Friday the 13th Beat Sheet
Unlike earlier slasher films—Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas, and Halloween, which were virtually bloodless—Friday the 13th featured all its gruesome murders on screen, thanks to the imaginative special make-up of Tom Savini. Debuting in the U.S. on May 9, 1980, Friday the 13th set the bar for the blood and murder of later films—like Scanners, My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th Part 2, Halloween II, and Psycho II—which would have to keep up with the grim kill count. The film also set up a franchise that included 10 sequels, a reboot film, novels, a television series, and even a recent popular video game. Just like its iconic, hockey-masked killer, Jason Voorhees, the Friday the 13th franchise will doubtfully never die. This beat sheet features characters, kills, situations, themes, and tropes that would be imitated by a host of other slasher films that followed.
Written by: Victor Miller & Ron Kurz (uncredited)
Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham
MITH Type: Serial Monster
MITH Cousins: Psycho, A Bay of Blood, Black Christmas, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Scream, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, The House on Sorority Row, Alice Sweet Alice, Maniac, Terror Train, Madman, Stage Fright, April Fool’s Day, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Peeping Tom, The Hills Have Eyes, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Prom Night, High Tension, Tourist Trap, Hell Night, Urban Legend, Hatchet, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Torso, Deep Red, And Then There Were None
Opening Image: The year is 1958. The full moon peeks out of a cloudy night sky as loons wail along a dark, empty lake. A group of camp counselors have a sing-along by the fire. An unseen Prowler looks after the sleeping kids in their bunks, the familiar and creepy “Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” on the soundtrack. Barry (Willie Adams) and Claudette (Debra S. Hayes) sneak away from the group to have sex in the loft of a storage shed. As they do, the individual who brings the “Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” with them, someone they apparently know, slays both of them. This opening teaser is a microcosm of the entire film—teenagers being slayed for doing sinful things like having premarital sex. The price to pay for sex, drugs, and rock and roll is a knife-wielding stalker bent on murder. But why?
Set-Up: Annie (Robbi Morgan), burdened with a backpack, arrives in Blairstown, a small New Jersey burg, looking for Camp Crystal Lake on a sunny June day. She heads inside a diner and inquires. The locals give her strange looks and refer to the place Annie is looking for as “Camp Blood.” Ennis, a truck driver, is heading that way and decides to give Annie a lift.
Theme Stated: “You’re going to Camp Blood, ain’tcha,” Ralph the town crazy says. “You’ll never come back again. It’s got a death curse.” The theme of this movie is survival. Annie’s sin is ignorance as she doesn’t heed Ralph’s crazy, but prophetic advice. Like in many slasher movies, ignoring the warnings of danger soon seals your fate. Today is Friday the 13th after all, a day infamous for bad luck and curses.
Set-Up (cont’d): In the truck, Ellis echoes Ralph’s sentiment. Get out. Two kids were murdered in 1958, a boy drowned a year earlier, and in 1962 Camp Crystal Lake was going to be reopened again but the water was bad. “The place is jinxed,” Ellis says. Annie, who will be cooking for the 50 or so inner-city kids, ignores all this and says that she’s not afraid of ghosts. Famous last words. Ellis drops Annie off appropriately at a cemetery and lets her walk the rest of the way.
A red Ford pick-up barrels down a country road. Inside, Jack (Kevin Bacon), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), and Ned (Mark Nelson) are jamming to some bluegrass music. They are also heading to Camp Crystal Lake.
Catalyst: The fun-loving trio in the Ford arrive at Camp Crystal Lake and here’s where we meet the kinetic Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and Alice (Adrienne King). Steve quickly puts Jack, Marcie, and Ned to work. The place opens to visitors in two weeks.
Debate: Alice, who more or less is the main character, is debating as to whether or not she wants to stay. She’s a talented artist and not cut out for the workday demands of a dilapidated old campground; she also may have to go back home to California to straighten out some personal business. Steve, who seems to have a little more interest in her than just being her employer, asks Alice to stay at least another week to try it out. Alice reluctantly agrees.
B Story: Steve and Alice are the story the helps drive the theme. In this case, it’s Steve who wants to re-open Camp Crystal Lake against all the warnings and previous dangers. According to truck driver Ennis, Steve has sunk $25,000 into the camping grounds despite its bad reputation (Steve’s parents originally owned the place). His transgression will bring grave results to all the young and willing counselors that he has hired. Alice will later learn this and it will be her lesson: to listen to the warnings and watch for bad signs.
The rest of the counselors—hard-working Bill (Harry Crosby) and pragmatic Brenda (Laurie Bartram)—help fix up the run-down campgrounds. Steve heads for town for supplies and leaves the “babes in the woods” as he later calls them behind with a list of chores. Of course, they immediately start messing around. Ned, ever the jokester, nearly shoots Brenda with an arrow as she’s setting up the archery targets.
Break into Two: Annie, who’s hiking down the road, is picked up in a jeep by an unseen driver. During the ride, she explains to the driver that it’s always been a dream of hers to help children. Unfortunately, it’s a dream that will never be realized. The driver zooms past the Camp Crystal Lake campgrounds. Annie pleads with the driver to stop, but is ignored. She jumps from the jeep, injuring her leg. The driver skids the jeep to a stop and goes after her on foot. In a desperate game of cat-and-mouse, Annie loses when the driver finds her hiding and slashes her throat. Here is where we depart from the thesis world of Act One and enter the upside-down anti-thesis world of Act Two. This first, brutal killing of Annie is an indicator that things are going to get bad for the other camp counselors on this unlucky summer day.
Fun and Games: The counselors are now being stalked by some subjective POVs of the jeep-owning killer. It’s only a matter of time when the frolicking teens will meet their end one by one, like in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. And like Agatha Christie, we have a series of suspects. Is the killer Steve Christy, who drives a jeep and owns the camp? Is it the machete-wielding Bill who keeps to himself? Or is it doomsayer Crazy Ralph?
The playful group go for a swim while the taskmaster boss is away (while being watched on the shore by the killer “Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma”). Ned starts to drown. Jack heroically dives in to save him. With Ned’s seemingly unconscious body on the dock, Brenda gives him mouth-to-mouth. Ned, ever the prankster, kisses her. (This echoes the actual drowning of Jason later and probably didn’t score emotional points for the killer watching.)
In her cabin, Alice encounters a snake and screams. Bill and Jack rush in to save her. Bill, wielding his trusty machete, slays the snake. He’s a snake killer. Could he be a human killer too?
Officer Dorf (Ron Millkie) arrives on his motorcycle looking for Crazy Ralph, who was seen peddling his way toward the camp from town (its 20-miles one way, that’s crazy enough). Could Crazy Ralph be the watcher in the woods?
As Alice is preparing for dinner in the kitchen, she discovers Ralph hiding in the pantry, and he tells them they’re all doomed. We don’t know much of Crazy Ralph’s backstory but he seems like the Half Man of the Monster in the House story, usually the person who has survived the monster and lived to tell about it. Or could Ralph be the killer? After telling the astonished group a few more times that they’re doomed, Crazy Ralph climbs onto his bicycle and heads back into town.
As the night comes and a storm is brewing, the soon-to-be camp counselors buckle down for the night. Steve is still not back from buying supplies in town. Ned, who’s alone as Jack and Marcie are spending more quality time together, sees somebody on the porch of one of the cabins. He goes to investigate.
Jack and Marcie, looking for a little comfort from the approaching storm, head into their cabin. They strip and make love (a big no-no in slasher films) not realizing that the bloody corpse of Ned, his throat slashed, is on the bunk above them.
After their tryst, Marcie leaves to use the bathroom, taking a rain poncho and a flashlight, and Jack decides to smoke a joint by candlelight. As he does, a hand reaches from under the bed and holds his head firmly against the pillow while an arrow (a feat of superhuman strength) is pushed up through the mattress and his neck, staining the sheet crimson.
Marcie, in the bathroom, hears some strange noises coming from the shadowy shower stalls in the commons bathroom. She goes to investigate, getting an axe buried in her skull for her troubles.
Inside the rec room of the campground, Alice, Bill, and Brenda decide to play a little strip Monopoly. After all, Jack and Marcie are apparently having their own carnal fun, why can’t they?
Midpoint: The game is cut short and the only one clothed is Alice (appropriate as the Final Girl in slasher films is often “virginal”). The storm blows the door open and the game participants scatter. Another time? Nope. This is the last night of their lives. Talk of Steve discovering them threads the A and B stories together. With the murders of Annie and Ned, and the more recent ones of Jack and Marcie, the stakes are raised and the clock starts ticking as we know it’s only a matter of time before the killer in the rainy darkness picks off the remaining camp counselors one by one.
Bad Guys Close In: Brenda, in her cabin, prepares for bed and starts to read. However, she keeps hearing cries for help from what sounds like a child, somewhere in the storm. She runs outside to save whoever it is. She bounds down to the dark archery range and the floodlights snap on around her. She is vulnerable and alone—and then we hear her screams.
Alice, alone in the rec room, starts feeling abandoned. Bill, checking on the generator, thunders back in. Alice says she heard Brenda screaming and saw the lights flash on at the archery range. The two use the buddy system to go check it out.
In Brenda’s cabin, Bill and Alice find the bloody axe that killed Marcie lying on Brenda’s bed. There’s something foul afoot at Camp Crystal Lake. Alice and Bill continue to search for Brenda and soon learn they cannot find her, Jack, Marcie, or Ned. What’s going on?
All Is Lost: At this phase of the story, something must “die,” and it doesn’t always have to be physical. Alice’s sense of security dies here. She and Bill break into the office to call for help but the phone line has been cut. Bill tries to start Jack’s truck but it’s dead too (another kind of death). This is their moment of false defeat where their hope of contacting the outside world and escape is lost.
Steve leaves the town diner and heads back to Camp Crystal Lake but his jeep dies. He flags down a passing police car. Sergeant Tierney (Ronn Carroll) takes Steve the rest of the way, commenting that on a full moon, which is on Friday the 13th of all nights, homicides go up and people act crazy. Steve chalks it all up to coincidence but maybe he shouldn’t. Sergeant Tierney is called away to check out a highway accident due to the storm, so the officer drops Steve off at the entrance of the campgrounds. As Steve is heading toward the sign, someone holding a flashlight blinds him. Steve knows the person and asks them what they’re doing out “in all this mess.” Steve receives his answer in the form of a hunting knife to the chest. Scratch another possible murder suspect from the list.
Dark Night of the Soul: The electric lights die all around camp. Bill goes to the generator room but he doesn’t come back. Alice ventures out to investigate his absence and sees Bill pinned to the generator room door with arrows and his throat slit. (Scratch another possible murder suspect from the list.) Alice is now the sole survivor. Freaked out and scared, the Final Girl locks herself in the rec room and tries to hide. She’s lost all hope and is desperately clinging to life. Alice “drops her mask” and has clarity of who she is and the reality of her situation.
Crash! Brenda’s bloody corpse falls through the window—the killer testing Alice’s sanity and courage even more.
Break into Three: Lights in the darkness—a jeep pulls up—salvation! Alice thinks it’s Steve returning from town, which ties A and B stories together for the last time. She runs outside. No, it’s a strange woman with stern facial features, dressed in black slacks and a blue cable-knit sweater with a knife scabbard on her belt. She introduces herself as Pamela Voorhees, an old friend of the Christy’s.
Pamela goes into the rec room and “discovers” Brenda’s body on the floor. She says that Steve Christy should have never re-opened Camp Crystal Lake. Mrs. Voorhees goes on to explain that a boy drowned because the counselors weren’t paying any attention. The mother reveals that Jason was her son and today is his birthday. Pamela said she was working for the Christy’s as a cook when the tragedy happened—blaming the neglectful and amorous counselors. Mrs. Voorhees then attacks Alice with her hunting knife. Alice manages to stop the attack and runs outside. She goes to take the jeep but finds the corpse of Annie, the first victim, in the passenger seat.
Then Steve Christy’s body, hung from a tree, drops, a knife in his torso. (Often in slasher films, this is where bodies start popping up for the protagonist to discover.)
And in one of the freakiest parts of the story, Pamela Voorhees starts saying as a kind of demented mantra, “Kill her mommy, don’t let her get away,” in a child’s voice. She’s channeling her dead son, Jason. The famous “Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” that we hear on the soundtrack is a truncated version of that maniacal Pamela Voorhees mantra.
Five-Point Finale: According to Blake Snyder’s beats, after the Break into Three (Act Three), the hero has gone from the thesis world of Act One, to the antithesis world of Act Two, and arrived for the synthesis of these two worlds in Act Three. Accordingly, from what our hero Alice has learned, she forges a third way. She now understands that you can only run so far and that you have to fight to survive—as her unsuspecting friends did not.
1. Gathering of the Team – Alice wants to survive—that’s the mission here and the mission of every Final Girl and last potential victim in a slasher film.
2. Executing the Plan – Alice evades several attacks from Mrs. Voorhees, hiding where she can.
3. High Tower Surprise – Alice goes down to the lake to hide, and to catch her breath, but she’s found by the vengeful mass murderer. No more running!
4. Dig, Deep Down – Alice battles with Pamela Voorhees using an oar on the beach, then our Final Girl is able to get Bill’s machete.
5. Executing New Plan – Alice takes the machete (which Bill used earlier to cut off the head of the snake, something Alice couldn’t do in Act One, as she had not gone through her character-forging trials yet). Alice cuts the head off Mrs. Voorhees. She has saved her own life. The intrepid survivor takes a canoe out on the lake, perhaps as a way to “get away” from the camp.
Final Image: The next morning, two policemen (where were they when you needed them?) finally arrive. They shout at Alice, who’s either asleep or unconscious out in the silver canoe. When our Final Girl awakens, one of the best jump scares in movie history happens where the young Jason, his head bloated, his body decaying, jumps out of the water and grabs Alice, pulling her down under the dark waters of Crystal Lake.
Alice wakes up in the hospital screaming. Sergeant Tierney tells Alice that all of her friends and coworkers are dead. She asks about the boy, Jason, but the police officer doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then Alice comes to the haunting conclusion that Jason is still out in Crystal Lake… waiting…