“I don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m gonna give it to you straight about Jason.”
Sean Cunningham kinda messed up. He hadn’t been trying to become a horror guy, he was just trying to cash in on the popularity of HALLOWEEN real quick. But FRIDAY THE 13TH had been so successful for Paramount that they wanted a sequel immediately. By distributing the film, they’d invented the “negative pickup” – basically, they would let indie producers go through the trouble of making the damn thing, and the studio just had to market it, so they made lots of money. Though not everything had sequels in those days, this seemed like a good chance for one. But Cunningham wasn’t about to dedicate his life to this shit.
So they promoted from within. Steve Miner (previously credited as Stephen Miner) had worked as a p.a., assistant editor, second unit director and other roles on Cunningham productions including THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, HERE COME THE TIGERS and MANNY’S ORPHANS, and he’d been associate producer of FRIDAY THE 13TH. Part I screenwriter Victor Miller didn’t return, so Ron Kurz, who’d done some uncredited rewrites on that one, took over. He’d also pseudonymously written two Ken Wiederhorn movies: the notorious fart comedy KING FRAT (1979) and the in-my-opinion-underrated slasher/suspense movie EYES OF A STRANGER (1981). Fortunately his work here is more like the latter.
Frank Mancuso Jr., the 23-year-old son of the president of Paramount, became the associate producer for Part II, by most accounts staying quiet but very handy. They found there were problems the kid could solve with a phone call.
I called FRIDAY THE 13TH “in many ways the Platonic ideal of a slasher movie,” but I think Plato would agree with me that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II is actually better. It’s mostly the same formula, but the simple act of telling us it’s Jason allows for more significant onscreen struggles with the killer, whose identity doesn’t need to be hidden. I also think the very fact of being a sequel adds a little more fun, wrapping up the events of part 1 and coming up with a crazy way to continue the story despite the decapitation of the original antagonist. I kinda dig how in the first one everyone in the area was haunted by these past events going back to ’57, and now the events of part I have been added to the list. Also, we hear a new (true!) legend about Jason being alive that apparently the “old timers” believe, even though they didn’t think to mention it last time. Or maybe it just started to proliferate in the 5 years between these two movies that were released less than a year apart.
The first 12 minutes take place two months after part I, with about half of that dedicated to highlights from the climax as Alice (returning Adrienne King) rolls around in bed muttering “No!” This was, of course, during the period when sequels were popular but viewers weren’t gonna have access to the previous installment on video, so it made sense to show us the same footage to jog our memory.
When she wakes up Alice talks to her mom on the phone, so we learn that, in her words, she needs time alone to put her life back together – which of course is not to be, since Jason shows up and kills her. My biggest questions here are where she’s living and how Jason got there. With the benefit of many sequels, we know him pretty much as a guy who walks through woods, unless he’s stowing away on a boat or space ship. But here, in his first adult appearance, he somehow found his way to this suburban neighborhood. This must mean Alice made the questionable decision to move into an apartment within walking distance of Camp Crystal Lake, the site of the very trauma she’s attempting to escape from. If that seems unlikely, we could interpret that she’s supposed to be in California, where she said in part I she had unspecified things to straighten out, but that would raise even more questions about Jason’s transportation methods.
(For what it’s worth, those scenes are shot in Connecticut, as are the Camp Crystal Lake scenes – a change from part I’s New Jersey locations.)
But he got there somehow. After being frightened by one of those false-alarm-leaping-screech-cats we all agree are a real thing that exists, Alice opens the refrigerator, discovers the mummified head of Mrs. Voorhees, and then Jason stabs her through the head with an icepick. (Note: the Scream Factory blu-ray has a deleted scene section with a really horrifying version where she turns her head and the end of the pick is poking out through the side of her nose.)
So I guess my other question is whether Jason planned the head thing to scare her or if he was just carrying it around and thought he should keep it refrigerated for now.
This is a really good version of the “hero of part 1 gets killed” opening, but my favorite part is just a weird mysterious thing: as Jason kills Alice her tea kettle starts to whistle, and he takes it off the burner. So we know this one basic thing about Jason: he understands the concept of heating up a kettle of water. In this case he finds it worth finishing the process for Alice. Later we hear that Alice “disappeared” and “vanished,” so he must’ve stuck around long enough to figure out what to do with the body, and didn’t want to hear that noise the whole time. Who knows, maybe he even sat down and had tea.
After another really cool title sequence (the logo explodes to reveal the “PART 2”!) it’s five years later and we have another scenario with all counselors and no campers. They’re not at Camp Crystal Lake, but the nearby, newly opened Packanack Lake Region Counselor Training Center. I guess somebody anticipates a summer camp boom in the area and wants to get the work force ready? Kinda weird.
The boss this time is Paul (John Furey, ISLAND CLAWS, BLACK THUNDER), who says “I don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m gonna give it to you straight about Jason,” and gives the definitive version of a slasher movie scary-local-legend-told-around-the-campfire scene. It’s great because it rehashes what you need to know about the backstory if you missed part I, but adds in this new twist that Jason is alive and living in the woods. Of course what Paul says is legend is real within the movie, though he likely doesn’t believe it (he’s setting up for Ted [Stu Charno, CHRISTINE, SLEEPWALKERS] to jump out with a Halloween mask and spear, pretending to be Jason).
Ted is a character worth discussing briefly as a version of the common slasher movie archetype of the prankster. There were some hijinks in part I, but here we get a straight up practical joke when Sandra (Marta Kober, RAD, NEON MANIACS, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III) and Jeff (Bill Randolph, DRESSED TO KILL) come into town and call Ted from a payphone to get further directions. Their truck gets towed in the background while they’re on the phone and they chase after it only to find Ted waiting for them on the next block, having arranged the towing himself. This is actually a good joke! And what makes Ted an unusual prankster is that he seems kind of shy and likable and only really jokes with people who end up thinking it’s funny. So it doesn’t have as much of the scoldy boy-who-cried-wolf feel this convention usually takes on.
Another character I’d like to highlight briefly is Mark (Tom McBride, REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS), who is in a wheelchair, something I think they handle really well. His friends try to include him in everything, though he doesn’t always want that. Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor, GIRLS NITE OUT) is absolutely smitten with him, and finds excuses to stay in with him. Somehow it seems very respectful that he’s killed just like any of the other characters could’ve been (a machete to the face) rather than cruelly using his disability as a reason not to be able to escape. (They do, however, have an insane rolling-down-the-stairs stunt after he’s already dead.)
Like in part I, the counselors do some work and then set time aside to have fun. Not for the last time in the series, the protagonists are excited about skinny-dipping. It seems to be a huge part of the lake culture. They also enjoy arm wrestling and electronic football and hockey games. And most of them go out to a bar. It’s supposed to be a last fun night before the job, but for most of them it’s just a last fun night. Go out with a bang.
I generally consider PART II to be my favorite of the series, and one reason is that I like the way it’s constructed. So many of the elements of the battle to come are organically set up at the beginning. Paul explains that their counselor training will focus on “the basics,” including survival, first aid, boating, archery, and the rifle range. I’d like it even better if they specifically used every one of those things, but they will certainly be tested on their survival skills. They jog together, later they have to run. They use a chainsaw as a tool, later it will be a weapon. The Volkswagen’s trouble starting up is well known before it gets in the way of escaping. My favorite odd piece of foreshadowing is Paul’s warning that it’s bear country and they have to avoid things that attract bears, such as perfume. Later Vickie does put on perfume, before being attacked by something else out of the woods.
(I’m kind of fascinated by this bear country thing. It’s mentioned again in part 4, but we never see a bear in the entire series. I want to see a scene where Jason has someone cornered but suddenly has to deal with a bear.)
The other thing they set up is the way our heroine will survive Jason, and this is why Ginny (Amy Steel, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, The Powers of Matthew Star) is my favorite final girl of the series. It comes up in conversation that she’s studying to be a child psychologist. Later, at the bar, they start talking about the Jason legend, and she does what she’s been taught – she tries to understand where someone like that would be coming from. She surmises that he might be “a child trapped in a man’s body,” and also uses the r-word that we don’t use anymore, but not in a derogatory way. She thinks it’s sad that, having lived by himself in the woods, he wouldn’t have gone to school or made friends. Obviously as horror movie viewers we understand that because she’s theorizing this it means she’s correct. But I also think it’s pretty true to life that these people, having just heard these legends, would discuss it over drinks and come up with their interpretations and hot takes.
When Ginny comes literally face to face with the motherfucker she has a less plausible but very cool reaction. She sees that he has his mother’s severed head on a shrine with a sweater (no refrigerator here) and comes up with the idea to put on the sweater and speak to him in the role of his mother. I love it! And it’s cool that Betsy Palmer came back to be Mrs. Voorhees’ face dissolving in and out over Ginny’s. I hope they thanked her profusely and bought her another Volkswagen.
Cinema’s first adult Jason is portrayed by cop turned stuntman Steve Daskewisz (NIGHTHAWKS, MS. 45, 13 TZAMETI) most of the time, with Warrington Gillette (TIME WALKER) playing him at the end when we see his monstrous face. Part I makeup genius Tom Savini turned the sequel down, because he thought the idea of bringing back Jason was stupid and would never work. He was wrong on at least one of those things. But he spent his time well doing MANIAC, KNIGHT RIDERS and THE BURNING. They almost got Stan Winston (GARGOYLES) to replace him, but he dropped out for another project (must’ve been THE HAND, DEAD & BURIED or HEARTBEEPS) and they got Carl Fullerton, who had worked with Winston on THE WIZ.
The new makeup artist did a good job continuing in the Savini tradition of gore. To me the most memorable kill is when Jason finds Jeff and Sandra having sex and spears both of them at once. Some claim that the idea is stolen from Mario Bava’s A BAY OF BLOOD (a.k.a. TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE). In the excellent book Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th by Peter M. Bracke, Kurz swears that “I’d never seen it nor heard of it,” but notes that one of Cunningham’s investors, Phil Scuderi, suggested the scene to him. “Phil was a creative force in his own right, often coming up with wild scenes, usually acted out in fancy Boston restaurants… Phil would come up with the most outrageous sequences, and from where they came I haven’t a clue… Perhaps Phil had [seen TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE]. He was not above lifting anything from anywhere.” That said, as much as the scene resembles Bava’s, it’s a more complex effect with both actors coming up through a hole in a false-bottomed bed with a fake back to be stabbed through.
Fullerton gave Jason a look that will be immediately abandoned – a grown up version of the deformed child seen in part I, with long hair on one side of his head. Many aspects of Jason will evolve over the course of the series, but some of the basics are established here. He hides his face (this time with a burlap sack with eyeholes torn into it). He shows his love for machetes and other blades. He likes jumping through windows to scare the shit out of people.
I love the part where he walks past the costume that Ted used to impersonate him at the campfire and ignores the mask but uses the spear to actually kill someone. So the stories have some truth to them.
One cool piece of the mythology that we don’t see after this one is Jason having a house. He lives in an isolated hovel made of scrap wood and corrugated metal. The outside is junky, but the structure is legit, and there’s even a toilet! I suppose maybe it was an abandoned place that he took over and “fixed up,” but if he in fact built the whole thing I think we gotta give this guy way more credit than he ever gets. (I grew up with the benefit of parents and housing but would not be capable of installing plumbing.)
There’s a great shot when Ginny goes into Jason’s house. The camera is looking into the door, and we can see out the window, and framed in the window is Jason’s head as he’s hauling ass from the woods toward her. Legitimately terrifying! I think Miner shows great directorial chops in this thing. He’s so good at putting together these suspenseful chase and scrap sequences.
This chapter’s version of part I’s version of CARRIE’s happy ending fake out is really funny. There’s a sound at the door, but it turns out to be a cute little dog, Muffin, who has been missing, presumed dead. He has a ribbon in his mouth. The happy music is comically over-the-top. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking it as proof that everything really is fine, but in a way it’s very effective for us to still be on edge when unmasked Jason leaps through the window. Sometimes anticipation is better than surprise.
When everything really is wrapped up they come pretty close to doing another nonsensical-but-awesome image in the tradition of child-Jason coming out of the water. The movie ends on a very long shot of Mrs. Voorhees’ mummified head still on the shrine. It really, really seems like her eyes are going to open. In fact, I’ve read that that’s what they shot, but they decided it was stupid and froze the shot.
It works as is. I love this movie. And I can’t imagine a world where Mrs. Voorhees’ head comes to life and they make a part 3 that attempts to follow up on that. But I like the paint-yourself-into-a-corner audacity of the idea. It would’ve been a cool ending.
The smash success of FRIDAY THE 13TH helped pave the way for more than just sequels. PART II’s slasher competition in 1981 included MY BLOODY VALENTINE, MANIAC, THE FUNHOUSE, EYES OF A STRANGER, NIGHT SCHOOL, GRADUATION DAY, DEAD & BURIED, FINAL EXAM, DEADLY BLESSING, HELL NIGHT, JUST BEFORE DAWN, NIGHTMARE, HALLOWEEN II, THE PROWLER and THE BURNING, which is so Jason-like I always mistook it for a ripoff. PART II didn’t make nearly as much money as the first one, but $21 million before video on a movie that cost $1.25 million to make is gonna please any studio. I’m sure you will be happy to learn that they decided to make another one.
To be a fan of any FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel is to accept the idea that Jason is alive in some sense. I take it for granted enough that I forget how much ambiguity surrounds it. According to this one he survived the drowning, grew up in the woods, and is now avenging the beheading of his mother. But if he survived the drowning, then there was no drowning! So the tragedy that drove Pamela Voorhees crazy actually did not happen. Jason is alive and is getting revenge for her because she was killed in self defense when she was killing to get revenge for his death that did not happen. I guess the only way to make sense of this is to assume she didn’t know he didn’t drown. They saw him go under and never found the body and figured that was normal in a small lake. He got lost nearby and never returned to his mother, but was in the bushes spying when she was beheaded? And then came out and fetched the head for safe keeping? That seems to be what’s implied.
Yeah, I can see why Savini thought it was a stupid idea and opted out. But maybe it’s a testament to this movie’s execution that I saw it many times over many years before ever stopping to consider any of that. In the world of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II, the world of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II makes sense.
CRYSTAL LAKE WORLD BUILDING NOTES:
In part I we saw the very small diner/market where all the locals seemed to have breakfast. In this one it seems to be a more lively town than previously revealed, because when the counselors go out for their last night on the town they’re at a huge bar that has a live band and is totally crowded with people of varying ages. According to the sign it’s also a casino. There are two pinball machines and a Galaga. And when Ted asks an old guy at the bar if there are any “after hours places around here” the guy says, “Sure are!” So Crystal Lake is not a one horse, only summer camps town. It has a thriving night life.
Something called “the old cemetery” is mentioned, but not seen. It’s referred to by Ted in the context of a prank though, so its existence is not necessarily canonical.
Alice was not the only part I character they decided to bring back and kill. Walt Gorney returns as Crazy Ralph to warn everybody. For the last time. R.I.P. Crazy Ralph and condolences to your poor wife mentioned in part I who might still be out there.
Also, is Paul still alive at the end? Ginny wonders where he is when she’s loaded into the ambulance, and we never hear about him again. If he survived he must’ve learned from Alice’s experience and moved to another continent. Same with Ginny, who is seen in flashback in part III as if she’s about to be killed, but we know from II that that scene was before she was taken out on the stretcher.
In October of 1997 – on or near Halloween, I can’t remember exactly – a Seattle theater that no longer exists called the UA 150 had a one time (midnight?) show. On one screen they were showing SCREAM and on another they were showing FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II. I went with a group of friends and obviously it was PART II we were interested in. We all loved SCREAM but, although it wouldn’t be on video for a few more months, we had seen it a couple times not too many months ago, so seeing FRIDAY THE 13TH was a much bigger opportunity. We had been able to see part 3 in 3D a few years earlier, which had been the Holy Grail, and this was the runner up.
We waited in the buzzing young crowd for a while and then a theater employee came to the front and explained that there had been a mix up with the signs so if anybody is in here for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II they’re in the wrong theater, this is the theater for SCREAM. Immediately the crowd roared with mocking laughter. I believe I literally heard someone saying, “Why would anybody want to see that?” as we, and only we, made the walk of shame out of the theater into the obviously way more exciting one at the time even though both are classics.
WORM ON A HOOK NOTES:
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II was the main movie I thought of when I pictured the sort of slasher vibe I wanted for my book. To me it’s one of the best examples of a movie that’s totally formulaic in a way that makes me appreciate the sturdiness of the formula rather than lament the lack of originality.
My most direct PART II homage is to the campfire scene. It’s very logical to tell a horror backstory at a campfire, and I doubt this was the first time it was done, but it’s the specific one I was thinking of. For mine I tried to combine the local legend of the slasher with the Just How Badass Is He? speech of a Seagal type movie.
I also have a subplot about a character doing a prank, a slasher cliche that sort of happens in Part I but is used more effectively here with Ted.