REVIEW: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Years after the Pamela Voorhees murders, a fresh group of camp counselors travel to Crystal Lake – only to find a new killer stalking the woods, killing them all one by one.

The huge commercial success of Friday the 13th pretty much guaranteed that Paramount Pictures was going to order a sequel. Released just under a year after the original, Part 2 featured new writers and a new director with Steve Miner replacing Sean S. Cunningham in the driver’s seat. Sticking to a tried-and-true formula for Hollywood sequels, the film essentially replays the same beats as the original film with just a few tweaks and modifications to keep things a little fresh and interesting.

This involves what science fiction enthusiasts widely know as the ‘retcon’: retroactive continuity. The purview of long-running TV franchises and comic books, it involves rewriting backstory from an earlier work to enable a particular story in a new one. Friday the 13th posited that the drowning of her son Jason provoked the killer Pamela Voorhees to turn insane with rage and embark on a homicidal quest to murder camp counselors to avenge Jason’s death. Friday the 13th Part 2 simply claims that Jason never died, and lives on as a physically deformed and homicidal murderer who witnessed his mother’s death at the climax of the first film. It is one hell of a story change, and one rather bluntly shoe-horned into the film. I suspect it is only the slasher film fan base’s desire for thrills and gore over story logic that allows writers Ron Kurz and Phil Scuderi to get away with it.

Alice (Adrienne King), the sole survivor of the first film, does not last long. She appears in a brief prologue scene where she rapidly becomes Jason’s first on-screen victim. Soon afterwards the audience is introduced to an entirely new group of camp counselors in training, all assembled just a mile or two along the shores of Crystal Lake. They are, as is the trend with these 1980s slasher films, not overly memorable. Amy Steel is a reasonably effective ‘final girl’ as the slightly rebellious and pro-active Ginny Field. Tom McBride plays Mark, a paraplegic trainee counselor who makes an immediate impact: it’s rare to see disabled characters in film generally, and in a horror film like this he seems particularly unusual. To the film’s credit it treats him like any other character, and does not significantly comment on his disability at all.

For the modern-day horror cinema fan, the most interesting aspect of the film is likely Jason Voorhees since it is Jason who features as the villain in all subsequent Friday the 13th films – including the 2009 remake of the original film. He does not yet have his iconic machete and hockey mask – although a machete does briefly feature as a murder weapon – and instead sneaks around with a cloth bag over his head. He is facially different, suffering from an unexplained deformity, which forms part of a long and somewhat unfortunate Hollywood tradition of equating physical difference with monstrous behaviour and villainy. It would be unfair to specifically single Friday the 13th out for simply being a part of a trend, but with the benefit of hindsight and a more educated society it does stand out as somewhat unfortunate.

This issue aside, there is something primal and appealing about Jason. He clearly murders Alice because she decapitated his mother. Once the film’s main narrative gets going he only murders people encroaching on what he sees as his territory: the original camp at Crystal Lake into which counselors Jeff (Bill Randolph) and Sandra (Marta Kober) trespass early in the film. Once his territory is invaded Jason is essentially a classical predator that kills the intruders one by one. He never speaks, and moves around with an apparently supernatural silence and rapidity.

In an apparent effort to up the ante Friday the 13th Part 2 is both a more sexually explicit and violent film that its predecessor. While there is perhaps just a little more nudity there is significantly more blood and gore, notably a Bava-inspired post-coital double-impalement that merges the slasher genre’s focus on sex and death into one singular moment. It got the film in trouble with American film censors at the time, but by current standards actually feels rather charmingly dated.

This is perhaps a less purely effective film than the original, but it certainly brings it all together to a satisfying and somewhat macabre climax. It also managed to be enough of a hit to warrant a third Friday the 13th in 1982.

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