Long considered to be an unlucky day due to superstitions involving the number thirteen and religious connotations, Friday the 13th is perhaps equally as well-known as being the title for a long-running series of slasher movies. As a result, this is clearly the best opportunity to take a look at the Friday the 13th (Various, 1980 to 2009) horror series and to commemorate this unlucky and dreaded date.
Released: 1 May 1981
Director: Steve Miner
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $1.25 million
Stars: Amy Steel, John Furey, Stu Charno, and Steve Daskewisz
Five years after Pamela Voorhees’ (Betsy Palmer) murder spree, Paul Holt (Furey) and his assistant, Ginny Field (Steel), reopen Camp Crystal Lake and begin fixing the place up and training a new crop of camp counsellors. However, the camp’s “death curse” lives on as Pamela’s backwoods son, Jason (Daskewisz), stalks and relentlessly kills the counsellors one by one.
Following the lead of John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), which basically gave birth to the “slasher” sub-genre of horror cinema, Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980) became a box office success despite many, myself included, criticising the film’s pace and narrative. Still, money talks and plans for a sequel were soon made; initially imagined as an anthology series, it was Paul Scuderi who saw a natural continuation of the first film’s story in the character of Jason Voorhees. After producer/director Sean S. Cunningham distanced himself from the sequel, directing duties fell to Steve Miner; special effects maestro Tom Savini was unable to contribute to the sequel and, while Friday the 13th star Adrienne King did return, an encounter with an obsessed fan saw her role reduced to a cameo and there were numerous accidents and injuries during filming. Though a final domestic box office of over $21 million meant that Friday the 13th Part 2 was a financial success, its gross didn’t quite match that of its predecessor and the film was met with largely negative reviews despite also being praised for its effects work and violence.
If, for whatever reason, you’ve never seen Friday the 13th (and honestly I wouldn’t blame you as it’s pretty terrible outside of some fun kills and the shock ending), you don’t really need to worry when watching Friday the 13th Part 2 as the film starts an annoying trend of beginning with a detailed recap of the finale of the first film. This is related to the viewer through returning final girl Adrienne King (Alice Hardy), who is haunted by recurring nightmares of her confrontation with Pamela Voorhees. While this effectively glosses over whether or not Allice’s encounter with young Jason (Ari Lehman) was a dream or actually happened, we later get a pretty in-depth recap of the Voorhees legend courtesy of would-be head camp counsellor Paul Holt, who retcons Jason’s supposed demise to suggest that the boy actually survived drowning in Crystal Lake and has been living in the surrounding woods ever since. Anyway, while Alice does return in this film, her inclusion serves as little more than a glorified cameo and very much the same purpose as the miscellaneous camp counsellors killed by Pamela in the opening of the first film in that she’s there to a) catch us up with the events of the first film and b) serve as cannon fodder for the film’s newest unseen killer.
The film’s newest crop of unwitting victims is then introduced, with Alice’s death only adding to the terrifying mystique of Crystal Lake; undeterred by Crazy Ralph’s (Walt Gorney) horror stories of nearby “Camp Blood”, Paul has opened up a counsellor training facility with the intention of schooling a new crop of prospective counsellors alongside his girlfriend, Ginny Field. A stickler for health and safety, Paul is a tough but fair taskmaster; he tells the group about Jason straight-up to discourage any wild rumours and encourages them to have fun when not on the job as long as they follow strict rules of conduct when undergoing his training programme. The other prospective camp counsellors include loved-up couple Jeff Dunsberry (Bill Randolph) and Sandra Dier (Marta Kober), fun-loving goofball Ted Bowen (Charno), wheelchair-bound former athlete Mark Jarvis (Tom McBride), sweet and innocent Vickie Perry (Lauren-Marie Taylor), and horny flirts Scott Cheney (Russell Todd) and Terry McCarthy (Kirsten Baker). While each of them have had some experience with counselling before (Paul has also worked alongside Scott and Mark in the past), they are just as flamboyant with their responsibilities and Paul’s rules as their predecessors; despite Camp Crystal Lake being off-limits, Sandra encourages Jeff to investigate the site and Terry commits the ultimate cardinal sin by going skinny-dipping in the lake. Still, they’re a far more memorable bunch than the kids from the first film thanks to being much more laid-back and having far more interesting characteristics: Scott is a bit of a pervy creep but not to the extent that it’s really uncomfortable as in some of the later sequels, Terry has a cute little dog, Mark is determined to get out of his wheelchair at some point, and even Jeff has his harmonica.
It isn’t much, sure, but they’re far more likeable than any of the cast from the first film. Later Friday the 13th and slasher films made most of the characters such complete assholes that we were actively routing for the killer to bump them off, which was fun, sure, but definitely diminished the threat of the killer. That isn’t the case here, and it’s honestly a little upsetting to see some of them (like Vickie, who genuinely seemed attracted to Mark) go out in such brutal fashion. Nowhere is any of this better realised than in Ginny, who makes an immediate impression by being a far more charismatic leading lady than Alice; with a bright, captivating smile, she delights in winding Paul up and is enthralled by the legend of Jason, feeling an affinity and pity for the boy’s plight at having been bullied, left for dead, and forced to watch his mother be beheaded before his eyes. Interestingly, unlike most “Final Girls”, Ginny is largely absent for the vast majority of the film as she, Paul, and Ted are out with some of the other, inconsequential characters have a bit of a booze-up in town. While this is one of the main reasons she doesn’t get picked off like the others, her adaptability and perseverance also play a large part in her survival, too; where Paul tries to grapple with the killer, Ginny is smart enough to use what she knows of the camp’s legend (and her knowledge of child psychology) to momentarily subdue her pursuer, something that separates her from the vast majority of her successors.
Like the first film, the killer is left unseen for the vast majority of Friday the 13th Part 2. However, I would argue that it’s pretty well telegraphed early on that the killer is Pamela’s son, Jason, since Pam is clearly dead and Jason’s legend is retconned to say he didn’t actually drown in the lake. Though we don’t actually see Jason properly until the finale, we do get to see his grubby hands and his presence is constantly conveyed to us through the return of the iconic “Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” theme, and there’s a lingering sense of dread concerning him thanks to characters being acutely aware of him, specifically, rather than the obscure threat of a “death curse”. Jason’s modus operandi is practically identical to his mother’s in that he stalks his victims and strikes when they least expect it but he is far more physical and aggressive in his kills thanks to his near-superhuman strength. However, while he likes to leave dead bodies strewn all over the place like his mother, Jason also employs guerrilla tactics such as bear traps to ensnare his victims. Once he is revealed to the audience, though, he freely employs more direct methods such as bashing through doors and trying to stab Ginny through the roof of her car with a pitchfork!
One thing that really holds Friday the 13th Part 2 back is the simple, inarguable fact that it’s pretty much a carbon-copy of the first film; the entire execution is very much the same as its predecessor: a group of teens at a camp are stalked by an unseen killer and picked off one-by-one until the killer is revealed for the finale. Still, the film definitely benefits from a far better pace, presentation, and more likeable characters; thanks to the events of the first film adding to the urban legend of Crystal Lake, there’s much more meat on the bones here as we have the added element of Jason to help make the “Death Curse” a more tangible horror and there’s an interesting sense of mystery at work as characters openly speculate on Jason’s mindset in a way that was impossible in the first film since no-one really knew anything about the Voorhees’ until the last few minutes.
Like its predecessor and many of its successors, Friday the 13th Part 2 features an abundance of creative kills that were butchered to secure an R-rated; the film begins with a far more graphic kill than its predecessor as Alice is stabbed through the temple by Jason and special effects wizard Carl Fullerton does a commendable job filling in for Tom Savini with brutal kills such as Ralph being garrotted with a piece of wire, Scott having his throat slit, and Jeff and Sandra being impaled with a spear. When Jason’s shack is discovered by Deputy Winslow (Jack Marks), the cop gets a claw hammer to the back of his head for his troubles but by far my favourite kill of the film (and one of my favourites of the entire series) is Mark’s sudden and ferocious death as Jason whacks a machete into his face from just out of frame and leaves him lifelessly trundling down a flight of stairs.
Because of this, it’s much more interesting seeing events unfold onscreen as we learn bits and pieces about Jason’s life in the woods without really seeing him up close or delving too deeply into it. He has a grotty little self-made shack with a disturbing shrine to his mother and his victims, which adds a lot of humanity to his character, and there’s a strong implication that he is actively killing because he sees everyone who enters his territory as being responsible for his mother’s death. When Jason is finally revealed, he’s a far cry from the hockey-masked maniac of the next film and beyond; instead; he’s garbed in a simple but incredibly effective burlap sack and shabby overalls that are very much befitting of a backwoods fiend. Jason is given a surprisingly amount of childlike, emotional gravitas when it is revealed that he keeps his mother’s decomposing head and tattered jumper in his shack; when Ginny assumes Pamela’s clothing, Jason immediately stops his rampage and listens to her every word, believing that his beloved mother has returned to life and, despite his face being obscured, his rage at the deception is as clear as day thanks to Daskewisz’s masterful physicality. When Jason’s face is finally revealed, it’s a monstrous sight that, again, serves as one final shock for the film after it appears as though he’s been defeated for good and we’re again left with a vaguely ambiguous ending that suggests Camp Crystal Lake’s nightmare is far from over.
Honestly, it had been a while since I last watched Friday the 13th Part 2 for this review and I went into it fully expecting to rate it as “Terrible” because I remembered it being little more than a redundant retread of the first film but I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it, especially compared to the original. Yes, the basic story is the same (and would be for many of its successors) but the presentation and characters are far better this time around; I found myself actually interested in many of the prospective counsellors, who were much more charismatic and well-rounded despite their limited screen time and characterisation simply because I found them more interesting than any of the characters from the first film. The addition of Jason as the killer, while obvious from the get-go, really added to the film’s mystique; while his depiction is almost exactly the same as his mother’s and there’s still an element of mystery surrounding the killer, the fact that he looms over the camp and the entire film like an ominous shadow makes things much creepier, in my opinion, than a vague “death curse” and an unknown killer. Friday the 13th Part 2 takes everything that worked in its predecessor and enhances them in subtle, but noticeable, ways; while many of the beats are undoubtably the same, the pacing and presentation are a marked improvement, making for a film that’s just as chilling and foreboding but also far more brisk and entertaining rather than being a snooze-fest until the finale like in the first film.
What did you think to Friday the 13th Part 2? How do you feel it holds up against the original and its many sequels? Which of the new characters was your favourite and why, and how do you think Ginny compares to Alice? Did you guess that Jason was the killer and what did you think to his backstory being retconned to allow for this? Which of the Friday the 13th movies is your favourite? Perhaps you prefer a different slasher film or franchise; if so, what is it? Do you consider Friday the 13th to be unlucky? Are you watching a Friday the 13th movie today? Whatever your thoughts on Friday the 13th (the movie, franchise, and day), go ahead and leave a comment down below and be sure to check in again for more horror content in the near future!