TGIF13 – Day Two: Friday the 13th Part 2

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TGIF13 continues, with a look at what some might consider the real start of the series, thanks to a certain hockey ma….errr…burlap sack-wearing madman. That’s right, Jason is here to slice and dice. How does his first go at the series’ main villain stack up to the original film? Read on to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS A-HEAD.

“A head.” Like Mrs. Vorhees’ severed head. Get it?? Ahh, never mind…

FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 2 (1981)

Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Ron Kurz

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THE PLOT

Just a couple months after surviving her horrible ordeal, Friday the 13th‘s heroine, Alice, is killed by a mysterious intruder in her own home.

Five years later, in 1984, a group of teen counselors have arrived to start prepping a new camp, which just happens to be right down the shore from the now condemned Camp Crystal Lake. Not surprisingly, the kids decide to ignore both the warnings of Crazy Ralph and local legend, which states Jason Voorhees is actually still alive and waiting to kill anyone who comes into the area.

The whole “not listening to the warnings” thing is always a bad idea in these kinds of movies, and sure enough, the counselors are soon being dispatched by an unknown killer…but we all really know who it is, of course. In the end, two of the group (Paul and Ginny) are left to do final battle with a very-much-alive and very-pissed-off Jason, who – it turns out – lives in the woods and continuously seeks revenge for his slain mother…whose severed head he just happens to keep in the shack he calls “home.”

NOW you get that "spoilers a-head" joke, right?

NOW you get that “spoilers a-head” joke, right?

MY THOUGHTS:

Now this is more like it.

The first Friday was an interesting but ultimately underwhelming experience. Part 2 is a definite improvement, and a much better indication of why the series became so popular. Obviously, a lot of it has to do with the ascension of Jason to main antagonist status, but it would be a little lazy to say that’s the only way in which the sequel surpasses the original (not to mention a tad unfair, since Mrs. Voorhees was one of the few truly enjoyable elements of the first movie).

In truth, there are quite a few ways in which Part 2 betters the first film, not the least of which is its group of potential victims. Admittedly, this is an even more stereotypical gang of kids than last time (the nerd, the sexpot, the kid in a wheelchair who isn’t going to let his handicap define him), but the difference is that they are nowhere near as annoying. In fact, this is actually a pretty likable bunch. Unlike last time, their goofing off and interaction with one another never seems forced or disingenuous. I don’t think it has anything to do with any real acting ability or anything (and there are certainly no Kevin Bacon-like future stars in this lot). Maybe these actors just got along better or something. Whatever the case, they just feel more real – like a group of kids you wouldn’t mind having to spending a summer with – and, as a result, you’re slightly more attached to them once they begin getting picked off.

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Friday the 13th: Part 2 also benefits from dropping the “whodunit” aspect of the first film. As I said in yesterday’s review, that element didn’t really work anyway, since the film failed to provide any helpful clues before finally just having the killer show up and introduce themselves to both the main character and the audience. This time around, there’s never any question who the killer is. The audience knows Jason is the culprit from the very beginning (even if the characters don’t), and that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with a good mystery in theory, but a series like Friday the 13th isn’t really the proper showcase for that kind of storytelling. Better to just give the audience an identifiable boogeyman, and then let them root against (or even cheer for) him from the get-go.

And while I might have dissenters on this view, I’d also argue that Part 2 is a step-up in the overall filmmaking presentation. Not wanting to be pigeonholed as “the Friday the 13th guy,” Sean Cunningham decided against helming the sequel, opening the door for Steve Miner, associate producer of the first film, to take over the director’s chair. Aided by a bigger budget, and the hindsight of what did and didn’t work in the first film, Miner was able to craft a superior product. Not only does it look better, but Miner also establishes a much stronger sense of pace and rhythm than his predecessor.

Also, which I have nothing against Adrienne King as Alice in the first movie (and it’s a nice treat to see her return here, even if only briefly), I definitely think Amy Steel as Ginny is a much more likable and bad-ass Final Girl. Of course, it helps that her final battle with Jason is a lot more exciting than just having the killer show up and spout exposition for awhile.

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On the special FX front, horror-fans might be a little disappointed to find out Tom Savini chose not to return for this second trip to Crystal Lake, at least partly because he was against the idea of Jason even being revealed as anything more than a dream. Yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer, but it all worked out in the end. Savini instead went to work on the excellent Friday the 13th-esque film The Burning (one of the high-points of the entire slasher sub-genre), Meanwhile, his Part 2 replacement, Carl Fullerton, does a pretty darn good job here. He might not be the FX legend that Savini is, but judging by this movie he sure knows how to kill teenagers dead (you know…figuratively speaking).

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In all honesty, there are a few minor strikes against Part 2, but even most of those can be explained away – or at least forgiven – when you consider the time period. For instance, it might seem unnecessary to start the film off with nearly six minutes of footage from the previous movie’s climax (beginning a tradition that would continue for the next couple installments), but one has to remember that this was before home video had really taken off. Most of the audience probably hadn’t seen the first film since its theatrical run, and therefore might actually be grateful for the recap. And, truth be told, these recap sequences aren’t really that annoying when you’re watching the individual movies spead out over various times. It’s only when you’re doing a marathon of all of them in a short span of time that they become tedious. And who would be dumb enough to do that? Oh…wait.

Alright, though, I suppose you can only go so long before you just have to talk about this movie’s star attraction. Obviously, Friday the 13th: Part 2 will always be remembered as the movie that moved Jason Voorhees front and center, now establishing him as the series’ main character. This wasn’t always meant to be the case – the original idea for the sequels was to have each entry be a different, unrelated story (presumably still all occurring on the titular date). But after the buzz that formed around Jason’s surprise appearance at the end of the first film, some of the producers insisted the sequels focus on him.

Of course, as detailed in yesterday’s “Nitpick Patrol,” that surprise ending was originally something of an afterthought  (which is why it doesn’t even really make sense), and was certainly never meant to set up a sequel. This at least partly explains why the Jason presented in this film is a far cry from the Jason who seemed to be suddenly – and magically – resurrected at the end of the last movie. Part 2 ret-cons the Jason story, suggesting he didn’t actually drown in 1957, and instead has been spending all these years living alone in the woods. This of course creates all sorts of continuity problems of its own, but I’ll save those for today’s “Nitpick Patrol.” Suffice to say, this Jason was alive and well during the events of the first movie, and was apparently watching when Alice decapitated his mother. Understandably, he’s a little upset about that particular turn of events, thus explaining his now ongoing quest for revenge.

As great as it is to finally have Jason as the big baddie, viewers who have only seen the series’ later entries (or, at least, haven’t watched the early movies in a long time), might be a little surprised to watch this one and be reminded of how different the character was. And, no, I’m not just talking about the lack of hockey mask (which, as most fans know, doesn’t show up till Part 3 – Jason rocks a rather fashionable burlap sack in this one).

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Even beyond the differences in appearance, Jason is a much different presence in this film than he ever really is again. With the change in his origin story, there are no longer any real supernatural elements to his character (those won’t show up again till Part VI) – the Jason of Part 2 is essentially a normal human being…well, except for his facial deformities and psychotic tendencies, of course. Many of the standard Jason attributes commonly associated with the character are not yet in play here. For instance, when most fans think of Jason, they immediately picture him slowly stalking after his victims. But in Part 2, Jason is more than happy to run after his prey (something those who bitched about Jason running in the 2009 remake apparently forgot about).

In one moment that seems especially out-of-character compared to the later films, Jason even runs away from a police officer. True, he apparently only does so to lead the officer into a trap…but even that is not really his typical modus operandi. In that same scene, we also get to see the shack that Jason has been living in all these years. It’s weird enough to try to imagine Jason kicking back and relaxing at home, but they even make a point of showing the place’s filthy toilet. That’s right…take a moment and just picture Jason sitting down to take a shit. Weird, isn’t it?

Still, there’s nothing particularly wrong with a slightly humanized Jason. However, if there is one thing that might irk some fans, it would have to be how easily felled he is in this one. He is near-effortlessly knocked down on several occasions (once after a kick to the groin), and even finds himself engaged in a rather spastic fight with one of his intended victims. In fact, at times Jason comes across in a rather comical light, as if he’s the slasher equivalent of Home Alone‘s Harry & Marv. For instance, when he stands on a table to trick a girl hiding under a bed, the table collapses under his feet before he can make his move. D’oh!

In a way, though, there’s something to be said for Jason’s somewhat clumsy demeanor. Maybe they went a little too far with it, but it does add an extra element to the final act – you actually think that Ginny has a real good shot at defeating this oaf, only to have him keep coming back for more. This arguably makes things a little more interesting than the later movies, which presented Jason as a near-invulnerable entity, thus kinda negating any point in watching the kids fight back.

Friday the 13th Part 2

Whether you’re a fan of the bumbling Jason or not, it’s hard to deny how much fun this particular movie is. Even is they hadn’t quite figured out Jason’s character, they still had the overall formula now pretty much nailed down, and this sequel still remains a big step forward – an improvement over its predecessor, and one of the series’ more enjoyable entries in general.

BODY COUNT: 9

With a body count one less than the first film, you might think the filmmakers somehow missed the “bigger and better” memo regarding horror sequels. But in fact, all but one of this installment’s deaths actually occur onscreen, as opposed to the original movie and its annoying tendency to cut away before the good stuff. So although the actual body count is one shy of its predecessor, this is in fact the more violent of the two.

BEST KILL:

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Jason ramming a spear through two horndog teens mid-coitus is a memorable moment, but loses points for being directly ripped off from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (where it was done in even more gruesome fashion). Factoring that in, I’ll instead go with the machete to the face of wheelchair-bound Mark – one of the series’ most surprising kills, thanks to the effectively misleading build-up. I’ve never quite understood the decision to freeze-fame his subsequent rolling down the stairs, however.

BOOB COUNT: 2

Sometimes you see a certain character and you just know they’re gonna end up naked. Such is the case with Terry…

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…who first saunters onto screen in a tiny belly-shirt (Mickey Mouse has never looked so good) and a pair of short-shorts that seem to have personal grudge against the concept of modesty.

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Sure enough, Terry later strips down for the official Friday the 13th debut of skinny-dipping. It’s certainly not the last time the series would go to that well.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

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Crazy Ralph is back! That’s right, the first film’s bicycling doomsayer makes a return appearance here, making him one of only a handful of characters to appear in multiple installments. This would also be his last outing, though, as he is unfortunately dispatched by Jason. Crazy Ralph might not seem like a typical Jason victim, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Any teen that actually listens to Ralph’s warnings and stays away from the area is one less potential teen to kill. Getting rid of Ralph is just good business sense for Jason.

NITPICK PATROL:

As I’ve already said, when you watch this movie you have to accept the writers hadn’t quite figured out Jason yet. Even still, the film’s prologue contains a number of “questionable” moments that seem out of character, even when considered just in the continuity of this movie.

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For instance…it appears Jason travels to go get Alice? While the first film never came out and said where Alice was from, it was at least made clear that she was a not a Crystal Lake resident. One could safely assume that the home she returned to afterwards, and that she is in when this film begins, is quite a distance away from the “cursed” town. Could you really see her living there if it was anywhere near where she went through her traumatic ordeal?

So it therefore appears that Jason somehow travels to Alice’s home-town in order to get his revenge. Now, it’s hard enough to imagine Jason actually traveling (Did he take a bus? A taxi? Rent a car?). But it gets even shakier when you consider this also means he somehow found out where Alice lives. The image of Jason looking through a copy of the Yellow Pages is almost more than I can take.

To be fair, this issue apparently was addressed in the original script, which explained that Alice was still in Crystal Lake – apparently having something to do with the idea of “confronting her fears” in the very town where she encountered them. It’s arguable whether the logic of that particular therapy approach holds up, but nonetheless, the movie doesn’t do a very good job making this clear in the first place, thus leading to some unnecessary confusion.

Not only that, but moments before she is attacked Alice receives a mysterious phone call, with only breathing on the other end. Now, unless they really want us to believe that it’s some sort of amazing coincidence, that Alice got a prank call right before her murder, I guess we’re supposed to assume it was Jason who made the call. So, we have the guy potentially traveling to another town (with his mom’s severed head in tow), looking up an address, and then even picking up the phone and taunting his victim? Not bad for a mentally retarded killer who lives in a shack in the woods.

Personally, I always thought it would have been cool for one of the later installments to reveal that it wasn’t Jason that killed Alice, but rather another character that could have come into play at that time – Jason’s father, perhaps? But, alas, it was not to be, and so instead we have a sequence that is, quite frankly, a little hard to swallow…even in the world of Friday the 13th.

FINAL SCORE: 3.5 out of 4 Hockey Masks

3-5

 

 

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About Trevor Snyder

Give me zombies or give me death. Wait...that doesn't make sense.

Posted on November 5, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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