Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Paul, there's someone in this room

I am not a historian on the matter, but as far as I can tell, slasher franchises did not exist before Friday the 13th. Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre both debuted before Friday the 13th, but neither released a sequel until after Friday the 13th. Halloween 2 was in production around the time of Friday the 13th, but was intended as a final send-off before the Halloween brand was reinvented as a Carpenter-produced horror anthology line (see: the daffy and charming Halloween 3).

Thus, as important as Friday the 13th was for crystallizing slashers into a mass-producible commodity in a rigid formula, Friday the 13th Part 2 is nearly as important, executing on that promise of repeatable pleasures and profits. It puts into practice the ironclad logic that Friday the 13th is a movie that benefits from more – more ridiculous kills, more canoodling and oblivious teens, more frivolous dialogue and exaggerated characters, more jump scares.

It’s not just “more” of the formula, but better execution of it, too. Significantly better, in fact. Steve Miner, the journeyman horror director, takes the reins. The difference between a genuine craftsman like Miner and a businessman like Sean S. Cunningham who created the original is night and day: scenes have a clear cadence and shape, scares are well-timed and -blocked to have some actual tension and impact, etc.

The film is more sure of its identity, leaning into the sex and violence and trimming what little fat that Friday the 13th had. The credits are rolling by minute 90, and that includes a 5-minute intro that serves as a recap of and coda to the first film.

The film is also genuinely suspenseful in a way the original isn’t at all. There’s some honest-to-God thriller craft here, most especially in the outstanding final girl chase near the end of the film, but also in a handful of stalking sequences throughout. (I’m not well-versed enough in the canon to make such a declaration, but plenty of voices I respect call it one of the best-crafted final girl sequences in all of slasherdom.)

The story picks up five years after Part 1 by following Alice, the lone survivor of the Camp Crystal Lake massacre, and having her go through some PTSD visions that revisit important moments of the first film in case viewers couldn’t remember the story of a movie that debuted 357 days previously. Alice is promptly murdered, but by whom? Who cares! Let’s go find some teens ripe for the stabbing!

From a pure continuity perspective, Part 2 doesn’t really make much sense, and also I couldn’t really care less about it. Despite Jason Voorhees being canonically drowned two decades ago and semi-canonically a rotting zombie corpse from the final, possibly-hallucinated jump scare of Part 1, he is now a fully-grown adult living in the woods, shambling around with a burlap sack over his head. He has a little hut in the woods where he keeps his desiccated and decapitated mother’s remains (in other words, the reverse-Psycho twist from Part 1 has become a pure Psycho knockoff).

The group of cavorting teens and young adults meet at a cabin on the lake where the last murders happened, once again camp counselors for no particular reason except to tie back to the original, I suppose. I appreciate that this film leans into making the characters sharper and more exaggerated “types.” The original Friday the 13th gets a lot of simultaneous love-and-flak for having stereotyped characters, but I honestly didn’t think it even got that far – other than Alice, they all ran together for me as shallow partiers with no memorable traits.

Not so in Part 2. Here every character is distinctly “the ____ one.” The prankster one; the wheelchair-bound one, the scantily-clad one, etc. None of them are even remotely deep characters – in fact, their absence of depth is the appeal, making the film a gory black comedy at its core rather than a tragedy. It is darkly hysterical, for example, when wheelchair guy goes flying down the stairs with a machete stuck in his head. If I had any investment in him as a person, the moment might have elicited some dread. Here, big laughs.

The deaths, in general, are a bit more creative and well-designed in than in the original, but the gore effects themselves are a bit underwhelming. This can be squarely placed on the fact that Tom Savini, the not-so-secret X-factor of Part 1, did not return for Part 2 due to scheduling conflicts. His backup, Stan Winston, another titan of blockbuster makeup effects, backed out as well, leaving the job to third-stringer Carl Fullerton, whose work is just not quite so baroquely inspired as Savini’s.

Overall, it’s a strong execution on the formula, but not an iota outside the formula. Just how highly you rate the movie will depend mostly on how much fun you get out of the film’s shallow ambitions. I find its tone to be perfect: An indulgent, popcorn-flick sense of fun that never manages to feel too exploitative or grimy (as opposed, e.g., to the scarier but overly dour Halloween 4).

In fact, I’d say that Friday the 13th Part 2 represents pretty close to the Platonic ideal of Friday the 13th – the franchise model executed with almost no growing pains and no wrinkles. It is the baseline ’80s slasher. Incremental refinements might be possible, but it’s easy to see how the franchise could grow stale unless it starts innovating or throwing curveballs. Luckily, while I haven’t seen any of the 10 remaining entries in the series yet, I have it on good authority that curveballs are coming.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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5 replies on “Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)”

Oh man, you’re really committing to this project this October, huh?

Godspeed, Dan, I’ve never had the stones!

Personally, I consider the brutish Jason Vorhees retcon to be a positive strength: Part II is where Friday the 13th committed to being a constantly-shifting campfire story about the hulking man-child serial killer who stalks through the woods being a metaphor for the inevitability of death, something it would increasingly seem to do on purpose until it peaks with Part IV. This one is the best, though, really high up on my list of favorite slashers* and I suppose would make it onto a longer but not that much longer list of favorite 80s horror flicks.

*The only ones I can think of off the top of my head that I’m sure beat it are Slumber Party Massacre II and Halloween II. II’s rule. (Okay, fine, probably also My Bloody Valentine, and I am likely the biggest fan of Death Spa on Earth, but I’ve had arguments with Brennan about whether a movie that is part Poltergeist, part Carrie, part Wait Until Dark, and part freaking 2001: A Space Odyssey should even count as a slasher.)

Hunter Allen, I’ve not seen those other films and am therefore happy to defer to your experience of the genre, but I have seen HALLOWEEN II and consider it piffle.

Reasonably well put-together in terms of production, but in terms of writing painfully redundant and responsible for the instantly-cliche “Miss Strode is a Myers!” twist that remains one of my least favourite ideas in the whole series.

I can’t call it the worst film in the series (HALLOWEEN V exists, after all*) but it’s definitely one of my least favourite.

*I’ve heard nothing good about HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION and the sequels to HALLOWEEN 2018, but have yet to see the former or either of the latter.

I don’t think it’s inherently a contradiction to call Halloween II “piffle” and also one of the more enjoyable slashers. For the record, I think the Laurie is a Myers gimmick is very dumb, but I’m also not quite sure how you take something so elegant as Halloween and make it something that could stretch out to a 13-part franchise without a lot of dumb twists. (I think 5 and 6 are the worst in the series, and have 2 in the upper third of the franchise because it’s so well-produced by Carpenter and his team.)

Also Halloween Resurrection gets a bad rap, and it’s a pretty median entry in the franchise, with some clever meta-commentary. (But you’re probably right to expect a dud. I might be the only person on the planet with this opinion.)

I like Laurie being Michael’s sister. It feels right to me. Its excision is also the biggest element of what makes Halloween ’18 so stupid (I like it, but it is stupid), because everything about that screenplay revolves around a special relationship with Laurie that Michael simply wouldn’t have. Then again, it also revolves around our awareness that Michael is a killing machine, not just a septagenarian who knifed several people half a century ago. If you think Halloween ’78 is an inviolable masterpiece, that’s fine (I don’t get it, but that’s fine), but the entire franchise otherwise revolves around Laurie being a Myers even when it pretends otherwise. (This is true in the Zombie films, too, right? It’s been a long, long time.)

And anyway Halloween II has some thunderingly great cinematography, maybe Cundey’s best.

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