It’s only been 11 months and 21 days (or in my case, a couple of hours), and Paramount Pictures is already back with 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2. You gotta love the simplistic poster seen above, with the tagline, “The body count continues…” They are leaning into, not shying away from, the first film’s violence, which critics found distasteful. After all, it did great at the box office, so receipts over reviews, right? This film is more familiar in my imagination than even the original.
We also have a new director in the director’s chair, Steven Miner. If that name sounds familiar, then it should! He directed another film I’ve recently re-watched and reviewed: 1998’s Halloween: H20: Twenty Years Later. Off the top of my head, he might be the only director to have directed a film in two of the three iconic horror franchises. As I mentioned before, Miner also did another favorite of mine, 1999’s Lake Placid, and also a rather underrated zombie flick, 2008’s Day of the Dead, which was a loose remake of George A. Romero’s film of the same name. Also, like Sean S. Cunningham, who directed the first film in the franchise, Miner had a role as a production assistant in 1972’s The Last House on the Left, and was an assistant on the prior Friday the 13th film.
In other words, Miner is majorly steeped in horror, but the second Friday the 13th is actually his first time in the director’s chair for one. Yes, I went there with the pun.
Screenplay credit goes to Ron Kurz, who actually passed away two days shy of the 40-year anniversary of the first film’s release this year. Kurz would go on to do 1983’s Friday the 13th Part III, and 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. So, there’s bound to be some good throughlines between the second, third and fourth films. And besides one or two other things, that’s basically all Kurz ever did. That’s more than most people!
According to Wikipedia, John Carpenter had a year’s advance warning to make a better decision about the future of the Halloween franchise before doing 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, aka, the film that almost killed that franchise. Here, in 1981, the producers of Friday the 13th were considering doing what Carpenter would try: Making Friday the 13th an anthology franchise based around the superstition of Friday the 13th. Thankfully, unlike Carpenter, they recognized how popular the first film was and continued the mythology and story surrounding Camp Crystal Lake instead.
Returning in front of the camera is Adrienne King as Alice Hardy, albeit with a seemingly small role given the aforementioned stalking issue that arose after the first film. Walt Gorney is also back as Crazy Ralph. Betsy Palmer is credited as returning as Pamela Voorhees, but I believe that’s only for purposes of the beginning flashback.
This is the first film in the franchise to have an adult version of Jason Voorhees as the villain of the film. Again, that’s probably why a lot of people dismiss the original film because he’s not in it except for the ending dream sequence. Playing Jason Voorhees is Steve Daskewisz, as well as Warrington Gillette. At least according to the podcast Halloweenies, even though Daskewisz gets primary credit, it was actually Gillette we see most in the film as Jason Voorhees.
The premise of the film sets us five years after the events of the first film, so we’re I believe in 1985 now, and all that remains is the “legend of Jason and his demented mother, who had murdered seven camp counselors.” Just like the first film, the new counselors of a nearby summer camp (there training to be counselors) are “unconcerned about the warnings to stay away.”
The film starts with Alice having a nightmare about the events of the first film, although we’re still only two months out from the events of the first film, as a way to essentially do a flashback and remind the viewer about Jason Voorhees. It is slightly amusing since the film is already only 86 minutes, and we spend about the first six and a half minutes of that with a flashback, and you figure about 90 seconds at the end are closing credits. It’s a short film!
King’s stay as Alice was short indeed, as we find Jason Voorhees stalking her at her house (which, it is interesting to see him in a suburban setting since he’s predominately associated with the camp), and then he kills her with an ice pick through the temple. Again, the special effects look so realistic. Carl Fullerton is on makeup and effects this time, taking over for Tom Savini, who apparently didn’t like the concept of Jason Voorhees as the killer in the film. Well, whatever the case, the practical special effects still hold up all these years later. It’s sad to see Alice go, though, since she was the conquering hero of the last film.
In a rather amusing moment I had forgotten about: Whoever the killer is (it’s Jason Voorhees, but we don’t technically know that as viewers yet), when the kettle starts whistling, he takes it off of the burner! He could’ve left it on there and let the kitchen burn down. Good guy, killer.
Like a classic campfire tale, I like how Paul Holt (played by John Furey) just comes out and tells the story, er, legend, about Jason Voorhees to the other counselors. Treating it like a campfire telltale is smart. Even though it’s straight up exposition to the viewers, it’s effective and spooky. But what’s funny is that it’s then played for as a joke and “ancient history.” To Paul, Jason Voorhees drowned, Pamela Voorhees was killed, and Camp Crystal Lake is no more. But Alice did die, but maybe they never knew about that. Or wrote it off as something else.
They even kill off Crazy Ralph in this one! They’re not letting anyone who survived the first one (besides the cops, I suppose) survive this one. They even made you think Crazy Ralph was the creepy stalker/killer in this one for a moment before having the still unknown killer kill him.
Like the first film, we get some time with the counselors eating, playing games, and messing around in the lake before the “crap hitting the fan” moment.
Similar to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees doesn’t seem to like dogs. He killed and worse than even Michael Myers, mangled Muffin, Terry McCarthy’s (played by Kirsten Baker) dog.
This is quite a large cast of characters compared to the prior film, which makes sense since it’s a “counselor training camp,” but surprisingly, instead of having all of them be fodder to up the body count for the killer as the tagline promises, a lot of them leave before the mayhem starts for one last “night out on the town.”
Ginny Field (played by Amy Steel) is an interesting protagonist because she’s almost sympathetic to Jason Voorhees (and even Pamela Voorhees!) because of what he witnessed presumably in the last film, mainly, his mother being beheaded. This is further interesting to me because she spends considerable time psychoanalyzing the Voorhees, and then the real life actress, Steel, would go on to become a psychologist!
But seriously, I think Ginny’s psychoanalyzing at least adds some more weight to the story and plot rather than simply a bunch of kids coming out to a camp to be slaughtered.
Remember how I was saying in my review of the first film how it’s hard to decouple viewing these films in 2020 from the cliches we know now but probably weren’t cliches in 1981? Well, another classic of the horror genre that would become a cliche, but probably wasn’t at this point, is when Vickie Perry (played by Lauren-Marie Taylor) tells Mark Jarvis (played by Tom McBride), “I’ll be right back.” Spoiler: They’ll never be right back! That’s a sign that someone is about to die.
And it’s Mark who gets it first. Poor Mark, even without being in a wheelchair, making him particularly vulnerable to a deranged killer, he gets a machete to the face and then rolls backward down the longest flight of stairs. Goodness.
After an hour and five minutes, the first full-on glimpse we get of the killer is when he sits up in bed at one of the cabins and scares Vickie (and me!). He has on a burlap sack over his face with just one eye hole.
When Paul and Ginny return from the bar to find the mayhem, Paul and Jason Voorhees end up tussling in one of the cabins. I love this because we’re still at the point where Jason Voorhees is a normal, relatively averagely built dude. He’s not supernatural yet. He’s not hulking. He’s a normal dude on a killing rampage and to some extent, a bit bumbling, so seeing him in a normal tussle is fun. But also scary as hell! I find it intense because of the burlap sack look, and this guy popping up out of the darkness; whew, it’s nerve-wracking.
Arguably, Ginny is even more bad-ass than Alice was in the first film because she’s really taking it to Jason Voorhees with a kick to the balls, a chainsaw, and a chair, and also the ability to evade him. But most importantly because she puts her psychoanalyzing to the test by pretending to be Pamela Voorhees to get Jason Voorhees to stop. At least long enough for her to get away and Paul to come back to tussle with him.
Haha, that sneaky Miner! Muffin makes her triumphant return at the end of the film with some happy music playing. I guess it was a different dog Jason Voorhees killed. But then Miner pulls the rug out from under us by having Jason Voorhees, similar to the first film, burst through a window and attack Ginny. Or did he? Because she’s then loaded into an ambulance and the fate of Paul is unknown. But the maskless Jason Voorhees was quite creepy looking. Are we to assume that Paul managed to save Ginny, but die in the process, and then somehow Jason Voorhees stopped long enough for Ginny to be stretchered out in an ambulance the next day?
Overall, this is such a fun sequel to the original film. We get Jason Voorhees, but it’s still a normal, scary Jason Voorhees. No iconic hockey mask yet, which brings me to perhaps my hottest take about Friday the 13th: The hockey mask became iconic, but the burlap sack look is far scarier and more effective. But I get it. Even logistically, it would’ve been hard to keep expecting stunt men to run around in the forest with a burlap sack with only one eye hole on their head.
We upped the stakes with an even better protagonist (and I liked Alice a lot) because I’m rather fond of the psychoanalyzing part, a more frightening villain, and the same atmospheric 1980s camp horror.
If you also haven’t seen this one in a while because we’re still not at the classic Jason Voorhees character look, then give it a shot. It’s worth it!