Friday the 13th, Part 2 (1981) **˝
It’s a point that is not often appreciated today, but Friday the 13th, Part 2 is at least as significant for the history of the modern horror movie as its predecessor. Sure, the original Friday the 13th set in stone most of the conventions of the slasher film and opened the door for a tremendous explosion of even lower-grade knockoffs, but it is to Part 2 that we must give the credit/blame for resurrecting the horror franchise as a major cinematic phenomenon. As just about everyone has surely noticed, Hollywood in the 1980’s was more sequel-obsessed than it had been at any time since the mid-1940’s. I unfortunately cannot give you a true figure for what proportion of the horror films released during that decade had numerals after the title, but I can supply the following datum by way of illustration: of the 48 movies I’ve seen from the year 1987 that could plausibly be counted as horror flicks, nine— that is to say, nearly 19%— were sequels. Granted, any statistician worth his salt would approach that figure with caution on any number of solid methodological grounds, but I think you’ll agree that it has some value as a rough indicator of general tendency. And as near as I can determine, it was Friday the 13th, Part 2 that let this particular genie out of the bottle. Note, for example, that it wasn’t until after this movie came out that Halloween II arrived on the scene, even though the original Halloween predated the original Friday the 13th by two years, while the owners of the rights to equally important horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and even Psycho waited until after Friday the 13th, Part 2 had tested the waters before embarking on their own sequel binges.
It was also with this film’s release that the Friday the 13th series settled more or less into the form that it would take until the creative floundering began in earnest, with the extremely silly Part V: The New Beginning. For it is in Part 2 that we first encounter the indestructible Jason Voorhees as something more than a flashback or a cheap shock effect, and the series jettisons all pretenses to murder mystery status. That said, it is also necessary to note how greatly this movie differs in detail from its many successors, especially in its characterization of the killer himself. But the most significant point I’d like to raise here is how narrowly Friday the 13th, Part 2 missed its chance to be one of the truly great horror flicks of the 1980’s, through no better cause than an accident of timing and the carelessness of screenwriter Ron Kurz.
The first reel does not augur especially well for what’s to come, but at least it makes clear that the filmmakers recognized that continuity with the first film was a concern. (As for whether they shared that concern with their audience— well, that’s another story...) An impressively lengthy pre-credits sequence (just how lengthy varies from print to print, but if you got your copy from the neighborhood Blockbuster, it’s probably just under ten minutes long) shows us how ex-Final Girl Alice (Adrienne King, the same actress as last time, wearing what must surely be the most hideous overalls ever devised by man) is getting along in the aftermath of her big brush with death. She has pretty much ditched her entire former life, moved out of her parents’ place, and set herself up in a second-floor tenement in a big, decaying Victorian; as she explains on the phone to her mother, she feels some time alone would help her put her life back together. And maybe that would be true under ordinary circumstances, but the presence of a man with very large feet prowling around outside her house strongly suggests otherwise in Alice’s case. And in point of fact, Alice climaxes a rather depressing parade of horror movie cliches (Shower scene? Check. Mysterious telephone call from someone who doesn’t want to talk to her after all? Check. Spring-loaded cat? Check.) by opening her refrigerator and finding Ma Voorhees’s slightly moldy severed head on the top shelf. She doesn’t even have time to finish screaming before somebody big enough to match those feet grabs her from behind and sticks an icepick through the side of her head. (This would be a great place for a Trotsky joke. Unfortunately, I don’t know any.)
The bad omens continue after the credits, when we see Jeff (Dressed to Kill’s Bill Randolph) and his girlfriend, Sandra (Marta Kober, who showed up later in Neon Maniacs and Slumber Party Massacre III), driving a big-ass pickup truck through the same depressed country town we saw the camp counselors traversing at the beginning of the last movie. The two teens pull over near an Exxon station, and run across the street to call their friend, Ted (Stuart Charno, from Christine and Sleepwalkers), from a pay phone. Ted, of course, is the annoying joker— so considerate of the filmmakers to give him a name that sounds so much like that of his counterpart in the previous film— and while he’s on the phone with Jeff, he sends a buddy of his who works at the gas station around in a tow truck to haul Jeff’s pickup away. Oh, the hilarity! My God, but this is starting to look familiar!
Anyway, Jeff, Sandra, and Ted are all would-be camp counselors, and they’re all in town for a big counselor training seminar being conducted by Paul Holtz (John Furey, of Island Claws), who isn’t really quite as big a tight-ass as he seems at first. Paul, for reasons that will be forever shrouded in mystery, has decided that the best place to hold this seminar is in a big damn house on the shores of Crystal Lake, not a mile and a half from the condemned ruins of the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, where the crazed Mrs. Voorhees ruined the place’s grand reopening by turning the camp manager and six counselors into fool-kabobs. Ted knows the story, but he refuses to tell it to his two companions— at least not before lunch.
A real shock confronted me when our heroes finally arrived at the camp. “Holy shit!” I thought, “I’ll never be able to keep track of this many totally expendable characters!” But fortunately, the great bulk of them will be shunted out of the film well before the real action starts, leaving us with a cast of rather more manageable proportions. And as with the original Friday the 13th, most of the characters we need be concerned with can be summed up and dismissed with a single, short phrase. We have Terri (Kirsten Baker, from Please Don’t Eat the Babies and Gas Pump Girls), the girl who wears crop-tops and shorts worthy of a Baltimore Street hooker, and who will later provide us with the series’s first serious nudity. (Ah, the bygone days when aspiring exploitation starlets were content with their own naturally-occurring breasts...) We have Terri’s friend, Vicky (Lauren-Marie Taylor, of Girls’ Nite Out), who despite her more conservative appearance is twice the sexual opportunist that Terri is. We have Scott (Russell Todd, from Chopping Mall and He Knows You’re Alone), who has the hots for Terri, and who thinks girls like it when you do things like shoot them in the ass with a slingshot. We have Mark (Tom McBride), the studly guy in the wheelchair who might have stood a chance of escaping with his life had this movie been made ten years later. And finally, there’s Ginny (Amy Steel, a TV actress who also found time to appear in April Fool’s Day). She’s actually got something that resembles a personality and a backstory, so she’s likely to be our Final Girl. Ginny (unbeknownst to her fellow counselors-in-training) is Paul’s girlfriend; she’s also studying child psychology in college and drives around in an obvious plot device— a mid-70’s Volkswagen Beetle convertible with a crappy starter motor. Like I said, it’s a safe bet she’s the Final Girl.
Yeesh, what a lot of setup! We’re not even done, though, because we still haven’t heard Paul’s “I’m going to give it to you straight about Jason” campfire tale. This is where screenwriter Ron Kurz starts daring the audience to make sense of this movie without completely disregarding the events of the last one. Paul explains that it’s been five years since Mrs. Voorhees’s Friday the 13th bloodbath at Camp Crystal Lake— a bit surprising given the way the film’s been edited up to now, but so far, so good. He talks about how only one girl survived the night, and how she had to decapitate her attacker in order to do it— again, so far so good. But then Paul’s story goes wandering off into left field by asserting that “the old-timers” say Jason Voorhees— whose death by drowning was, you may recall, the entire point of his mom’s killing spree— is “still out there,” that Alice’s disappearance two months after her narrow escape was due to Jason’s revenge, and that Jason will continue to seek revenge “if anyone ever enters his wilderness again.” Verily, I say unto thee: “Huh?” Be that as it may, the scene around the fire is then disrupted by Ted, who leaps out of the bushes wearing some tatty animal skins and a rubber fright mask, brandishing a spear. And yes, my friends— that spear will surely be of some importance later. After unmasking Ted, Paul tells everybody that Jason is “just a legend,” and reminds them that the nearby ruins of Camp Crystal Lake are off-limits.
Okay, so now we can get to the action. First, we get a bit of a teaser, in the form of our old buddy, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney, whose usefulness to the franchise is now apparently at an end), getting garroted by somebody of suggestive size and strength while he pervs on Paul and Ginny making out in her cabin. Then we get the real deal. There are always those in any group of young people for whom a prohibition is nothing more nor less than an invitation to break the rules, and Sandra happens to be one of those people. She talks Jeff into coming with her to snoop around Camp Blood while the rest of the trainee counselors are busy swimming, and gets herself and her boyfriend busted by the cops just in time to avoid some nastier fate at the hands of the POV cam that’s been following them through the woods. After the policeman drops the two trespassers off at Paul’s training camp, he heads back down the road and sees somebody sneaking through the trees around Camp Crystal Lake. Officer Crullers has had just about all he can stand of that sort of foolishness for one day, so he stops the car, gets out, and chases the fleeing prowler all the way to the site of the camp. Inside one of the buildings (which, I might add, look nothing whatsoever like anything from the first film, even allowing for five years’ worth of neglect and decay), he discovers something that he finds most disturbing. He hasn’t got long to be disturbed by it, though, because just then, he gets the sharp end of a claw hammer to the back of the head.
Meanwhile, back at the camp that hasn’t been condemned yet (give it time...), Paul, Ginny, and Ted are getting ready to skip out for a night on the town with all the characters the script hasn’t bothered to give names to. Everybody else decides they’ve got better things to do around the campsite— or, in the case of Jeff and Sandra, are ordered to remain behind as the price for their earlier indiscretion— and thus is the menu of victims laid out for Jason’s perusal. And yes, there’s no question but that the big guy in the overalls who cuts up first Scott, then Terri, then Mark— the guy who runs the happily humping Jeff and Sandra through with Ted’s spear (Holy shit! How do you say “deja vu” in Italian?)— the guy who lies in wait to ambush and butcher Vicky and then drags off her body to hide it somewhere (and note that this is one of a very, very few times in slasher movie history when you actually get to see the killer moving one of the bodies)— really is Jason Voorhees. And back in town, Ginny happens to be speculating over drinks with Paul and Ted just what sort of person Jason would have grown up into, if in fact he really is alive somewhere out in the woods. Then a beer or two later, Ginny and Paul head back to camp, where they will get to find out all about Jason firsthand.
Now despite all the bitching I’ve done so far, Friday the 13th, Part 2 has one major selling point over just about any other slasher movie made before or since: its Final Girl sequence is one of the best there is. The one in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is in the running too, along with Halloween’s, but if you want to see this idea done right, you really need look no further than here. What makes this sequence so good is the characterization of the two principal players: Ginny and Jason. To begin with, Ginny is smart. (Well, most of the time... her brain apparently turns off whenever the screenwriter deems it dramatically convenient.) Whereas most Final Girls initially just run screaming out into the woods, she picks her hiding places well and has the sense to use them strategically, often doubling back to retrace her own steps in an effort to throw her pursuer off the scent. Ginny also spends as much time on the attack as she does running away— in fact, she even gets to rescue Paul from Jason when Paul’s own rescue attempt goes bad in the killer’s lair. And of course, that child psychology she’s studying comes in handy when Jason has her cornered. Ginny eventually ends up in the cabin where the cop met his end earlier, and when she does, she finds the thing that creeped the policeman out so badly— Jason’s shrine to his mother, which incorporates her sweater, her mummified head, and the machete that Alice used to cleave it from her body. While Jason takes a pickaxe to the barred door, Ginny has a sudden epiphany. She pulls on the sweater, grabs the machete, and wrestles her hair into the best approximation of Jason’s mother’s that she can arrange. Then she stands in front of the shrine (blocking the oncoming Jason’s view of the head), and begins impersonating Mom to greater effect than even she probably imagined. This scene struck me as incredibly cheesy when I first saw it in my mid-teens, but it really impresses me now, and the main reason why brings me around to this movie’s portrayal of Jason.
Let me begin by addressing the surprisingly complicated issue of who exactly deserves credit for the part. Attentive viewers have long puzzled over the listing of Jerry Wallace as "the prowler" in addition to Warrington Gillette as Jason; after all, the only prowlers in this movie are Jason and Crazy Ralph, and both of them are otherwise accounted for. Does Wallace’s credit mean that more than one man played Jason in Friday the 13th, Part 2? Indeed it does, but the situation is even more complex than it appears. Wallace is the extremities-only Jason that we see stalking Alice in the pre-credits sequence (shot by the second unit crew), while Gillette was to have played the killer in the main action. At some point, however, Gillette was deemed unsuitable, and he was replaced by Steve Dash (who was given no credit due to some arcane Screen Actors’ Guild rule); exactly how much of Gillette’s footage made it into the final cut is unclear, but it reportedly wasn’t a whole lot. In any case, this is not at all the Jason we know so well from the subsequent Friday the 13th films. Ron Kurz wrote him and the various performers (who manage to convey a great deal of personality despite having no dialogue and a sack on their heads) play him less like a tacky carbon copy of Halloween’s Michael Myers than as a man whose mind has never developed beyond an unusually vicious childhood. There is nothing supernatural about him this first time, nor is there much that could really be called superhuman. If anything, Jason is subhuman, but he is still recognizably a man and not a monster. The differences between this version of Jason and those from the later installments begin with the physical. Dash and Gillette may be awfully big guys, but they are noticeably smaller than Richard Brooker, C. J. Graham, or Ted White, and they’re nowhere near as freakishly hypertrophic as Kane Hodder. Second, apart from the sack he wears on his head, this Jason dresses in more or less ordinary clothes, of the sort you’d expect a man with his lifestyle to wear; Michael Myers’s coveralls make sense because he steals them from a tow truck driver, but there’s no reason why a man who lives in a shack in the forest should dress like an auto mechanic. Finally— and this is a much bigger deal than it might seem at first— Friday the 13th, Part 2’s Jason runs. No marching at a stately pace after frantically fleeing prey for this killer! The more naturalistic portrayal of Jason makes him far more believable and for precisely this reason, Friday the 13th, Part 2 marks the only time in the series’s overlong history when the character came anywhere close to being scary. Of course, that sack-mask helps, too. There could be anything hidden under there, and the fact that it has only one eyehole cut in it suggests all kinds of troubling possibilities. In fact, the bag is so effective that it’s a gigantic letdown when we finally see Jason’s real face at the end of the film. (The unmasking, incidentally, is the one scene that undisputedly does belong to Warrington Gillette.)
There was one thought that kept intruding itself upon my mind while I watched Friday the 13th, Part 2: they should have made this one first. Steve Miner is a much better director than Sean Cunningham, and the movie contains quite a few brilliantly composed shots. My favorite is the one in which Ginny barricades herself into the ruined cabin where Jason lives— while Ginny busies herself barring the door, we can see the killer’s flour-sacked head bouncing after her through one of the windows. The technical aspects of the production are also mostly much better, the cinematography especially; only in the gore department does this movie’s material quality take a backseat to that of its predecessor, and that has more to do with the MPAA than it does with Carl Fullerton, who replaced Tom Savini at the head of the makeup team. As for the creative side of the equation, Ginny is on the whole a stronger heroine than Alice, Jason is far more threatening a villain than his mother, and the abandonment of the original’s clunky, sub-giallo murder-mystery angle does wonders for the movie’s flow. But...
Yes, there’s always a “but,” isn’t there? The problem here is a combination of an egregious disregard for the backstory established in the preceding film, and an utterly slavish determination to recapitulate every single element of the earlier movie that proved even remotely successful. Even if you haven’t yet seen Friday the 13th, Part 2, watching it will give you the feeling that you have if you’ve already watched Part 1. Joe Bob Briggs wasn’t kidding when he said that the Friday the 13th series subscribes to the notion that the best way to make a sequel is to make exactly the same movie over again. But the plot contortions that are necessary to allow this here are such that the movie makes less and less sense with each minute you spend thinking about it, especially when it comes to the relationship between Jason and his mother. I mean, if Jason wasn’t really dead, and was living like an animal in the woods ever since the late 1950’s, why the hell didn’t his mother know about him? Surely she’d have seen him skulking around during the year between his “death” and her own murder of the counselors whose negligence contributed to it?! And if Mrs. Voorhees did actually know that her son was still alive, what on Earth could account for the hints of Norman Bates-like multiple personality disorder she displays while stalking Alice? And what about the first movie’s ending? Cunningham allowed it to go totally unexplained, but the implication here is that Jason really did lunge out of the water to grab Alice and pull her into the lake. The trouble with this is that the Jason who attacks Alice is plainly both a ten-year-old boy and undead— so how can it be possible that Jason is a perfectly healthy 30-year-old a scant two months later?! Had the Friday the 13th series originated with this film, none of these convolutions would have been necessary, the movie wouldn’t have seemed like such a retread, and thus unencumbered, the much longer list of good points that characterizes Friday the 13th, Part 2 would probably have been enough to justify the series’s enormous fan base.