in The Vault

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

When you Google: “When did sequels become popular?” one of the first results you find is the Friday the 13th (franchise) Wikipedia page. Though I wouldn’t go as far as saying Friday the 13th was solely responsible for the birth of what I call “The Never-ending Franchise” it definitely played an important part.

When did sequels become a mainstay of the movie industry? They’ve been around forever. Universal Picture’s Frankenstein had six installments between the 1930s and 1940s (not counting House of Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). The 1960s had Bond and Planet of the Apes. The 1970s had Jaws, Bond (again), Star Wars and Halloween. By the 1980s, so many series had franchises you would be dead by the time you finished watching them all.

What changed? I think key films to look at are Jaws and Halloween. Jaws, often considered the first blockbuster, is important because it proved to audiences it doesn’t matter if the villain dies because you can just do the same thing again with minor alterations. Although it only had three sequels it was responsible for dozens of imitators and a solid joke in Back to the Future Part II.

Halloween is important because it popularized the slasher genre. The slasher genre is great because it’s an easy formula to replicate; cast a crop of sex-crazed teens, kill ‘em, and then cast a new crop of sex-crazed teens for the next installment. Though the Halloween franchise has ranked a respectable ten installments, it has seen its fair share of fits and starts, including a third installment that had nothing to do with the rest of the series, a six-year gap in-between 3 and 4, and a six-year gap in-between 5 and 6.

Friday the 13th is the king of sequels. It ranks an impressive 12 installments—another due out October, 13th 2017—with nine films in its first thirteen years. Did you know there were already two Friday the 13th films before Halloween II came out?  Only two years in the 1980s (1983 and 1987) didn’t have a Friday the 13th movie and this doesn’t include the Friday the 13th TV series (1987-90)–it didn’t have Jason though 🙁

It reminds me of today when a horror franchise is hot it becomes an annual tradition i.e. Saw or Paranormal Activity. I like to think Friday the 13th was a trailblazer in this respect. Maybe it hasn’t contributed as much to the culture, but you can’t say it hasn’t shaped today’s cinematic landscape.

Which brings me to my review of Friday the 13th Part 2. After the overnight success of the original film, Paramount Pictures saw a unique opportunity to make an annual or at least semi-annual “event film” for teenagers to flock to. Though director Sean S. Cunningham decided to opt out, producers Phil Scuderi (one of Part 2’s screenwriters along with Ron Kurz), Steve Minasian and Bob Barsamian had a vision for the franchise and his name was Jason Vorhees. “Isn’t Jason dead?” To which the answer is apparently not. Even though it makes no sense for him to avenge his mother’s death despite the fact the two had the opportunity to reunite with each other anytime over the last twenty-one years, but more on that later.

Associate producer Steve Miner took the director’s chair for Part 2 and filming began in October 1980 in Connecticut, only five months after the release of the first film (which was filmed in New Jersey). Much of the crew returned and the budget received a moderate boost to 1.2 million. The results? An okay, not particularly memorable, but not terrible film.

Friday the 13th Part 2 opens promisingly enough. A little girl (shot from the waist down) is singing “Rain, Rain Go Away” stomping through puddles down a suburban street. Her mother calls her in and she skedaddles. Seconds later, the lower body of a mysterious man emerges on the street. I love it. What a great introduction to Jason, emerging mysteriously on a rain-soaked street in an innocent neighborhood. “Hmm, is water an important staple in this franchise? Not only is there frequent rain in these films, but Jason ‘died’ as a child from drowning.” Remind me to touch on this in a future review.

Unfortunately, this introduction is immediately ruined. We learn this is the neighborhood where the only survivor of the first film, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), lives. What ruins the opening is Alice is lying in bed having nightmares, but instead of shooting new footage the film lazily wipes to scenes from the last ten minutes of the previous film. “Why? It’s not like this is an episode of Westworld, where I desperately need to watch the ‘previously on’ to remember what’s going on! An old lady got her head cut off because she was mad her son died! That’s it!” And you better believe they show the slow-mo decapitation and Jason leaping from the water again.

Not only is using flashbacks lazy it shows a lack of confidence. The filmmakers weren’t confident in their new scares so they needed to rely on the ones they knew worked. It’s a shame because the first REAL scare in the film is decent. After Alice’s “previously on” nightmare, she gets the feeling she’s not alone. She creeps around the house, heads to the kitchen and opens the fridge to find the decapitated head of Pamela Vorhees. Then Jason (face unseen) stabs her in the head with an ice pick. It’s fun but I’m not sure why Jason is carrying around his mom’s head. It must be his way of getting his point across. “You killed my mom! So here is her head! Suck on that!” Stab, stab, stab!

Cue the 3D title card, except this time once the title gets close enough it explodes with fire and says “Part 2.” The film picks up with a new group of teens heading to Camp Crystal Lake for a counselor training camp. Normally, I would be yelling at the TV saying “Out of all the places to have a training camp, why would you have it next to a recent mass murder scene?” But I’ll give the film leeway. I mean, as far as they know the killer is dead. Jason is dead. People have to continue on with their lives at some point. It’s just weird because it’s been what, two months?

The new cast is as forgettable as the last with the only memorable traits being each character’s appearance. Though if I have to be 100% truthful I can only remember three, maybe four characters. There’s the main girl Ginny (Amy Steel), a guy in a wheelchair, Mark (Tom McBride) and a girl who almost exclusively wears belly-baring tops with a lot of gratuitous butt shots, Terry (Kirsten Baker). There are other people but I don’t care.

Apart from Alice, Jason, and Pamela’s head, the film also sees the return of local harbinger of doom Crazy “It’s a Death Curse” Ralph (Walt Gorney). Yet I don’t recall Crazy Ralph interacting with any of the characters in this film. He watches them while standing beside his trademark blue bicycle and is later strangled by Jason. According to Wikipedia, Crazy Ralph went to Crystal Lake to warn everyone, but he never does so the character is pointless. If I hadn’t seen the first film this character would be even more pointless. Still, R.I.P Crazy Ralph. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of death curses in heaven.

Apart from the deaths, the only other scene at this point in the film that strikes a chord is when a guy, Paul? Tells a campfire story about the legend of Jason. It doesn’t provide any new information but it’s a far more elegant way of introducing the Vorhees family than a series of flashbacks. This scene should have opened the film. Yet it’s wasted in-between a sea of boners and butt shots.

The deaths are good to meh, with most falling in the latter category. There’s nothing scary about a hand reaching out of the dark and stabbing someone in the head. Yet it seems to happen all the time. One of the better deaths is when Mark takes a machete to the face and rolls down a flight of stairs on his wheelchair a la Battleship Potemkin. Except they ruin the end of the shot by slowing down the footage, zooming in and flaring to white. What the hell were they thinking?

Skipping ahead, Ginny finds a shrine Jason has devoted to his mother which includes the head of Pamela Vorhees. It’s a great shot and one of the more memorable images. What follows not so much. I can’t remember at what point the film revealed this but Jason’s mask is a sack. A goddamn sack. How is a sack scary? It’s not even original. Look how similar Part 2 Jason is to The Phantom Killer from the 1976 slasher film The Town that Dreaded Sundown. It’s the same damn thing. (The Phantom is on the left and Jason on the right).

To defend herself from Jason, Ginny finds one of Pamela’s sweaters and pretends to be Jason’s mom. This works temporarily until Jason is reminded that his mom’s decapitated head is on his death altar. How can someone so dumb be so good at killing? Jason is about to kill Paul when Ginny hits him with a machete and they leave.

Whew, close one, right? Wait! It turns out Jason is not dead and is now unmasked! How does he look? Like Sloth from The Goonies. I’m not sure where I stand on it. I suppose it’s passable. Not scary, but passable. What’s bizarre is after Jason attacks by jumping through a window the film goes to slow motion and fades. Ginny wakes up being loaded into an ambulance and calls for Paul, but he is nowhere to be seen. Jason has also vanished. Uh, you can’t just cut away at the most important scene in the movie and say nobody knows what happened. Oh well, at least the scene ends on another great shot of Pamela’s head on the altar. I kept hoping its eyes would open for one last scare but nah.

Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn’t build on the mythology like a good sequel should. We don’t learn anything of interest about Jason. If anything we have more questions. “Why is Jason deformed?” “Why does he live in the woods?” “Why didn’t he reunite with his mom ever?” “Why did he put a goddamn sack on his head?’ Give your audience a little credit. If this series was nothing but boobs, butts, and blood it would have died long ago. Yet people hung on. You know why? They loved the mystery and mythology of Jason. So don’t waste our time by ignoring it.

No one needs to see this film. The production value is good and I like Harry Manfredini’s score and audio work, but that’s all. The film doesn’t have much in the way of characters, twists, kills. It doesn’t even have the stupid hockey mask. It’s a guy with a bag on his head running around in the woods playing with sharp things. There couldn’t be less of a story. I pray the series finds more to tap into in my review of Part III. See you next Friday when the body count continues.

Mother always knows best.