December 2, 2013

Movie Review: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

In 1980, Paramount Pictures bought the distribution rights to a little horror movie called Friday the 13th. It was shot on the cheap but benefited from creative minds like director Sean S. Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, composer Harry Manfredini, and special effects wizard Tom Savini. Paramount's marketing campaign paired with strong word of mouth, and the fact it was actually a good horror, saw it do very well at the box office. It did so well, in fact, that a sequel got put on the fast track. No mind was paid to the fact nearly everybody, killer included, was dead at the conclusion of the movie.

The sequel was made with Steve Miner slipping into the director's chair, after serving as producer on the first film. The scripting duties were handled by Ron Kurz, who did some uncredited work on the original. Now, considering how the first film went, they had some heavy lifting to do in order to make this sequel a worthy successor. I think they did a pretty good job and in doing such a good job, introduced us to one of the most prolific screen killers ever seen.

Now, assuming you have seen the first movie, you know that the killer was not a hockey mask wearing monstrosity, but that monstrosity's mother. Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) was a psychopathic killer and one of the more sympathetic killers to be presented in a movie of this ilk. A mother loses her grip on reality in the face of losing her son due to the lack of attention from the very people charged with his protection. How do you follow that up? Easy, you learn that her thought drowned boy never actually died. Not only that, perhaps he was lurking at the camp the night his mother was killed.

So, you have a man-child with mental disabilities who grows up alone in the woods. He has no education, no concept of morality, and has seen his mother murdered right in front of him. The logical thought would be to wonder why he did not show himself to his mother, he must have known her to be his mom based on what is revealed in this movie. I would assume that he feels ashamed of his appearance, he likely recognizes that he doesn't look like any of the other people he sees. On top of that he has seen his mother decapitated and has this bad association with young people at camps. That brings us right into the second film.

As Part 2 opens, we are reintroduced to Alice (Adrienne King), it is a few months after the events of the first film and she is haunted by what she saw and what she did on that fateful day. As she walks around the house, there is someone moving about outside. We get some of that great Mandredini music to signal something bad is about to happen. Alice opens the refrigerator, sees Mrs. Voorhees head inside, screams, and catches an ice pick to the temple. Smash to the opening title.

Not a bad way to get things started, right? Kill off your final survivor in a way that shows no one is safe, show us that Voorhees is indeed dead, and introduce a new killer. Sure, we don't get a face, but it is clearly male and decidedly not the return of Mrs. Voorhees. Could it be Jason? Yes, of course it could.

The timeline jumps forward five years from the events of the first. Camp Crystal Lake is closed, stated to be condemned and no one is allowed there. However, next door Paul Holt (John Furey) is opening a training camp for camp counselors. Not really a good idea when you have crazy guy in the woods who blames counselors for his near drowning and his mother's death. Well, Paul and his assistant, Ginny (Amy Steel), gather their first class. It does not take long before killings start to happen.

Jason makes his appearance in overalls and a potato sack with a single eye hole cut out. He sets his targets on the counselors in training and goes about systematically killing each of them. It all comes down to Jason and Ginny. She finds his shanty in the woods, sees the severed head of his mother and with some quick thinking devises a way to at least slow him down so she can strike.

This second film does not quite have the same subtext as the first one. While you can read a little into the psychology of Jason, his mother is more interesting in that regard. Part 2 is much more of a stalk and slash sort of movie. The counselors are not completely unlikable, but they are not as interesting as the first batch. What this movie has going for it more is the kills are still inventive, we get a new killer to figure out and we get a final girl who is quick on her feet and is ingenious in her skill to stay alive.

I think that Amy Steel may be one of my favorite horror “final girls.” She is actually an interesting character, she is thoughtful and does not fold under pressure. Look at the conversation Ginny has with Paul at the bar, she gives serious thought to what Jason might be should he still be alive, how growing up alone in the woods would affect you, along with the idea of seeing your mother murdered in front of you. It is all good stuff, information she is able to call back on at the right moment when trying to creatively slow down the guy in the sack trying to kill you.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is a worthy follow up to the original and also works as a reinvention of how franchise sequels can go. There is definite growth between the two films. I may prefer the original to this, but it is close. With a little reworking of the original footage at the open and this could have been a part one, and considering the way the franchise goes, you could look at this as a second part one.

Interesting note, there had been a thought to make the ending of this take a supernatural twist. There was an idea to have Mrs. Voorhees' decapitated head open its eyes at the end. They decided against this, thankfully, but if you watch, you will notice the head at the end is not a fake head, but an actual person covered in makeup and prosthetics.


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