Did you know that 2022 marks the 42nd anniversary of the original Friday the 13th? Well I did – but then again I’m a big dork when it comes to horror movies. I grew up in the 80’s during the height of the slasher-craze. Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and the guy with all the pins in his head – what was his name? Nail Face, maybe? – I loved them all! But for all the movie monsters of my childhood renaissance, one stands headless and shoulders above the rest… the machete-wielding, Crystal Lake psycho killer Mrs. Voorhees!
Sure, maybe her son, Jason, gets all the attention nowadays – 11 sequels can do that for an undead serial killer – but it was Mrs. Voorhees who got the decade going like a spear through the throat! And while it’s true that the buffoonish-Jason – who was outsmarted by the annoying kid from The Goonies, had a part-time job as an EMT, got beat up by diet-Carrie, and ended up in Vancouver on a boat trip from Jersey to New York – did manage to rack up an impressive body count, he wasn’t even in the first movie! (And no, real fans don’t count the dream sequence at the end, even though the make-up effects were spot on!)
Obviously this is intended to be just a goofy little story since today is, in fact, Friday the 13th of May, 2022. But as I’m writing this right now, it’s actually Monday, May 9th – 42 years to the day that the movie was released. And what makes this so incredibly cool for me – being the giant horror movie dork that I am – is that I got to spend some of today speaking with Taso Stavrakis.
Taso, along with Dawn Kenninger, are the people behind the West Virginia Renaissance Festival. But what you may not know is that Taso is regarded as one of the principal creative minds responsible for establishing the Friday the 13th franchise, as well as for creating some of the most memorable moments in cinematic-history. And now, just a few weeks shy from the Renaissance Festival opening its gates in the Greenbrier Valley on June 4, Taso took some time to reminisce, and make my inner 80’s-kid, horror movie dork’s dreams come true.
“We had no idea it was gonna be a big cult favorite. It was just a low budget movie,” Taso told me. “I went to school with Tom Savini at Carnegie Mellon, and we had done Dawn of the Dead. He was doing this horror thing up in the Poconos, and I said that sounds like fun. We had no idea it was gonna be the big deal that it was.”
The only Friday film which Taso worked on was the original. And while his face is never visible, Taso’s presence is felt throughout the movie – in front of, behind, and, in one very famous case, below the camera. So, in light of everything I’ve said, you can imagine how hard it was for me to admit to Taso that my favorite Friday-movie is actually Part Two…
“So here’s something, Steve Miner, the producer from the first one, called me at Tom’s house and said ‘We’re going to make a sequel,’” Taso explained. “‘Do you wanna be Jason?’”
For Part Two, the now much older Jason Voorhees was to be the primary antagonist. And as Taso had done the majority of the stunts in the original, he was the logical choice to play the character.
“I said ‘Nah, I don’t think so,’” Taso recalled, with a laugh. “There was silence on the other end of the phone. He asked if I wanted to think about it, and I said ‘Nah, I just don’t like sequels, you know? I don’t think it’s a good idea.’”
At this point, I felt compelled to comfort Taso by reminding him that, had he accepted the part, he would not have donned the now legendary hockey mask.
“No – it was a bag! A burlap sack!” Taso said, laughing even louder.
Despite passing on the chance to play Jason, Taso’s legacy within the Friday the 13th franchise is revered, nonetheless. He was the first killer seen on-screen in any of the films when he helped an unlucky Robbie Morgan shuffle off her mortal coil, and his quick thinking made Kevin Bacon’s death scene one of the most imitated special-effects of the last 40 years.
“Stabbing Kevin Bacon in the throat was pretty fun,” Taso shared. “It was fun until I almost choked on the blood.”
The brilliance of the scene was the result of a fortuitous equipment malfunction, and Taso’s dedication to his craft.
“My lap was getting wet,” he explained. “I looked down, and the tube had come off of the pump. So all of the blood, instead of shooting out his neck, was spilling out in my lap under the bed. I knew we could only do it once because Tom had already punched a hole in the latex with the arrow – Tom was working the arrow. Then he let go to work the pump – this old brass fire extinguisher, I think it was. He pushed it so hard that it shot the tube right off the end. So I just grabbed the tube, stuck it in my mouth and blew as hard as I could. And that’s what gave it the arterial-spray – the realistic look. Then I had to go wash my mouth out because part of the original formula included Kodak photoflow, which is highly poisonous. After that, we talked to (make-up effects artist) Dick Smith. He said ‘Well, if you’re putting it in your mouth, don’t use the photoflow,’” Taso chuckled. “And we said ‘Oh, that makes perfect sense!’”
Taso also left an indelible mark on my personal favorite scene in the film, the climactic death of the vengeful Pamela Voorhees.
“When the head gets chopped off, that’s me,” Taso shared. “We stuck the head on my shoulders and I ducked down under the sweater, and you can see my hairy knuckles.”
After a solid minute of laughter from both of us, Taso continued, saying “Sean Cunningham (the film’s director) said ‘Reach up like you’re looking for your head.’ And I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense, but I’ll do it.’ – oh, we had so much fun!”
What I found most interesting, however, was when Taso shared with me his favorite memory of filming Friday the 13th.
“Part One was just so cool. We had a great time – everybody was really friendly,” Taso said. “Kevin Bacon wasn’t a big star at the time. Besides Betsy Palmer – who was just as sweet as could be – the most famous person on the set was Harry Crosby, who was Bing Crosby’s son. When we were in the shop sculpting and painting, Harry Crosby would come in and play his classical guitar.”
Forty-two years have passed since the release of Friday the 13th, and Taso Stavrakis has gone on to become a celebrated icon of both film and live performance. And now, all us Mountaineers are able to claim him as one of our own. You can catch Taso at The West Virginia Renaissance Festival, scheduled to kick off the 2022 season on Saturday, June 4.
In the meantime, have a spooky Friday the 13th, everybody! I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it!