Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cruel Summer: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)


One of my favorite, and arguably one of the best slashers ever put to celluloid is Friday the 13th Part 2 (1980). The first of many sequels in the Friday the 13th franchise was produced and released during an era where this popular horror sub-genre was hitting a stride and defining its core with an intriguing blend of sophistication and terror.

Because the slasher boom was sparked by the first entry (and Halloween before it and Psycho and Peeping Tom going back further), parent distribution company Paramount wanted this sequel. The cast and crew behind the Part 1 did not forsee this considering Pamela Voorhees was killed in such an iconic manner and the Jason referenced was in fact, dead. But what if he wasn't?

Paul Holt begins his summer training a staff of camp counselors at the Crystal Lake adjacent Packanack Lodge. When he recounts the legend of Jason Voorhees eerily by a nighttime campfire, mayhem follows.

Written by Ron Kurz & Victor Miller
Directed by Steve Miner

One of the most effective techniques about Part 2 is the lack of soundtrack in certain places. The very beginning when we hear a child sing, "Itsy Bitsy Spider" has no audio compliment. It's an exterior night shot with a close-up of only his feet minding a puddle of what appears to be the remains of a summer storm. The sting comes when we see more intent adult sized boots cut the frame, walking towards a house we find is occupied by Part 1's heroine Alice (returning Adrienne King). This sets the tone. A balance of naivety, innocence, and a whole lot of creepy are played diversly between both victims and Jason. Much of the consideration to Jason's complicated narrative is due to the sequel's final girl, Ginny (Amy Steel).

By far my most beloved in the Carol Clover canon, Ginny is all manner of believability. Armed with tenderness, fear, will, and her smarts from a Child Psychology degree (referred to in a line early on in the film) play seamlessly within the context of the story. For all we knew at the time, Jason raised himself in a relatively remote, wooded area. We can accurately speculate that he saw his mother beheaded by Alice when she falls victim to his revenge in the opening sequence and the would-be camp counselors as the minutes follow. Thinking of Jason as more than just a force, but a "frightened retard," one of the most memorable scenes in the franchise finds Ginny trapped in Jason's makeshift home to find a shrine to Pamela complete with her head and clothes staged. With this disturbing image, she dons the likely rank white sweater and when Jason bursts in, she keeps his homicidal impulses at bay by becoming Mrs. Voohees, enough of a delay to put a machete into the crook between Jason's neck and shoulder.

Expanding the final girl paradigm so early in slasher cinema was the note of Ginny's expression as a sexual young woman. Ginny and Paul are screwin'. Even when Paul has to be the slightly uptight authority figure as head of the camp, Ginny replies acknowledging, assured, and smitten.

"Bullshit Paul."

She's not the "virgin" archetype that isn't supposed to be distracted by the opposite sex (this is a heteronormative assumption that adds another layer of critique) but rather embraces her interest. It's a small part of what makes her character so much fuller and real and compelling to watch for the rest of the film. While you can certainly find other characters likeable and charming, Ginny is crafted as a standout very successfully.

Friday the 13th Part 2 manages to solicit fear from its audience with a mostly serious tone and light humor from characters that look, sound, and act like many of us at that age. As a character-driven slasher, it helped make an imprint on the franchise's most well received sequels. If you haven't watched it this summer yet, make it campfire viewing with your night by the beach. And make sure you give it to your friends or boo thing straight about Jason...

Observational Musings

Heavy use of POV

"Sack head Jason" was creepier than the goalie mask.

The ending was a bit of a mess. Did Ginny dream that Paul intervened in the shack? Did Jason really jump through the window to grab her? Did he kill Paul before or after this supposed dream?

Lessons for the Woods

In bear country, no food fights, change often, no perfume, keep clean during your menstrual cycle.

You should probably almost always travel in small groups or pairs. Preferably to crowded bars. And stay there.

Keep your pet in your eye sight at all times and on a leash.

If there's a heavy branch blocking a paved road, just turn around and work at Dairy Queen for the summer.

Creepy, lurking, old man prognosticators are always right.


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