Film Review: Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. by Steve Miner)

(Spoilers Below)

This the one where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

There’s a lot of different ways that you can describe Friday the 13th Part 2.  It’s a horror movie, a slasher flick, and a sequel.  It’s the first Friday the 13th movie to feature Jason Voorhees as the killer.  It’s also one the best installments in the franchise.  However, to me, this will always be the movie where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

Originally released in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 is, of course, about more than just the nice guy in the wheel chair getting a machete to the face.  The film opens with Alice (Adrienne King), the sole survivor from the first film, struggling to get on with her life a year after the massacre.  She has a small apartment that, in a nice touch, is full of drawings of the disfigured boy who attacked her at the end of the previous film.  One night, Alice’s cat startles her by jumping out of a closet and shouting, “Watch out, there’s a mysterious killer in here.”  Foolishly, Alice ignores her cat and ends up getting an ice pick rammed into her head. 

(If only people listened to their cats…)

Five years later, Camp Crystal Lake is once again reopening, this time under the direction of alpha male Paul Holt (John Furey).  Paul and his annoying sidekick Ted (Stu Charro) tell everyone not to worry about any old rumors about some mysterious murderer killing anyone who goes to Crystal Lake.  Meanwhile, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) is wandering around, going all “You’re all doomed!” and then watching as Paul’s girlfriend Ginny (Amy Steel) undresses in her cabin.  Bad Crazy Ralph!  Luckily, Crazy Ralph then gets strangled with barbed wire.  (Ouch!  I guess he was the one who was doomed, huh?  Get it?  Anyway…)

Paul, Ginny, annoying Ted, and the rest of the counselors decide to head into town so they can spend the night getting drunk.  However, a few counselors decide to remain at the camp.  (Again, this just goes to prove that slasher films are not only about punishing people for having sex and doing drugs.  If the majority of this installment’s victims had simply been willing to go get drunk, they would have survived.)  Remaining at the camp: horny couple Jeff and Sandra (Bill Randolph and Marta Kober),  Terry (Kirsten Baker), who for some reason refuses to wear underwear, Scott (Russell Todd), who is obsessed with Terry but could do so much better, sweet-natured Vicki (Lauren-Marie Taylor), and finally Mark (Tom McBride), the nice guy in the wheelchair.

Anyway, if you’ve ever seen a slasher film than you can guess what pretty much happens.  Jason (played here by Steve Daskawisz) shows up and kills everyone until eventually Ginny and Paul return to the camp.  (Annoying Ted stays behind to keep drinking and somehow manages to survive the film.  It’s an odd slasher film where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets killed but the obnoxious, dorky guy somehow makes it through.)  There’s a big, genuinely exciting final battle with Ginny and Paul on one side and Jason on the other.  Ginny survives, Jason escapes, and Paul … well, who knows?  One moment, Paul’s there and the next he’s gone.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is controversial among many horror fans because so many of the killings are identical to the killings from an earlier slasher film, Mario Bava’s brilliant Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve).  One especially obvious example is the double impalement of Jeff and Sandra and when I say obvious, I mean that the exact same scene can be found in Bay of Blood.  In Peter M. Bracke’s history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, Part 2’s self-important screenwriter, Ron Kurz, claims to have never heard of Bay of Blood.  And to that, I say, “Whatever, Ron Kurz.  You’re either a liar or you actually don’t know who Mario Bava is.  Either way, you suck.”

Though Friday the 13th Part 2 is obviously a rather derivative film and frequently doesn’t make much sense, it’s also a personal favorite of mine as far as 80s slasher films are concerned.  The cast is likable and attractive (especially Russell Todd, who gets killed way too early as far as I’m concerned) and some of the kill scenes are genuinely well done.  Amy Steel, much like Adrienne King before her, make for a strong heroine and her final battle with Jason is actually pretty exciting.  The true star of the film, however, is director Steve Miner who fills each scene with a sense of genuine menace that goes a long way to making up for Ron Kurz’s sloppy script.  As opposed to Sean Cunningham (who directed the first film), Miner shows a genuinely inventive visual sense.  My favorite shot in the film is a rather minor one of a bunch of cars driving down a shadowy road.  The scene doesn’t really add anything to the story and it almost feels like filler but it’s still effectively eerie.

It could be argued that Friday the 13th Part 2 is the first true Friday the 13th because it’s the first film to actually feature Jason Voorhees killing camp counselors.  The character of Jason makes even less sense in this film than he did when he was just some kid living underwater in the first film.  It’s impossible to watch the film and not wonder how 1) Jason suddenly went from being a 13 year-old living in a lake to a 40 year-old living in a shack in the woods, 2) how Jason managed to track down Alice, 3) how Jason managed to then walk all the way to Alice’s new home and then all the way back to Crystal Lake without anyone noticing him, and 4) why exactly has Jason been hiding in the woods all this time and apparently allowing his mother to believe that he was dead.  That said, I actually think that Jason is probably at his scariest in Friday the 13th Part 2.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that, instead of wearing that famous hockey mask, Jason spends most of the movie with a burlap sack over his head.  As opposed to the hockey mask (which makes Jason look rather Canadian), both the sack and Jason’s odd overalls make him look like a faceless demon that’s sprung, full of fury, out of rural folklore.

Though it made less than the first film, Friday the 13th Part 2 was a financial success.  Audiences ignored the film’s many critics and they flocked to see it.  Not surprisingly, Paramount Pictures immediately called for a sequel.

The end result — Friday the 13th Part 3 — would be one of the worst horror films ever made.

We’ll deal with that tomorrow.