The following article contains spoilers for the 1980 horror classic ‘Friday the 13th Part II’. For our review of the previous film in the franchise, click here.
Before we get to the review, a note of explanation should be made. Following our initial review of Friday the 13th (1980), the team intended on running a review of Friday the 13th Part II on December 13, 2019. Alas, tragedy struck. A masked killer terrorized our annual critics team retreat at the local lake. We lost many of our team, and those that survived continued to live in fear. Now that Friday the 13th is upon us again, I figured it was time to work through the pain. And what better what to do so than finally discussing Friday the 13th Part II?
Friday the 13th was far from a classy picture. The gratuitous sex scenes and barely passable dialogue will tell you that much. Regardless, it holds a special place in horror history as one of the films that would set the stage for the slasher genre to rise to prominence. So with its final success, a sequel was immediately greenlit. The initial thought is that a follow-up released one year after the original would be a blatant cash grab, with original director/screenwriter Sean S. Cunningham replaced by Steve Miner. That Friday the 13th Part II may be, yet it’s also a highly entertaining entry into the slash genre that evolves the concepts put forth in the original.
Friday the 13th Part II opens with what would become a hallmark of future slasher movies. The previous film’s protagonist, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) sits at home, trying to get past her trauma from the previous film. Trauma has other plans in store. Alice opens the refrigerator to find the severed head of Pamela Voorhees only to then be brutally stabbed by an ice-pick wielding Jason Voorhees (Steve Daskewicsz).
That’s right, Friday the 13th Part II cuts all ties with the original’s primary narrative in the most brutal way possible. Although this is now commonplace in horror, in 1981, this was a somewhat new concept. Writers often use this trope as a crutch to maintain the status quo of a franchise. Here, though, it’s acceptable because the story it’s telling is a slight improvement on the prior film.
The story, indeed, still follows a group of camp counselors who are preparing Camp Crystal Lake for the upcoming season; more specifically, being trained. This time the counselors are actually fairly competent, decent human beings. Lead counselor Paul Holt (John Furey) seems like an upstanding guy who wants the best for his new counselors. Also, despite her tendency towards tardiness, his assistant Ginny Field (Amy Steel) tries her best. Aside from Scott (Russell Todd), the one troublemaker, these are responsible people who you want to see succeed.
This automatically makes the tension higher than the previous film when the boogeyman finally comes around. And what a boogeyman we have here! As great as Betsy Palmer was in the previous film, Pamela Voorhees wasn’t much of a presence. Jason, however, is another story entirely. His lumbering physicality, conveyed with quiet bravado by Steve Daskewicsz, makes him a force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t yet have his hockey mask. Instead, it’s just a burlap sack, but that doesn’t matter because he’s a fully formed fright. His mother had motivation, he has none. He kills because he kills. He’s the stuff of nightmares, a campfire story come to life.
The production value of Friday the 13th Part II molds itself around Daskewicsz’s portrayal. What the film lacks in not having Tom Savini’s make-up work, it makes up for with Miner’s slick sense of direction and a more streamlined script by Ron Kurz. Where the previous film dragged, the pacing is lightning fast in Part II as Jason picks off counselor after counselor in the customarily creative kills. Additionally, Harry Manfredini’s iconic score wrings every moment of suspense it can out of the proceedings. My personal favorite kill is a callback to the arrow through Kevin Bacon’s neck from the previous film. This time it’s a couple in the middle of an, ahem, intimate moment, as Jason stabs them both through the bed with a spear. No gorehound can resist such pleasures.
Like the film before it, Part II all comes together in its climax. Miner pivots from a slasher to a psychological horror as Jason confronts Ginny in a lair where his mother’s head lays upon a shrine. Sensing no way out, Ginny puts on his mother’s sweater and convinces Jason that she is his mother, causing enough of a distraction to give him a machete to the shoulder as she and Paul escape. This scene opens an Oedipal can of worms one wouldn’t expect from a series with a reputation for being a brainless affair.
Once again, the film has one more surprise in store. As Paul and Ginny return to the apparent safety of their cabin, Jason – fully unmasked- breaks through the window and grabs Ginny. His face a hideous deformity, worse than we could’ve ever imagined, lingers in slow motion. It’s a moment of true horror, one that’s not quite as shocking as the original’s last scare, but even more effective.
Really, that’s what Friday the 13th Part II is. It’s not the shock to the system that the original was, but it’s a more assured film, one that succeeds by improving on the failings of the previous one. With Part II, the future for Friday the 13th looked bright. How does it pan out? Well, we’ll see you next time… –James Preston Poole
Friday the 13th Part II is now on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
For our next review in the Friday the 13th series, click here.