Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
"Friday the 13th" star Betsy Palmer knew what she thought of the film before she lost her head over it.
"I read the script and said, What a piece of junk, " Palmer said.
But the longtime actress, who had acted with Jack Lemmon and dated James Dean, needed a new car.
"I hadnt done a film since the 60s," Palmer recalled.
So junk or no junk, the stage and screen actress agreed to go on a killing spree and lose her head, literally, as Pamela Voorhees, Jasons mother in the 1980 film that inspired the slasher / gore genre. And over the years, Palmer has embraced the fame and glory of a film she never imagined would become a cult classic.
"Friday the 13th" airs at 4:15 p.m. PT/ET Saturday as part of American Movie Classics weeklong "Monster Fest." Its followed by several of the "13th" sequels. (Palmer declined to appear in the other films because of the small roles. "The lines were stupid. At least there was something to do in the first one," Palmer said.)
The first "Friday the 13th" remains the best of the series, Palmer said. "It left so much to your imagination."
But at the time, Palmer expected the film, in which she plays the killer of teenagers at fictional Camp Crystal Lake, to be nothing more than a box-office bomb. She got paid $10,000 for 10 days of work, enough for her to buy a car.
"I used to think I couldnt admit to being in it," Palmer said on the phone from her home in New York City. "I was only in the last 15 minutes."
Palmers 15 minutes of fame grew into 25 years in which she has become a cult icon signing autographs at conventions. She said fans continue to recognize her when shes out shopping.
Palmer, an East Chicago, Ind., woman who turns 79 on Nov. 1, still acts in plays such as "Love Letters" and movies such as this years "The Bell Witch," "Waltzing Anna" and "Penny Dreadful."
She said her "Friday the 13th" character appeals to fans because shes a mother wholl kill for her son and then die for him.
Palmer said she tried to make Pamela Voorhees genuine by crafting a back story for her. Viewers would never see or hear the story, but it gave Palmer the sense of the character. The key details, Palmer said, included the fact Pamela had sex with a boy in high school, which led her to have a baby, Jason. The film established that the Jason had drowned at the camp, and people feared his ghost was killing the camp counselors.
"I wasnt going to admit to the guy with the hockey mask; he wasnt my son," Palmer said. "If he were my Jason, I never would have killed all the kids."
She recalled the cold nights of filming at a Boy Scout camp in a New Jersey city. She and her co-stars would warm themselves by a pot belly stove in a cabin.
A mold of Palmers head was created for the scene in which her head would be slashed off her body.
"They (the crew) said, Hey, dont you want to see your head get chopped off? I said, Youve got to be kidding. I couldnt care less, " Palmer recalled.
Palmer said playing Jasons mother gave her a chance to play something different from her previous girl-next-door roles, although she noted those parts reflected her naturally happy personality.
Her "Friday the 13th" co-stars included a young Kevin Bacon, but the filming schedule didnt put them on the set together. "I never met Kevin," Palmer said. "Theres one degree of separation between us."
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