There are few sequels that manage to improve upon the original, and even fewer in the horror genre. However, when the main filmmaker behind the project is superior to the original, it is no surprise. This was Steve Miner’s directorial debut, and of course, no one could anticipate anything of his quality at the time. However, he has gone on to have a very successful career as a director of films and television, and so, in retrospect, it is easy to see that Friday The 13th, Part 2 was in more versatile hands than the original. This is indeed my favorite film of the classic formula, despite being in the pre-hockey mask era. This is a good, classic piece of horror cinema, and I want to detail why it was a marked improvement over the first film.
Two months after the events of the previous film, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) is trying to put her life back together, but that is short lived as she is murdered in her own house by a silent killer. Five years later, Paul Holt (John Furey) is opening up a counselor training camp near the now shut down Camp Crystal Lake. Holt is joined by many young men and women including, among others, the practical joker Ted (Stu Charno), the wheelchair bound Mark (Tom McBride), the sly Scott (Russell Todd), and Paul’s spirited girlfriend, the film’s female lead, Ginny Field (Amy Steel). The locals like what he’s doing with these young people, but don’t like that he’s doing it so close to “Camp Blood.” Paul even tells the story of Jason Voorhees around a campfire, but with a jokey scare at the end treating the legend lightly. Even the prophetic warnings of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) don’t scare them away. As night falls, while some go into town for a fun time, many of these teens begin to fall prey to the film’s new killer, an adult Jason Voorhees seeking vengeance on anyone who treads through his domain.
Okay, before the true highlights begin, I do have to admit that the special make-up effects are not as good with the departure of Tom Savini. That is almost inevitable as his talent is not easy to replicate. At this time, Savini went to work on the Friday The 13th rip-off The Burning. It is a film I did see many years ago, and did not care for at all. It is only a shame that I had to purchase the VHS tape to see it. That aside, with this film, Carl Fullerton and his team still deliver some high quality physical effects that serve the film well. It is merely a disservice, as would become a regular stinging point for the franchise, that the MPAA required numerous cuts to be made to tone down the violence and gore.
The pacing this time out is increased and steadier. The film begins with a great suspenseful sequence that jump starts the hearts of the audience. The character introductions are more tightly woven together, allowing for the film to keep moving forward instead of lingering. The kills are nicely interspersed throughout the movie to maintain the tone it sets from the start. It keeps an audience gripped into the film as the terror continually stalks these characters.
Speaking of such, we are treated to some charismatic and enjoyable characters this time out with more distinct personalities than before. The actors in the prominent roles such as John Furey, Amy Steel, and Stu Charno are great and memorable. Furey nicely projects Paul Holt’s maturity and level headed sensibility while still being a light-hearted, fun loving guy. Ginny is a fun challenge for Paul, but it is clear they have a lot of affection for one another. Amy Steel portrays her with a lot of likability showcasing an assertive attitude that is playful. She displays intelligence while still being able to have fun. Ginny has enough strength to carry her through the madness of the climax, but surely shows moments of vulnerability. I also really love Stu Charno’s prankster Ted. He’s all kinds of fun playing some elaborate and inventive practical jokes on his friends. He keeps the tone light at times, and because of Charno’s charisma, he is instantly entertaining. He makes things lively and vibrant while never descending into bad one liners and wisecracks. He’s a very realistic friend that many people have who just likes to have a great time, and an even better night out on the town. However, this never betrays the overall tone of the movie, it merely enhances the versatile enjoyment of the picture. The chemistry of this cast is some of the franchise’s best, and even the supporting cast gets fine opportunities to add to the flavor of the picture.
Director Steve Miner gives this film some solid suspense and tension in every potential stalk-and-slash scene. From all accounts, he had heavy influence from Mario Bava with this film, and it really helped deliver a great first sequel. Miner knows how to handle his acting talents well and balance them out evenly to excellent effect. Everything is shot very well to enhance the slight unsettling vibe flowing through the film. The addition of the storm during the climax was an excellent touch. It just adds more to the atmosphere and intensity of the sequence, but it never dominates or disrupts what each individual scene is doing, tone wise.
The score by Manfredini is possibly a step up from the previous film. With a more evenly paced film, the music has more chances to slip in and out to create individual moments of horror than a chain of kills clumped together. Again, atmosphere and tone is set early on with the intelligent visual storytelling and underplayed music. The filmmakers let the score, subtle sound effects, and performances play up the unseen killer until he finally strikes, and creates a deeply disturbing moment that jumps straight into the opening credits. The film is able to continually create great sequences like this all the way through to the clever ending that throws in some nice psychological elements to Jason. It’s also smart that Ginny raises the idea of her deception earlier in the film so that the audience grasps onto what she’s doing as she’s doing it.
Warrington Gillette and his stunt double Steve Daskawisz do a very good job as Jason. He’s not the more refined or confident killer as we have come to know, but the physical acting is well done. The sack on the head look is very similar to the killer in the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was based on true events. The hockey mask surely became a much better iconic image which forged his personality, but for this version of Jason, I think that one eye peaking out of the hood works very well.
Writing this review, I never realized just how good of a film this is beyond just being highly effective and enjoyable for me. There is no reason why this can’t be viewed among the best of its genre. It delivers everything a solid slasher film should as well as a lot of what good horror is meant to. While it doesn’t have the technical elegance or subtle brilliance of a Halloween, it has good atmosphere, tight suspense, intense scares, and entertaining characters who never devolve into moronic stereotypes. They might not all have great depth, but they are grounded in reality. Overall, this is a strong highlight of the series, and surely set the bar higher than the original Friday The 13th. Subsequent sequels would vary in quality to great degrees, some just as good, some not nearly, but not for the lack of having a solid reference for doing it right and well with Friday The 13th, Part 2.
Sometimes, the first film in a franchise is the best and all sequels are just watered down retreads. Other times, the first film is merely a rugged blueprint for future installments to build upon to create better films. I believe the original Friday The 13th fits into the latter category. That is not to say it doesn’t have admirable qualities, but the formula and execution is not as refined as some of the other films in the franchise later became. There are numerous elements that downgrade this even in comparison to the first sequel, and the difference in who the killer is does not factor into my opinion here.
Camp Crystal Lake used to be an idyllic summer camp for kids, but for over twenty years, it has had a supposed death curse upon it. Camp counselors found dead, the water gone bad, and various accidents of sorts have plagued it. Even the local prophet of doom, Crazy Ralph, tries to warn all comers to the danger ahead. However, Steve Christie is determined to re-open the camp and mend its reputation. The teenage counselors feel safe and comfortable in the deep woods, but soon, on this Friday the 13th, an unseen killer stalks them all intent on seeing their bloody corpses litter the campgrounds.
First off, the positives. You can never deny the high quality talents of Tom Savini. He’s a master make-up effects artist, and he had honed his skills most notably on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead prior to this film. Here, he created some of the best gore effects and special make-up of the series. They are seamless, and that only enhances the surprise elements of the movie. I believe the success of this Friday The 13th owes a lot to what Savini accomplished as it raised the bar for gore very high, and that gave it something different than the more atmosphere-driven Halloween. This film really started the bloody slasher film craze, and it is due to the effectiveness of these physical effects.
The score by Harry Manfredini has always been a divided issue for me. In some ways, it is suspenseful, but in others, it is just wild strings shrieking on the soundtrack with no sense of tension or rhythm at all. However, it rarely feels like a Friday The 13th movie without his signature style, but there are exceptions. For what Manfredini offers, his first foray with the franchise is a solid effort. It creates a good atmosphere that services the film’s style of horror.
The acting from our two leads is very admirable in a subgenre known for a lot of cringable performances, to say the least. Adrienne King is a fresh faced, likable talent here, and reflects a lot of vulnerability and sympathy. Yet, she is able to demonstrate some strong will in the more intense fight-for-your-life sequences. The other talent I mention is who portrays the killer, and that acting talent really elevates the film above its unrefined shortcomings.
What truly detracts from this movie are two things. The first is the pace. Even by my patient standards, the film drags along at a very slow pace. By modern cinematic standards, it’s terribly sluggish. This is mainly due to the fact that very little occurs in the story. People slowly arrive in town, and it goes along like a slow, calming weekend until the killings really pick up the pace. That doesn’t start happening until about halfway through the movie. The characters don’t offer up much personality or charisma to maintain interest or momentum in the first half of the movie. By the time the film really gets a good stride going, it’s almost over.
The second issue is that Sean Cunningham is not a very inventive or dynamic filmmaker. There is nothing outright bad about what he does, but there’s also nothing exceptional or impressive about it either. The incessant use of the killer’s point of view shots tend to take away from the tension and mystery since you always know where the killer is, and who the killer is stalking. Some sequels would lay off of this idea, and create suspense and tension through more clever methods. Here, it works for a little while, but ultimately, it overstays its welcome by wearing thin quickly. It’s almost as if Cunningham saw the opening scene of Halloween, and wanted to recapture that idea and feeling for this entire film. I don’t feel it works to that extent. Hiding the killer’s identity was key to the story, but better filmmakers later demonstrated a more diverse approach to maintaining that idea.
If, by chance, you have not had the identity of the film’s killer revealed to you by now, I won’t be the spoiler. Let’s just say, it is an unexpected twist in the story that is probably the most intelligent part of the screenwriting and casting. This is before Jason Voorhees began his killing spree under a burlap sack or a hockey mask. So, it has a different sort of ending as we get a killer with dialogue who can showcase their madness without a mask. There is a further twist ending beyond this that captivated and terrified audiences in 1980, and gave the franchise a jumping off point to actually become a franchise. It truly is nightmarish.
Friday The 13th does deliver some good scares that remain effective to this day, and again, Savini’s work has been key to maintaining that effectiveness. However, there’s little beyond that to hold the film together through its run time, and even then, the scares are not spread out enough to keep that heightened tension going for the majority of the film. It was not a film written with compelling characters, and not vastly cast with charismatic acting talents. So, it shouldn’t have been plotted out where the performances or characters needed to carry the movie for a hefty distance before the horror aspects took over. Again, this works as a template for future installments to build upon to make more well balanced and tighter films. The Friday The 13th franchise is my favorite slasher film series, and just because Jason is not the killer in this film does not affect my opinion of it. At one time, I had hoped that a remake could take this film, and re-manufacture it into a more evenly paced and tighter movie. Bring it up to the more intense and entertaining levels of the better sequels. Sadly, the 2009 remake from Platinum Dunes was an utter failure, and like many horror remakes, put a death nail in the franchise. I will give credit that this 1980 film was a horror milestone, and it launched the entire slasher subgenre that ran rampant through most of the decade. However, it was not the best of the genre, and there are better films within the franchise than Sean Cunningham’s original.