3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday the 13th (1980) was a simple slasher that may have been overlooked if not for its titular marketing gimmick snagging Paramount Pictures’ interest. Suddenly, the film had a major distribution deal that dwarfed the original budget and it was shown across the entire country! Friday the 13th was richly rewarded but not respected, except by a dichotomy of die-hard fans and corporate suits who like the money said fans are willing to spend. Friday the 13th Part 2 not only helped cement that bridge, it built many others. A direct continuation with a mostly new cast and much of the same crew, the project also had major losses with an outgoing director, screenwriter, and SFX guru. And despite looking back at how safe they played it 40 years ago, how could a crew as young as the cast predict this sequel would come to define the franchise, and help shape the decade’s horror output?

Friday the 13th found Alice (Adrienne King) and her friends preparing the “cursed” Camp Crystal Lake for its big reopening, which is cancelled when one seriously pissed-off mother started killing them all. Made for $500K and grossing $60M, Paramount immediately knew the summer camp must be revisited…

The gold they’d struck had been mined from the veins of Halloween (1978), and now both franchises were producing sequels for 1981. Comparing those two sequels goes deeper than simple profitability, as both directors (Sean Cunningham and John Carpenter) ironically hated the idea of recycling what they’d just done, so both originally suggested Halloween and Friday the 13th should become horror anthologies. I wonder how things would have panned out if Cunningham had been listened to by Paramount, as Carpenter briefly was by Universal. Friday the 13th Part 3 (1984) stuck to the established formula and earned more money than Part 2, at $36M, whereas the Michael Myers-less Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982) only made $14M at the box office,

Anyway, we’re back at Crystal Lake for Part 2. The Packanack Lodge is playing host to a new group of trainee counsellors, all warned by campfire tales about Jason and his ghostly vengeance for his mother’s death. It’s a fair bit more ominous as they’re just down the road from the infamous ‘Camp Blood’ and, of course, more people start getting killed by a hulking brute in a burlap sack. As with the first movie, serviceable yet satisfactory is a fair description. The new cast are about as memorable as the last bunch, which is to say not very, but amicable enough to emphasise with. I take umbrage at the swathing critique that slasher characters are all assholes; they’re forgettable, sure, but standouts like disabled hunk Mark (Tom McBride) are likeable and sympathetic.

Part 2′s new Final Girl, Ginny (Amy Steel), is the standout with her earnest maturity as she psycho-analyses Jason and even tries to understand his motives; something that hadn’t been done by her predecessor like Alice, or even Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) from Halloween, as both weren’t even aware of the killer until the third act. Ginny is more of a prototypical Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) from Wes Craven’s later A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), proactively taking control of her destiny.

About her thoughts on Jason, though… it’s odd her theory, and the urban legend, proved exceptionally true to life and definitely wasn’t a clumsy bit of exposition. Thanks to writer Ron Kurz, who not only takes over from Victor Miller but establishes the gospel the franchise would now build on. Kurz was uncredited on Friday the 13th and was unafraid to move on from Pamela Voorhees to tell a new story, which it can be argued is the same story with some tweaks.

Today you’re likely watching Friday the 13th Part 2 as part of a marathon, and it feels like another chapter rather than a standalone film. Kurz makes Part 2 feel like a continuation and I appreciate that Pamela Voorhees remains a figurative and literal presence, even if actress Betsy Palmer would never return to this franchise. She provides both the constant drive for Jason’s rage in a demented shrine with her severed head, and there’s his fascinating psychological defeat with her image. I always felt, for as fun as Part 3 is, it comes across thematically bereft compared to its immediate predecessor.

There are more glaring faults in the script, the most egregious being Jason’s existence. If he survived drowning as a child, why on earth would he choose to live in the woods alone, and how on earth did nobody (not the counsellors, townsfolk, or Pamela herself) ever bump into him? More confusingly, Jason apparently witnessed his mother’s death first-hand, as he has her severed head, so why did he not think to intervene in the fight with Alice? Or just pop in at any point just to say hello and prevent anyone from ever dying in the first place!? This is all ‘fridge logic’—those questions that pass you by while being entertained and then pop into your head hours later when you’re looking in the fridge to eat. Along with Kurz’s breezy story, all the nitpicks and weaker elements are glossed over by the comforting cosiness of Steve Miner’s direction.

Shepherded through directing by Cunningham, Miner provides the same seasonal warmth and efficient storytelling of the first movie with a subtly grander feel thanks to an increased budget. Cosy is an odd descriptor but for all the concern from critics and censors, we still spend a lot of time with the people before they’re brutally murdered. The prologue with Alice spends an inordinate 12-minutes building suspense before anything happens. Less so than the original, the pacing is still leisurely and never feels like it’s rushing to the gore. Jason himself is lackadaisical in his approach, no longer hiding just off-camera like his mother, Miner centres him as a real character; jogging, ambling, and stumbling comically when falling off a chair or being beaten up by Ginny. For his debut, Steve Daskawicz gives Jason a lumbering, personable performance, more in line with the pratfalls of Ghostface in Scream (1996) than the unnerving poise of Michael Myers.

When Jason does land his machete, it’s in spectacular fashion, which is fortunate because Part 2 also lost gore wizard Tom Savini. In horror, that’s a bigger loss than any director or writer! Ironically, Savini had also objected to the inclusion of Jason, when he was the one that conceived the original’s shock ending with child Jason to begin with! Other established legends like Stan Winston and Dick Smith were unavailable, but the latter called up his apprentice Carl Fullerton—who not only supplied the blood and gore but designed our first good look at the real Jason Voorhees. In retrospect, the Jason here’s a strange outlier as a ginger mountain-man, when for the rest of the saga he’s a hockey-masked Joe Rogan after losing an MMA match.

Even if we had gotten the great Savini, we wouldn’t have seen his full potential, as Friday the 13th Part 2 was torn to shreds by the MPAA under threat of an X rating. 48 seconds were cut, leaving a decent amount of violence intact but making the deaths appear oddly abrupt. Almost 40 years we finally got to see this footage, as it was discovered last year and included in the deluxe Scream Factory box-set. And for anyone hoping for nudity as gratuitous as the gore, be thankful the double impalement scene was censored, as actress Marta Kober lied about her age while filming the sex scene and was only 16…

However, much like Halloween, hoping for the same box office returns was futile. The mainstream had flocked to see something fresh and invigorating with both of those original films, but only true horror fans returned for the same thrills again and again. Friday the 13th Part 2 grossed a still impressive $21M from a $1.2M budget, and while only making a quarter of what the first did, the film was now up against stiff competition: The Evil Dead, The Howling, My Bloody Valentine, The Burning… they all hail from a crowded 1981!

But while this sequel didn’t make more money, it made something more significant: more movies. Miner, and his cast and crew, had the humble goal of making something as good as the original. They wanted to entertain the fans. Luckily for the studios, those fans have good money, so whether Part 2 or Part 20 we’re going to pay to enjoy more Friday the 13th.

USA | 1981 | 87 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Steve Miner.
writer: Ron Kurz (based on characters created by Victor Miller).
starring: Adrienne King, Amy Steel, John Furey, Steve Daskewisz, Stu Charno, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Kirsten Baker, Russell Todd, Walt Gorney, Betsy Palmer, Jack Marks & Cliff Cudney.