Sunday, October 3, 2010

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

by Oliver "You're all doomed!" Ho

Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger comprise the unholy three of slasher movies in the 80s and personify the genre in its predominant decade. Between them, Jason’s movie history has the strangest start, and in retrospect, it could be the one that best defined the slasher style. Unlike Michael and Freddy, Jason wasn't even the star of the first movie in his franchise.

Each had his peculiar proclivities (pro-kill-ities? pro-cleave-ities?): Michael had his William Shatner mask, his family and his doctor, while Freddy had nightmares, wisecracks and that glove. With Jason, it was all about the lake, the machete and the hockey mask. All three preyed on teenagers, and there was an undercurrent of sexual punishment in the way the killers did their thing. All three spawned so many sequels they moved quickly from horror to parody.

The second Friday the 13th movie is the first bona fide Jason Voorhees movie, and it contains several elements that would go on to define not only the franchise but the entire 80s slasher genre. In his "lexicon of horror," The Darkening Garden, John Clute describes the horror genre as being exceptionally concerned with creating a particular feeling in its audience.

"No other genre has ever been defined in terms of the affect it generates … with the result that critics and writers have found it easy to claim that horror is not therefore a genre at all, but a kind of peculiar sensation that may be generated in the telling of genre stories of any category," he writes.

Pretentious as that sounds, it presents a useful approach to examining a decidedly B-grade (to be generous) flick like Friday the 13th, the 2nd. As in most slasher movies, this one is all about sensation. Through the use of red herrings and forced sensations, the "killer-cam" perspective and visual point-of-view tricks, we see things designed to generate a visceral thrill, but that don't necessarily make visual-logical sense.

For example, at one point a young couple walks through the forest and past the camera, and a moment later, Jason steps out from behind a tree. From the audience's perspective Jason was hiding behind the tree, but from the opposite side, where the young couple walked, it would have been impossible not to see him.

Another example involves Crazy Ralph, a character who appeared in part one and two to tell the camp counselors, "You're all doomed!" Alas, poor Ralph makes his final appearance in this movie. When he dies, standing against a tree, Jason would have to have been above him with his arms already wrapped around the tree, in order to drop down and garrote poor Ralphie.

Admittedly, this is nitpicky. Did I mention that this isn't a great movie? While it was a nostalgia-trip (these were the freakiest movies when I was a kid in small town British Columbia), watching it now made my mind wander.

Friday part deux came out in 1981, a year after the first film in the franchise. According to Peter Brack's Crystal Lake Memories, the original plan was to have the series of movies tell an independent, unlinked story in each installment. That idea fell by the wayside like so many sex-crazed camp counselors. Instead, producers hit on the idea of bringing Jason back from his brief (apparently unserious, according to Brack) appearance in the first film.

In this movie, Jason hasn't yet adopted what would become his trademark vintage hockey mask and machete. At this point in his story, he wears what looks like a pillow case with one eye-hole cut into it, and when it comes off we see that he looks like one of the macro-cephalic radioactive hillbillies from The Hills Have Eyes. According to IMDB, he looks exactly like the killer in 1977's The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was based on a true story of several brutal, unsolved murders (all together: "Ooooo...").

We pick up the story shortly after the end of the first movie, with the "final girl" from part one, Alice Hardy, at home and struggling to recover from the traumatic events that happened to her two months earlier at Camp Crystal Lake. The various camera fake-outs ("Is this the killer's perspective we're seeing? He's getting closer, watch out! Oh, never mind, it wasn't the killer-cam. How about now? Watch out! Oh, it’s just a cat.") make it clear that nothing good will come of her decision to stay home alone and take a shower.

After the opening credits, we jump five years into the future, where a new band of horny young'uns arrive to take part in a camp counselor training camp just around the bend from "Camp Blood," as Camp Crystal Lake has become known. Hi-jinks ensue, involving various acts of randiness, skinny-dipping and painful double-entendres. By hi-jinks, I mean they die.

The story takes an odd turn when three counselors head into town for a night of drinking (and driving--woo hoo!), and at one point the soon-to-be final girl, Ginny, muses about Jason's psychological motivations. Having spent his entire life living in the woods, he might not even understand what death is, she tells her two friends (because creatures living in the wild never encounter death?). It's a nice gesture towards characterization, at least.

One of her drinking companions is a tall, gawky, geeky type of character named Ted, played by Stu Charno (creator of the "Stuniverse"). His demeanor is very stand-up comic-y and brings to mind a young Michael Richards. When Ginny and her boyfriend, Paul, return to camp, Ted decides to stay and chat up the bartender, and he's never heard from again. No, really. We never see him come back to camp and get hunted down. For all we know, he might still be at the bar. Maybe he was going to take on the mantle left by Crazy Ralph.

Paul is another unresolved character. He and Ginny battle potato-sack-head Jason throughout the night, but by the end of the movie, Paul has mysteriously vanished. My guess: he's back at the bar with Ted.

After the distinctly odd interlude at the bar, 13th the 2nd copies the first movie nearly move for move, with the grand guignol discovery of bodies in quick succession. In place of part one's scene of Jason rearing up from behind a boat, we get Jason crashing through a window.

Before that, there's an interesting scene in an altar Jason's built for his dead mom, and even though there's a severed head that is clearly played by an actual actor, we never see the head move in any way. According to IMDB, the eyes were going to open, but the filmmakers thought it would be too "hokey."

This is the only scene where Jason gets to "act": Ginny pretends to be Momma Voorhees from the first movie, and we have a moment where his one visible eye seems to recognize her ghost, and he lowers his weapon for a moment.

Aside from the single skinny dipping scene, there's not much that would preclude this movie from being shown on TV today. Gorier scenes get played for laughs on an episode of Bones. That's not to say that it isn't worthwhile viewing.

"Horror ... is a kind of afflatus, a wind from anywhere," writes John Clute in his lexicon of horror. The second Jason movie is hardly divine, but there’s a kind of creative madness at play.

As the first true Jason movie, Part Two holds a key place in the franchise's canon. The emphasis on thrill over logic seems like a style that's still developing here, and the nods towards Jason's psychological make-up are kind of touching, even though later movies would demonstrate how much more effective his character is when he's a faceless bogeyman, with no discernible humanity or off button.

There had been slasher movies before this one, but the Jason movies were a phenomenon, and this movie’s emphasis on pure thrill (however clumsy, and at whatever cost to anything like character, consistency and logic) seems to capture the template that so many other slasher films would copy.