Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH was such a massive, unexpected hit that it left fans hungry for more, and Paramount Studios money hungry. A week shy of a year later, and FRIDAY THE 13TH hit theatres. As the first flick dispatched its killer Mrs. Voorhees, the sequel would cement Jason Voorhees among the slasher icons of the 1980s. The sequel is not only an improvement in just about every single way over the first, but it’s also my favorite. Well-acted, compactly written with somewhat fleshed out characters, it sports a pre-hockey mask Jason who’s all kinds of creepy. It’s also got the best lead girl in the series, a college psych student who brings it to Jason, instead of waiting to die. In my estimate, she’s also the most attractive. Other entries in the franchise would be more profitable, and better loved by fans, but I’ll argue none of them are better made, nor a better thrill ride.
In my time-honored tradition that I started with PART III, I’ll discuss two topics of interest for PART 2, as they match the sequel number (though I’m likely to cheat, as that leaves me very little leeway to discuss my favorite sequel). But first, I’ll discuss two of the things I liked least about the film. Let’s have at it.
The Opening 14 Minutes
When I say this is my favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH flick, I mean the last 72 minutes of it are. The story of this particular set of camp counselors doesn’t begin until after the opening credits, so in order to get to the good stuff, you really have to skip the first 14 minutes. I know, no reviewer would ever advise you to cut out 16% of a flick, let alone the first 16, but it has absolutely zero effect on the plot. So why is it here? To tie up the loose ends of the loose ends of the last flick.
I’ll summarize the opening, as to do so would be what a major part of the segment does for the first film. Alice is now living somewhere close to Camp Blood and is struggling with the death of her friends and her killing of Mrs. Voorhees. As she cries sleeping, her nightmare recaps the final battle of the first flick, slow motion shots and all. She wakes up, argues with her mom about her therapy, takes a shower, avoids a leaping cat jump scare, and opens a fridge to get herself and the cat a snack. There’s a Hell of a reveal, and then Jason Voorhees claims his victim, the first of many, many victims.
I’m sure fans of the first film were happy to see Alice again, but there is no valid reason for this sequence. Alice and the major players never interact, as she’s gone by the time we meet them. It kind of sets up Jason, but the rest of the flick does a better job of that. There’s no direct line between any of the action and what is to follow. The only tangential reasons I can speculate are padding the runtime, and giving fan service by inviting back a favorite character. Neither of which justifies the scene’s inclusion.
It also leaves open a lot of questions. Why is Alice recuperating so close to Camp Blood? Why hasn’t she returned to California? Why does she have such a large house, and how can she afford it on a camp counselor’s salary? How did Jason find her? Does he like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song? How did he travel out of the woods and around civilization with his surprise for Alice under his arm? You won’t get the answer to any of these, because once the segment is over, director Steve Miner and writer Ron Kurz discard the events.
There’s a blessing, though, which was likely unintentional. With only 72 minutes to tell its story, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is lean and compact. It hits the ground running, and holds a steady pace straight through to the end. And on the subject of the ending…
The Confusing Ending
The opening 14 minutes are unnecessary, but the last few are unnecessarily confusing. Just when it appears Jason is finished, the leads return to the cabin, only to have a literal jump scare, with Jason and a window. It would make more sense if this were a dream sequence, as it’s hard to figure why he’d leave anyone alive at the end if he had the chance to kill them all. Add to that the question of whether another character lives or dies, and this could’ve been a much tighter ending. If only Miner and Kurz had crafted a more cohesive ending. It’s a shame the whole story falls apart at the end, but I don’t let it squash the high marks the rest of the film achieved.
So the beginning and the end of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 are no great shakes. But everything that comes between is.
Psychology and Jason
“What if there is a Jason?…What if there is some kind of boy-beast running around Camp Crystal Lake? Let’s try to think beyond the legend, put it in real terms. I mean, what would he be like today? Some kind of out-of-control psychopath? A frightened retard? A child trapped in a man’s body?…He’d be grown by now, right?”
If you want to know why PART 2 is my favorite of these movies, you need to start with this dialogue. It shines a light on the psychology of why Jason Voorhees is what he is.
Ginny Field poses these questions, and it’s no surprise that she’s the one trying to piece a puzzle together. Earlier, she’s been established as a child psych student (in a line that’s pure exposition dump, of which there are many). While Crazy Ralph seems to be in the know about Jason, and the sheriff just wants to keep all things Camp Blood quiet, the rest of the characters treat Jason as a legend. But Ginny ponders deeper. Over beers in a local honkytonk, she poses them to Paul and Ted, who blow them off. But she’s also posing them to the audience, trying to stir us into thinking why the maniac we’ve come to see wants to slaughter a bunch of camp counselors. Critics of the slasher boom in the 80s always railed against teens flocking to theatres to see bloodshed (Roger Ebert did so, in fact, in his review of this film). PART 2 asks its audience to speculate about what’s going on in the killer’s head. I don’t know how teens watching in 1981 felt about this—or if they even cared—but I applaud the effort.
What’s really scary is the answers to all her questions are “Yes.” As Ginny is soon to find out, Jason Voorhees is a boy-beast, an out-of-control psycho, a frightened retard, and a child trapped in a man’s body. This is not some steady-walking, bulked out killer with confidence (which he’ll start to become in the next flick), but more like what a feral man-child would be. He runs through the woods with the sheriff chasing, leading the cop to his shack. It’s a ramshackle dump, thrown together by a beast instead of a carpenter (as the son and brother of carpenters, I can vouch the Fasso clan would not approve). Jason is clumsy and appears frightened when he doesn’t clearly have the upper hand. But like any wild animal, he’s also dangerous. And he’s motivated to kill.
“And you know, the only person that ever knew him was his mother. He never went to school, so he never had any friends…She was everything to him….I mean I doubt Jason would have even known the meaning of death, or at least until that horrible night. He must’ve seen the whole thing happen. He must’ve seen his mother get killed, and all just ’cause she loved him. Isn’t that what her revenge was all about? Her sense of loss, her rage at what she thought happened? Her love for him? Bizarre, isn’t it?…He must be out there right now crying for her return. Her resurrection.”
In the second half of her dialogue at the bar, Ginny sets up that motivation, for Paul and Ted, but again, also for the audience. Following in the bloodstained footsteps of Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees is a mama’s boy. That surprise in Alice’s fridge confirms this, as it returns in his battle with Ginny. It’s never clear just why Jason didn’t reconnect with his mother before her death, but he sure has now. Without any resurrection coming, Jason has resurrected her maniacal killer spirit in his own work. In a demented way, it’s kind of touching. Jason’s way of keeping his mother alive is the slasher film’s version of keeping mom’s ashes in an urn, setting her trinkets up around it, and visiting it on the mantle every day. I lost my mom seven years ago, and I talk to her every day. She talks back to me. Am I filling in her half of the dialogue in my head, or is she actually speaking from beyond? In the end, it doesn’t matter, as long as we talk. Jason’s mom was a murderous psycho, and I’m thankful I didn’t have that going against my mom.
In her big battle with Jason, Ginny uses her psychology to flip the script. Putting on Mrs. Voorhees’ blue sweater from the first film, she plays on Jason’s childlike mind and his love of mom. It’s a brilliant move, which bears out that PART 2 is just a bit more profound than any other entry in the franchise. And it also sets Ginny apart from all the other women in these flicks. Ginny is scared, sure, but she’s also proactive and smart, and finds a way to outsmart Jason and bring the fight to him, instead of running from it. It would be another three years before Wes Craven would bring proactive Hell of Famer Nancy to the screen in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, so Kurz and Miner should get credit for being ahead of the curve in crafting a female lead in a horror flick who does more than fall down and wait for a man to save her.
A Rare Use of Atmosphere
FRIDAY THE 13TH flicks aren’t exactly known for their great ambience. PART 2, pleasantly, provides some. When counselors Jeff and Sandra first arrive in town, there’s a playful atmosphere as Ted plays a prank on them. Along the ride to the camp, Miner lays in signs of trouble: a tree blocking the road, a left-behind Camp Crystal Lake sign, and Ted’s statement that the couple won’t want to hear about that camp before lunch. Once nighttime sets in, there’s the scary story around the fire (ever-popular in early 80s slashers), and even with some cheap jump scares thrown in, the flick establishes that once darkness falls, doom comes with it. Harry Manfredini’s score, which worked so well in the original, adds to the scares.
Given only 72 minutes with which to play, the flick keeps the tension torqued, and once it starts going, it doesn’t stop. Even the scenes of counselors flirting as they head toward sex don’t slow things down, as this early in the franchise there was still a buildup when a teen chose to skinny dip along the way to her eventual death. There’s no real fat to cut, and the pacing is a blessing.
This is Jason’s first full-time gig, and his look adds to the feeling of dread. While most fans prefer the hockey mask, I’ll take his potato sack with the one eye hole in PART 2. He’s more rustic in his overalls, boots and flannel, and that’s a lot creepier than his jumpsuit in later entries. For the only time in the franchise, Jason is scary. And I don’t get scared much at horror flicks anymore.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 will always be my FRIDAY flick. It’s competently made, with likable characters all around and a compact script that, once it’s past the opening credits, flows much like the blood of its victims. It’s scary within a franchise that generally isn’t, and it dares to ask questions that no dumb slasher ever would. Many more would follow, but none would do the franchise better.