Off a woodsy dirt road in the Kittatinny Mountain region of northwestern New Jersey, in tiny Sand Pond, a silver canoe is anchored in the exact spot where Jason Voorhees made his first appearance at the end of the 1980 slasher film Friday the 13th.
From my vantage point, the lake, the shore, the canoes racked on the sandy beach, and the rustic log cabins look almost exactly as they did at Camp Crystal Lake, the fictional setting where a group of teens fell to a mysterious murderer stalking counselors in the woods. I can picture a muddy, decomposing Jason popping up, capsizing the canoe and pulling Alice—the last girl standing in the movie’s killing spree, played by Adrienne King—under the water in the film’s final jump scare.
It hits me: “I really am at Camp Crystal Lake!”
Yes, Camp Crystal Lake—chillingly and informally referred to as “Camp Blood” in director Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th—is a real-life place you can tour, along with several other filming spots in the surrounding area of Warren County, New Jersey, not far from the Pennsylvania border. Here, my tour guide tells our group, producers of Friday the 13th found the perfect backdrop, with its aging camp and swampy body of water, for their creepy story.
In real life, the campground is called Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, which stands for North Bergen Boy Scouts. The nearly century-old, 380-acre Boy Scout camp in Hardwick is run by the Boy Scouts of America Northern New Jersey Council. For about two months every summer, campers take part in weeklong sessions, involving activities like swimming, canoeing and crafts.
The camp is off limits to the public during this time, of course. But every spring, early and late summer, and fall, a company run by Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco alumni called Crystal Lake Adventures brings in Friday the 13th props, signs and memorabilia—sometimes even the stars themselves, like King. The outfit has been leading tours since 2011.
A hardcore child of the ‘80s and fan of Generation X campy horror flicks, I never outgrew my teenage tastes. I remember the first time I saw Friday the 13th, and later the rest of the franchise, with nostalgia. The plot goes like this: A young boy drowns at Camp Crystal Lake during the 1950s, and the camp is now cursed; a year later, two camp counselors are brutally murdered. After this flashback opening scene, the film jumps ahead to Friday, June 13, 1980. Camp Crystal Lake is preparing to reopen, despite the death curse rumored to haunt it still more than two decades after the murders, and several teens report to work as counselors. A vengeful slasher, who viewers don’t see until the last 20 minutes of the movie, lurks in the woods and kills the teens one by one. In a big shocker—spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the movie—the killer is a woman named Mrs. Voorhees, a former camp employee and the mother of Jason, the boy who drowned, seeking revenge.
I nabbed a spot on a three-hour, daytime tour in mid-September—a bucket-list experience for me. Tourists were split into two groups, about a dozen people each. The fans were mostly middle-aged Generation Xers, but there were some younger adults, along with one elderly woman whose middle-aged kids talked her into going on the tour.
The staff at Crystal Lake Adventures do not do media interviews or allow any commercial photography. My tour guide said events always sell out quickly, and word-of-mouth among Friday the 13th fans provides plenty of publicity. But while the tour operators were mysteriously mum, horror legend Tom Savini, who created the special effects for Friday the 13th and numerous other scary movies, thankfully shared behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the movie’s monthlong filming session in 1979.
Savini and his assistant, Taso N. Stavrakis, bunked in the cabins at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco during filming, while other crew and cast members stayed in nearby hotels. Living at the camp was a blast, Savini recalls on a phone call, and the two passed their downtime riding motorcycles through the woods, and watching movies like Marathon Man and Barbarella on Betamax, a rival of VHS.
Savini loved creating classic special effects before the modern era of CGI—especially for the most creative and bloody kill scenes in Friday the 13th, like counselor Jack’s arrow-in-the-throat execution and Marcie’s ax in the face. Unlike with CGI, old-fashioned horror scenes require fake blood that needs to be cleaned up.
“It’s a magic trick happening right in front of your very eyes,” Savini says. “We’re training new generations to accept the CGI stuff, and they don’t know the difference.”
At the time of Friday the 13th, Savini thought this was just a one-time, low-budget horror movie about a murderous mother killing camp counselors because her son drowned. Savini intended his lake scene with Jason—inspired by the ending of the 1977 horror film Carrie, where a hand pops out of a grave—to be a dream sequence. But the movie’s success—it grossed nearly $60 million worldwide—made a sequel irresistible. Producers came up with the idea of bringing Jason back as an adult killer in the second movie and asked Savini to participate, but he walked, thinking the concept was silly and implausible.
“I turned it down because I thought it was stupid,” Savini says. “I turned down part two because they had Jason running around…. He came out of the lake and lived off crayfish for many years?”
Savini returned for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter in 1984. The fourth movie truly intended to kill Jason off, Savini says. But money talks, and the franchise continued with a copycat killer in the fifth movie, and a chronically resurrected Jason in the next five Jason films, plus Freddy vs. Jason in 2003. In 2009, a remake of Friday the 13th was released.
“I felt like Dr. Frankenstein,” jokes Savini. “I created this monster in part one, and I got to kill him in part four.”
The tour begins in the dining hall, site of Friday the 13th’s opening flashback scene, where camp counselors sing campfire songs in 1958. The small part of the dining hall we see in the movie looks just the same, with two benches and a guitar standing by the fireplace to jog visitors’ memory of the scene. Some fans wander to the gift shop next door, eyeing Camp Crystal Lake yellow rain slickers just like those the characters wore and “Angry Mother Bottling Co.” jugs filled with souvenir water from the lake. Others pose for selfies in front of the Camp Crystal Lake sign or a green Jeep autographed by cast members, before we break off into smaller groups.
The Jeep is a replica of the 1966 CJ-5 that the wicked Mrs. Voorhees drives in the movie. The vehicle becomes a sinister character of its own; it appears in many scenes, though viewers can’t see who is driving it. In a red herring, Camp Crystal Lake’s owner Steve Christy drives a green Jeep; our guide tells us that the same car was used for both characters, but with different license plates.
The late Betsy Palmer, known mostly for television acting at the time, played the infamous Mrs. Voorhees. Savini recalls how Palmer was reluctant to do a horror movie, but she accepted the role for financial reasons. “She’s a great lady,” Savini says. “She did the part because she needed a new car.”
My tour guide, himself an alum of the Boy Scout camp from the ‘80s, said the producers were looking for a run-down camp—and in 1979, when the movie was shot, Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco fit that description. Scouting leaders agreed to rent the camp out to the moviemakers for $25,000—a figure alluded to in an early movie scene, when a truck driver tells hitchhiking camp cook Annie (Robbi Morgan) that the owners must have spent $25,000 to renovate and reopen the camp. More than 80 percent of the movie was filmed at the site.
For the purposes of the tour, many of the camp’s cabins and buildings are filled with props. Two twin mattresses are set up in the upstairs landing of the storage building where the first two of nine Friday the 13th murders take place. Two camp counselors slip away to fool around in the loft, only to be ambushed by the killer and stabbed to death.
Then, in the main cabin, where Alice and several other counselors hung out by the fireplace and played strip Monopoly, oblivious to the few murders that had already happened to fellow counselors elsewhere at camp, is a staged photo opp—a card table with the board game spread out on it. Near the end of the movie, the body of Brenda, a counselor played by Laurie Bartram, comes crashing through the cabin window—to the horror of Alice, the last one alive at this point. (Brenda’s body was actually a wigged, padded Savini, who as a gymnast served as a stuntman.) Just after that, Mrs. Voorhees, standing in the doorway, says “His name was Jason…,” and reveals herself as the killer.
In Brenda’s cabin, which looks just as it did in the movie, Jack, a counselor played by Kevin Bacon, met his end—one of the most memorable in the entire Friday franchise. As he lies smoking on the bottom bunk, an arm pops up from under the bed to pin down his head; then, an arrow pierces Jack’s neck from below. Savini created the gory illusion by having Bacon poke his head through the bunk behind a fake torso. Crouching under the bunk, Stavrakis pierced the arrow through the fake neck and then pumped blood. Savini recalls the “happy accident” of the hose disconnecting from the pump. Acting quickly, Stavrakis put his mouth on the hose and blew through it; this gave the illusion of blood spurting, which is more realistic. We see a bunk in the spot where this scene was shot.
“The Kevin Bacon kill, that was a lot of fun,” says Savini, who was impressed to see Bacon go on to become a big movie star. “The cast and crew applauded when they saw how it looked.”
While a part of me expects to hear the calling card of the lurking Friday the 13th killer— which sounds like “Ch Ch Ch Ha Ha Ha” after being synthetized, Savini says, but is actually “Kill Kill Kill Ma Ma Ma”—there are no deliberate scares here, like at a haunted house. The experience feels like a tour through pop-culture history rather than a haunted attraction.
The tour winds by Johnson Lodge, the camp office where Alice and Bill, in a dated horror cliché, try to call for help and discover the phone line has been cut. It weaves through a number of other murder sites, too: the generator shed, archery range and the bathroom cabin. The toilets in the bathroom stalls, Savini says, weren’t attached to any plumbing; the producers had installed them as props. He recalls the humorous accident when visiting scouts thought they were working commodes. “The poor art director had to come and clean it up,” Savini says.
I had hoped we would go out onto the lake in a canoe, but that wasn’t included in this tour.
At the end of the tour, our guide gives us a fan-created road map with information about other nearby filming sites. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring—first at Moravian Cemetery in Hope, 13 miles south of camp. This is where a truck driver drops off Annie, the hired camp cook who hitches a ride in the beginning of the film, in an ominous “Easter egg” foreshadowing of her death. Before her ride to the cemetery, Annie had stopped into a Hope general store, now the real-life Hope Junction Antiques. Next to it is the building where Crazy Ralph—the town drunk who warned counselors, “You’re all doomed!”—makes his first appearance.
I grab a grilled cheese and chocolate malt at the Blairstown Diner, located in the tiny town of Blairstown about 6.5 miles north of Hope. It has that stainless-steel roadside diner look and serves up a simple menu to match—classic diner fare like sandwiches, burgers, soups, pancakes and desserts. Opened in 1949, Blairstown Diner has been remodeled inside and out since 1979, and no Friday the 13th memorabilia is on display, but to a fan like myself it’s unmistakable as the restaurant that Camp Crystal Lake owner Steve Christy visits the night he is offed at the camp entrance. The waitstaff is used to welcoming tourists here to commemorate the movie, and cast and crew members have been known to visit on special occasions, like actual Fridays that fall on the 13th of a month.
As I pull out from the diner on to Route 94, I look in my rearview mirror and spot a big car behind me. I gasp as I recognize the make.
It’s a Jeep.
What perfect timing.