Betsy PalmerFriday the 13th
Friday the 13th Part 2
Medium: film
Year: 1981
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Ron Kurz
Keywords: horror, slasher
Country: USA
Actor: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Warrington Gillette, Walt Gorney, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd, Betsy Palmer, Cliff Cudney, Jack Marks, Jerry Wallace
Format: 87 minutes
Series: << Friday the 13th >>
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 13 November 2009
Part 1 made lots of money, so Part 2 is just doing it all again in the hope that the trick works twice. Yes, I realise that the movie industry is full of remakes pretending to be sequels, but this one's particularly blatant. I swear that when it comes to ogling the female cast members they're working to a checklist. Sex scene, bikinis in the lake, strip to your underwear, tight T-shirt with no bra, girl who goes wandering in a top and panties... admittedly there's no Strip Monopoly, but on the upside there's a drooling close-up of some barely inadequate shorts. However my favourite bit of self-plagiarism in this film involves the finale. Check out the way in which Jason smashes through the window in exactly the same way that he burst out of the lake.
The problem unfortunately is that Part 2 is just a little bit worse in almost every way than Part 1. Not by a huge margin, but measurably. Oddly it still managed to be more watchable, but that's because the plot is more definite about its escalation and this time I felt I was watching a movie with a beginning, middle and end. Otherwise it's less interesting than its predecessor, although it sticks closely enough to the template that if you enjoyed the first one, you'll probably enjoy this one too. It's a formulaic slasher film, but that's a description rather than a criticism.
The big difference is obviously the replacement Vorhees. Mummy's still dead, so it's time to meet Jason. I loved Mrs Vorhees in Part 1, but it can't be denied that she lacked something in the physical menace department. However what's great about Jason is that the film's clearly making an effort to emulate the psychological depth of Mrs Vorhees in the original and so you've got this mass-murdering mummy's boy making shrines in the woods and in at least once instance dragging away bodies after he's killed them. Is he making a collection? At first he seemed like yet another faceless killer, but the scene in his house in the woods in particular is a hoot. I liked that a lot. Probably unwittingly, this series so far has been an extended riff on Hitchcock's Psycho that's taken its versions of Norman Perkins in all kinds of goofy eighties directions.
In the end, he's almost puppy-like and the best thing about this film. Somehow the original stumbled across gold in the idea of a freakishly odd slasher (Mrs Vorhees), so by trying to reproduce that here, they've made something surprisingly good. Amusingly they've even managed to make Jason as silly as his mother did in the third act of their respective rampages, in the difficulties they suddenly find themselves having with the Lone Survivor. Jason's all but doing comedy pratfalls, although I don't know if that was deliberate.
I was also surprised by getting to see his face, which is something that for some reason I hadn't expected. He's a far more interesting character than I'd expected, but he's still only a partial substitute for his mother. He doesn't speak, he wears a bag on his head and in almost all his scenes he's a functionally a zombie. No hockey mask yet, by the way. That's to come in Part 3.
The film's biggest problem is that it's been censored. I'm aware of the shortcomings in the script, acting, etc. but we're talking about important things here. Nudity and gore. That's why people watch a Friday the 13th film. 48 seconds were cut to avoid an X rating and the results aren't bad enough to be obvious, but it wouldn't surprise you if you heard about it afterwards. The gore shots are okay, but there's only that's actually fun. It involves wheelchair bloke, a machete in the face and a really long flight of steps. It's perfectly good gore work, with the possible exception of a slightly disappointing throat-slitting, but it's missing those moments of true flair that would have raised it to the next level. Meanwhile the nudity is clearly building up to a late sex scene involving the most buxom actress in the film... and you don't see her tits. Move censorship is evil. I liked the skinny-dipping, though.
There are other ways in which the film disappoints. There are false scares, which are as always subject to the law of diminishing returns. The first one is excellent, one of the best False Scares by Cat I've ever seen, but it's got annoying by the time we reach the third. Meanwhile there's some particularly bad acting from the women, who aren't being asked to do much and can't even manage that. One of those is the Last Survivor, unfortunately. That really didn't help. The script's even chosen to make her a bit of a bitch, which when combined with the actress's level of talent had me eventually cheering for Jason. Admittedly it's a pleasant surprise for one of these movies to be attempting any characterisation at all, but these things can always backfire. However at least her performance is less bad than that of the "I want to go to Camp Blood" girl.
Apart from those two, though, I didn't mind the cast. They're a pleasant bunch. I particularly liked Token Gawky Guy, who has an interestingly ugly face and had some entertainingly odd line readings. He's the one young actor who doesn't look as if he's stepped from a Pepsi commercial, needless to say. There's also a return visit for Crazy Ralph (doomed) and another look at the attitude of the locals to holiday camps, which I rather liked.
The script is more intelligent than it looks. There's lots of Chekhov's Gun foreshadowing, both obvious (the chainsaw) and less so (the bears). There are bears in the woods near Crystal Lake and there's a speech to the assembled counsellors telling them to be careful, for instance not putting on perfume. Later in the film, one of the girls is getting herself ready for a boy and puts on perfume. Right after that, Jason kills her. Similarly there's a bar scene where a character who's studying child psychology starts profiling Jason. Of course for the characters it's all hypothetical, but later on she's trapped in Jason's house in the woods and testing her theory by putting on the dead mother's sweater. A particularly subtle touch is the fact that she's specifically doing child psychology, since Jason has the mind of a child.
The dialogue's occasionally getting cute too. "I promise you I'll never ever be late again in my entire life." Someone also says, "I'll be right back." The only actual script glitch is the way they've written themselves into a corner with Jason's age. He supposedly drowned in 1957, which would suggest that his previous appearance as a boy in 1979 was probably a ghost or a dream sequence. Nevertheless five years later here he's all grown up and is running around killing people. It's not really a problem, but it's a bit of a speed bump.
Is the film scary? Occasionally. There aren't many scenes where the film's trying to turn up the tension, but here and there it's pretty good. Jason's house in the woods is a disappointment, though. You'd expect that to be the ultimate place of terror, but our first visit there feels flat and our second visit isn't all it should have been either.
Apparently this movie owes a debt to Mario Bava's Bay of Blood and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but I've never seen them. I've also seen it claimed that this is the coolest-looking of the Friday the 13th movies, since it does really feel as if we're out in the dusty American backwoods. I wasn't particularly struck by the movie's look, but I suppose it could be true. Nevertheless neither of those facts stop this from being a vaguely competent but largely empty movie that's openly working to formula. I like these two films' killers, but otherwise the franchise isn't even trying to be interesting. Even the original was merely chasing Carpenter's Halloween. I preferred this to Part 1, but there's not much in it and it loses points for having a more generic third act. Jason's fun, but he's still another big killer mute and we've seen plenty of those on the rampage.
Directed by Steve Miner, who also did Part 3, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and the 2008 Day of the Dead remake. I've heard bad things about the latter in particular, but Miner's got the most substantial directing CV of anyone else in this franchise, including Cunningham.