Sunday, September 15, 2013

Census Bloodbath: Second Thoughts

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For our podcast episode about this very film, click here.

Year: 1981
Director: Steve Miner
Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Betsy Palmer
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

And we have arrived at Jason's first starring vehicle! What a pleasure it is going to be to see this hockey masked buffoon get his time in the limelight!

Wait, what?

Yeah, you got me. The hockey mask doesn't come into play until Part 3, making this another Friday the 13th with a misinformed reputation. Perhaps this is a good time for me to mention how improperly memory has treated this series. You know how all Friday the 13th movies go, right? Ask anyone. Jason Voorhees in a hockey mask kills camp counselors at Crystal Lake.

This combination does not happen one single time in the entire 12 movie franchise. Sorry to burst your bubble. This is getting a little technical, but here's the deal. To start off, camp counselors die in only three of the films (Parts 1, 2, and 6). In the first, as we've already discussed, the killer was his mother. In the second (which we'll approach in more detail very shortly), he has no mask and also they're not even at Crystal Lake. Part 6 is the closest (he has the mask and he mows down counselors) but guess what? The camp has been renamed to Camp Forest Green.

I know that one's a technicality, but isn't that weird to think about?

Nothing anybody knows about this series is even remotely true.

Anyway, that's all in the future. Right now it's 1981. We have Jason in a bag, the hockey mask has never existed and as a matter of fact neither has adult Jason.

The film tries to smooth that narrative wrinkle (having him die as a child in the first film rather complicated sequel opportunities) by saying it only seemed like he drowned and that he saw his mother get beheaded that fateful night and vowed revenge on her killer and any others who intrude upon his territory. Apparently he never saw fit to approach her before then and give her a quick heads up that, you know, he was still alive. Whatever. He was busy. I get it.

So now he's all growed up and the movie opens two months after the original. Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) is trying to put her life together but is still haunted by nightmares (that take the form of five minutes of footage from the last movie crudely grafted onto shots of her not only failing to act but failing to be convincingly asleep).

She is run through a conveyor belt of horror standards as she gets a mysterious phone call where there's nobody on the other line, hears noises, takes the world's fastest shower, and has a cat thrown at her from offscreen by a PA.

Unfortunately her time is up and as she goes to get some milk for her tea, she gets a rather nasty surprise in her fridge, followed by a nasty surprise in her temple (an ice pick).

So that's what head cheese is.

Now it's five years later, her body was never found, and the shore of Crystal Lake is being used for the first time since the campground was condemned after the original murders.

Paul Holt (John Furey) has opened up a counselor training camp not far from the blackened ruins of Camp Blood. The events of half a decade ago have faded in memory and Jason has been reduced to nothing but a campfire story. 

As training begins, a heaping platter of Meat is laid before us in unprecedented amounts. First we meet the obvious analogues for Jack, Marcie, and Ned from the original. There's Jeff (Bill Randolph), the horndog and something of a Walmart brand Brad Pitt; his girlfriend Sandra (Marta Kober) who is adventurous and pushy; and Ted (Stu Charno) the prankster. Apparently the writers couldn't be bothered to even try to hide the fact that he is transparently Ned, just in a different body.

Thus begins the well-worn Friday the 13th standby of "exactly the same, only different." It only serves to underscore the fact that the individual characters don't matter. All that anyone cares about are the infinite variations in the ways that they screw and the ways that they die (Sometimes at the same time. More on that later).

Also on the crew are Terry (Kirsten Baker), who I took to calling "Slutty McSlutNipples" in my notes because of how clear her exact purpose in the script was; 

She gives the franchise its first full frontal! And has some gleefully sleazy innuendos that make me love her.

Scott (Russell Todd, who we'll revisit in Chopping Mall), the stud bucket who relentlessly pursues Terry like a five-year-old, stealing her clothes when she goes skinny dipping and hitting her with rocks from a sling shot; Mark (Tom McBride), a wheelchair-bound counselor with enormous arms; Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor, who we'll also see again in Girls Nite Out if I ever get my hands on the DVD), a clean cut girl who can't help but notice said enormous arms; and Ginny (Amy Steel, also of April Fool's Day and my fantasy dinner parties), Paul's girlfriend and all around spunky queen doing awesome things all over the place like cutting firewood with a chainsaw, winning at chess, and running the fastest (foreshadowing!).

There's also some random extra counselors with no lines, but some of them are ethnic and break stereotypes by not actually dying.

Also a Rock in a Puddle that is onscreen more times than the black counselor.

Not exactly a paradise of diversity.

Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) also makes a brief reappearance to spout more prophecies of doom only to become the first victim of Jason's rampage. And because the movie needed to have more kills to spice things up before the real bloodbath begins.

The first act is breezy and fun as we settle in with the characters. Much like the first film, there's not much plot of import, but it's just enjoyable to watch these teens have a good time. We learn that Slutty McSlutNipples' dog is named Muffin, which is the best thing ever. Jeff and Sandra expand the narrative universe a bit by exploring the condemned Camp Blood which is so dilapidated it might as well be made of cardboard (That was a joke. It is made of carboard).

There is some great use of foreshadowing in this sequence as well, the subtlety of which is balanced out by the bluntness of the expository dialogue. Ginny is a Child Psychology major, a character trait that is introduced with all of the grace of a first time writer who is also a boxing champion. Paul literally says "Why don't you use some of that child psychology you're majoring in?"

This guy.

When half the counselors leave to spend a night out on the town, things start to get hairy.

The counselors that chose to stay behind fall into the typical patterns of Friday the 13th teenagerhood, drinking, smoking, banging, and dying. Although the gore scenes are positively modest in comparison to the original (the MPAA had begun its first of a series of crackdowns on the slasher genre), what is shown is gleefully wicked.

Jeff and Sandra are speared mid-coitus in a bald ripoff of Twitch of the Death Nerve (one of the franchise's favorite victims) that nonetheless is shocking and fun, Vickie sits immobile in fear and watches Jason approach her for about ten seconds with a big knife and thus earning her a spot in my Ten Modern Horror Rules list, and Jason proves once and for all that he is an equal opportunity serial killer.

What a nice guy.

Slutty McSlutNipples goes skinny dipping alone because she's a brave queen. The clincher? Earlier that evening when she decided to stick around and look for her dog she said "I think I'll stay too, Muffin may show." This is seriously my favorite thing that has ever happened. Call me sleazy if you want, but exploitation cinema has never gotten more clever and cheesy and wonderful than that very line. Perfection.

Sooner or later, Ginny is the only one left and boy is she ready. She knees Jason in the crotch, attacks him with a chainsaw, and although she makes the fatal error of failing to double tap, she utilizes her child psychology knowledge to placate Jason by pretending to be his mother.

Jason is macheted by a miraculously alive Paul, and the two limp off into what I would call the most bizarre shock ending ever if I hadn't already seen the next film in the series. Everything is fine, but the door creaks open to reveal... Muffin!

Then Jason bursts through the window.

Then it was all a dream.

Then Paul has vanished.

I don't know anything about what happened here and I don't care about spoiling it because it's so outrageously hackneyed and stupid and sequelly. At least we got the genuinely frightening and cool Final Girl sequence beforehand.

In this gif, Jason is played by Warrington Gillette. Contrary to what he claims, he did not play Jason in any of the other scenes. Boo Warrington Gillette.

Overall, Friday the 13th Part 2 is tremendously fun if less shocking and grubbily powerful than the original. The script is strong enough to shoulder some of the burden left by the diluted gore effects and Amy Steel gives a layered performance as Ginny even if the other actors leave something to be desired. 

You know what? No they don't. I'm too jaded to desire good acting from these things. At least Amy is flawless.

Steve Miner (who was an associate producer on the original film) directs like he actually has a brain, and the movie benefits greatly from it. His scenes of darkness hide objects just enough to render them scary instead of just obscuring everything in sight. He also utilizes some basic deep focus cinematography that frame foreground and background objects in ways that relate to one another. Not exactly rocket science, but it shows more effort than the utterly workmanlike Sean S. Cunningham.

Ginny doesn't like hacks.

Friday the 13th Part 2 has nothing on the campy joy of later entries, but it's a solidly made and occasionally scary slasher film in the Crystal Lake saga (my unofficial name for the first four films before things got weird).

One more thing before I go (I know, I know. I'm almost done.). I mentioned earlier that the mantra of the franchise is "exactly the same, only different" which is perhaps a little unfair. Each Friday the 13th film is comprised of a million little details that are radically different from any other film in the franchise that lend it texture.

This film is no different as our expectations are subverted left and right.

The most obvious example is that Ted the prankster somehow survives the ordeal. Who could have seen that coming? He's happily ensconced in a bar booth miles away during the bloodbath. I already mentioned that the ethnic counselors survive, but that's worth mentioning again and again in an 80's horror film.

Also the clean cut prude looking girl turns out to be the horniest of them all (choice dialogue: "I only need your fingers." "Let's play for position.") and Ginny pretty clearly gets it on with Paul, ripping the Final Girl standard off its hinges.

And my favorite pairing. Slutty McSlutNipples never has sex and the studbucket strikes out. Take a look at him on your way out and don't tell me you're not surprised.

Slingshot. There's a joke in there somewhere.

Killer: Jason Voorhees (Steve Dash), and what a pleasure it is to be writing those words.
Final Girl: Ginny Field (Amy Steel)
Best Kill: Coitus interruptus 

Sign of the Times: Vickie's "sexy outfit" is a bulky sweater with geometric shapes.
Scariest Moment: Jason rips his pitchfork through the canvas roof of Ginny's car.
Weirdest Moment: It is shown that Ginny wears a bra. Take a close look, it's the last one you'll ever see in a Friday the 13th film.
Champion Dialogue: "This place is starting to look like a Burger King."
Body Count: 10; I included Paul even though nobody actually knows what happened to him. Also a dog maybe. The ending is really inconsistent.
  1. Alice is stabbed in the temple with an ice pick.
  2. Crazy Ralph is strangled to death with barbed wire.
  3. The Cop gets the back of a hammer in his skull.
  4. Scott's throat is slit with a machete.
  5. Terry is killed offscreen.
  6. Mark gets a machete in the face, then rolls down a flight of stairs.
  7. Jeff is impaled with a spear while boning Sandra.
  8. Sandra is impaled with a spear while boning Jeff.
  9. Vickie is stabbed in the chest.
  10. Paul mysteriously vanishes. 
TL;DR: Friday the 13th Part 2 is more technically proficient than its predecessor but can't fully recapture the grubby magic.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 2174
Reviews In This Series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (McLoughlin, 1986)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)


  1. Easily my favorite Friday. Amy Steel was just too good to not have any really career (I did randomly catch her on an old A-Team a few years ago)

    1. I actually rewatched this recently, and while I liked the opening act a lot less than before, that Final Girl sequence was even BETTER. Amy Steel and Steve Miner really were making some magic together.

    2. She's the one I would actually like to check in with again as a character, if they ever tried something like the 2018 Halloween.