Before everyone’s favorite hockey mask wearing mutant son began terrorizing Camp Crystal Lake, his Mommy Dearest was the original slayer of sinful counselors. The cable knit sweater wearing killer was a mother scorned, hoping to avenge the unnecessary death of her precious son Jason. Pamela Voorhees was dealt a rather difficult hand. Enduring a pregnancy at the age of sixteen while residing in a trailer with a verbally and physically abusive man, her son would later be born hydrocephalic, forcing her to home-school him while she herself was still a child. When you really put it into perspective, she had a child at sixteen without the assistance of MTV or her parents.
Sixteen-year-old girls are some of the most self-absorbed individuals on the planet, and she was responsible for raising a deformed and learning disabled child. Jason was her entire world. Growing up without the support or interaction with anyone other than his mother would cause a lot of psychological issues for both Jason and Pamela, and it was after his death that she began to hear the voices telling her to kill those responsible for his untimely demise. We only know this information after twelve movies, a series of novels, a line of comic books, and countless other forms of media, but what about the original FRIDAY THE 13TH? Without any of this back story, finding out the killer in the film that started a franchise was actually a woman was shocking for its time and still remains as one of the most “Oh shit” reveals in horror history.
Flashback to good ol’ 1958 when the “Camp Blood” killings started to take place, we’re given a very slight, but very clear sign that the killer is a woman. We see our unsuspecting, horny camp counselors sneaking away with the intentions to make the beast with two backs. Their moments of passion are being spied upon by an unseen force that makes itself known and then kills the two lovers. When the two kids notice the figure, they immediately resort to claiming their innocence rather than showing their fear. Right away, we know that these two personally know their assailant. The fact that they weren’t afraid of physical danger gives the impression that the two are backing away from either an adult or higher-ranked female. Humans respond differently to adults in power depending on their sex. We worry that our mothers will yell at us and that our fathers will take a belt to our asses for being disobedient. Or, if we want to go by the famous Margaret Atwood quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” This mindset was definitely so for 1958 before the “don’t beat the children” way of mind came to fruition. Historically speaking, in 1958, men of authority were allowed to physically punish those beneath them while women were in a position of trying to be doting and compassionate. It isn’t until the knife is shown that either of the counselors shows any sort of life-determining fear. However, the films of this time hadn’t really ever shown a female killer, so the audience assumes the person behind the killings is a man.
The first casualty of the Camp Crystal Lake re-opening belonged to kitchen helper, Annie. She doesn’t even make it to the camp when she meets her maker. Although the 1970s/1980s were a time where hitchhiking wasn’t viewed nearly as dangerous as it is now, Annie isn’t an idiot. When she is first given a ride closer to the camp, she’s in the car with a man. The things they talk about are a bit more gruesome and sarcastic (the camp’s history, mild banter about intelligence) but she gets in the car with this stranger after given the sense of security from the other diners that he’s an okay guy. Once he drops her off, she’s later catches a ride from an unseen individual driving a jeep. Once she gets in the car, her demeanor completely changes. She becomes more bubbly (if that’s even possible) and begins talking about children and her dreams. The person in the car clearly looks like someone that would agree with her discussion of “I don’t like when people call them kids” or she wouldn’t bring up the conversation. Not to mention, her body posture completely changes into a far more relaxed position in the vehicle compared to the closed off position she previously held while in the truck with the man. It isn’t until the unseen driver begins speeding that she looks anything but calm. After jumping out of the vehicle and being chased through the woods, she even pleads with her captor and keeps a very calm and solemn voice. It sounds very similar to the way children cower in fear towards their mothers, rather than aggressively panic from their fathers. Yet, audiences are still convinced the killer is probably a big, scary, man. Anything men can do, women can do better?
There are mentions of “fires” at the beginning of the film, and psychologically speaking, women who commit arson are almost always motivated by revenge. Moving through the film, we see other characteristics that showcase Mama Voorhees to clearly be a female killer. All of the male slasher killers were all big fans of the “slash and dash” method of killing, but instead of just slash and dashing up her victims, Mama Voorhees was very calculated. All of her kills were carefully constructed and executed perfectly. There were no victims stabbed once and running to hide in closets with clothes hangers. There was no opportunity to escape her carnage. Once she had you in her sights, she was taking care of business. It’s the idea of planning and plotting that we normally see with final girls like Nancy Thompson using for survival, but instead used in to take out the victims of Pamela Voorhees. We don’t often see this behavior from male killers, but we definitely see it from Pamela Voorhees. The only time she ever “slips up” is when she gets too distracted talking about her baby boy and why she couldn’t let the camp re-open. If she weren’t so entranced with the love of her son, Alice never would have escaped. Perhaps my favorite tactic used, is when she even went as far as impersonating the voice of a child in order to lure out one of her female victims, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to ignore a crying child.
Considering this was one of the first times we were introduced to a “final girl” character, the audience, male and female, is viewing the film through the lens of Alice, a woman. Meaning, all of the characters are forced to identify with her struggle, regardless of their own gender. “But, but, all of the women who die in FRIDAY THE 13TH are punished simply for not being good girls!” True, but all of the men who die in FRIDAY THE 13TH are all murdered for the exact same reason. This isn’t a film where only promiscuous females are murdered; promiscuous males are murdered just as quickly. Like most slasher films, FRIDAY THE 13TH is a morality tale, but the archetypal stock characters seen in latter slasher films hadn’t been established quite yet. The male counselors and the female counselors are all on an even playing field, and I’d predict that had a male character been the “moral” one instead of Alice, he would have made it out alive just the same. Whether or not the sole survivor was male or female, the killer’s reveal as a female was indicated from the very beginning.
*All Photos: FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) Paramount Pictures