[In honor of Women in Horror Month, author Nicholas Kaufmann stops by the Abattoir with an awesome piece about one of the genre's unsung heroines...]
It was Halloween night, sometime in the mid-1980s, and all day long I’d been waiting for midnight to come, because that was when MTV had announced it was going to show Friday the 13th. I’d seen plenty of horror movies by then, of course, both in theaters and on VHS (look it up, kids), but never this one. To my feverish teenaged mind, the original Friday the 13th was the godfather of graphic violence, the emissary of explicit gore. Later, of course, I would discover films that make Friday‘s on-screen antics look like The He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special, but that night, as the clock ticked toward show time, there was a sense of taboo in the air. I was overcome by the same dreadful anticipation you get when daring yourself to hold your hand over a candle flame, or to touch a dead squirrel you found in the park. Would I come out the other side unchanged?
Picture the scene: Me in my pajamas, bedroom lights off, the thirteen-inch color TV at the foot of my bed on but with the volume turned low so my mom won’t hear. I’m anxious and a little scared before the movie even starts. Then, just a few minutes into the film, Robbi Morgan walks into a local diner and asks for directions to Camp Crystal Lake – and everything changes. As Annie, the new cook at the camp, she’s perky, cute, friendly, and has pretty hair, in an ’80s sort of way. I fell instantly in love with her. Images of our happy future together danced in my head as, for a moment, I forgot exactly what kind of movie this was. Surely I would be spending two glorious hours with Annie, sharing her backpacking adventures across America!
Of course, as anyone who’s seen the movie can attest, Annie’s presence in my world was short-lived. She ignores crazy old Ralph when he gibbers about Camp Crystal Lake’s “death curse,” catches a ride with exactly the wrong person, and winds up getting her throat slashed in the woods. She’s not technically the first victim in the film – that dubious honor goes to 1958 camp counselor Barry, the hound dog of the prologue, who’s about to rock around the clock with his best gal Claudette when the slashing starts – but Annie feels like the first because we’ve just spent several minutes with her and we like her. She didn’t deserve that, she was so nice! my young self thought, horrified by what I’d just seen. From that moment on, I was hooked. Not just on the movie, but on the slasher subgenre itself. Because if this one scene could affect me so emotionally, I figured surely other slasher films could too.
Robbi Morgan didn’t act much after Friday the 13th. She guest starred on the Lee Majors series The Fall Guy, did some TV movies, and had a long run in an Anaheim dinner theater production of A Chorus Line, but she never reached the heights of fame her Friday cast mate Kevin Bacon did. However, she did accomplish something amazing, something even Mr. Six-Degrees-Of couldn’t. She and her feathered Farrah ‘do and awesome backpack opened up a whole new world for me that dark Halloween night. A world of films where deranged killers, masked or hideously disfigured or both, take out their issues on unsuspecting victims, often on holidays or other significant calendar days. Films where the past comes back to haunt the guilty and innocent alike, where vengeance and madness meet on the edge of a knife. Everything that followed in my life as a grown-up Monster Kid – the countless hours I spent in movie theaters watching monsters and maniacs do their thing, the collection of Argento, Bava and Fulci DVDs cluttering my shelves – can all be traced back to that fateful night I saw Annie die so ignobly in the New Jersey forest at Pamela Voorhees’ hand.
It’s funny I lamented that Annie didn’t deserve her fate, because as the slasher subgenre became ubiquitous and the films grew sluggish and lazy, such a thought rarely came to me again about an on-screen victim. The movies changed. They stopped being mysterious or scary and became about “cool kills,” about watching the clock until the blood starts flowing, and rooting on the slashers as they take out the cannon fodder. In just her few minutes of screen time, Annie is ten times the character you find in later slasher films, and her death is a lot more affecting, and a lot more heartbreaking, than, say, Jason punching Julius’ head off his shoulders in the eighth and arguably worst entry of the franchise, Jason Takes Manhattan.
Perhaps that’s one reason why I’m not the sole member of the Cult of Annie.
“Annie deserves the love,” agrees journalist Stacie Ponder, whose award-nominated blog, Final Girl, has been serving up an affectionate and hilarious take on slasher films since 2005. “As we’re now past the thirtieth anniversary of Friday the 13th, Annie may seem like just another unlucky camp counselor in three decades’ worth of victims. The truth is, she was a game-changer in the genre, much like the film in which she met her untimely, bloody demise. Impossibly perky and charming, ready to face the future and get her life started, Annie is the sweet, good girl who makes it until the end of the picture…or she should. She just seems so damn capable, and as a viewer you immediately connect with her and get that ‘Oh, she’ll be the Final Girl’ feeling. Instead, she’s quickly dispatched in the woods before she ever sets her sights on Camp Crystal Lake.
“When the sharp edge of Mrs. Voorhees’ butcher knife meets Annie’s throat, it’s explicit, graphic, and a shock to the system. Unlike its largely bloodless predecessors Halloween and Black Christmas, Friday the 13th really put the ‘slash’ in ‘slasher,’ never turning the camera lens away from the violence. Annie’s death became the herald of the slasher age…and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.”
I couldn’t agree more. So this Women in Horror Month, I’m sending a valentine to Annie, and to the actress who brought her to life, Robbi Morgan. In the secret places of my heart, the woods protected you from Mrs. Voorhees, and you got away, just like we knew you would.
Nicholas Kaufmann is the Bram Stoker Award, Shirley Jackson Award, and Thriller Award-nominated author of Walk In Shadows, General Slocum’s Gold, Hunt at World’s End (as Gabriel Hunt), and Chasing the Dragon. In addition, his fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various books and magazines, and his monthly columns on the horror genre ran in Fear Zone and The Internet Review of Science Fiction.