Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) - The Franchise Started Here

‘Friday the 13th’ (1980) ushered in the glory gory days of the slasher film’s golden age of the early '80s. It was made purely to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978) and was the introduction to a slew of graphic nasties of this 1980 to 1984 period eating up box office receipts with much gusto. Independently shot on a budget of just $550,000 and picked up by Paramount for its domestic release (Warner Bros. distributed it internationally) it became the first major Hollywood studio release of its kind as it is essentially a bloodthirsty exploitation movie that would have more commonly taken a residency on the grindhouse circuit. It became a phenomenal instant hit unlike 'Halloween' which was gradually released in other territories until the tail end of 1979 raking in the profits whereas 'Friday the 13th' had a more traditional Hollywood distribution. It made a massive $39.7 million at the American box office and a further $20 million worldwide. With the slasher craze now in full force with other studios picking up other independently produced entries into the sub-genre and giving low-budgets to production companies to go out and make the guaranteed cash cows that emptied the pockets of the geek show crowds' craving the mass amounts of bloodletting it was time for an immediate sequel.

When acquiring the international distribution rights Paramount did not originally intend for it to be a direct follow-up. They wanted a horror anthology series with each entry being an original tale. However, producers on the original film had the idea of Jason Voorhees the mongoloid son of antagonist Pamela being the killer. The previous instalment’s associate producer Steve Miner believed in this concept and replaced Cunningham as director who had no desire to return. Taking with him most of the same crew from the first movie Miner created a slightly superior sequel in most departments - the pacing is much smoother, the characterization is a step up and writer Ron Kurtz does a good job in introducing the Jason mythology.

The pre-credit prologue scene is creepily effective and we already feel very unsettled from the moment the film fades in. The establishing shot is of a post-rain water drenched street at night focused on one house in the middle with a bedroom light on and there is the eerie sound of a small boy singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ while playing in the water. Now introduced to the legs of a stranger walking to that house we hear Harry Manfredini’s musical score "ki ki ki, ma ma ma". Reintroduced to the last movie’s survivor Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) lying on a bed sleeping in the same said house and seemingly having a nightmare director Miner integrates a montage of clips from the previous film’s climax. Instead of just lumping on a recap before the movie’s opening scene or opening credits we get it all in Alice’s nightmare during a pre-title sequence. Alice decapitating Pamela Voorhees is included as well as all dialogue about her son Jason and imagery of his drowning with of course him rising from Crystal Lake. All this emphasizes upon the character.

When Alice wakes up the camera follows her as she does various things around the house. When she answers her mother’s phone call in the front room, we learn Alice is spending time alone to get over that terrifying night. She then goes to the kitchen to look at her drawings; a character trait carried over from the last film. When the phone rings again, Alice answers it thinking it is her mother but instead the caller hangs up leaving her worried. Hearing dustbins crashing to the ground outside the open kitchen window she picks up the nearest sharpest object a screwdriver lying on the kitchen top and goes to the window to investigate. Suddenly a cat jumps through the window onto the kitchen table! Relieved Alice puts down the screwdriver on the nearby stove and puts the kettle on but when opening the fridge door to get some food for the cat she sees Pamela Voorhees’ severed head inside and screams with absolute fright. The stranger we saw before with the same screwdriver creeps up behind her and stabs her in the right temple of her head. We then see a shot of the cat looking up at the intruding killer and meowing and then a close up of the stranger taking the whistling kettle off the boil. 

From Alice’s nightmare incorporating a recap of the previous movie’s climax featuring all dialogue and imagery of Jason to the head of his mother in the fridge and the murder of her killer it is obvious that he did not actually drown and takes revenge for the killing of his mother. Most of the film is concerned with setting up the Jason mythos with elaborations on the local legend in a terrific campfire tale scene, a bar discussion and in the climatic confrontation between Jason and final girl Ginny Field. Alice’s disappearance two months after the mass murder at Camp Crystal Lake becomes part of the legend. This well shot, edited and paced prelude sequence not only details all very tidily the mythology of the backstory but it also sets up the twitchy tone for the rest of the movie. 

Five years later we are introduced to a new set of characters (in other words fodder for the machete wielding loon sod). A group of young attractive adults attends a camp counsellor-training centre, which has been set up near the now condemned Camp Crystal Lake. While there are a lot more councillors this time around the film focuses on a core group of eight of them. While the characterization is nowhere near deep character study (it is a slasher after all) these set of horny teenagers are better written and more likable than in the first movie. Because of this improved element, we can sympathize more with them when they meet their nasty ends. While the characters are not as well written as in ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981) and ‘The Burning’ (1981), it is one of the best in this respect of the Friday the 13th series.

Female protagonist Ginny Field is in a relationship with male lead and camp leader Paul Holt. Ginny played by Amy Steel and Paul played by John Fury are surprisingly quite strong leads giving just above average performances. Steel is undoubtedly the best final girl of the series. Her character is intelligent and resourceful and has a background in child psychology, which she is studying for a university degree giving her an advantage over Jason Voorhees because of her understanding of his child like mind. In the bar discussion scene she provides a theory on the possibility that the Jason legend might be true: a backwoods hermit psychopathic deformed man-child and witness to the killing of his mother crying out for her resurrection. Fury as Paul shows personality with his dry humour.

Before leaving for the bar during a dinner scene Paul announces one last night on the town. The camera then pans along the councillors as the core group of supporting characters discuss their reasons for staying behind. Leaving behind just these select characters not only leaves room for better pacing and suspense but leaves us feeling bad for them when they meet their demise as we have got to know and like them. Mark is the most endearing character as he is wheelchair bound yet has a positive out-look on life with his determination to walk again. He forms the beginnings of a relationship with the nice girl of the group Vicky making their gruesome murders all the more tragic. Mark’s death is one of the most brutal and non-bias kills out of all of the Friday the 13th murder set-pieces. Imagine if Christopher Reeve was still with us and some nutter whacked a machete into his face! It would absolutely sicken you and this is exactly how this scene makes me feel. Vicky’s death while not as gruesome just makes it all the sadder knowing that these two were starting something beautiful together. 

However, while Mark’s demise is indeed brutal at the same time it is also one of the film’s problems. It is obvious to the viewer that the machete is the wrong way around when embedded into his face. This is the same for the slashing of Scott’s throat. Nothing much would happen at all if somebody were to be hit/slit with the blunt side of a machete. The filmmakers were doing this for the actor’s safety, which is understandable and at least they did not use a fake rubber machete. The other memorable kill is the double impalement of Jeff and Sandra while they are having sex. It is taken right out of Mario Bava’s ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’ (1971) but it seems to more infamous in this movie but not as good. View Mark’s death in all of its gruesome glory below...

There was originally supposed to be more bloodletting in the above-mentioned scenes and in the film in general but were trimmed by the MPAA. They really were not kind to this entry due to the extreme protests made to them against the first movie’s explicit scenes of violence. While ‘Friday the 13th’ paved the way for gory slasher films it also gave birth to the MPAA’s crackdown on all sub-genres of the horror movie - an extreme overreaction. With the exception of Mark’s killing, the cuts made to this film take away a lot of the visual power in the death scenes. With that and the fact the Carl Fullington’s SFX just are not as good as Tom Savini’s in the original the visceral intensity is lacking and underwhelming here.

Another of the movie’s flaws is Jason’s look. I find it extremely lacking in creative originality and just half-arise lazy that the filmmakers just stuck on a potato sack for his mask and going out of their way to rip off the killer’s look in ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ (1976). This is a mistake that would be rectified in ‘Friday the 13th Part 3’ (1982) with the now infamous hockey mask which has become one of the most recognizable images in modern popular culture.

During the climatic confrontation, we can see the significance of Ginny's background in child psychology in relation to her understanding of Jason’s mind. In his rundown shack, she sees the decomposed head of Pamela Voorhees as a shrine. As he is breaking through that room’s door with a pickaxe deriving a conclusion that this is Jason Voorhees and his mother’s head she puts on the jumper Mrs Voorhees died in and picks up a machete hiding it behind her back. As Jason finally breaks through Ginny manipulates him with the loss of his mother by deceiving him into believing she is her. We see images of Pamela Voorhees (again played by Betsy Palmer) as she is speaking telling him that his job is done and for him to kneel down. As Ginny raises the machete to strike Jason with it he sees his mother’s head and wises up to her plan. Blocking the machete with the pickaxe simultaneously knocking it out of her hand, he then digs it into her leg just as Paul comes running in. Paul pulls Jason away and as they are fighting, Ginny picks up the machete again. While Jason has Paul on the ground, she strikes the machete into his left shoulder. Jason goes down and before both of them leaves, Ginny takes the potato sack off his head - Ginny and Paul seem horrified by what they see.

This scene both illustrates Ginny’s advantage over Jason and elaborates more on his mentality and the motives of his actions further establishing the mythology of the forth-coming series.

When Ginny and Paul return to camp, there is one final scare with a non-masked deformed Jason breaking through a cabin window grabbing Ginny. It then cuts to the next scene in the morning with Ginny taken away by paramedics on a stretcher as she asks where Paul is. We then return to Jason’s shack with the camera closing in on Mrs Voorhees’ mummified head. As it reaches a close up the frame freezes giving one last lingering eerily look at her. Instead of the freeze frame, Steve Miner originally intended for her head to open its eyes and smile indicating that Paul was murdered. However, he thought the effect looked cheap and fake so he went with the freeze frame.

It is theory time. During the bar scene with Ginny’s talk of Jason crying out for his Mother’s resurrection and the unused footage of her head opening its eyes in the film’s final shot it may be feasible that Miner and Kurtz were planting the seeds of a possible supernatural take on the Friday the 13th mythos. Maybe there was a proposed idea for the actual resurrection of Pamela Voorhees. A case can be made further with her rising out of the lake in a dream sequence at the end of the next instalment - homage to the rip-off ‘Carrie’ dream scene in the original movie with Jason rising from Crystal Lake. If there is any truth to this, then the writers abandoned the idea when Miner left the series.

A few films from the early 80’s slasher boom were great, a fair share was good and a lot were abysmal. This one falls into that middle category. Flaws aside ‘Friday the Part 2’ is a decent slasher horror. It certainly surpasses its predecessor in most ways and is overall the better movie. It stands as the second best in the franchise behind ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ (1984). While this series has generally, highlighted bad acting with equally bad characterization from woefully written scripts this is one of the better entries in regards to these areas of filmmaking.
*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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