Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II (1981)

Rarely does a sequel of any genre surpass its original, and especially rare is the case that a slasher film sequel surpasses its original film. Most moviegoers will agree that original films in the HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CHILD'S PLAY, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, SCREAM, PSYCHO, and SAW series' are the best of their respective franchise's. But in when it comes to FRIDAY THE 13TH, the 1980 original is not the best movie (although its still a great, iconic slasher film). No, the best film in that franchise would be FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II - the introduction of Jason Voorhees.

The thing that makes Friday the 13th Part II a superior successor is that it is able to keep the great strengths of the original, but enhance them. It's as if the filmmakers learned what didn't really work the first time, and what audiences wanted more of the second time. Because Part II brilliantly keeps the key ingredients that made the first film such a massive hit, and splices them with added elements that create a new beast. For instance, the atmosphere stays the same as in the original movie, but is more consistent. In the first film, the atmosphere was eventually lost by the third act, yet in this film the atmosphere increases throughout the story. At any given moment the killer is creeping in the dark bushes. The setting creates pure, eerie isolation; empty roads and seemingly endless stretches of land are the only places for victims to run to.

The first movie became famous for its death scenes, which critics would argue is what drew audiences to see it in the first place. In Part II there is a bigger body count, more gruesome and inventive deaths, and just as much suspense leading up to each and every victim's demise. Slasher fans often praise Friday the 13th Part II for having the infamous "double-impalement" scene, among other great machete deaths. And the suspense is never lost - the characters are stalked and chased for a good while before finally being dismembered. You see, while the filmmakers knew the visceral shock of gore was what the first Friday the 13th had become known for, they also knew that the suspense leading up to those death scenes was equally important.

Of course, what really makes Friday the 13th Part II a landmark is its villain - Jason Voorhees (Warrington Gillette). In the first film, Jason was a motive and ending scare-tactic, yet never really a physical threat to the characters. Now, Jason is a grown mongoloid human wearing a frightening burlap sac for a mask that mirrors the Phantom Killer of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. Maybe it was Jason's first appearance as an antagonist, before he became an anti-hero of sorts in later films like FREDDY VS. JASON, but in Friday the 13th Part II Jason has never been creepier or spookier. He is a demented, crazed, backwoods human psychopath, and that's scary.

While Jason himself is scary, the character does not come without his problems. The first movie made it pretty obvious that Jason drowned in the summer of 1957. Doing the math, it would have been twenty-three years later that the first Friday the 13th took place and Jason attacked Alice (Adrienne King). Then another five years pass until Friday the 13th Part II takes place, which would make it a total of 27 years since Jason drowned. It's hard to believe that he's been living as a hermit in the woods all those years undetected. It takes a large suspension of disbelief to accept Jason as the living, breathing killer in Part II. Furthermore, Jason's thematic origins seem to bare a striking resemblance to Michael Myers from Halloween, as the silent un-killable masked villain.

But ultimately, who cares about that? Really, when you're watching a film like Friday the 13th Part II you can't be too nit-picky about logic. What the movie sets out to do, it accomplishes. The opening scene of the film, which features Alice only months after the events of Part I trying to rebuild her life amidst terrifying nightmares of Jason and his mother, is a great stalker suspense scene. Like any good opening - say, Drew Barrymore's iconic scene in Scream - this scene with Alice build gradually in suspense and tension, until releasing it with a truly grotesque discover and a nasty kill. After Alice has had a ice-pick shoved through her temple, Friday the 13th Part II makes a statement to its audience - "Anything can happen now. Anything."

The death of Alice leaves room for a new heroine to enter and take her place, and that heroine certainly enters with a bang. Many fans will call Part II's Ginny (Amy Steel) the best final girl in the entire series; she's strong, resourceful, and kick-ass while also being vulnerable and frightened. Ginny has a great sense of humor, and is a likable person. Like her fellow camp counselors, she is a jokester and a prankster. And here's something else about Ginny - she defies the "rules" established by the first Friday the 13th and Halloween films - she drinks, parties, and has sex with her lover Paul (John Furey). If being the first girl to battle Jason Voorhees and break long-standing genre rules isn't a sign of Ginny's awesomeness, than I don't know what is.

The story moves at a quick, steady pace and never allows for any downtime in its runtime. Once again, the movie has a pretty standard three-act formula that helps keep this pace moving; there's the opening teaser with Alice, then the first act introducing the potential victims, than the second act killing off the victims, and finally the third act which acts as a showdown between Ginny and Jason. And unlike Part I, the ending moves swiftly and keeps up the tension - there are no unnecessary filler moments, and the chase keeps moving through the camp grounds, through the woods, and finally into a disturbing "shrine" to Mrs. Voorhees located at the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake.

Friday the 13th Part II is a great slasher film. It works as both a sequel to the original Friday the 13th while also working as its own "original" movie, being sure to establish the elements that would come later in the series, mainly Jason being an unstoppable killer out for revenge for his mother's death. In later sequels, much of the character would be lost to camp and cheese, but in his first appearance as a homicidal maniac with a wicked sharp machete, Jason is one scary dude. And that's why Friday the 13th Part II is not only the best in the series, but one of the most iconic, legendary slasher films ever made.

The Burning (1981)
The Prowler (1981)
Halloween II (1981)

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