An (Epic) Retrospective Look at Friday the 13th, Part 2: Why the Sequel is Better Than the Original and What it Means to the Slasher/ Horror Genre

By March 20, 2016Main

"What about the boy… Jason?"
 

The Friday the 13th franchise is one of the few elite status franchises in the slasher/ horror genre. While there are many great films in the series, none of them, including the original, has had a greater impact on the genre than Friday the 13th, Part 2. From the opening sequence, we know that this film isn’t holding anything back.

We pick up following the events of the previous film and our sole survivor from that entry, Alice, is in the midst of trying to piece her life back together. There is a flashback dream sequence that delivers a quick recap of the ending from the original, and also succeeds marvelously in introducing and building up the legend of the antagonist: Jason.

The rest of the scene is actually a great adlibbed performance delivered by actress Adrienne King, particularly when she is supposed to be on the phone with her mother. The handheld camera shots in the apartment make us uneasy and gives us the sense that somebody is in the apartment with her and watching her as she goes in the shower. As tension rises, she becomes nervous and locks the door. We hear something outside and cue a well-timed cat-scare to break the tension. In fact, I would argue that this is the best cat-scare in cinema history.

Alice, thinking that she is just being paranoid, decides to make some tea and relax. Putting the pot on the burner, she opens the refrigerator door only to find Mrs. Voorhees’ severed head staring her down. Enter Jason with an ice pick. Killing Alice off in the first scene shatters our expectations from get-go.

Two very important notes here: The teakettle on the stove is now whistling at a piercing pitch, which is very effective in enhancing the tension. That high-pitched squeal alone is one that puts the audience on edge. Audible impact is essential to the success of a film in any genre, but none more so than in horror.

Friday the 13th, Part 2 delivers an excellent audio experience and that is very crucial to the end quality of the film. We always hear about “eye candy”, but in the case of this film (and the series as a whole) we have a prime example of “ear candy”. Although much of that can be attributed to the fantastic work done by Harry Manfredini, who did the score.

The other important point to note here is the pacing of the film. The rise and fall of the tension in this scene alone is a microcosm to how it plays out through the course of the entire picture. We know that something is coming we just aren’t sure when to expect it. We brace ourselves for it but instead get a brief reprieve, only to get hit with it when it’s least expected and we feel safe. In any Friday film, we are never safe.

While the first film did a solid job with timing of the scares, pacing was a bit slow. The second entry was much faster paced did an absolutely outstanding job of timing when it would attack the audience. We see this especially play out in the third act of the film. We see back-to-back kill scenes with a brief reprieve to set up Paul and Ginny set out to return to camp. Immediately followed by yet another kill scene. We only get a few moments to catch our breath and prepare for what comes next. Many of the slashers that were released throughout the years following the release of Friday the 13th, Part 2 mimicked this pacing structure, although few were able to nail it as perfectly as this film.

Character development is also crucial to the success of Part 2. In the first Friday, we don’t really get a chance to really become attached to any of the characters too deeply. Each of them has their own little quirk, which give us a hint of who the characters are, but not much more than that. Even the final girl, Alice, isn’t developed too deeply. She simply happens to be the last one left alive by default.

In horror films, this is good for what we call “fodder characters”, or the characters that we expect to buy it sooner or later during the course of the movie. We don’t want to become too attached to them because it will be upsetting when they are killed off. In fact, many of these supporting characters are written with intent to be disliked so that we’re actually glad when they are killed off, and cheer on the creative ways in which they are disposed of.

We do however want to get to know our lead characters intimately, because they are the ones who we are supposed to really care about. This builds up in the climax when we discover that they are in danger, and we want them to be safe. The audience is pulling for the characters to make it out of the encounter alive. In Friday the 13th, Part 2, we have three main characters: Ginny – our lead female protagonist, Paul – our lead male protagonist, and Jason – our antagonist killer. The other supporting characters follow a weak developmental structure similar to what we saw in the first Friday.

Paul is the head camp counselor, who we discover is also Ginny’s boyfriend. He is not as strong of a character as she is, even though she is his assistant, and he’s not meant to be. That would cause conflict and take attention away from Ginny, especially at the end of the film when all eyes are on her. However, he does grow on us quite a bit, to the point where we wonder what could have possibly happened to him at the end when Ginny wakes up and both Paul and Jason are gone. We assume that he’s dead, and that would probably be okay except we just don’t see it happen.

What initially solidifies our confidence in Paul is the speech he gives to start the second act when the counselors are all sitting around the campfire. This is yet another device that is used to hype Jason up, but it also serves to give us some insight into Paul’s character. He’s not as stiff as we’re led to believe in the beginning, but he is also supposed to be a leader and expects his counselors to keep their heads level on the job. He uses a scary joke to show them that he likes to have fun, but he thinks the legend of Jason living in the woods is just a myth and not to be taken seriously. He’s dead wrong of course, but we’ll give him credit for the effort.

We warm up to Paul more again later as he stands up to the cop who catches the two curious counselors trespassing on the other side of the lake to check out the old camp. At a different point we again see a good display of the same balance of fun and seriousness from him. He takes the counselors to the bar in town to let off some steam before they get to business the next day (fun). Then while they’re there, he reacts to Ginny’s psychological analysis of Jason by essentially discrediting it because he simply doesn’t believe the myth (seriousness).

Ginny, as the lead girl, is a much deeper and more relatable character than Alice was in the first film. We get to know her better throughout the movie and fall in love with her from her first appearance. As she pulls up to the camp in her red VW Bug and interrupts Paul’s opening speech to the camp counselors, we see her in a vulnerable state as we discover that her car is dying. We then immediately see a hint of her strength and intelligence when she defends herself against Paul when he confronts her about being late to the camp.

We come to find out that she’s a child psychology major, which becomes important several times later on, and she even uses some of that psychology on Paul to get herself off the hook with him in this scene. Later we see her beat Paul at chess, which reinforces her intelligence. We also see her wield a chainsaw twice in the film. The first time she simply cuts a log, but this sets up her use of it as she wards off Jason with it in the final chase. This display deepens her character by showing her diversity of woodsman type skills and is a symbolic representation of her strength.

Ginny uses her child psychology again during two different points later in the film. When they’re at the bar talking about the Jason legend, which both reinforces her intelligence while at the same time hypes up the killer. Finally, at the very end of the movie, she uses the psychology to trick Jason into thinking she’s his mother before her first failed attempt to kill him with the machete.

The psychology aspect doesn’t necessarily need to be 100% accurate, but it needs to be believable and delivered with enough potency to sell the story. Amy Steele gives us an outstanding performance in her portrayal of Ginny’s character. It’s ultimately what makes us believe in the concept of the film – the idea that Jason could be alive out there… somewhere. This strong character development as it is written, topped by an even better acting performance, puts Ginny at the very top of the list of heroines in the slasher genre.   

As for Jason himself, we get a strong sense of his character by the strength, speed, and efficiency of his kills early on in the film. This continues throughout the narrative and is solidified as the legend of his story from the camp counselors builds him up continuously. A mentally handicapped, boy who had supposedly drowned in the lake as a child, has somehow survived alone in the wilderness. He witnesses his mother killed in one of the most brutal ways possible, decapitation, as she seeks her vengeance for what she believes to be his death. In his warped and fragile mind, seeing his mother kill the counselors is all that he knows. Now, vengeance for her death is all that he seeks and he’ll enact it out on anyone who somehow stumbles into his territory. In the case of Alice, the one who actually killed his mother, he would seek her out specifically.

In the original Friday the 13th, Mrs. Voorhees doesn’t get that kind of build up as a killer. This is due to the way that film was set up – we don’t know who the killer is until the very last chase sequence. We’re led to believe that Mrs. Voorhees is nothing more than a friendly neighbor with a tragic backstory, until she shocks us and pulls the knife on Alice. In Part 2, we know definitively that Jason is the killer starting from the very first scene. We know this and it doesn’t matter because he can’t be stopped.

As a rule, a horror cliché at this point, only the final girl can truly do damage to the killer. Ginny puts him down, he gets right back up and the chase continues. The process repeats several times throughout the final chase sequence, and that solidifies what we come to know about this character: he is absolutely relentless. Jason can be slowed down, but he will not by any means be stopped. The legend of Jason Voorhees is built up so much in this film, but the character delivers on that promise with such potent conviction at the end. So strongly in fact that it has been successfully been carried through each of the nine sequels that followed the second film without losing any steam. Thus creating a horror icon that lives within the consciousness of the popular culture to this day, thirty-five years after the film was released.  

Friday the 13th, Part 2 is neither the most original, nor is it the best slasher film to ever be produced, although it is very close to the top of the list. It doesn’t star the best actor to have played the role of Jason (Kane Hodder wouldn’t don the mantle until Part 7) nor does it feature the famed hockey mask that Jason is so well known for. It was rushed into production, had a modest budget, didn’t retain the director, writer, or special effects engineer from the first film, and was cut to shreds by the MPAA before being released to theatres. Despite all of this, Friday the 13th, Part 2 exists as the title that truly defined the legacy of the slasher genre within popular culture in the 1980’s. The film achieved widespread commercial success and it solidified the idea of releasing a fresh sequel year after year for more than a decade; a practice that has become commonplace in the genre.

If the original Friday the 13th was the film that caught the forest on fire, Part 2 was the wind that caused it to spread. For as much as we love the first Friday, the second film is the better picture by far and its influence cannot be ignored. We cannot speak about the legacy and popularity of slasher/ horror films in the 80’s without mentioning Friday the 13th, Part 2. It is without a doubt the most important film in the franchise and the one that kept the fire burning for the genre for years.