Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Movie Review
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Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Director: Steve Miner

Starring: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stu Charno, Warrington Gillette, Walt Gorney, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd, Betsy Palmer

Few film series have left critics so baffled by the level of their success as “Friday the 13th.” Most of them find the bleak, violent world it depicts to be distasteful. Even the original film’s creators had no idea that it would strike such a chord with horror fans. But they were just as eager to put together a sequel, and those among us who DID thoroughly enjoy the first film eagerly ate up the second helping just as easily. Originally, the plan was to make “Friday the 13th” into an anthology series, with some new superstition-related happening taking place in each subsequent film. John Carpenter had that idea for “Halloween,” and “Halloween III” was so lackluster that the decision was made… albeit minus Carpenter’s input… to return to the legend of Michael Myers. “Friday the 13th Part 2,” based on the popularity of the jump scare ending to “Friday the 13th,” elects to skip the risky anthology idea all-together and continue the Voorhees family tradition of death and mayhem. Never mind that the film has its problems. Never mind that it has maybe two characters who gain anything resembling a backstory, and never mind that certain parts of it just don’t make any damn sense at all. “Friday the 13th Part 2,” like its predecessor, works not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it.

Two months after the events of “Friday the 13th,” Alice (Adrienne King), the lone survivor of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer)’s bloody rampage, is still having nightmares. She lives alone, answering routine phone calls from her worried mother. Exactly where Alice is currently residing is never really clear, although it’s made apparent that it is a suburban area of some kind. What is made clear is that someone is stalking her. They even call and hang up, leading her at first to believe it’s her mother calling once again. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for Adrienne King to film these scenes, given that she’d acquired a very real-life stalker following the success of “Friday the 13th.” As a result of this, King wanted her role in “Part 2” to be as small as possible. She got her wish in the most clever thing this movie does by killing off Alice within the first ten minutes. I’m not sure whether or not that makes this the first horror sequel to start with the murder of the previous film’s survivor, but it remains an effective tool, because this reminds the audience that no one is safe.

Five years pass between the prologue and the rest of the film. We look in on a group of camp counselors-in-training, at a facility headed by Paul Holt (John Furey). Although he’s not technically supposed to, Paul fraternizes with a member of his staff, Ginny (Amy Steel). In casual conversation, it’s mentioned that Ginny is a child psychology major. That right there is enough to tell us that Ginny is our new lead character. Because of the training facility’s close proximity to the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, stories of the drowned Jason Voorhees and his grief-stricken mother are told around the campfire, and brought up again later at a bar. Ginny poses a ‘What if?’ scenario concerning the legend of Jason Voorhees. What if Jason really did survive, that he saw his mother being killed in self-defense by Alice, and that he took his revenge? ‘What would he be like today?’ she asks. It’s only by sheer luck that her drunken theories provide a 100% accurate representation of what really happened.

As it turns out, bar hopping actually saves lives in this movie. Many unnamed counselors who go out for “a night on the town” do the smart thing by not returning right away. The redheaded prankster Ted (Stu Charno) even considers finding an after-hours bar. In fact, of the group who goes out to get shitfaced, only Paul and Ginny return. When they do, not only are they soaked head-to-toe from the rain, but they’re also worried. All the lights have been left on, no one seems to be around to answer their calls, and at least one mattress is stained with blood. Soon the lights go out, followed by the appearance of a very much alive Jason Voorhees. He attacks Paul first and then gives chase to Ginny, first from one cabin to another, and then finally out to Jason’s makeshift shack. The back room is a shrine to his dead mother, her decapitated head and blood-stained sweater surrounded by candles and the remains of Alice, as well as the fresh corpses of counselor Terri (Kirsten Baker) and a sheriff’s deputy who got too curious. This shrine gives Ginny the idea that she was right about Jason being like a child trapped in a man’s body. She puts her child psychology to good use by posing as Mrs. Voorhees, stall tactics which end up saving her life long enough to escape with Paul’s help.

As enjoyable as this sick little slasher film is, it doesn’t come without certain frustrations. For one thing, it’s way too short. After that ten-minute opening, which the main title credits expand to twelve, you’re left with a mere seventy-four minutes (counting the end credits) to tell the main story. Before you’ve even had time to immerse yourself in the environment, the show’s over. It’s also edited to hell. Thank Paramount Pictures for that, and this was only the first of many “Friday the 13th” films to get hit by the censorship bug. Several of the murder scenes are quite clearly less gory than originally intended, most notably the double kill with the spear, which is taken directly from Mario Bava’s 1971 film “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (a.k.a. “Bay of Blood”), a direct ancestor of “Friday the 13th.” See that movie to find out how this scene was intended to play itself out in “Friday the 13th Part 2.”

Other questions erupt, such as how Jason knew where to find Alice and how he got there. I would have better luck in solving a Rubik’s Cube than in figuring out the ending to this movie. It’s complicated by the bad decision to try and redo the first movie’s jump scare, the one where young Jason jumps out of the lake to attack Alice in her canoe, which turned out to be a dream sequence. This time, Ginny is attacked by the adult Jason (whose overall look at this point had yet to be refined) when he comes crashing through the window of her cabin. Again, the attack happened only in her mind. The problem arises when you’re trying to figure out exactly when Ginny’s hallucination begins. It’s clear that Jason was real, and that he really killed a lot of her friends (possibly including Paul), but at what point she lost consciousness will always remain a mystery. Maybe it happens after Jason injures Ginny’s leg in the scuffle inside the shack, but I can’t really say. Oh, well.

Despite my list of queries and confusions, “Part 2” still ranks near the top of the franchise. The one thing I keep coming back to is how much I love horror movies from the late 70’s/early 80’s era, of which “Friday the 13th” and its earliest sequels are the prime example. The styles, the music, the pre-AIDS carefree attitude towards sex… even down to the quality of the film the movie is printed on. If I were to produce my own horror movie, I would want it to have the same overall look as “Friday the 13th Part 2.” I would love to be able to accidentally create a horror icon whose popularity spans generations. I just wouldn’t want my movie to be as much of a head-scratcher.

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Comments
  1. Fingerling says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Great read 🙂

  2. Sylvia Williams says:

    I loved your conclusion and your explanation of why you especially like the 70’s/80’s horror films!

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