While it was a big success in theaters, Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn’t seem as widely regarded by any but the fairly hardcore horror fans. People don’t want Jason in the potato sack, as the verdict seems to be, they want him in the hockey mask. And that’s a shame, because that means people are missing out on one of the most well put together slasher movies of the 1980’s. On just about every level, it tops the original film.
While the kills don’t have the gory genius of Tom Savini behind them (he turned this down to do The Burning, so everything still worked out okay) by themselves they are more imaginative and elaborate this time around. There’s a darker atmosphere in Friday the 13th Part 2, the killer is much more a part of the background and a part of the film itself while in the original they were fairly detached.
All around, this is just a scarier movie than Friday the 13th. Not that the original wasn’t great, obviously, but Part 2 just comes along and raises the bar the way any good horror sequel should.
Jason stalks his way into the house and takes her out, and fans have been confused for years. After all, it’s not like Jason to just stalk somebody across whole states to find his prey. But he can clearly find a way to Ohio or even Manhattan if he needs to, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.
The film seems to answer that question for itself, though, as Alice tells her mother that she is trying to put her life back together in—as she states—“the only way I know how.” Which all makes it sound a lot like the girl returned to the lake to try and put the past behind her. Either way, Jason makes pretty quick work of her. The opening sequence sees Alice discovering Mrs. Voorhees’s severed head in the refrigerator, then being killed by Jason as the tea kettle begins to scream, which Jason then casually sets aside. It’s a great, effective sequence and probably the best cold open out of the entire franchise.
Five years after the incident, a counselor training camp has established itself on the other side of the lake from the now closed-down Camp Crystal Lake. We’re immediately treated to a new and more personable bunch of kids. They have larger, more distinct personalities, but they don’t become caricatures.
There’s a larger group here too and it’s a shame we don’t get to know all of them, but the core cast is established pretty quickly. We’re immediately treated to a group of teens that virtually everyone watching can relate to—or at least anybody watching can relate to one of them on some level. Only one other Friday the 13th movie (The Final Chapter) would do this better. Most importantly, we have a stronger and more resourceful heroine in Ginny Field.
Ginny is a child psychology major, brainy but tough and definitely not meek or overly reserved. She has readily evident strengths and even uses her area of study to gain the upper hand on Jason when they finally come face-to-face. She is down to Earth and simply feels more real than many other final girls in slasher movies.
Originally, there was no intent for a sequel to Friday the 13th. When it made huge insane amounts of money, only then was it decided that a second film would be an inevitability. Because Mrs. Voorhees had died in the original, a new killer was needed to take up the reigns.
When it was suggested that Jason Voorhees—her dead son and her entire motive for murder—now do the killing, original director Sean Cunningham and most of the people involved in the first film thought it was the worst idea in the world. Despite Friday the 13th’s shock ending, it is not meant to imply that Jason would carry on as the killer or even that he is still somehow alive. Yet, that’s how it worked out.
Jason is an effective and memorable villain in his first appearance here. In fact, it’s as scary as the character has ever been. Like the original, we only see the killer’s feet, hands or maybe a glimpse of shoulder for the bulk of the film. This is effective as it helps to establish tension and dread and puts the audience on the edge of their seat as they try and get a glimpse of the person responsible. When Jason is finally revealed, his appearance is unsettling to say the least. He wears dirty overalls, and old work shirt, and a white burlap sack with one eyehole cut out.
The one eyehole is the scariest thing, as it suggests something even more inhuman about this character’s nature and further drives the point home that whatever is under that burlap sack is something that they do not wish to see. It’s directly inspired by the Elephant Man, who wore a very similar sack to hide his hideous face from the world, and also has echoes from The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
The structure is very similar to the original. The early portions of the movie are set establishing not only the characters but also the dread and Jason’s overall presence in the film. One of the scariest sequences in the movie is also one of the most unexpected scares. It comes in broad daylight, when Jason simply darts out into the road in front of a passing police officer. It’s such a quick scare with no build up that it can make someone jump even if they’re watching it for the tenth time. It also leads to a great chase scene as the cop stumbles across the makeshift shack in the woods that Jason calls home. Other than that, though, Jason isn’t providing himself with too much work early on.
In the original, it’s the storm that separates the counselors from their boss who is stranded in town, and that’s when the killings begin in earnest, one after the other. It’s very similar here. Again, it is a storm that predicts Jason’s coming as though he is a vengeful force of nature. But amid the storm, the counselors go out to the local bar for a last night of fun before the work begins, except for the fateful few who decide to stay behind. Knowing that these counselors who form the main cast (and the victims) are the stragglers makes the entire situation feel that much more isolated, and makes the viewer feel even more on edge than they were before. The camp is big, there are only a few people left to tend it, and Jason could be virtually anywhere.
Where Friday the 13th Part 2 shines as one of the best examples of the slasher film, though, is in its sense of style. There seem to be some more specific influences at work in this film and the whole thing feels slicker and more polished. It feels more less like Prom Night and more like Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. One of this film’s most famous kills, the double-impalement of Jeff and Sandra in bed, is in fact lifted almost directly from Bay of Blood. Still, there’s atmosphere at work here and the kills add a punch to the movie, but they don’t feel like the only thing working in the movie. They’re there to add payoff to the suspense. And they do. From wheelchair-bound Mark taking a machete to the face as he is rolled backward down the stairs, to the spearing of Jeff and Sandra, to the slow stalking of Vickie from the killer’s POV. It’s all from the same school of thought as the original, but these deaths really stick out in the memory and have an impact. They may have the audience jumping and laughing, but they’re definitely not laughable.
It’s so brooding, atmospheric and stylistically done that it would feel almost more like an Italian horror if it weren’t for the purely American cast of characters. And that’s fine. Friday the 13th opened up the floodgates for slasher films, but Friday the 13th Part 2 proved they weren’t going away any time soon. It was released in the spring of 1981, which also saw the release of slashers like My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler and The Burning, so Friday the 13th Part 2 is in good company. It gave the series the one thing it didn’t have after the huge success of the original film: it gave it an icon.