Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Summer of Slash: Friday the 13th, Part 2

A few things right out of the gate: Friday the 13th, Part 2 is not only better than any other films in the series – including the much beloved but horribly dull original – but it’s one of the best slashers to come during the subgenre's peak period (1981-1984); the reason for that is because Steve Miner is a better director than Sean Cunningham, the villain is a lot more effective (duh, we’re introduced to Jason), and the film contains one of the very best Final Girl sequence I’ve seen in any slasher film. The film is not without its faults (what slasher film doesn’t have faults?), but I will gladly look over those faults and sing the praises of Part 2 because it is, in almost every conceivable way (with the exception of the missing Tom Savini), better than the first film.

The film opens on a puddle as we see two feet belonging to a little kid. He runs off for dinner and not more than a few seconds later – the camera still focused on the puddle of water – we see two much larger feet appear in the frame. And those feet take off towards a house with a speed and intent rarely seen in slasher movies (and certainly not seen in Friday films after this as subsequent directors were content having Jason plod from one killing to the next), and this is an important idea, this speedy killer, to earmark, for I will return to it later. We soon realize that the house this person is heading towards belongs to Alice (Adrienne King, who was asked to expand her role for the sequel, but after a very scary real life stalker incident asked to have her role greatly reduced, and so here we are), the Final Girl from the first film. And just like television shows in the era before syndication would do clip shows, Friday the 13th, in an era before films were so easily available after they left theaters, does something that amounts to about a 12 minute recap of the end of the first film all in the guise of being Alice’s nightmares. It’s a clever way to remind the audience what happened in the previous film – though I suspect that the people plunking down the money to see the sequel were familiar with the first film already (note: I'm being an sarcastic ass here; stock footage in a movie is really, really stupid).  

Back to the plot: After Alice – having just taken a shower, naturally – gets a weird phone call and then hears some noises outside (oh hey, in addition to these other clichés, a cat jumps from the window), she decides to make some tea to calm her nerves. She begins to boil the water and then proceeds to open the refrigerator only to find the head of Mrs. Voorhees inside (a nice variation on the “head in a fishtank” gag as well as being one of two “head in the fridge” gags that year, the other being My Bloody Valentine) and then in something that is actually quite a jolt to the viewer – almost immediately following the discovery of Mrs. Voorhees’ head – a man (the same man whose boots we saw earlier, we assume) shoves an icepick into her skull. And then the opening credits start up.

This opening is already better than anything in the first film even if it does have a stupid “cat jumps from a window” false scare. Still, at least the real scare comes immediately after (I love a horror film that doesn’t waste time with characters looking around because they hear a noise; padding disguised as building tension is all that ever is in slasher movies), and there’s just something so manically funny and awesome about the way Jason, after icepicking poor Alice, removes the kettle of boiling water off the burner. Not only that, the opening credits have an explosion (!) in them as the text comes from the bottom right of the screen to the foreground just as it did in the first film, but then it blows up to reveal, in giant steel letters, “PART 2.”. Yes, folks, an explosion; already this movie is a thousand times better than the original.

After the credits we’re introduced to our main group of Meat: blond girl that doesn’t wear a bra? Check. Brunette that wears short shorts and half shirts (and no bra)? Check. Practical jokester? Check. Horny jock (I don’t recall any mesh half-football jerseys, though)? Check. Indistinguishable characters that are just looking to bone, drink, smoke weed, and eventually get killed off without the audience knowing a damn thing about them? Check, check, check, and check. There are two characters that are important for us to know about, though: Paul, the man responsible for holding a counselor training session at Camp Crystal Lake, and Ginny (Amy Steel, more on her later), a surprisingly intelligent character for a slasher movie; she's  a student studying child psychology that sticks out like a sore thumb amongst The Meat.

One night Paul, sitting around a campfire, tells the crew Jason Voorhees’ backstory (a la The Burning) which lets us know that boots we saw in the beginning and the person that shoved an icepick into Alice’s head was Jason and the rest is stalk and slash at its very best. So yeah, the plot or the character development, this is not why we watch Friday the 13th movies, and this is not why people really write about these movies or read about them. We’re here for the clichés and the cheese and the gore. Two out of the three isn’t bad…

Because, my God, this film was cut to shreds by the MPAA, who seemed to be ready, almost waiting, for the opportunity to cut Miner’s film after the shit they took for letting the original pass through with an R-rating. The first thing we notice about the opening of the movie is that there is no blood during the icepick scene. Well, there probably was, but it was just left on the cutting room floor. Carl Fullerton’s gore effects were reportedly as gruesome as Savini’s; however, the MPAA didn’t want to go through the same firestorm they went through with the first film, so they took the teeth out of the death scenes. It’s likely we’ll never be to see them fully restored, and it’s too bad the film had to suffer because of the MPAA’s cowardice. This overreaction meant that Part 2 was cut by at least 40 seconds (think about that: the average cut for a violent scene was probably around 2-5 seconds, so 40 seconds may not sound like a lot, but it messes with the timing of certain death scenes) to avoid an X rating; time that certainly wouldn’t have made the movie any better, but it does mess with the pacing a bit when there’s a death scene that just abruptly jumps to the next scene (or has that annoying whiteout dissolve effect), and, again, let’s face it: people come these movies for the violence, so this had to be a disappointment for fans anticipating similar gore found in the first film.
And hoo-boy what violence and gore the filmmakers teased us with: icepicks, chains around people’s throats (poor Crazy Ralph), machete’s slitting the throats of people hanging upside down (I can’t help but now think of Let the Right One In/Let Me In where if you’re hanging upside down and your throat is slit, there’s going to be tons of blood), harpoons going through two people having sex, a machete to the face, etc. Two of these death scenes – the machete in the face and the harpoon scene – famously appear in Bava’s Bay of Blood (there’s that reference again) and both were highly cut down for the theatrical release of the film. In fact, the stills on the back of the original VHS box were more graphic than what appeared in the film (in the case of the harpoon scene, the still that appears on the box doesn’t even show up in the movie). I highly doubt the original, uncut version of the film will ever see the light of day, so what we’re left with is a sanitized – albeit effective – version of Fullerton’s effects (the opening bit with the icepick to the head is gruesome without being gory). Part 2 was one of the most butchered of the series (only Part 3 and Part 7 had more cuts), but it’s still a well-made slasher with plenty of tension despite the missing gore effects; in other words, it has the complete opposite feel of Cunningham’s film (and the opposite feeling of other ’81 slashers, like The Prowler and Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, that were heavy on gore and light on tension).

It’s much more competently made than the first film. Whether that’s a direct result of the bigger budget thanks to the success of the first film (this film had about 1 million dollar budget) or just a director that knew how to move the camera around and not constantly film in pitch black with nothing but a flashlight to light the scene – whatever the reason, Part 2 is infinitely better than the first film, and a sign that in 1981, the slasher film was at its peak. It’s also much more genuine about the kind of film that is: it cops to it on the poster with a tagline that reads, “The body count continues…” With a tagline like that, you’re aware of the kind of film you’re making (I honestly believe Cunningham thought he was making a legitimate thriller with the first film), and I appreciate that the people that came up with the poster just kind of cop to it. The poster is also significant in that it understood what the audiences responded to about the first film: it wasn’t that they thought the film was this taught thriller that was well made; no, it had cool, well executed (sorry) deaths created by an effects maven. That’s what got people into the theater, and the poster for the sequel understands this and sells this version of the movie as being more of that. This was the dawn of the slasher as we now know it. It’s important to make this clear: Despite what I’m about to talk about and the praise that I will heap on the film in the subsequent paragraphs, bear in mind this is still a cheesy slasher film that gives the audience shots like this:

So, even though this was still “just” a slasher, and it still had indistinguishable “meat” standing in as characters (one of the things the film doesn’t do is spend more time stalking the female characters than the male characters, a rare thing indeed for a slasher), the film still has, without question, the best Final Girl of the series (Amy Steel, who almost always has this crazed, Marilyn Burns-esque look on her face throughout the final chase) and really just a damn great Final Girl sequence. First the character: she’s strong and smart and not easily duped like most Final Girls who usually just survive because the script requires a good-looking girl kill the bad guy at the end. Steel was the perfect choice to play Ginny as she balances well fear and strength; it’s important to note that in a genre that is no doubt the majority of the time objectifying women, here is a Final Girl that saves the man at the end. I don’t think there’s anything too deep to read into here, but it is interesting to note that the film series never really had a strong Final Girl like Ginny in it until Part 7 (and even then she had telekinetic powers). So it seems like something special – different at the very least – to watch Ginny in comparison to all of the other Final Girls of the series. It’s really too bad Steele never returned to the series (I always thought she would make a great candidate for a Ripley-like return where she has to go back to Camp Crystal Lake and lead a group of agents or something in a quest to kill Jason once and for all) – she did, however, show up again in the underrated slasher send-up April Fool’s Day.

Before I get into the Final Girl sequence, I suppose it’s important I talk about the other half of the chase, and the real reason this franchise became so popular: Jason Voorhees.  This rendition of Jason is the best, and the viewer can at least always come back to Part 2 to see Jason as more of a psycho killer than a supernatural entity. I love the fact that he donned a bed sheet over his head (a nod to the quiet, not-as-bad-as-people-say-it-is horror movie The Town that Dreaded Sundown); I also like how clumsy he is, falling off that stool near the end as he clumsily tries to kill Ginny. I don’t know why, but that always gets to me and makes me chuckle.

But the man moves with a purpose here; this was before he got all zombiefied, and this is probably the creepiest rendition of Jason because the bed sheet mask is a legitimately unsettling thing to look at with just that one eye peering at us (and here I would like to point out Warrington Gillette’s performance, as Jason, who does a damn fine job emoting with a bed sheet over his head with nothing but a hole cut out for one eye) – and make no mistake about it, the producers would have been wise to keep it in the rest of the films, but a bed sheet isn’t as marketable a Halloween item as hockey mask – in addition, when he kills and pursues, he does so with energy. When he chases Ginny at the end, and he she gets in a car to try and drive away, there’s something menacing and off-putting about the way Jason just approaches the driver’s side door, hops on the roof of the care, and then sticks a pitchfork through the convertible top and then reaches his hand through the hole – again, I chalk it up to the fact that he’s not this supernatural entity like he is in later movies, this seems like something a psycho serial killer would do, and that makes it all the more effective.

I’ve alluded to it in the previous paragraph, so let’s talk about that great Final Girl chase scene: it starts with the pitchfork scene in the cabin which leads to the aforementioned scene in the car which then leads to Jason’s shack. And you know, it’s well choreographed, blocked, framed, executed – I mean, I’m wary using a fancy film term like mise-en-scene in regards to a Friday the 13th movie, but damn if that final chase doesn’t have some well-staged action. If it were for only this scene alone, Steve Miner would prove himself more capable than any other director to helm a Friday film. When Ginny escapes from the car and runs into the woods, she comes upon Jason’s shack (set up earlier in the film, and quite an eerie setpiece, too) and runs in for help.

And here’s where it gets shockingly refreshing: when she runs into the shack, Miner and his cinematographer Peter Stein frame the shot so that on the left side of the screen we see Ginny in the shack and on the right side of the screen we see a window looking out onto the forest. Unlike what we’re programmed to expect from slasher movies, the filmmakers don’t waste our time by having Ginny wander around the shack with false tension mounting; instead of following the plodding template of the first film where a person walks outside, searches in the dark after a noise, is falsely startled a few times and then dispatched, Miner and co. take a cue from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and keep the pedal to the metal by allowing us to see Jason through the window running towards the shack. Ginny sees him to, and there is barely a moments rest throughout the entire Final Girl sequence. It’s such an odd thing for a slasher movie to be so brusque (think again about that opening and the swift brutality in which Jason shoves the icepick into Alice’s head) – usually there’s all kinds of padding and false scares, but Miner doesn’t seem interested in any of that (though he’s not completely off the hook since he is also responsible for the dreadful Part 3) as he just keeps the pace at full tilt for the final 15 minutes. That simple shot inside the shack is why I feel justified in my lavish praise of the film.

One last observation before I wrap this up: Part 2 feels much more Italian than its predecessor (perhaps it was all of the aping of the death scenes from Bay of Blood that got them in the Italian state of mind). What I mean is this: the ending sequence is like one, hellish, ethereal nightmare of a chase. It gives the film a completely different feel than other slasher movies of its time. Yes, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to this final sequence, but I was struck by just how batshit crazy the ending is. Allow me to take inventory: we have Ginny and Paul fighting Jason; Jason dispatches Paul and begins the chase of Ginny to the car, et al (mentioned above); when Ginny is about to kill Jason, he catches onto her ruse and slices her leg with his machete; just as we think Ginny is in danger, Paul comes from seemingly out of nowhere and begins fighting with Jason again; this allows Ginny to “kill” Jason (she then proceeds to take the bedsheet off his head, and in a great bit of restraint, saving it for the last scare, Miner refrains from showing us what Ginny and Paul see) and her Paul make their exit back to the safety of the camp. All seems safe for the two until Jason jumps through the window at the end in a bit that doesn’t seem to make much sense other than, HOLY SHIT JASON VOORHEES JUMPED THROUGH A WINDOW AND LOOK AT HIM! Seriously, Michael Myers or Leatherface never did something crazy like that. It was a good shock to see Jason’s face for the first time, and after Jason jumps through the window, we see Ginny (Paul is nowhere to be found) completely safe suggesting that parts of what we just saw was a dream. A frustrating thing, no doubt, but it reminds me of the what-the-hell moments that ended some of Fulci’s films (specifically that weird bit at the end of City of the Living Dead where the kid runs toward the camera, we hear screams, and then Fulci just freezes the frame on the kid; I’ve never been able to figure that one out).  

In Timothy Brayton’s review of the film, he made me realize something that I never thought of before in regards to Friday the 13th, Part 2: holy hell this movie essentially paved the way for what he calls “the de facto” sequel. He goes on:

“A story had to be truly special, or inordinately successful at the box office to earn a continuation.

That changed with Friday the 13th, Part 2.

Given a precursor that had no ready entry point for a follow-up, which did fair business for its cost, but nothing special, there's no obvious reason why this film came out before Halloween II, The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 or even Aliens. It just did. And then the hellgates were opened, and soon we saw everything from The Sting II to Grease 2 to the ne plus ultra of all asinine sequels, Psycho II.”

And just for that little bit of odd notoriety Friday the 13th, Part 2 is groundbreaking in its own way even if it isn’t considered as influential as its predecessor. So even though the film is cheesy as hell and has all those Disposable Meat characters, it still has Amy Steel’s performance, the bizarre – almost Italian in nature – tone of those final moments, the entire Final Girl sequence, and Miner’s direction which elevates Part 2 into the upper echelon of slasher movies.


  1. I mostly agree with this one and I'd maybe go and say that it's my favorite of the series along with number 1 and another undisclosed number that I will reveal if you end up reviewing it.
    The set pieces are great, the ending chase, all the actions in the final scenes... great stuff, but ask me if I remember anything from the movie except for that delicious piece of ass you frame in your review.
    It's still not a great movie, but still a good one (none Friday the 13th movie achieves greatness, but hell, that's why I like them, they at least maintain some quality as a franchise opposed to Halloween or Nightmare).
    1981 is an interesting year for the horror genre as I said in my review for "The Prowler" in this year's White Elephant Blogathon: Halloween II, this one, The Evil Dead, The Prowler and The Beyond: each one as different in its own right as the next, is like the perfect picture for the horror in the 80's and what shape it would take.
    Keep going on, this is great.

  2. The first issue of Famous Monsters magazine I ever bought had a feature on this film. I was 12 or 13, and my parents and I were on vacation at the time. I remember being floored by the gory photos (which were muted somewhat by being in black and white) and having to surreptitiously read the magazine so my parents wouldn't see them. Of course, most of the effects shots in the article were snipped right out of the finished film. Later, we took a walk through the town we were staying in, and we walked right past a theater that was showing the film. I so desperately wanted to see it, but it would have to wait for a few more years. I agree that this one is still quite effective despite having been neutered by the MPAA, but I do prefer the original.

  3. Friday the 13th Part 2 is by far my favorite horror movie of all time! I was 10 at the time it came out. My mother would take me to horror movies like The Shining, but wouldnt take me to see slashers at the time. So I knew not to ask her about this one. Instead, I asked her drop me at the mall and told her I was going to see some other movie that was playing at the time. So I bought a ticket to a different show, then after buying snacks, I just walked into the theater showing Friday the 13th Part 2. Now it was 1981, we all hadn't been desensitized by a million slashers and it was a much more innocent time then. So being 10, and by myself for the 1st time in a movie theater I was totally scared sh*tless! My heart was beating a mile a minute all thru the 2nd 1/2. And just when I thought I made it thru it all and everything was ok, that last scare about knocked me outta my seat! I was so scared that I was scared by this movie but in the end I loved every minute of it. Since that day it has always been my favorite horror! FT13th PRT 2 JASON IS THE REAL JASON!