17 Surprising Facts About Friday the 13th

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

In the fall of 1979, a group of unknown actors, a director desperate for a hit, and a special effects visionary got together in the woods of New Jersey to create the stuff of legend. Friday the 13th was supposed to be a simple exercise in good movie business, a film that would make money thanks to clever manipulation of the horror genre and some gory scares. Instead, it became a watershed moment in horror filmmaking, a landmark that has inspired countless imitators and nearly a dozen sequels.

Today, Friday the 13th is an essential slasher classic, but the road to success wasn’t exactly easy. To celebrate the film, and its often tumultuous production, here are 17 facts about the birth of the legend of Jason Voorhees.

1. THE ORIGINAL INSPIRATION WAS HALLOWEEN.

In 1978, producer and director Sean Cunningham was looking for a model on which to build a commercially successful film, and he found one in John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween. The two films ultimately don’t share much other than very broad slasher tropes, but Cunningham says he “was very influenced by the structure of Carpenter’s film.”

2. THE FILM WAS BEING ADVERTISED BEFORE IT EVEN HAD FINANCING.

Hoping to drum up publicity for his project, Cunningham took out an ad in the July 4, 1979 edition of Variety, featuring the film’s now-iconic logo bursting through glass. At the time, the general structure of the film was in place, but Georgetown Productions had not yet fully agreed to finance it, and the advertised November 1979 release date was a pipe dream. Still, Cunningham did get a response from the ad. “Everybody wanted this film,” he later said.

3. THE SCREENWRITER HAD A DIFFERENT TITLE IN MIND.

Though Cunningham very quickly latched on to the idea of Friday the 13th as a title, well before the film got made, screenwriter Victor Miller originally came up with something else. In the spring of 1979, he was calling the film Long Night at Camp Blood.

4. MANY OF THE SPECIAL EFFECTS WERE “BAKED” IN THE CAMP’S KITCHEN.

Tom Savini is now a makeup effects legend thanks, in part, to his work on Friday the 13th. And in making the film, he and assistant Taso Stavrakis actually ended up using the camp to finalize the special makeup effects. 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.

5. THE CAMP USED FOR FILMING IS STILL OPERATIONAL.

Camp Crystal Lake is actually Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, a fully operational camp that the cast and crew were granted access to after campers left for the summer in 1979. It is still in use today.

6. KEVIN BACON WAS NOT THE FILM’S BIGGEST STAR AT THE TIME OF SHOOTING.

Kevin Bacon stars in 'Friday the 13th' (1980)
Paramount Pictures

Though he’s without question the biggest name in the movie now, Kevin Bacon hadn’t done much prior to Friday the 13th, apart from things like a small role in Animal House. At the time, the film’s biggest name was Harry Crosby, son of then-recently-deceased legendary singer Bing Crosby, who played Bill.

7. SHELLEY WINTERS WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR MRS. VOORHEES.

For the now-iconic role of Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, Cunningham and company went in search of an actress with a recognizable name whose career was nevertheless on the decline, so she could be paid relatively little and the budget could stay low. Cunningham eventually made a list of actresses he was considering, and two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters was his top choice. Winters wasn’t interested, and while fellow candidate and Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons actually negotiated to be in the film, she ultimately backed out. Cunningham also considered actresses Louise Lasser and Dorothy Malone right up until filming began, but ultimately the production wound up with Betsy Palmer in the role.

8. BETSY PALMER TOOK THE PART SO SHE COULD BUY A NEW CAR.

When Cunningham finally got around to offering Palmer the part of Mrs. Voorhees, she suddenly found herself in need of cash. After more than a year on Broadway, her car broke down as she drove back to her home in Connecticut. She might never have taken the movie if she hadn’t needed the money for a new car.

“I got home at five in the morning, and it was a situation where I desperately needed a new car,” Palmer said. “If I hadn’t needed a car, I don’t think I would’ve done Friday the 13th.”

9. SEVERAL CREW MEMBERS PLAYED THE KILLER BEFORE PALMER WAS CAST.

Even as filming got underway, Cunningham was still looking for an actress to play Mrs. Voorhees, so many of the early murder scenes were actually shot without Betsy Palmer, with members of the crew standing in for the hands of the murderer. For example, when Annie’s (Robbi Morgan) throat is cut early in the film, special effects assistant Taso Stavrakis is the one wielding the knife.

10. BETSY PALMER GAVE MRS. VOORHEES A DETAILED BACKSTORY.

When she was finally cast, Palmer dove deep into her character. As a Method actor, she wanted to know more about the character than the audience, and came up with a backstory that built on the killer’s hatred of sexual transgression. In her mind, Pamela had Jason out of wedlock with a high school boyfriend, and her parents ultimately disowned her for her sins because that “isn’t something that good girls do."

11. JASON WAS JUST A REGULAR KID IN THE FIRST DRAFT.

Adrienne King stars in 'Friday the 13th' (1980)
Paramount Pictures

In Victor Miller’s original script, the character of Jason Voorhees was, basically, just a kid who accidentally drowned in Crystal Lake. But financier Philip Scuderi wanted something more, and brought in screenwriter Ron Kurz for some rewrites. One of Kurz’s most important contributions to the film was to transform the tragic boy into the deformed child we see in the final movie.

12. DURING FILMING, THE CREW WAS ENTERTAINED BY LOU REED.

Because the camp was closed during filming, and situated in the deep New Jersey woods, the cast and crew didn’t see much outside interference, but it turned out they had a very famous neighbor: rock star Lou Reed, who owned a farm nearby.

“We got to watch Lou Reed play for free, right in front of us, while we were making the film,” soundman Richard Murphy said. “He came by the set and we hung around with each other and he was just a really great guy.”

13. ONE ACTOR WAS TEMPORARILY BLINDED BY FAKE BLOOD.

For the scene in which Bill (Harry Crosby) is killed by multiple arrows, one of which lands in his eye, Tom Savini used a fake blood formula that included a wetting agent called PhotoFlo, which was supposed to make the fake blood soak into clothing and look more realistic. Unfortunately, PhotoFlo is not an ingredient used for “safe blood,” meaning blood that’s going to be encountering the face of an actor. For the arrow-in-the-eye moment, a latex appliance was applied to Crosby’s face, along with the blood. As the scene was shot, the blood welled up into Crosby’s eyes, causing intense pain when the appliance was removed.

“So our unsafe blood had an opportunity to fill up Harry’s eyes under the appliance used to keep the arrow looking like it was in his eye and it surface-burned poor Harry,” Savini said. “Not a proud moment.”

Crosby had to be taken to the hospital for treatment, but was ultimately fine.

14. KEVIN BACON’S ICONIC DEATH TOOK HOURS TO FILM (AND ALMOST DIDN’T WORK).

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. It’s a brilliant special effects moment, and was also the most complex death scene in the film. To make it work, Bacon had to crouch under the bed and insert his head through a hole in the mattress. Then, a latex neck and chest appliance were attached to give the appearance that he was actually lying down. Getting the setup right took hours, and Bacon had to stay in that uncomfortable position the entire time. For the bloody final moment, Savini—also under the bed—would plunge the arrow up and through the fake neck, while his assistant—also under the bed—operated a pump that would make the fake blood flow up through the appliance. To further complicate things, the crew needed someone to stand in for the killer’s hand as it held Bacon’s head down, and they settled on still photographer Richard Feury.

So, after hours of setup and latex building and planning, it was finally time to shoot the scene, and when the moment of truth came, the hose for the blood pump disconnected. Knowing that he basically only had one take (otherwise they’d have to build a new latex appliance and set everything up again), Stavrakis grabbed the hose and blew into it until blood flowed out, saving the scene.

“I had to think quick, so I just grabbed the hose and blew like crazy which, thankfully, caused a serendipitous arterial blood spray,” Stavrakis said. “The blood didn’t taste that bad either.”

15. THE FINAL SCARE WAS SUPPOSEDLY NOT IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT.

The story of who invented the final scare in the film, in which a deformed Jason bursts out of the lake and grabs Alice (Adrienne King) from her canoe, is disputed. Victor Miller, Tom Savini, and uncredited screenwriter Ron Kurz all claim credit for it, Kurz because he claims to be the one who made Jason into a “creature,” and Savini because he claims the moment was inspired by a similar final scare in Carrie. Whatever the case, it left a lasting impression.

16. THE MAIN THEME MUSIC CAME FROM A LINE OF DIALOGUE.

When composing the score for the film, composer Harry Manfredini was looking for a distinctive sound to identify any point when the killer appeared in a scene. 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.

17. THE SCREENWRITER HATES THE SEQUELS.

Jason Voorhees in 'Jason Takes Manhattan'
Paramount Pictures

One of the key twists of the original film, particularly in light of its many sequels (counting a crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street and a reboot, there are 11 now), is that Jason is not actually the central figure. He provides a haunting mythology, but the real villain is his mother. For screenwriter Victor Miller, this was very important, and he framed Pamela Voorhees as the mother he never had, a woman who tirelessly professed love in her own crazy way. When the film became a hit, and the inevitable sequel featured Jason as the new killer, Miller was disappointed.

“To be honest, I have not seen any of the sequels, but I have a major problem with all of them because they made Jason the villain,” Miller said. “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 dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain. But I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I'd always wanted—a mother who would have killed for her kids.”

Additional Sources: On Location In Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th by David Grove (2013)

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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