Screenwriter Victor Miller first made the acquaintance of independent filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham when he was hired to write a script for a sports movie in an attempt to capitalise on the recent success of the family hit The Bad News Bears. Following two attempts – Here Come the Tigers and Manny’s Orphans – Cunningham was inspired after watching John Carpenter’s classic Halloween to make a return to the horror genre, the result being 1980′s Friday the 13th.
Miller had not conceived Jason Voorhees as being anything other than a young boy who had drowned years before the story was set and, much like special effects artist Tom Savini, found the idea of a sequel to be illogical and pointless. The movie would eventually spawn a franchise, although Miller would remain distant and would not work on any of the subsequent films.
Victor Miller discusses the birth of the slasher film.
Where did the idea for Friday the 13th originate?
First came the concept that we emulate Halloween. The title didn’t come until the screenplay had already gone through at least one draft. The idea for the summer camp came from my instinct that we needed a location where young adults would be cut off from all adult help, the basic idea in Halloween. The idea that Jason had died before the film began also came from the concept in Halloween – that there is a prior evil – Michael Meyer’s murdering the babysitter, if I recall correctly. The rest of the story came as a result of the location and the idea that, one-by-one, the campers would be eliminated by the world’s most protective (and insane) mother, Mrs. Voorhees. The original draft was called Long Night at Camp Blood, until Sean came up with the title. I then went back and put in the reference to the full moon and Friday the 13th so there would be some connection.
How many drafts did the story go through before the one that was filmed and how much of the script was rewritten by Ron Kutz (uncredited)? Were you happy with the way the movie turned out?
I think I did at least three drafts. But you have to remember that Sean and I lived thirty minutes apart. I would write scenes, he would give me notes and I would rewrite the scenes… not necessarily in order. Moreover, this was before the word processor. I was typing on an IBM Selectric and handing Sean original pages. Ron Kurtz’s contribution to the screenplay was the scene in which the motorcycle cop shows up. I told Sean that it worked against my basic concept; that there were no adults, no cops, no National Guard, no cavalry to come and save these kids at the last minute. I lost the battle. Beyond that, I was very happy the way the film turned out. I think Sean and Steve Miner did a fabulous job, especially when you remember they were working on a shoestring budget against the change of season (the leaves were turning red and brown). Given the givens, it still looked great.
Where did the character of Jason Voorhees and the concept of his vengeful mother originate from? Was the final scene where Jason jumps out of the lake in your original script?
You have to remember that Jason was not really a character. He was dead. The mother was the villain and she was based on the mother I never had. I knew that Jason was limited, but I never envisioned him as a monster. Sean and Tom Savini came up with the horror-face idea after we came up with the chair-jumper at the end. I had finished the screenplay, when Sean called one morning and said we needed a ‘chair jumper’ for the end of the movie. I said, “You mean, like the hand coming out of the grave in Carrie?” Sean said yes, and so I wrote Jason popping out of the water, using pretty much the Carrie ending shot-for-shot, including the girl popping up in the hospital bed. I was not particularly proud of having ‘borrowed’ so directly from another movie, but the thing sure worked well in retrospect. I typed up the pages and drove them over to Sean’s production office, which was on the second floor of his garage in Westport, CT. That’s why the pages never appeared in my own draft. It was the way Sean and I worked. He had the Xerox machine.
Many critics have commented on the ‘sex equals death’ aspect of the movie. Would you say that was an intentional theme of the story and do you think that these kind of stalk-and-slash movies act as morality tales?
The critics are 100% correct. I just followed the Victorian idea of the horror genre which was so perfectly embodied in Halloween. I hope they don’t function as morality tales. I think of them as a hoot. I look at the idea the same way I look at The Brothers Grimm. What do you make of a mother and father who leave their kids in the woods because they can’t afford them (Hansel and Gretel)? Or a lady who lives in the woods in a cake house and eats children? Jesus…Are those morality tales?”
Were you offered the chance to return for Friday the 13th Part 2 and if you had have been involved how different do you think it would have turned out?
By the time Part 2 was in the works I was too expensive, because I had written a mega hit. The principle of the sequel is you work cheaper, not more expensively. I probably would have fought the idea of making Jason the bad guy and been fired from the project anyway.
What is your opinion on the way the franchise became more focused on Jason? Do you think the hockey mask-wearing zombie takes away the suspense that the original created?
I have not seen any of the sequels. I think my thoughts about Jason are already pretty clear. He is just a stock villain and I don’t have much sympathy for him.