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.