There’s a concept in literature called Defamiliarization. It’s a technique of making something familiar seem unfamiliar, as if you are looking at it for the first time. In his essay “Art as Technique,” Viktor Shklovsky writes: “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” He continues by emphasizing that we are meant to feel things, not simply see them. For Shklovsky, our habits become familiar and this dulls our perceptions. Art’s job is to mess with that perception so that we may go beyond the “knowing” of things. The more complicated this process is, the more it lengthens our experience with these perceptions. This process becomes an “aesthetic end in itself.” My favorite idea of Shklovsky’s is that “Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important.”
One of the most missed trivia questions of all time has to be “Who is the killer in the movie Friday the 13th? The kneejerk response of course is Jason, but it’s incorrect. It’s Pamela Voorhees, Jason’s mom. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen this movie or heard this information in the last 34 years…you deserve to have it spoiled for you!
The movie was body slammed by critics when it first came out. Gene Siskel even went so far as to publish the addresses of people associated with the film to encouraging decent people to write and shame them! It was shot on a budget of around $550,000. In adjusted dollars for today’s market that would be around 4.4 million and also in adjusted dollars…it raked in around $118 million. I’ll take a flop like that any day!
I think the film was so successful because it Defamiliarizes the institution of motherhood for us. We see mothers all around us. They have babies and go to the PTA and lug diaper bags and go to T-ball games, but in this film…Mom wields a machete and kills teenagers. It’s kind of awesome because she does it because she’s pissed that they let her son drown. It’s revenge on a hot plate. Who wouldn’t want a mother who would kill for them? But it’s so unfamiliar to us that it disturbs us on an artistic level. It almost raises serial killing to an art because it also is Defamiliarized in this film. We expect serial killers to be men. The last thing that gets Defamiliarized is the innocent Camp Crystal Lake. Even the name sounds so wonderful, yet it gets the nickname Camp Blood.
It’s a hat trick! Shklovsky writes, “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life,” and it’s life itself that Pamela Voorhees is avenging. The life of her son so casually unguarded by teenagers more interested in sex is what drives her to extremes. By the end she is almost a mythical Minotaur who can only be stopped by beheading it. It rocks our perceptions of what “MOM” can mean while raising the art of Mom-ness to new levels. That’s the beauty of Defamiliarization.