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Five years after the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake, a training center for summer camp counselors opens just down the shore from the old campsite. Before long, the blood is once again flowing as Jason Voorhees exacts brutal revenge for the killing of his mother.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is essentially a more polished reworking of the original film, an attempt to recapture the visceral appeal and financial windfall of that movie by plugging new faces, a slightly different setting and, most importantly, a new killer into the same basic plot. The result is a mixed bag that succeeds more than it fails, but falls short of the iconic power of its predecessor.
The cast this time around is larger and more diverse. Most of the players do a capable job with their roles, but overall characterization is weaker in this second installment, and the obligatory introduction scenes are clunky and unconvincing. With the inclusion of one-note ciphers like the horny couple that can’t resist exploring the forbidden camp, the pretty girl and the obnoxious jerk (with a good heart) who won’t stop pestering her, and the wheelchair-bound kid who won’t accept any pity but quickly realizes the cute, forward girl who keeps coming on to him is offering something other than sympathy, we see the seeds of the familiar slasher movie formula beginning to sprout. The counselor training camp provides a logical reason for this eclectic group to be assembled, but this film establishes the frustrating trend of throwing a bunch of clichéd young people with absolutely nothing in common together and asking the audience to believe they are friends.
Unlike the original film, which was held together tightly by an underlying theme of isolation and mortality, this installment eschews any real dramatic subtext in favor of a higher body count and more imaginative kills. While there appears to be more than the usual moralizing on the dangers of premarital sex (with several kills coming immediately before or after copulation, two closely following the film’s most gratuitous nude scene, and an emphasis on the agony of the penetration of the killer’s blade in a couple memorable shots), screenwriter Ron Kurz and director Steve Miner are obviously not trying to break dramatic ground here. This is borne out further by the portrayal of Jason, who lacks the emotional depth of his mother in Part 1, and is a much more visual, visible presence throughout the entire movie. Though his motives are briefly explored in one effective dialogue sequence, Jason is just a killer here. He is not meant to engender any sympathy or symbolize the fragility of the human mind or the pain of loss, nor is any attempt to hide his identity made. He’s here to put sharp things in young flesh and scare the crap out of the audience – both of which he proves quite adept at.
A sharp wit not present in the first film creeps into the bloody proceedings of the sequel from time to time, beginning in the excellent opening. After avenging his mother’s death with an awl, Jason takes the time to conscientiously remove the victim’s shrieking teapot from a hot burner on the stove. When a counselor’s dog approaches the murderer in the woods, the scene abruptly cuts to hot dogs sizzling on a grill. During a late night skinny dipping scene, Harry Manfredini works some cues from John Williams’ JAWS theme into his score. Even at this early stage in the franchise’s development, the filmmakers understood that the series had great potential for humor. Fortunately, it is employed here cleverly, sparingly and with a subtlety that would elude producers of future installments.
There are some glaring flaws in the film, most centering around the character of Ted (played by Stu Charno). Ted is introduced almost immediately after the opening credits, plays a pivotal role in making the other characters aware of the legend of Camp Blood, and is present through so much of the narrative that it seems clear he is a central figure in the film. Then, just before the movie kicks into high gear for the finale, he is abruptly left in town at a bar by the leads (Amy Steele and John Furey) and is never seen again. It’s likely that somewhere in development, this character was intended to come back to the camp alone and get slaughtered ala Steve Christy in the previous entry, but that scene was apparently lost by the time shooting began. Before he makes his awkward exit, however, Ted provides us with a couple more inconsistencies in the screenplay. When he tells Jeff and Sandra about Camp Crystal Lake in the early going, he seems unnerved by the thought of the murders five years earlier, but later in the bar, he is dismissive and openly skeptical that anything actually happened there at all. The opening scene also indicates that Ted is a native of the Crystal Lake region, yet in the roadhouse he asks another patron if there are any after hour’s bars “around here”. Of all the supporting players in this film, Charno’s Ted had the most potential to develop into a genuine, sympathetic character. Sadly, the producers didn’t seem to know what to do with the character, and the mishandling of it only serves to point out larger shortcomings in the screenplay.
The film also borrows liberally from other horror films of the 1970s and early 80s, lifting scenes straight from HALLOWEEN, Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD and even Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, and modeling Jason’s wardrobe after the killer in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. These elements are all effective, but are certainly not original.
That said, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is still a cut above most slasher films. There are many truly unforgettable moments, including the brutal death of the boy in the wheelchair (Jason buries his machete into the kid’s face, sending body and chair hurtling backward down a steep stairwell in a driving rain), a double impalement, and Jason rising from beneath the covers of a bloody bed to attack the last living person in camp. The make-up and gore effects are as good, if not better, than those in Part 1. Harry Manfredini’s music is once again sharp and thrilling. Steele and Furey are excellent as perhaps the most intelligent and likable leads in the entire series. Furey shines brightest in a campfire ghost story scene so riveting that it was used again as the pre-credit teaser for Part 4. The killer’s rancid, dilapidated shack is one grisly set piece, and Jason himself (though skinnier and less powerful than he would soon become) is very scary with his burlap sack and one good eye.
The best thing about this film is the last fifteen minutes, a harrowing and truly terrifying chase sequence which begins with Jason rising from the shadows of a dark room just a few feet in front of Steele and ends with him, sans burlap hood, making one last desperate plunge at her through a window. What this first sequel lacks in terms of theme and originality it more than makes up for in this pulse-pounding finale, which is shock for shock superior in almost every way to the climax of its predecessor. The producers even got Betsy Palmer back for a brief sequence – probably the best and most unforgettable moment in the film. This is how you end a slasher movie.
Though not the classic that the original was, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is a hell of a fun and scary ride, and is far too fresh and energetic to be undone by its numerous flaws. As sequels go, it is a very worthy successor to Sean Cunningham’s 1980 fright fest, and it set a standard to which the makers of other horror sequels should aspire. If every sequel was this good, there’d be hundreds of long-running, bankable film franchises out there – as opposed to two or three good ones and dozens that run out of steam before the first movie gets a “Special Edition” DVD release. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a blast.