crystal Lake: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (Enhanced Edition).Amazon.com

What do you think?  I avoided discussing how they achieved certain shots, such as the famous arrow through the neck, because those are rather well-known stories at this point.  However, are there any biggies I missed?  Things you didn’t know that you discovered from this list?  Let us know in the comments.

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