The legendary scream queen reveals what its like being mother to Camp Crystal Lake's own Jason Voorhees
On February 3rd, Paramount Home Video will be releasing Friday the 13th Uncut: The Deluxe Edition on both standard DVD and Blu-ray. This gorgeous new transfer is arriving just in time for the upcoming remake, which will actually hit theater screens on Friday, February 13th. Everyone knows that Jason Voorhees ruled Camp Crystal Lake with an iron fist, but in this first chapter of what would become a vary lucrative franchise, it was actually his mother that did all the killing. Poor little Jason didn't surface until the last six minutes of the film. It was one Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, brutally avenging the drowning of her mentally challenged young boy, who made her mark as the original camp slasher. Twenty-nine years later, Mother Voorhees' blue sweater has become almost as iconic as Jason's very own hockey mask. Who was this woman inside that blood-soaked cardigan, you might ask? It was none other than actress Betsy Palmer, who, herself, has become a screen legend. Her likeness has been turned into dolls and action figures, and it adorns nearly ever other black T-shirt at the local horror con. In honor of the original film's upcoming DVD re-release, we caught up with Betsy for a chat about being Jason's crazy mama. Her is that conversation:
Even now, do you still get recognized as Mother Voorhees when you are out on the town?
Betsy Palmer: My goodness, yes! (Laughs) But I don't only get recognized for Friday the 13th. I was on a TV show called I've Got a Secret. I was on that show for ten or eleven years. The older people always remember me from that. Still, some of the young people have seen it. I guess they replay those game shows on The Game Show Network. So, I am always being recognized for both of those things. The younger people know me mostly for being Jason's mother. Not because I look like an old beat-up hag, or anything. I still look exactly like I did when I made the film, to tell you the truth. Even twenty-nine years later.
Do you have any favorite memories from the shoot?
Betsy Palmer: I read the script when I was on Broadway doing a play. My car broke down driving home on the way to Connecticut. It took me over five hours to get home. And it was usually an hour ride. I said to myself, "I've got to get a new car. I just have to." My daughter said, "Look at the Volkswagen Scirocco, they are so cute. With there hind ends up in the air and all." So I did. And it was nine thousand, nine hundred, dollars and ninety-nine cents. I thought, "Oh, great." That was on a Wednesday. My agent called that Friday, and he said, "How would you like to do a movie?" I said, "Great, I would love to! In California?" And he said, "No, it's going to be in New Jersey. And they will pay you one thousand dollars a day." I said, "Wonderful, I just saw a car that I want to buy. That sounds just perfect." And he says, "Well, there is a drawback." And I asked, "What do you mean?" He says, "It's a horror film." And I said, "Ooooooh, no! No, no, no, no! It's bad enough that I'm an actress that wants to be recognized as an actress. Instead I am known for doing game shows. And now I am going to add a horror film to my list of credits? No, no! I don't want to do that." But then I started thinking about that ten thousand dollars. I said, "Send me the script." They sent it over and I read it. And I said, "What a piece of shit! Nobody is ever going to see this thing. What an awful thing this is." It was only ten days work, so I thought, "I'll do it so I can get my car." I called them back, and they arranged for me to do it. I drove up. It was done between Pennsylvania and New Jersey at a Boy Scout Camp called Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. I drove there in my Mercedes, which had already broken down. I was hoping it could get me through the Pocono Mountains. There was a sign that said "Camp Crystal Lake", which I knew was my turnoff to go back into this boy scout camp. I thought that was a good omen, because I'd spent my time growing up, from when I was two years old until I was ten, on a lake in Warsaw, Indiana, called Crystal Lake. I didn't think any more of it. We started shooting. Tommy Savini did a mock-up of my head in a plaster cast. He glued this thing to my head. That poor woman was a mess. Of course I am speaking of my character. I was looking through some Polaroid pictures that he gave me. He wanted me to see his special effects. He was just starting out in the business. I pulled out one of the pictures and said, "Who is this?" And he said, "That's your little boy, Jason." I said, "What? Why does he look so strange?" And Tommy said, "He's a mongoloid." I said, "What? That wasn't in the script." I thought there was a scene that showed a boy's hand, and he was wearing a class ring. So, I thought this film was going to take place during the time I spent in high school. I was in my early forties at the time. Tommy told me, "It wasn't originally in the script that he was all crazy." I don't mean all crazy. I mean that he was born into a condition that wasn't going to make life easy. I decided to make up my own story, because that's what I do as an actress. My teacher always told me, "Your character had a life before she walked on stage. Or before she went in front of a camera." And that is who I bring to it before creating the role for the audience. I have to see her in my own eyes before they can see me. When I went to high school, you usually went steady with just one guy. There was one girl that made it with a number of different guys, but the rest of us didn't. We were all virgins. So, with the idea of this class ring, I had decided that in my story, my boyfriend and I had made love. She became pregnant. She told the boy. He had a fit and screamed, "No, no, no, no! I don't want anything more to do with you! Don't blame me for all of this!" So she didn't let her family know about all of this. Of course, later on, they see that she is pregnant. Her father throws her out of the house and says, "Don't you ever come back! You are a loose woman!" Well, okay, he didn't call her a loose woman. Who knows what he said? "You're a tramp! I never want to see you again!" So Pamela was thrown out. She went to the Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers. I had done a lot of work for the Army, so I knew about this. I figured that's where Pamela would go to have the baby, and she did. She never had any schooling, or any skills of any sorts. She picked up jobs here and there. Then this job as a cook came up at a summer camp. Pamela thought, "How wonderful! I can take my little boy and he can be with other children." Pamela accepted the job. Of course, what happened was this young couple that was supposed to be watching Jason went off to make love. And he drowned. That's all of that. Pamela became this crazed woman. But then I found out that Jason was a Mongoloid as well. I thought, "Oh, my god! Everything has really been dumped all over this poor woman." What Pamela did was try to keep the camp from ever opening again. That was in the first part of the script that I read. I don't ever really look at the movie. I think I've seen it four times since it came out. And I have never seen any of the other ones at all. Even though they asked me to be in two or three other ones, I told them to leave it the way it is. What happens is that I turned into this coo-ka-boo crazy old lady.
We are going to be seeing Jason this weekend. Do you have any words for your son?
Betsy Palmer: (Laughs) Yes, now I do admit that he is my son. Are you going to be seeing one of the guys that play Jason? Or are you just going to see the movie?
Yes. We have interviews with the new cast.
Betsy Palmer: Oh! The new show. I didn't realize that. They did a little thing that wasn't very nice. They were using my voice to advertise the trailer. A lawyer from Paramount called me and asked, "Is that your voice?" And I said, "I never was asked to do anything like that. They said they had hired someone that could imitate me." I am known for my voice, because it evidently has a quality that I never was aware of. But it makes my voice sound very different, and very uniquely my own. The lawyer called me back and said, "Let me play this for you over the phone." I heard it and said, "That is me. That is my voice." I could tell from the inflection. I remembered where I was in that scene. I said, "No, that is definitely me." They have taken that voice off the trailer from what I hear. My daughter said she saw it, and that the voice wasn't there. I have no idea what the new one is going to be about. I will probably not see it. No. I know I will not see it. I will just keep it going as it has been going. I have my own little story about me and my particular Friday the 13th.
Yours is the best one.
Betsy Palmer: The reason is that Sean Cunningham did it on purpose. Or, maybe it was the way it was written. The imagination of the audience was teased nearly the entire time. You almost never see me kill anybody. You only see the aftereffects of the murders. It's your own imagination. That is what titillates and stimulates the viewer. When people visit me at autograph conventions and signings, they always say, "You just don't know how you scared me!" These people are grown up. They say, "When I was a kid, I just couldn't sleep at night." Sometimes they will have babies with them. And they give me their babies, and they take pictures of me holding their baby. When we were shooting, I wore a sweater. I didn't realize that it would become the iconic Mrs. Voorhees sweater. I have one now that is white, that is very reminiscent of the one in the movie. I wear it, and everyone thinks they are seeing the real Mrs. Voorhees. The audience just loves this woman. I have never been able to understand that. I ask them, "Why do you love her so much? Why?" And they tell me, "We understand why you did it." My little background story leading up to my little boy drowning has affected these people. But this lady was psycho to begin with, I think. She just couldn't deal with what was happening to her, and the death of her son pushed her over the edge. But she did it so that other children wouldn't be killed. Or die.
What ever became of your Volkswagen Scirocco?
Betsy Palmer: Darling, that was thirty years ago. (Luaghs) I gave it to my daughter eventually. But acting in Friday the 13th did allow me to buy the Scirocco car. And I drove it for a number of years before giving it to my daughter. It just wore out. You know how cars wear out.
Betsy Palmer: Who would have ever thought that this car would become so meaningful in my career? As far as Friday the 13th is concerned. It really is why I did the movie.
I always thought that was just a rumor.
Betsy Palmer: No! That is the truth. I swear to you. I never would have done this movie if I didn't need the ten thousand dollars. (Laughs) Mmm-mmm. I wouldn't have done it. No way. The universe works in mysterious ways.
It was so awesome getting to talk with you. I hope you have a good day.
Betsy Palmer: I will. And if I don't, it's my own damn fault.
Friday the 13th Uncut [Deluxe Edition], Friday the 13th, Part 2 [Deluxe Edition], Friday the 13th, Part 3 3-D [Deluxe Edition] (which comes with a set of 3D glasses), and Friday the 13th Uncut [Blu-ray] will all hit store shelves this coming Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009.