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Sunday, May 10, 2020

‘Friday the 13th’ and the Enduring Legacy of Horror’s Fiercest Mother, Pamela Voorhees

“Kill her, Mommy!”

Horror’s relationship with motherhood is vast. There’s no shortage of films that explore the complex fears of being a mother. From terrifying mothers like Margaret White in Carrie to well-intentioned but flawed moms like Annie Graham in Hereditary, the maternal instinct is killer in the genre space. Friday the 13th‘s Pamela Voorhees is arguably the fiercest and most formative of them all. Though Pamela only reveals herself in the final third of the film, her impact is tremendous. Mrs. Voorhees didn’t just birth a horror icon; she birthed an entire franchise.

From the opening, Friday the 13th presents itself as a slasher whodunnit set at Camp Crystal Lake. Starting with the gruesome demise of two camp counselors on Friday the 13th, 1958, the camp has hosted numerous bizarre incidents over the years, from fires to tainted water. When the camp is being prepped to reopen in 1980, well, someone proves they’re willing to kill to prevent that from happening. One by one, the camp counselors fall in grisly fashion at the hands of an unseen assailant, though a few of them recognize their attacker moments before their demise.

It’s when Alice (Adrienne King) begins discovering the bodies of her friends and realizes she’s the last one standing that we finally see the killer, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). Alice falls into the arms of the sweet old lady who claims to be a family friend of her employer Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer). Pamela isn’t there to save anyone, though. She’s out to ensure the camp remains closed, permanently, and sentences all associated with its reopening to die.

A large part of her psyche remains trapped on June 13, 1957, the day her young son Jason drowned because the counselors who were supposed to be watching him were off having sex instead. She hears his voice in her head, urging her to kill. “Don’t let her get away, Mommy! Don’t let her live!” Pamela seems fully aware that she’s snapped, and she’s embraced it. There’s a joyous air about her as she hunts down Alice.

It’s the exact opposite of the mother-son relationship explored in Psycho. Norman Bates refused to let go of his mother post mortem, so he kept her alive in his mind and channeled her while he committed murder. Here, it’s the mother that keeps her young son alive, targeting any she deems a threat to her son. Or rather, her son’s watery grave.

In a genre where villains tend to be monstrous in visage, the reveal of Pamela Voorhees – her first name actually not revealed until The Final Chapter – as the killer packed a potent punch. She’s your next-door neighbor or your friend’s grandma. Hers isn’t the face of a homicidal maniac capable of taking an ax to someone’s face or slitting throats. Except, she happily does these things, with unnerving awareness. Pamela Voorhees’s unassuming appearance masks a psychotic killer underneath; an avenging monster stuck in an endless cycle. She’s a killer with entirely human and heartbreaking motivation, though; she’s unable to move past the tragic loss of her son. Like Norman Bates, there’s an empathy for this murderess.

She’s also the only mother in horror with an iconic franchise theme. Because Friday the 13th’s killer remains offscreen for most of the film, composer Harry Manfredini was tasked with creating a theme that represented Mrs. Voorhees in her absence. Drawing inspiration from the Jaws theme, he cleverly condensed Pamela’s line, “Kill her, Mommy!” and incorporated it into the film’s sound design. That “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” sound is irrevocably tied to the series, serving as a permanent reminder of Jason’s roots.

Jason inherited his beloved mother’s destructive tendencies in the sequel, forever altering the trajectory of the series. The love between mother and son is so fierce that it extends far beyond death, and throughout twelve films. When Betsy Palmer accepted the role as Pamela, she thought she was signing up for a forgettable little horror movie. She had no idea how wrong she’d be; Pamela Voorhees may have quickly become eclipsed by the juggernaut that was her son, but she proved vital to the creation of one of horror’s most valuable franchises. A franchise where maternal love fuels its beloved horror icon.

Pamela Voorhees lost her life at the end of Friday the 13th. Still, she delivered the exposition that shaped the franchise’s core mythology, as well as birthed one of horror’s most beloved movie monsters and an enduring franchise of which fans can’t get enough. All with her own theme, too. That the original film was released so close to Mother’s Day seems fitting, as no other mother has loomed so large over horror as Mrs. Voorhees.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3614687/friday-13th-enduring-legacy-horrors-fiercest-mother-pamela-voorhees-mothers-day/

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