WARNING: Although this should go without saying, the following deep-dive retrospective / review of a nearly forty (!) year old movie contains spoilers! You have been warned!
Even though Friday the 13’th Part 2 is better crafted and more engaging than its predecessor, it also makes a few baffling miss-steps that prevents it from reaching the top tier of this minor pantheon.
For one, the movie is seriously hamstrung by a pre-credit sequence that’s supposed to take place two months after the events of the first film. In it, we see final girl Alice (Adrienne King) experiencing a “nightmare”, which is just a cheap way for director Steve Miner and writer Ron Kurz to recap the events of Part 1 for the audience.
Y’see, kids, back in THE DARK AGES (I.E. 1981), streaming video was still science fiction and home video was practically non-existent. As such, whenever you made a sequel, you couldn’t just assume that the audience had seen or could remember the events of the prior film. So, yes, even though it made sense back then to include a flashback / dream sequence in the sequel’s prologue, the ease with which modern audiences can find and watch the first flick kinda makes this whole preamble feel like wasted screen time.
It also doesn’t help that Adrienne King’s interpretation of a “bad dream” is comically thrashing around on her bed as if she’s auditioning for Exorcist III. At least the subsequent phone conversation she has with her mom is more understated than any of her overwrought line deliveries in the first film. Maybe she was depressed after laying eyes on the “Cabbage Patch Kid” ensemble that the wardrobe department had picked out for her or how shabbily the script was about to treat her character.
At least the film-makers cared enough to scatter a few of Alice’s paintings around her apartment, which is a nice call back to the sketches she did in Part 1. Beyond these minor nods to continuity, I despise this pre-credit sequence with the fire of a million suns. And it’s not just the repetition and wasted time I’m salty about, it’s just how stupid and nonsensical the whole thing is.
So, as it turn out, this “nightmare” is just a preamble to Alice inexplicably discovering the decapitated noggin’ of Pamela Voorhees sitting next to the Sunny D in her fridge. At least I think it’s supposed to be Pamela, ‘cuz the prop looks less like actress Betsy Palmer and more like Jeff Daniels. Regardless, this little stunt distracts Alice long enough for her killer to ambush her from behind and bury an ice pick in her skull. And with that, the film finally segues into its ‘splody title sequence.
First off, I can’t overstate how disrespectful this is to the character of Alice. It brings to mind the arbitrary killing of Newt and Hicks in Alien 3 or dispatching the scattered survivors from A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3 within the first few minutes of Part 4. Look, Alice survived her ordeal in the first film and, frankly, she deserves a reprieve. To knock her off like the first action n item on a shitty “things-to-do” list is really galling.
Beyond this heinous transgression against the unwritten survivor girl code, there’s a lot more stupidity to unpack here. First off, the concept that Jason has somehow emerged from out of nowhere to kill Alice in an act of revenge is enough to drive any die-hard Friday fan completely batty. Any way you cut it (pun intended), this scarcely makes any sense, and that’s saying something when it comes to this series!
In order for this to work at all, we have to assume that the gross, rotten, zombie kid that popped out of the water at the end of Part 1 was just a figment of Alice’s fevered imagination. This leads us to conclude that Jason never drowned at all. I dunno, maybe he bumped his head on a log, washed up on shore with amnesia and then spent his formative years growing up in the woods until the sight of Alice lopping his mom’s head off brought his memories back.
Even if we accept that insane theory, the prologue would have us believe that Jason somehow managed to figure out where Alice lived, schlepped all the way there from Crystal Lake, crept into her apartment, placed his mom’s head in her fridge, then crept up and stabbed her. It’s phreakin’ ridiculous!
Alright, more warped Jason chronology and wacky theories later. We’ve got a lot of (camp)ground to cover here, folks.
Fast forward five years later and head counselor Paul Holt (John Furey) is looking to open a new summer camp on a different part of Crystal Lake. We’re then introduced to a whole new cast of
er, camp counselor, including adorkable goofball Ted (Stuart Charno),
sweet-but-blatantly-horny Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor), her object de lust, the hunky, wheel-chair-bound
Mark (Tom McBride,) fuck buddies Sandra (Marta Kober) and Jeff (Bill Randolph),
free spirit / Muffin mom Terry (Kirsten Baker) and her waaay-creepier-than-Jason stalker, Scott, played by Russell
This is also where we meet the film’s MVP / secret weapon, Amy Steel. I’m just gonna come right out and say this now: Amy is, IMHO, the Jamie Lee Curtis / Heather Langencamp of the Friday the 13’th series. In fact, I’m going to be so bold as to say that her Ginny is my all-time favorite survivor girls in slasher history. Although the “sign of the times” script does her dirty occasionally (more on that later), Amy’s portrayal is so genuine, resourceful, intelligent and plucky that I’m willing to overlook all of these wrong-headed script decisions.
After all the trainees show up, Paul proceeds to scare the fertilizer out of them by recounting the story of Jason, campfire-style, yo:
“I'm gonna give it to you straight about Jason; his body was never recovered from the lake after he drowned. And if you listen to the old-timers in town, they'll tell you he's still out there, some sort of demented creature, surviving in the wilderness, full grown by now. Stalking, stealing what he needs, living off wild animals and vegetation. Some folks claim they've even seen him, right in this area. The girl that survived that night at Camp Blood, that Friday The 13th, she claimed she saw him. She disappeared two months later... vanished. Blood was everywhere. No one knows what happened to her. Legend has it that Jason saw his mother beheaded that night. Then, he took his revenge, a revenge he continued to seek if anyone ever enters his wilderness again. And, by now, I guess you all know we're the first to return here. Five years, five long years he's been dormant...and he's hungry. Jason's out there, watching, always on the prowl for intruders. Ready to kill, ready to devour...thirsty for young blood!”
It’s a wonderfully creepy moment that really helps to establish Jason as a modern day (read: 80’s-era) urban legend. Pity the tension is completely deflated when wacky prankster Ted leaps into their midst, brandishing a spear and wearing a caveman outfit and a long-haired zombie mask. Having said that, I completely understand why director Steve Miner and writer Ron Kurz did this.
By making light of what he sees as a non-issue, Paul gives both his staff and the audience a false sense of security. I also appreciate that the script acknowledges the epic tragedy that happened in the first film. Setting Part 2 five years in the future and firmly establishing Crystal Lake as a “no go” zone really helps establish a modicum of realism.
Oh, and in case it isn’t blatantly obvious from his first millisecond on screen, Ted is this movie’s Ned from Part 1, in that he’s a walking Dad joke. For some reason, though, the character isn’t nearly as irritating. Credit for this goes to actor Stuart Charno, who’s disarming awkwardness and understated deliveries add to his appeal. Plus it really helps that the character isn’t just written as a professional asshole. That’s actually, Scott, but more on that fuckboi later.
Then the movie makes another baffling misstep: unceremoniously killing off Walt Gorney’s Crazy Ralph. Already established as a national treasure by his appearance in the first film, Ralph scarcely gets a chance to weird anyone out before he’s unceremoniously garroted by someone in a blue plaid shirt. Prime suspect #1: George Lucas!
Seriously, though, his demise is shockingly lame. Part 1 screenwriter Victor Miller was inspired to throw Ralph into the mix as an old-school harbinger of doom, a “soothsayer right out of Shakespeare.” So maybe director Steve Miner and screenwriter Ron Kurz thought Ralph’s presence was a bit too melodramatic or Scooby-Doo-ish to warrant more screen time. Personally, I love Gorney’s ultra-hammy deliveries and I really wish the series kept him around a little bit longer.
At the very least, Ralph’s death jacks up the threat level, which is then heightened when Sandra goads Jeff into sneaking off to Camp Blood, presumably because Packanack Lodge doesn’t have the cable hooked up yet. During their trek they come across a mutilated animal, which the audience instant assumes is Terry’s missing dog, Muffin. Moments later, they’re busted by Deputy Winslow (Jack Marks), who proceeds to lose his proverbial shit on them.
Jack’s aneurysm-level performance really drives home the point that Camp Crystal Lake is about as accessible as Chernobyl. Although it’s been five years since the events of the first film, it’s clear that the murders are still fresh in the minds of the locals. Inexorably, this sense of realism would start to ebb out of the series, eventually prompting viewers to wonder why anyone in their right mind would venture into this county let alone Crystal Lake itself!
Deputy Winslow is one hardcore motherfucker. After he spots what appears to be a Deliverance cosplayer running across the road, he immediately pulls over and gives chase. He ends up in a dodgy, ramshackle cabin which turns out to be the perfect spot for an ambush. Moments after Winslow’s horrified reaction foreshadows the film’s Gotterdammerung climax, the Deputy gets hammered on duty and the tension continues to rise.
This is probably a good spot to mention the film’s authentic, evocative and immersive setting. Even though Part 2 was shot in Connecticut instead of New Jersey, it still makes effective use of those distinctive East Coast North American forests. Whenever the actors are tramping through the woods, I can’t help but wonder if they know what poison ivy looks like. Future films in the series would eschew this approach for sunny Californian back-lots or tax breaks down south, but this sacrificed the kind of atmosphere that The Blair Witch Project exploited so successfully years later.
This brings me to Jason’s cabin, which is a humble, but no less effective, triumph of production design. It really does look like the hovel of some crazed hermit who’s been living in the woods for about a decade. Add in the isolated and authentic environs of North Spectacle Pond in Kent, Connecticut, which stands in for the iconic Packanack Lodge, and you’ve got a horror movie setting that’s pretty much ideal.
With so many counselors running around, screenwriter Ron Kurz cleverly thins out the herd by shipping half of them off to the Casino Bar in “town.” It’s here that Amy Steele delivers her speculative soliloquy about Jason, which really solidifies the lore of the series. I also think it’s funny that Ted’s drunken obsession with finding an after-hours club is ultimately what spares him from Jason’s all-encompassing wrath.
We then return to camp and witness the wacky hijinx of Russell Todd’s Scott. Let’s face it: everyone knows a Scott, I.E. that dude who thinks he can act like an entitled douche-nozzle just because he’s impossibly good looking. This might sound like a thinly-veiled insult, but Todd is note-perfect: smarmy, arrogant, and brash, basically a poster boy for #metoo movement.
When Terry inexplicably refuses to leap into the sack with him after her smokes her in the ass with a slingshot rock, he acts contrite for a second, generating a blip of sympathy from the audience. But then the creep STEALS HER PHREAKIN’ CLOTHES when she decides to go swimming au naturel.
I guess I should address Kirsten Baker’s infamous skinny dipping scene. Now, I’m sure Kirsten was originally hired for the role of Terry because she was drop-dead gorgeous but she’s actually really good in the role, especially when she has to fend off Scott’s pervy advances. Watching this, I can’t help but wonder if Kirsten had to contend with an endless parade of real-life “Scott’s” during her film career.
Speaking as someone who thinks swimsuits are patently ridiculous, it makes perfect sense to me that Terry swims nekkid. Now, I’m also not gonna sit here and claim that the film-makers included this scene because they were crusading for body freedom and non-sexual nudity. Quite the opposite, in fact. Despite being regarded as an “era of excess”, the 80’s were a notoriously-prudish decade and nudity, specifically female nudity, was often included just for titillation.
Even people who haven’t seen a single Friday the 13’th film knows that if you (A) got naked, (B) smoked weed or, perish forbid, (C) fucked someone in one of these movies, you pretty much just signed your death warrant. And even though Sean Cunningham and other creative luminaries in the series swear up and down that this wasn’t a deliberate choice, it sure feels that way. In retrospect, this makes the entire series feels laughably Puritanical.
Take Lauren-Marie Taylor as Vickie, for example. I love her because she’s a take-charge kinda gal who’s clearly got a case of the throbbing thigh sweats for hunky Tom McBride’s Mark. She just wants to get busy, how can you not sympathize with her? Unfortunately , this is a Friday the 13’th flick, so that means sex-positive folks like Vickie aren’t long for this world.
While I’m on the subject, I should also mention Tom McBride, who plays the charismatic and charmingly-clueless Mark. In a modern horror flick Mark would just be THAT GUY IN THE WHEELCHAIR but here we get a few lines about what happened to him and what his aspirations are. The exchange where he re-assures Vickie that everything below the equator works perfectly fine is oddly innocent and charming. When Jason takes him out, it’s truly one of the most shocking and disturbing kills in the entire series.
Side note: all of the scenes featuring an unseen Jason stalking his victims feature some surprisingly-good camera work and set-ups from first time director Steve Miner. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the upstart Miner consistently outdoes his mentor Sean Cunningham. Part 2 doesn’t just look better than Part 1, it’s also directed with a lot more urgency, verve and panache.
Another thing worth mentioning is the excellent cinematography by Peter Stein. Even when darkness falls and the torrential downpour starts, we have no problem seeing all of the glossy, rain-slicked mayhem with perfect clarity. Between the lived-in setting and the slick camerawork, everything looks cold and wet and, as a result, the viewer can’t help but feel a visual chill. In a lesser film you’d be struggling to see anything at all in the darkness.
When bodies start dropping, the pace of the film becomes relentless. I can only assume that Ron Kurz or Steve Miner (or both!) must have seen Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood at some point because they blatantly cribbed at least two kills from that seminal giallo splatterfest. This includes Mark’s aforementioned “machete to the mush” as well as the in-coitus shish-kebob of Jeff and Sandra. Having said that, both kills are well executed, pun not intended.
This brings me to the gore effects. Now, I know this is probably sacrilege, but I really like Carl Fullerton’s makeup work, and I’d even go so far as to say that it rivals Tom Savini’s efforts in the first film. Of course, we have to keep in mind that Fullerton probably had a lot more time and money to work with, so the comparisons are likely unfair.
About around this time we also get our first good look at Jason. First off, he’s wearing the latest in “hillbilly chic”, which is a set of denim overalls, the aforementioned blue plaid shirt and a burlap sack over his head. Although it can be argued that the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown or John Merrick in The Elephant Man wore it better, it’s still kind of creepy. It’s just not the iconic look that fans will soon come to love.
Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Jason has a distinguishing feature on the thumb nail of his left hand which, by the way, we never ever, ever see again. In Part 2, Jason was actually portrayed by two actors: Steve Daskawisz and Warrington Gillette. Over the years, determining what actor is Jason in any given scene is a source of tremendous debate and controversy.
As the story goes, Warrington Gillette was hired based on the actor’s claim that he was comfortable doing stunts. Unfortunately, when they got on set, Gillette just couldn’t do the work, which forced stunt coordinator Cliff Cudney to hastily recruit dedicated stuntman Steve “Dash” Daskawisz a full week into shooting. By all accounts, Daskawisz was the killer in every scene where Jason is masked, which is to say, 99.9% of them.
I like how Jason’s modus operandi, such as his playful predilection for building traps, is already starting to come together. He also leaves the bloody sheets on the bed, knowing that Ginny and Paul will find them and get spooked but hides the bodies so as not to completely tip them off. He also knocks out the power, which becomes standard Jason procedure in many subsequent episodes.
I must admit; it’s a tad disappointing when Jason finally pops out and attacks Paul, because the head counselor actually looks like has a few inches on our boi. At this stage, Jason isn’t the hulking ogre that we see in future entries and their subsequent scrap is pretty sad. Even worse, since Part 2 was years before Aliens and T2, female characters were sadly relegated to the role of “panicked standby.” So, instead of Ginny helping a brother out, she just stands there and repeats Paul’s name over and over again. Yeeeesh.
Speaking of idiotic, there’s an even more egregious scene that sells poor Ginny “down the river”, so to speak. At one point our intrepid Final Girl is hiding under the bed when a big-ass rat happens by. This apparently scares her so badly that she PROJECTILE URINATES THROUGH HER CLOTHES. This begs the question: who in the almighty fuck though that was a good idea? Oh, right, a bunch of stupid guys who clearly don’t know that men are ten times more likely to ‘fraidy pee than women.
Well, needless to say, Jason notices this conspicuous tsunami of urine jetting out from the foot of the bed and then doubles back to climbs up on a chair so Ginny can’t see his legs. As soon as she starts to crawl out from her hiding spot, Jason attempts to skewer her but, as luck would have it, the chair founders under the goon’s weight and he comically crashes to the floor.
Yo, Jay: you’d better hope that Michael Myers didn’t see that, dawg, or he’s gonna roast your ass!
Needless to say, scenes like this really diminish Jason as a scary figure. Earlier on, Ginny does an admirable job of ducking and hiding, culminating in a pretty funny defensive nut shot. Later, Jason continues with the pratfalls, hilariously recoiling away from Ginny’s chainsaw gambit, which causes him stumble backwards, trip and smoke his burlapped noggin on the back of a chair.
In the film-makers defense, this clumsy Jason makes a fair bit of sense. He hasn’t evolved to hulking ogre or undead juggernaut yet. If you think about it, he’s a thirty-seven-year-old Deliverance-style forest hermit who barely seen other people let alone fight them, so I’m willing to cut him some slack.
Now, I can hear you asking, “How the fux do you know how old Jason is at this point?!?” Well, he drowned at age ten in 1957, then the events of Friday the 13’th occurred in 1979, which is 22 years later and then Part 2 goes five years into the future, so 10 + 22 + 5 = 37.
Jesus, I need a hobby. Anyway, back to the movie.
In addition to the kooky timeline, the script makes some serious logical leaps in order to get Ginny out into the woods. Instead of searching the camp for car keys, she just runs out into the middle of nowhere and eventually stumbles across Jason‘s cabin. Assuming that there’s someone inside who can help her, she just kinda barges in.
Of course, this had to happen because we need the big reveal of Jason’s mom-shrine. It’s a legitimately disturbing scene, with a creepy Ed Gein-esque quality to it. With Pam’s desiccated head and rotting sweater acting as the centerpiece, hawk-eyed viewers will notice that the bodies of Deputy Winslow, Terry and, for the love of gawd, Alice are all present.
So, lemme get this straight, not only did Jason track down and kill Alice, he also lugged her dead body all the way back to his cabin without being seen. Um, oooookay.
Notwithstanding this idiocy, the scene does give Ginny a chance to apply her aforementioned child psychology skills to save her own skin. Donning Pamela’s sweater and impersonating her is a stroke of minor brilliance, and Amy Steel sells it to the hilt. Steve Miner also earns bonus points here for including a very welcome cameo by Betsy Palmer. It’s great to have her back at any capacity, and I’ve always thought that the Friday series didn’t use her nearly enough to explore her origin story via flashbacks.
Ginny’s plan might be clever, but I legitimately feel bad for Jason. Convinced that Ginny is his real mom, he unquestionably kneels down in front of her when it’s asked of him, setting up a moment of true betrayal. Maybe this is what finally put Jason completely over the edge and why he’s so pissed off at twenty-something’s-playing-teenagers for the rest of the series.
Side note: seeing Jason’s lone, baleful eye staring out from behind that hood at what he thinks is his long-lost, beloved mother is fifty percent mournful and fifty percent creepy as all get-out.
At the last second, Jason catches a glimpse of his mom’s mushy melon on the altar and deflects Ginny’s killing blow. Then, Paul pops back up from out of nowhere, grabs Jason and their ensuing wrestling match causes the cabin to start collapsing down on top of them. This time Ginny has the presence of mind to pick up the machete and, in another slo-mo attack which hearkens back to the first film, she buries the fucking thing in Jason’s flanneled shoulder. This begs the question: Jason is still human at this stage...how the fuck did he possibly recover from this grievous wound by the start of the next movie?
Then, in a moment which likely had theater-goers yelling obscenities at the screen back in 1981, Ginny pauses to remove Jason‘s hood. Sure, it’s not what I would have done at that particular moment, but their horrified reaction to this off-screen sight nicely presages the insane finale. They finally decide to head back to the camp which, frankly, is what humble author’s first impulse would have been.
During all of this, Amy Steel’s terror and trauma is absolutely convincing, especially when it sounds as if Jason is somehow back and sniffing around outside the front door. In a twist, the visitor turns out to be Terry’s wayward Shih Tzu, Muffin. Beyond providing a memorable false scare, Muffin’s re-appearance gets Steve Miner and company off the audience’s shit list for showing what looked like a mangled pupper earlier on. Secondly, it gives composer extraordinaire Harry Manfredini an opportunity to audibly sucker-punch the audience again, just like he did in the first film.
Throughout the entire film, Manfredini’s Bernard Herrmann-esque Psycho-tinged score has been elevating the terror level to nigh-impossible heights. But then Manfredini uses Muffin’s re-appearance as the perfect excuse to cue up the sappy “Hey, kids, look! The dog’s still alive! Everything’s gonna be alright!” suite to lull viewers into a fall sense of security.
So, when Cro-Magnon Jason inevitably jumps through the window and grabs Amy Steel, the audience shits a communal brick without any ado. Honestly, it’s a well-executed and well-earned scare that’s on-par with the finale of the first film. Carl Fullerton’s design for adult Jason is actually pretty horrifying, even if it doesn’t line up at all with his appearance in Part 3.
Then we get this bizarre denouement which has Friday fans scratching their heads to this day. The screen fades to white and the next thing we see is Ginny being packed into the back of an ambulance, with Paul nowhere to be seen.
Some fans posit that everything that happened after the showdown in the shack was a nightmare, not unlike Jason popping out of the lake to attack Alice in the first flick. After Jason killed Paul in the shack and Ginny put the machete through the killer’s collarbone, she likely wandered back to the camp, passed out and was then discovered by the paramedics. This explains why Paul is mysteriously MIA and why the remains in the woods look like Muffin. It’s because it was Muffin...those sick fucks!
There’s only one missed opportunity and that’s the very final scene. When the camera slowly zooms in on the decapitated, desiccated head of Pamela Voorhees, it would have been fun if her eyes suddenly shot open and then it faded to credits. Not only would this have been a nice little jump scare, it would have reminded viewers of Pamela’s alpha and omega role in the franchise.
So, there you have it! Some might argue that Part 2 is nothing more than a remake of the first film, and, I suppose, a case could be made for this. In my opinion, aside for some meat-headed script decisions, the second flick is a lot leaner and meaner than its predecessor. It also continues to advance the lore of this series, setting up Part 3, which took Jason from generic killer to full-blown cultural icon.
But that’s a campfire tale for another time!
Friday the 13'th Part 2 scores three stars out of five with a tilt down for that stupid prologue crap!