There is no doubt in my mind that Betsy Palmer was the best possible choice to play Jason’s jilted mother, the benighted cook for Camp Crystal Lake in the very first Friday the 13th in 1980. I have no doubt that my choice to have a mother serve as serial killer was an inspired one—inspired by historical and psychiatric events largely out of my control.
The unimaginable popularity of that original episode was due in large part to actress, script and director making myth magic. But I have, of late, come to be-lieve that the subconscious drive to choose Momma as killer is shared by millions of people just like me.
The archives of cinema horror are jam-packed with male monsters from Dr. Caligari through Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff to Michael Myers of Hal¬lo-ween. With few exceptions torture, pain and terror have been the male animal’s sanctum sanc¬torum.
As hunter-gatherers males have historically made a fairly simple transition from bringing down wildebeests to knocking other males senseless and sucking vir-gins translucent through their fangs. Males can be dangerous, inventive and horribly inverted versions of the Father of our dreams but Mrs. Voorhees brought something uniquely delicious to the banquet of skulls—something witches and vampiras are not designed to embody.
She became a transcendent Mother figure.
I was not conscious of any of this when I carved out the backstory for Betsy Palmer’s character. I was looking for an emotional and credible reason for a woman in her prime to be obsessed with slicing up young and pretty camp counselors. Simple logic was required: her son, a special needs child, was allowed to drown as a direct consequence of two young counselors’ negligence. (They were making love in the nearby forest primeval.)
It was 24 years before I was made aware of the sub-terranean demands my subconscious was making in that spring and summer of 1979. My then therapist turned to me one sunny California afternoon after a year’s worth of such chats and said, “You really don’t know why you wrote Mrs. Voorhees as a woman who did what she did for the reason she did it?”
“I was looking for a different kind of villain,” I said.
“You were looking for the mother you never had,” she said.
“Really?” I said. “I wanted a homicidal maniac for a mother?”
“You wanted one who would stand up for you and punish anyone who hurt you!”
The tears started to flood my eyes. Sixty-five years old and I learned what I had been missing since day one.
My actual mom’s childhood had been no bower of flowers and thus her chief coping skill was a marked tendency towards serious Narcissism. Thanks to that therapist I could opine with gallows humor that if camp counselors had let me drown my mother might have said over my coffin, “He only had himself to blame. I told him to wait an hour after eating before he jumped into Crystal Lake.”
That session of psychotherapy got me thinking that that is Mrs. Voorhees’ secret juju for many of her fans…and they are legion. (Betsy Palmer is one of the biggest draws in the horror convention scene.) Some of us were abused by grownups but our own moms were frozen into inaction. Some of us were abused by our own moms without any surcease. Others were bullied by nasty rotten neighborhood kids and our moms told us to run away or take karate….when all we really wanted was a screaming banshee from hell brandishing a bloody machete, saying, “You will never touch my child again, you son of a bitch!”
And so, even though that same audience may con-scious¬ly root for the sole survivor, Alice, to dispatch Pamela Voorhees to Hades, parts of part of us must mourn the vanquishing of a mythic Momma who took her job just a wee bit too seriously…whose love was darkly admirable.
Too bad my Jason was already dead when he was avenged in spades.