“Oh, good Lord! So young. So pretty. Oh, what monster could have done this?”
You Pamela—you did this. Friday the 13th is arguably one of the biggest horror franchises ever created, sharing a rightful place in the hall of fame alongside Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. 11 movies, numerous comic books, a couple of video games and hundreds of t-shirts with the iconic hockey mask emblazoned on the front—but the Friday 13th killer didn’t always wear that mask. In the beginning, the killer wasn’t even Jason; it was, of course, his revenge-driven mother, Pamela Voorhees, portrayed excellently by Betsy Palmer. It’s true that people forget that Jason wasn’t the killer in the original Friday 13th movie because as soon as they see the title the image of Jason instantly springs to mind. Pamela serves as both Jason’s strength and weakness over the course of the franchise; just as she killed for him in the first movie, he then goes on to kill for her. I’ve heard of the mother and son bond being strong, but these two take that to a whole new level.
After Jason’s “death” Pamela understandably had a breakdown, which resulted in her experiencing auditory hallucinations of Jason in which he repeatedly asked her to kill the drunken horny counselors that were responsible for his drowning in Crystal Lake. So—being the loving mother that she is—that’s exactly what she does. She kills and then she kills some more when they try to reopen Camp Crystal Lake four years later. Going off the radar for 17 years, she only re-emerges when the Camp is opening once again and the events of the first move begin to take place with Pamela continuing her revenge spree. The brilliant thing about Friday 13th is that we had no idea of this the first time we watched it. I remember being genuinely shocked when this cute, blue sweater-wearing old lady suddenly turned crazy and it was revealed who she was. I do of course love Jason as the machete-wielding maniac he is, but Pamela has always been stuck in my mind since that first viewing as someone genuinely terrifying. It’s one thing to run from someone who looks scary, a hulking six-foot killer in a mask; when’s it’s someone who looks trustworthy, someone who looks like an everyday mother, it takes that terror and turns up the dial.
It’s one of those great horror techniques I always love—using something we all respond to in a positive way and making it terrifying. Childs Play taught us to fear our favorite toys, Darkness Falls teaches us to fear the tooth fairy and Pamela Voorhees taught us to fear mothers. Filmmakers take something we have always viewed as something happy or loved and they twist it, they distort it, they almost pervert it. Something we have always felt comfortable around suddenly puts you on edge; you don’t like the way your favorite childhood doll suddenly looks a lot like cursed doll Annabelle, your friend’s St Bernard suddenly seems to be foaming at the mouth and—after Friday 13th—your own mother has a new aura of danger. That ultimate terrible question I am always left asking myself after I leave the cinema is back, ringing in your ear like an air raid siren. What if?
Before we all lock up our mothers in mental asylums just for looking a bit twitchy, let’s look at the reasons for Pamela’s insanity and ask ourselves if she was actually insane at all. How would you react if your only child drowned whilst the people who were meant to be looking after him were fooling around in each other’s pants? Would you be ok with that? Would you let the law handle it? Or would you grab the nearest sharp object and stab the life out of them? Admit it, it would cross your mind at least. Pamela did, of course, go too far; she killed people, she killed people who had nothing to do with her son’s death, she killed people who weren’t even born when it happened! That initial kill, that first burst of revenge, is it really out of the realm of possibility that anyone could get to that point? I’ve always loved Pamela Voorhees, and as she is a fictional character, I don’t have to feel bad for defending her to some extent. If she had ONLY killed the people directly responsible for Jason’s death—the ones who were specifically meant to be watching him that fateful day—I would say “They had it coming.”
That’s another reason why I love Pamela Voorhees. She had, in my opinion, a justifiable reason for that first kill. She wasn’t (initially) a bloodthirsty psycho; she was a heartbroken mother. Losing a child must be one of the most difficult things to live through and they do say people deal with such grief in different ways. Pamela’s way of dealing it was just a little more violent than others. So, to look at what started her killing spree, let’s look at Jason and the events that led up to his untimely death.
We don’t really know a lot about young Jason Voorhees, only what his mother tells us about him and what short part we see of him in the original movie, and a few questionable scenes in lesser movies. What we do know is that he was Pamela’s only child, he was a guest at Camp Crystal Lake where Pamela was working as a cook in the summer of 1957, and he was not being monitored by the camp counselors when he drowned whilst swimming in the lake. Pamela tells Alice, last survivor in the original film, that Jason should have been watched every minute. She says: “He was…he wasn’t a very good swimmer”. I’ve always assumed she was about to say something along the lines of “He wasn’t normal”, as in the few glimpses we do see of young Jason, he has an abnormally large head and one eye is lower down his face than it should be. I’ve always assumed he had some kind of deformity, possibly inbreeding related, but that’s me assuming all American killers are inbred which is unfair. He was deformed and Pamela was aware that this made him different.
A year after Jason’s death, the two counselors who were too busy getting steamy to watch Jason as he swam are murdered and that’s how the movie starts. We don’t even know about Jason at this point, we just know there’s a killer, and that they’re targeting young horny camp counselors. Skip forward to Friday 13th June 1979 and the camp is reopening for the public; enter Pam stage left. The counselors start to die in horrific ways, but we never see who it is doing the killings. We hear legends about the camp being cursed, some kind of tragedy years ago, but we’re given no real clues as to the killer’s identity or motive until after 70 minutes of movie time; that’s when we get to see Pamela and hear her tale of woe in all its crazy glory. Everyone is dead except for Alice and she has found the bodies of some of her friends. She runs into the night, panics, and bumps into this sweet older lady who is kind and reassuring. She takes Alice back to her camp, explaining she is imagining things due to the camp and the storm; then we see the REAL Pamela Voorhees.
As she starts to tell Alice the story of the young boy who drowned in the lake all those years ago we see a physical shift in Pamela; praise has to be given to Betsy Palmer here as she portrayed the insanity of Voorhees to a tee. The sweet comforting lady changes in seconds to a bellowing voice-hearing crazy woman and the chills start running down your spine as you realize she is the one who’s been killing all the counselors. As she reveals that Jason was her son and today is his birthday, she sees flashes of him drowning and hears his voice calling for her help; she even replies to him before continuing with her story—that’s when she becomes truly scary. She blames Alice personally for Jason’s death, stating that it was her that let him drown and how she should have paid attention. She starts talking in Jason’s child-like voice, “Kill her mommy, kill her”. We now see the full extent of her insanity and she wants Alice dead. Cue the struggle, the escape, the second struggle, gun stock to the vagina, the second escape, and so on, ultimately leading to Pamela’s head being chopped off by a soon-to-be iconic machete—RIP Mrs. Voorhees.
Pamela had her only child taken away from her in a tragic accident; this led to anger, revenge, insanity, and ultimately her violent death at the hands of a woman she (wrongly) blamed for her son’s death. In Freddy Vs Jason, (which I know a lot of people don’t class as canon to the Friday storyline but I do so we’re looking at it), we are shown a slightly different view of young Jason’s death. He still dies in the lake, drowning whilst the counselors get it on, but he’s not swimming, instead, he’s forced into the lake by bullies. He’s actually afraid of water and that’s why they make him do it. This detail gives his death that little extra kick of sadness and the scene makes us feel for Jason in a way the original film didn’t. The scene is, however, part of one of the character’s Freddy-influenced nightmares, so may not be accurate, but it’s a scene that’s always stuck with me so I had to mention it here. If Jason was deformed—as well as being bullied—Pamela would have that extra weight of responsibility on her shoulders. Knowing your child is being bullied is one of the most heart-wrenching situations a parent can find themselves in. You feel helpless, you feel responsible on some levels, but most of all you feel really fucking angry. How dare some other child lay their hands on your pride and joy? What gives them the right to cause your child pain? Why can’t you intervene and beat the child to a pulp? That last one may be just the way I view bullies, but my point is if Jason was being bullied this would only fan the flames of Pamela’s rage and that’s why I think that scene in Freddy Vs Jason is so relevant—rant over.
A more recent version of Mrs. V was given to fans when she—or her voice at least—was used in the popular video game, Friday 13th The Game. I’ve discussed the game before (See my Tommy Jarvis article) so I don’t want to go into it too much, but I had to mention the way the Pamela lore is used and how great I think it is. So, the basic premise is that you play as either a counselor or Jason in an online multiplayer game set in some of the more iconic places from the films. The attention to detail is just insane and really hits the g spot for fans of the film; one of my favorite things about it is the inclusion of Pamela Voorhees. When playing as a counselor, you can find Jason’s cabin—where he has a shrine to his mother, her skull on display with the jumper from the movie. If you’re playing as a girl, you can put the jumper on and trick Jason into thinking that Mommy Dearest is back from the dead! Even better, if you play as Jason you have constant verbal instructions from Pamela, who guides you through your killing. She praises you when you do well, she scolds you when you do bad, she even warns you if someone finds your hut. “They’re trying to take me, Jason, stop them.” It really is an excellent touch and a great addition for the Pam-fans—me included.
There’s nothing Pamela wouldn’t do for her special, special boy. She killed all those counselors for Jason and in return, he kills pretty much anyone that gets in his way for her. I feel like she’s an unsung anti-hero, as so many people think of Jason when asked about Friday 13th. I’m sure horror fans enjoyed the nod to this fact when the 1996 film Scream referenced it in its opening scenes; we all remember Drew Barrymore crying into her phone as Ghost Face snarls “Then you should know Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees, was the original killer! Jason didn’t show up until the sequel.” Pamela should be celebrated more than she is and to me, she has earned her spot in that horror hall of fame, alongside her son; she is a pivotal part of the Friday 13th franchise. She may have gone too far, but really she is just a loving mother dealing with the grief of losing her only child by killing a couple of teenagers. What’s so bad about that? She loved her son more than anything in the world, and for me, that makes her a legend. I quote Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho more than I should, but in this case, a boy’s best friend really was his mother.