If ‘Friday the 13th’ Had a Different Title, Would We Still Talk About it?

Kane Hodder in Friday the 13th Part 7

Yet another Friday the 13th is upon us. What makes this one special? It takes place in October, marking the first time since 2017 and only the third time since 2000 that the date matches up together during the Halloween season. As a result, Jason Voorhees will be kicking off another weekend where horror fans, without fail, will be marathoning the entire Friday the 13th series.

As a self-proclaimed A Nightmare On Elm Street kid, it’s always slightly bothered me that this franchise gets so much attention. It’s just not as easy (and decidedly more creepy) to find and park on one of the many Elm streets found in towns across the continental United States. Have I personally parked alone at night on Elm Street to watch one of the Nightmare films? No comment.

So, something needs to be done! Every time this date appears on the calendar, we, as a collective of genre-loving suckers, fall victim to a marketing ploy that begs the question: Would we still be watching this series if it had another title? The answer is, unequivocally, no.

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Since Sean S. Cunningham produced and directed the original 1980 classic, there have been twelve films in total including the remake, an anthology television series, multiple video games, comic books, and hundreds of officially licensed toys. And they all bear the name Friday the 13th. Finally, there is a new prequel series on the way that’s set to debut on Peacock featuring Adrienne King, the original camp counselor final girl. If it wasn’t for legal reasons, it’s probably a safe bet that it wouldn’t be called Crystal Lake, either.

If Cunningham had stuck with scribe Victor Miller’s working title Camp Blood, the horror landscape over the last 40 years would look vastly different. That throwaway title would have been lost among the VHS dollar bins alongside films like Blood Feast, Blood Harvest, Blood Cult, and even Sleepaway Camp. It turns out, that the absolutely brilliant choice to rename his bloodier ripoff of John Carpenter’s Halloween happened on a whim. But Cunningham had a high I.Q. for how to get the word out to turn a B-movie into a potential box office winner.

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In the vein of drive-in legends Roger Corman and Samuel Z. Arkoff, Cunningham knew that the poster was everything. “There’s a one-sheet and the one-sheet should tell the audience what they’re going to see,” Cunningham told Esquire in a 2015 interview posted on Halloween. “And if they don’t like the poster, they’re not going to like the movie.” Coincidentally, the legendary horror producer and director came up with the title Friday the 13th while working on Manny’s Orphans, which was basically The Bad News Bears playing soccer instead of baseball. Brainstorming on a legal pad, the indelible title suddenly just came to him. “I had a picture called Friday the 13th, and I knew how to sell that.” And selling is exactly what he did.

Along with Associate Producer Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2, Friday the 13th Part III), Cunningham put out a full-page ad in Variety featuring the title smashing through glass like a sledgehammer with the tagline: “Friday the 13th — the most terrifying film ever made.” The plan was two-pronged to gauge the public’s interest and to see if anyone already owned the rights to such a blatantly obvious title for a horror movie. The phone never rang.

It’s no wonder that Cunningham assumed that there had to be plans for a movie called Friday the 13th. The date is such a part of our collective unconscious that it echoes throughout history. There’s enough of an innate fear surrounding the cursed date to warrant its own recognized medical phobia: paraskevidekatriaphobia, described as a specialized form of triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number 13.

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The number has negative connotations dating back to Norse mythology when Loki, the God of mischief, crashed a banquet in Valhalla. He was an uninvited 13th guest. Biblically, Judas was also the 13th member to attend the Last Supper. Most famously, the Knights Templar were arrested by the hundreds on Friday, October 13, 1307.

Then, nothing. Why did it take another 600 years and change to make a movie called Friday the 13th? From the filmmakers to the young and upcoming teen actors who helped pull off the ultimate horror heist, this franchise has been far from cursed over the years. Cunningham tapped into something dormant and universally chilling about this date, and took advantage of it at the perfect time when horror was experiencing a rebirth.

On the heels of Halloween and Carrie, the Friday the 13th series exploded off the screen, even taking advantage of the 3-D craze. Legends like Kane Hodder helped keep fans frothing at the mouth for more over-the-top kills, and his contribution to the franchise can never be understated. But if the name Friday the 13th had never been dreamed up, you can bet that Hodder would have never starred in Camp Blood Part VII: The New Blood or Camp Blood X in space. Thankfully, the title stuck and the genre has never been the same since. Just don’t forget to give a little love to Freddy this weekend, too.



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