Friday The 13th: Part 2
Thanks to Steve Miner’s assured direction and the film’s fantastic characters, Friday the 13th: Part 2 still feels like a great slasher. One that is distinct and original even 40 years removed from its debut! It started with a burlap sack. Or maybe it ended that way. Or it was the beginning of the end. Regardless, by the end, there was a burlap sack, one eye hole, and a pair of overalls. In the grand scheme, it’s a fairly innocuous entrance, but it still feels enigmatic, distinct, and, above all, frightening.
That was how we first met the adult Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2.
We’d met Jason once before as a decaying child with a misshapen head, dragging a woman into a lake, and he certainly made an impression, scarring theatergoers the world over when Friday the 13th hit theaters in May of 1980. But 40 years ago, viewers got the first glimpse of the adult Jason; that reckless, backwoods monster turned avenging angel, and horror had itself a new icon.
The Slasher Was Still Coming-of-Age In 1981
Friday the 13th Part 2 came out in May of 1981, grossing 21.7 million dollars on a 1.25 million dollar budget. Sean Cunningham, director of the original film, elected to serve as a producer on this film, leading Steve Miner, an associate producer on the first film, to make his directorial debut.
The film served to answer the greatest mystery leftover from the first film – is Jason, the deformed boy whose mother sought vengeance for his drowning, still alive, lurking somewhere in the woods around Crystal Lake? Friday the 13th Part 2 issues a very clear answer: YES.
But Friday the 13th Part 2 had a heavier burden beyond expanding the first film’s story: creating the template for the slasher sequel, as well as codifying the slasher, which was still in its nascent era.
Even though the slasher had a fairly productive year in 1980, with hits like Prom Night and The Silent Scream making the slasher a fairly reliable box office draw, it was clear that Friday the 13th was the leader of the pack. It was not only a hit financially, but a critical lightning bolt, drawing vitriol for its violent content from high-profile critics like Roger Ebert.
In its nascent form, though, the slasher was a much different thing than it ended up: equal parts morality tale, whodunit, and sex comedy, Prom Night and Friday the 13th look much different than slashers would end up looking. By 1981, that would start to change.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is a confident sequel and seemed more than willing to bear the weight of leading the slasher pack. The opening sequence is still a marvel: we pick up with Alice, a survivor of the first film, still traumatized by the events, living on her own. The tracking shot that opens the scene, however, makes it clear that she’s not alone, as we see a pair of boots making their way towards her building.
After an initial phone call clues us, viewers, into Alice’s struggle – trying to pick her life back together after the tragedy she lived through – the camera follows Alice throughout her apartment on what seems like a normal night. It’s here that it becomes clear the influence of the film’s new director. Steve Miner chooses to have these scenes unfold in a series of long takes that simply follow and observe Alice as she goes about her nightly routine.
This technique helps the tension develop organically and additionally helps it reach a fever pitch once we hear something moving outside Alice’s window. The camera is forced to follow her as she makes her way into the kitchen. After a literal cat jump scare, Alice finds the head of Pamela Voorhees in her fridge, and we’re off to the races, watching as the unseen stalker from earlier drives an icepick into Alice’s head, a brutal end to our protagonist’s time in the franchise.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is Everything the First Film Was – and More
As we move into the main section of Friday the 13th Part 2, the film takes care to allude to the first film – again, we start in the town of Crystal Lake, and again we see Crazy Ralph, warning some of our new characters about the horror that awaits them. In this film, however, with Pamela Voorhees firmly dead, the viewer is given a moment to wonder if Crazy Ralph may be the killer, alluding to the whodunit nature of the first film.
From there, we are introduced to the new characters of the film, and many familiar dynamics play out: we have Ginny and Paul, our leads, essentially playing a variation of the vaguely romantic chemistry of Alice and Steve in the first film. Ginny feels more self-assured than the reserved Alice of the first film, and her interest in child psychology proves a key aspect in the film’s denouement. We also have Jeff and Sandra serving as the film’s horny couple, a la Jack and Marcie from the first film, as well as Ted serving the role of camp prankster like the first film’s similarly named Ned.
If that familiarity makes the film seem formulaic, the lived-in performances that the cast give adds new depth to these familiar roles. The chemistry between Ginny and Paul especially gives the impression that we are arriving in the middle of a love story that has already played out for a while – two adult individuals trying to figure out how their relationship will work as they both grow up.
Aiding in the film’s naturalism is the emphasis on a strain of observational hangout comedy that was present in the first film. Using longer tracking shots as the camera navigates through the room, Miner is able to establish the nightly routines of our characters as they play games and have conversations that feel very authentic.
In this section, Miner is even able to give depth to characters that, in later entries of the series, would simply be unlikable. Take Scott, for example, he’s a creep, first seen using a slingshot to shoot rocks at the butt of fellow counselor Terri, and the film gives him several other creepy moments like that. But his scene in the cabin, where he slow dances with Terri’s dog Muffin, is authentically funny and sweet, and it prevents him from being outright hateable.
Around the Campfire, We First Hear Jason’s Legend
In a scene that the franchise would keep coming back to, we hear head counselor Paul tell us about Jason’s legend: a boy who drowned, a mother who got revenge, and a figure who might still be out there, waiting and watching. It could almost work as a statement of intent from the film: this is Jason’s film. It adds a layer of suspense, as we wonder what sort of shape this drowned boy must be in, 20-plus years removed from the tragedy that his mother sought revenge for.
A few scenes later, we return to a POV shot staring at Ginny and Paul from outside their cabin. We are led to think it’s Jason watching them, preparing for his strike, but instead, it’s Crazy Ralph, our lovable town nutjob. Perhaps he’s returning to warn them further, to try and sabotage them so that they leave this cursed place, or perhaps he’s really our killer. In a defining moment, however, we see a pair of hands wrap barbed wire around Crazy Ralph’s neck, and from that moment, it’s clear that this film will not be a whodunit.
It’s a clever moment, especially because it starts with a misleading, a moment that almost serves to puncture the legend of Jason and make it something more earthbound and realistic: a town crazy seeking to enforce the legend. By almost puncturing the mystery but then immediately reinforcing it, the film makes it all the more clear that we’re not dealing with a regular guy using a legend as a cover.
As the Film Solidifies Aspects of the Slasher, It Also Adds a Grisly Playfulness and Dark Humor
The elaborate murder scenes of slashers may truly originate in the first Friday the 13th, with Tom Savini’s brilliant special effects bringing a new intensity to a genre that ostensibly started as a murder mystery. The first film’s murders, however, lacked a certain playfulness and any real discernible sense of humor. The humor, instead, came from characters like Ned and the lowkey hangout vibe mentioned above.
Steve Miner’s directing, however, brought a new sense of humor to the series beyond just those observational moments. It may be a stretch to call Miner outright subversive, but there are moments that pair grisliness and visual puns in a confident and brazen manner.
For example, consider the scene where Muffin, Terri’s dog, runs through the woods and ends up at the feet of Jason Voorhees; then we get a cut to a hot dog, cooking on a grill, and we’re clued into the fate of Muffin, later confirmed when Jeff and Sandra find the dog’s mangled remains in the woods. And Muffin’s owner Terri is treated to a similar fate: running towards the camera screaming upon discovering the hanging dead body of Scott, then a cut that matches her scream with a guitar riff.
The most subversive and darkly humorous moments are yet to come, however. One that proved quite controversial, and in turn, earned the film even further critical vitriol is the death of Mark, our wheelchair-bound hunk in the film. Following a monologue about how Mark plans to regain his ability to walk following the accident that disabled him, we find ourselves on the deck of the cabin, sitting with Mark as he waits for his prospective lover Vicki to return.
Mark calls Vicki’s name, waits for her, and eventually gets his response: a machete to the face, one which causes Mark to fall down a set of stairs, his wheelchair clunking against each individual step as it makes its way down. It’s taboo to imagine killing a disabled character in a film as is, but to add to it the absurdity of Mark’s death and draw it out turns it into a dark joke and shows Miner’s supreme confidence in his talents.
In the End, There Was Jason
After a few more murders (including the classic mid-coitus spearing), our protagonists Ginny and Paul return from a night of drinking, finding the cabin dark and a bed full of blood. Then he attacks: Baghead Jason, glimpsed just a few minutes ago for the first time by Vicki just before she died, here seen lurking in the shadows.
After attacking Paul, Jason turns his attention on Ginny, starting one of the greatest slasher chases. Miner makes the chase work by balancing moments of intense chasing with more suspenseful bits, several of which are distinctly memorable: Jason crashing into the window just as Ginny reaches for it, Ginny hiding behind the car waiting for Jason, and, perhaps the most distinctive, another darkly comic moment where Ginny reveals her location under a bed to Jason by peeing in fear when a rat crosses in front of her.
It all leads to a final confrontation in Jason’s shack, one of the film’s most marvelous locations, a true marvel of set design that actually looks as though it was assembled by Jason and a place given the most stylish lighting in the film – an eerie yellowish glow. As Ginny is forced to confront Jason, she uses empathy to outsmart him, dressing up as Jason’s mother and telling Jason his work is done. It’s a clever ruse, and it shows Ginny to be smarter than the typical final girl, whose distinct empathy doesn’t overshadow her quest to survive. Just as the ruse falls apart, however, Paul returns to save the day, and Jason is seemingly defeated.
Returning to the cabin, Paul and Ginny wait, trying to shake off the terrible events they’ve lived through, but there is a noise outside the door. Ginny prepares for the worst, grabbing the pitchfork that Jason was attacking her with earlier, as Paul reaches towards the doorknob slowly and we see … Muffin, alive and well! The music turns peaceful and cloyingly sentimental, until Jason, seen unmasked for the first time in all his misshapen glory, grabs Ginny through the window, and we abruptly cut to Ginny being wheeled into an ambulance, calling Paul’s name, his fate left unclear.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is the Second Consecutive Slasher Classic from the Series
Thanks to Steve Miner’s assured direction and the film’s great characters, Friday the 13th Part 2 still feels like a great slasher, and one that is distinct and original even 40 years removed from its debut. It also ushered in the first wave of deformed killers, debuting just a week before the similar film The Burning and two years before the shot-in-1981-but-released-in-1983 Madman, both of which feature similar killers riffing on the Cropsey legend.
However, even with those films coming along, Friday the 13th Part 2 still feels like the best of the lot, a film with a sense of humor and a stylish backwoods look that also helped to guide slashers as they moved into their next phase, putting a new emphasis on the idea of each entry having a distinct killer who could be marketed. The series would focus more on branding Jason Voorhees with later entries, but his entrance, and the film that came with it, remains iconic all these years later.
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