Paramount // 1981 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // February 3rd, 2009
"Axes, knives, lanterns, saws. They can all be trouble."
-- Unwittingly prophetic camp counselor Paul
It's been five years since the slaughter at Camp Crystal Lake, and now a new camp is opening just up the road. Most of the counselors have heard of the now-legendary events at "Camp Blood" -- a crazy middle-aged woman decimated a group of teens in the name of her drowned son, Jason. Some are interested in exploring the old camp.
Like any good legend, this one has a twist: the drowned boy is still alive, and just as his mother avenged him, he is now stalking campers and counselors to avenge her.
Of course, this is just a legend. There never really was a Jason, and even if some poor boy drowned in the lake, he couldn't very well be back killing people.
With the wealth of Friday the 13th movies since 1980, and the sometimes desperate efforts to distinguish them -- He's in 3D! He's in outer space! He's in New York! -- it's easy to lump the entire franchise into one big, bloody mass. It's also not unfair. As generic as a Happy Meal, Friday the 13th movies are elemental slashers, offering nothing more than an easy-to-follow story, attractive actors, bits of nudity, and lots of cheap bloodletting.
The first film, directed by Sean S. Cunningham, was a huge hit that ushered in the '80's era "mindless slasher" genre -- as opposed to the more thought-provoking '70s era slashers like Halloween, Black Christmas, and Alice, Sweet Alice. It was never intended to be "first in a series." The character Jason wasn't even mentioned until near the end of the film, wasn't responsible for the killings, and appeared only once, as part of (perhaps) a dream.
For the inevitable sequel, there's no effort to explain how the mythological child in the lake has become a real, adult person, and a killing machine, to boot. There's also no effort to explain how five years elapsed between 1980 and 1981, but that's OK -- recall that in the first film, audiences were asked to accept without question the physics of a 55-year-old woman laying waste a group of athletic youths.
For Part 2, Steve Miner takes over the directing chores from Cunningham. Miner had worked with Cunningham on several other projects, including the first Friday the 13th; they'd both worked with Wes Craven on The Last House on the Left.
Under Miner's direction, Friday the 13th Part 2 outshines its predecessor as well as all the Friday the 13ths that followed. This is a surprisingly taut little thriller. Perhaps because it's the first actual "Jason" movie, the shocks and scares seem more genuine and less rote-like.
It's a very different Jason we get here than in the follow-ups. For one thing, there's no hockey mask. We don't even see this Jason above the shoulders until well into the film, and when we do, he's wearing a more rudimentary, and in some ways more unsettling, disguise. In addition, this Jason doesn't have superpowers. While he's more resilient than most people, he can still be felled by a blow to the head or a well-aimed fist to the crotch. He cannot walk through flames or magically appear in front of you if you've outrun him. He's like a dimwitted yet determined homicidal farmer, a flesh-and-blood serial killer rather than an unstoppable demon. The fact that he's fallible and vulnerable works in the film's favor, grounding it and making the menace more immediate and less fanciful.
The counselors are the usual, generic bunch, though unlike the first film, they are unencumbered with the whole Biblical-retribution-for-having-sex business. While the "teens" flirt and make plans, there is only one actual pairing off. Most of these kids die fully clothed (and likely, a tad frustrated).
Miner's direction is a cut above Cunningham's; he focuses on suspense more than gore. A long pre-credit sequence (around 12 minutes) gives us a strong set-up. We're introduced to Jason as a pair of jeans and boots, with Harry Manfredini's iconic score punctuating his every move. We then see Alice (Adrienne King), the only survivor of the first film, and we're treated to a few flashbacks that tell us pretty much everything we need to know to understand this outing. Miner's stalking camera POV is very effective, and the sequence is gripping. It plays out just a bit longer than we expect, and it sustains its tension to the end.
While Miner is great at creating suspense -- this is probably the most successful Friday the 13th in that department -- his payoffs tend to be weak. Opportunities for jump scares are frequently missed. One extremely tense and goose-bump raising scene comes to a screeching halt when we see the killer's legs come up behind the victim; the subsequent kill becomes anti-climactic.
In fact, weirdly for a Friday the 13th movie, the kills are the weakest parts of this film. Everything leading up to them is fine -- great, in some cases -- but the actual deaths just aren't that powerful. Some of this can be attributed to the make up and visual effects -- Tom Savini, who did make up effects for the original, opted to do The Burning instead of this sequel, leaving the job to the capable Carl Fullerton, who is not a gore effects wizard. Miner's direction also seems almost laconic in these scenes, which are also not particularly well edited. There were also concerns about the level of violence being too high to get the film an R rating instead of an X, which led to at least one scene being cut way down.
In honor of the completely unnecessary 2009 remake, Paramount is releasing souped-up, deluxe editions of the first three Fridays. The first release of Friday the 13th Part 2 was a bare-bones affair with decent tech specs. The film next appeared in the box set, Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan, probably the definitive Friday set.
This deluxe edition has a nice, new transfer -- which looks great, especially for a low-budget film almost 30 years old -- and new 5.1 surround mix, that sounds very good. If you're a purist, the original mono track is also here.
The extras concentrate on the series rather than on Part 2 exclusively. Frankly, I was a little disappointed with these. We don't hear from Miner or Cunningham. There's no commentary track, and very little of what's here is specific to Part 2. You can learn more about this film from the trivia section of IMDb.com than from any of these supplements.
"Inside Crystal Lake Memories" is an interview with Peter Bracke about his book, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Bracke offers some good background and anecdotes about the first two films, making this 11-minute piece the best of the featurettes.
"Friday's Legacy: Horror Conventions" and "Jason Forever" both focus on horror conventions -- Scarefest and Fangoria, respectively. "Jason Forever" is the more interesting piece, bringing together a bunch of actors who've played Jason to talk about the experience.
Also included is a short film, "Lost Tales from Camp Blood, Part II," which is just a moronic and derivative rip-off of the Friday the 13th franchise, shot, evidently, on camcorder. Including this garbage here makes no sense.
Rounding out the extras is the theatrical trailer, with its "body count continues" theme.
No "Unrated" cut? Unlike most films, for which the "Unrated" cut is merely the one that wasn't submitted to the ratings board, Friday the 13th Part 2 did have footage edited out to avoid an X. As noted above, in some scenes, it's obvious something is missing. Wouldn't this have been the time to have put everything back together? And if the footage no longer exists, maybe build a featurette around it, give us an artist's rendition, stills, something?
It's too bad Paramount didn't take a cue from MGM's release of The Burning. That disc -- released with less fanfare -- gave us an uncensored cut and extras specific to the film.
Hopefully, Paramount is not planning a fourth release of this film, with the "Unrated" footage as a marketing hook.
There's a strange sort of purity to Friday the 13th Part 2, something that was lost in subsequent entries. I suspect if this film weren't part of the Friday franchise, it would be regarded a bit better.
Easily the best of the Fridays, the supplements are disappointing, as is the still-missing Unrated footage, but it looks and sounds great. Good old fashioned '80's slasher stuff, essential viewing if you're a fan of the genre.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Short Film
* IMDb: Lost Tales from Camp Blood
* Camp Blood Site