As it limped out of the 1980’s with a notoriously ridiculous entry in which Jason somehow takes a boat adventure out of Camp Crystal Lake and winds up in Manhattan, it was sort of up in the air if Paramount’s Friday the 13th franchise would survive. After its purchase by New Line Cinema, its three additional entries and then the inevitable post-9/11 remake kind of beg the question as to whether or not it really did.
But nostalgia being what it is, Friday the 13th has gone on to become one of the most beloved franchises in the horror genre. A once taboo series of films that gave Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert the absolute vapors, there is probably a small section in your friendly neighborhood Target that is now stocked at this very minute with some Friday the 13th tchotchke,
Within the fandom of the franchise, almost every title is sacrosanct and has its hard core fans. The folks that run horror conventions can always fill space by booking obscure cast members from any one of the Friday the 13th films with the assurance that a good number of folks will show up to give them money for a picture and an autograph. Hell, even Ari Lehman, the dude who played Jason as a boy in the original film, travels all over this land, gauntlet-adorned hands grasping a machete-shaped keytar while fronting a middlebrow rock band called First Jason which makes absolutely no sense but thrives regardless.
That the Friday the 13th fandom is so hardcore should be of little surprise to anyone since one has to be a shameless apologist or in serious denial to even consider any of these films in the first place. Sean S. Cunningham’s first entry, sometimes misremembered as a good movie, was a hack rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween with a cheat whodunit thrown in for good measure. Part 2 wisely dispatches almost everything from the first film and uses its climax as the setup for its tale even if, in doing so, it boxes itself into a logistical trap of utter nonsense that it could give two shits about solving. And Paramount bet that audiences wouldn’t care either. And it bet correct.
Friday the 13th Part 2, as everyone who has seen Scream knows, is the first entry in the series in which the antagonist is actually Jason Voorhees, hockey-masked psychopath that has become an iconic piece of the American experience. But we’ll have to wait until the awful next installment (in 3D, because two dimensions of terribleness weren’t enough) before he acquires the mask. So, yes, there is an underrepresented Jason out there while hockey-masked Jason and showboat Ari Lehman are soaking up the glory. Who will stand up for Warrington Gillette’s backwoods Jason, clad in plaid, covered in denim, and donning a sack over his head? After all, from a horror film standpoint, he is the most effectively creepy-looking Jason.
But wait just a dang minute! How is Jason even alive? Didn’t he drown back in the 50’s, as told by his mother during the ridiculous climax of the first film? And when doubt is cast upon his fate in that film’s denouement, as he pops up out of the water to deliver one final cheap scare to the audience, isn’t he still, inexplicably, a boy in 1980? I mean, sure, it’s chalked up to a possible dream sequence but his existence as a man who somehow survived the drowning and then just lived in the woods alone is utterly absurd. In fact, so risible was this setup that Tom Savini, SFX artist for the first film, refused to even entertain lending his services to the production, packed up his gear and went down the street to work on The Burning. Of course, it mattered not since gun-shy censors bowdlerized the majority of the gore effects on this one as they had the first one.
But in stringing the logic of the pre-credit sequence out, we have to wonder just how Jason is even able to track poor Alice (Adrienne King), the weak final girl from the first entry, to her home in the first place? Do audiences even want to entertain the implausible idea that this grotesque creature likely had to sit on some kind of bus, taxi, or semi cab just to make it to civilization? Or is it that they just relieved that Alice is getting an ice pick to the temple and they’re not going to be asked to accept her shrieking at the top of her lungs in her JC Penney wardrobe and Cathy Rigby hair for the remainder of the film? Given that the film burns about 12.5% of its total runtime on this sequence and nobody seems to give a flying fuck, I like to think that folks just wanted to say “goodbye and good riddance” to Adrienne King.
And what a good stroke of luck that is for audiences because director Steve Miner (who would go on to put his head all the way up his ass helming the aforementioned third film), scored a major coup with Amy Steel whose relaxed, charming, and intelligent performance as Ginny elevates her to the greatest final girl of the entire franchise. Sure, she’s not given much to do because, after all, this is a Friday the 13th movie, but she brings a spunk where King brought a plunk. She’s sunny, warm, thoughtful, and resourceful and, as an audience, we’re with her 100% during the climax where, in the original, we merely watched it unfold while simultaneously wondering how Sean Cunningham escaped getting sued by John Carpenter.
And it’s not just Steel that brings a higher authenticity to the proceedings. John Furey’s Paul makes for a much more appealing and less stuffy male lead than Peter Brouwer’s downmarket Marlboro Man Steve Christy did in the first film. In fact, it must be said that the entire cast of the sequel at least APPEARS to be populated with actual people who are having something of a good time and all of the romantic couplings, while eye-rolling and predictable, seem pretty natural. This is most especially true for the romance between Marta Kober’s Sandra and Bill Randolph’s Jeff who are, without question, the hottest Friday the 13th couple of all and who also look like they absolutely could not keep their hands off of each other during the entire shoot.
Friday the 13th Part 2, by most metrics, isn’t a great movie but with its likeable cast, smart plot progression, creepily abrupt and open-ended finale, and some fine homages to Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, it’s a very good Friday the 13th movie. In fact, if it weren’t for the truly hilarious and superior sixth entry, it would likely rank as the best Friday the 13th movie. And I guess that counts for something.
– Patrick Crain
Hey, speaking of Mario Bava, next week I’ll engage in some financial terrorism with John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell in Bava’s groovy, color-splashed Danger: Diabolik. Until then, if you see a ramshackle hut in the woods, don’t go in it. Or do. Whatever…