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. 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.
- Review Project: Friday the 13th Retrospective