Monday, January 18, 2010

Psycho-Babble: Friday the 13th - When Repressed Moms with Butch Haircuts and Cableknit Sweaters Attack

Favorite movies feel like reflections of one’s own psyche. They feel like they are being projected from within. It’s like how it feels to fall in love. You think to yourself … this movie gets me.

In 1980, at 11-years-old, packed into one of 13 screens at the Natick Mall with my Dad, that’s how Friday the 13th felt to me. I just really connected to it.

Anyone who would be reading this post (anyone? anyone?), probably knows the plot, but here’s a quickie synopsis (and, if one can have spoilers in a 30-year-old movie, there is a doozy ahead, so you have been warned):

Someone’s getting all stabby up at Camp Crystal Lake. Corpses pile up into the stormy night until plucky Dorothy-Hammill-bobbed final girl Alice takes on the killer. The killer is not Jason Voorhees (as in every subsequent sequel and remake), but it’s his mother Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, played by a camp-tastic Betsey Palmer.

A girl-fight smack-down between sweet Alice and murderous Mama Voorhees ensues. Mrs. V loses her head. Final girl Alice is victorious. In the final dream sequence, Jason Voorhees pops out of the water and drags Alice out of her canoe. She wakes up, screams. The end.

So what was it that I, an 11-year-old budding gay boy, so connected with in Friday the 13th? I did not have a murderous mother, nor was I deformed lousy swimmer, or a horny heterosexual teen in tight camp shorts.

Was it just the pure adrenalin rush of being scared and seeing people get axes in their faces? I don’t think so. Methinks the answer lies in the subtext.

The text of Mrs. V’s motivation is that she was angry at counselors who were pushing their squishy parts together while her special little deformed boy Jason drowned in the lake. But, I posit that there is a brilliant subtext and symbolism in Friday the 13th that spoke to many of us kids growing up in the 1980s with repressed, religious 1950s-era Moms.

Yes, fellow subtext freaks, Friday the 13th was really about a sexually repressed mother and her inability to accept the loss of her innocent child to the lustful impulses of puberty. Her murder spree is an acting out of the violent rageful (and helpless) feelings many of these moms probably had towards the idea of their perfect innocent children blossoming into horny teens during the confusingly sexually liberated pre-Reagan world of the late 70s and early 80s.

So in 1980, as I watched Friday the 13th in my Toughskin jeans and Pro-Keds, I was really watching the shadowy psychological drama between me and my own mother playing out on screen.

Alice, the classically repressed and boyish final girl with the childish vulnerable quality and pre-pubescent voice, was my perfect avatar into the shadowy woods of my mother’s suppressed rage against the sexual revolution that had passed her by and left her treading water in its choppy wake.

But I was also Jason -- my mother’s special little boy. My true self was already drowning. Too ugly and deformed for the world to see. A homosexual boy entering puberty into a homophobic world.

I knew I was about to become something worse than any one of those horny counselors and I was more deserving of mother’s violent punishment than they.

It took me many years of therapy before I could face down my inner Jason – the repressed ugly rage drowned deep down under twenty leagues of shame.

But he, like the Jason of lore, was unwilling to die, no matter how hard I tried to kill him.