Sean S. Cunningham Was Actually Working on a Kids’ Movie When the Idea for ‘Friday the 13th’ Came to Him

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to make a horror movie? We often sit on the edge of our seats, holding our breath as the suspense builds, but what goes on behind the camera is a story in itself. Director Sean S. Cunningham and actress Adrienne King, who played Alice in the film, recently sat down for an interview with The Guardian to share their incredible experiences while making the iconic “Friday the 13th.”

How It All Began

Sean S. Cunningham was actually working on a kids’ movie when the idea for “Friday the 13th” came to him. The kids’ movie wasn’t getting the buzz he had hoped for. So what did he do? He started playing around with titles.

“The title came first. I was trying to finish a kids’ movie and wasn’t getting the response I’d hoped for,” Cunningham told The Guardian. “I came up with Friday the 13th. Then I thought: ‘If I had a movie called Friday the 13th, I’d know how to sell that.’ Six months later, when we were figuring out a film to do next, I said: ‘Let’s try Friday the 13th.'”

Casting Choices That Made History

Sometimes, the most magical things happen by chance. Take the casting for this movie, for example. Cunningham wasn’t chasing big stars. He was after good actors. Enter Kevin Bacon and Betsy Palmer.

“I wasn’t looking for stars, I just wanted good actors,” said Cunningham. “Kevin Bacon had just got to New York. He was a nice, talented guy, comfortable in his own skin, perfect as Jack, one of the counsellors at the kids’ summer camp who are killed one by one. Betsy Palmer, who played Mrs. Voorhees, was a TV personality and a trusted voice.”

Money Well Spent: Betsy Palmer’s New Car

Funny enough, Betsy Palmer took the role of Mrs. Voorhees because her car broke down. “The week she got the script, her car broke down and she needed a new one. Whatever we paid her, it was enough to buy a new car,” Cunningham revealed. Palmer thought she’d never have to worry about the role haunting her because no one would see the film. Boy, was she wrong.

The Thrill of Creating Special Effects

Making a horror movie is almost like performing magic tricks. One moment that Cunningham cherished was Kevin Bacon’s shocking death scene. “Kevin’s death delighted me the most because it involved some shameless misdirection,” he said.

And how did they pull off such realistic gore? “The special effects artist was underneath the bunk, blowing the blood up,” Cunningham explained. “He invented the whole technique – on the spot.”

Creating That Iconic Sound

No one can forget the chilling sound effects that play when danger is near. “Harry Manfredini’s music was a huge asset,” Cunningham mentioned. “We were looking for a signature for the silent watcher and, as an experiment, Harry tried this descending ‘Ki ki ki. Ma, ma, ma’ sound on his synthesiser. It had a chilling effect and we both thought it was a terrific way of saying the killer is near.”

When Filming Gets Real

Adrienne King talked about how she had to really fight against Mrs. Voorhees in the final scenes. “My climactic fight with Mrs. Voorhees was choreographed like ballet,” she said. “The reason it looks so real is because it was real. Betsy said: ‘The camera catches everything. If you don’t fight back, you’re going to get hurt.'”

King and the rest of the cast immediately bonded during the filming, even though it was an intense experience. “One by one, I lost my buddies. I was so into the gruesome effects,” King shared. “I begged to be in the cabin when Kevin got the arrow through his neck. I remember the hole appearing in his neck and the blood gurgling out. Tom Savini was underneath the bunk blowing the blood up. He invented the whole technique – on the spot.”

An Aftermath

After the film was released, King faced real-life horror in the form of a stalker. “The cops said to me: ‘You make a movie like that, what do you expect?'” It wasn’t until 1989, following the death of actress Rebecca Schaeffer by a stalker, that laws against stalking came into existence.

The Lasting Legacy

“Friday the 13th” is not just a movie; it’s a cultural phenomenon. As King puts it, “The 80s were the horror decade. Alice is iconic because, if she can go up against a monster, we all can. I feel empowered by that.”