The Body Count Continues with Paramount’s Blu-ray release of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, the slasher sequel that launched Jason Voorhees as a horror icon.
When last we left young Jason Voorhees he was just a figment of Alice Hardy’s imagination: the manifestation of the 24 hours of terror spent fighting off Jason’s mother as she butchered her Alice’s co-workers to make sure that no one would ever re-open Camp Crystal Lake, where Jason had drowned as a small child while the teenagers that were supposed to be watching him were having sex. Alice finally defeated Mrs. Voorhees, cutting off her head with her own machete before drifting off into the lake on a small row boat. And while the hideously disfigured boy that leaps out of the water and pulls her under is just part of a bad dream – the sheriff in her hospital room tells her that they didn’t find any boy – Alice is convinced that he’s very real, and her final line closes the film, breathed out in a mixture of wonder and fear, “Then he’s still out there…”
After the money began to roll into Paramount Studios – over $100 million 1980 dollars on a budget of under $500,000 – the studio was very sure that he was still out there, and almost immediately commissioned a script for a sequel to Friday the 13th using Jason as the new murderer, even though his cameo at the end of the film was never meant to be any more than a last minute jolt. After Sean S Cunningham vacated the director’s chair, his associate producer on the first installment, Steve Miner, was brought in to replace him. This was Miner’s first directing gig, though his roots in the genre go back to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (produced by Cunningham), on which he served as a production assistant. Friday the 13th, Part II had a somewhat more luxurious budget (more than double that of the original – a trend that wouldn’t last long), which allowed for a more polished look, and a generally superior group of decent young NYC actors.
Friday the 13th, Part II begins with a pre-credit sequence that brings us up to date with Alice (played once again by Adrienne King) as she attempts to readjust to life after surviving the massacre of the first film. We probably don’t need to tell you what happens once she finds Pamela Voorhees severed head in her refrigerator, but suffices to say that it represents Ms. King’s final appearance in the franchise. Cut to five years later (and we always wondered why the script was so unnecessarily specific about the time, as it put the series four years ahead of the actual date), at which time Paul Holt (John Furey) is about to open a counselor training facility right next to the Camp Crystal Lake site, in spite of the warnings of some colorful townsfolk (Walt Gorney, reprising his acclaimed role of ‘Crazy Ralph’). Paul passes on the legend of Mrs. Voorhees and her deformed son to his counselors as a fireside ghost story, basically telling them that it’s all bunk, but also admonishing them to stay away from “Camp Blood” just in case. Of course, they don’t – not that it really matters much anyway, as Jason has never really made it clear where his jurisdiction officially ends. Jason spares almost no one, from in-coitus lovers, to old men, and even the handicapped in one of the series’ crueler kills.
We’ve always felt that Friday the 13th, Part II is actually the best film of the series, and catching up with it on Paramount’s new Blu-Ray only solidifies that notion. Filmed outside Kent, in western Connecticut, the film retains the deep-woods atmosphere that Cunningham found in his New Jersey location for the original (Part II would be the last Friday the 13th film shot in the Northeast, the convenience of California or the cheapness of Canada winning out in future installments) and makes for a seamless transition. The steadicam work is cleaner, too, sacrificing the grittier handheld look of the original for a slicker feel that seems more organic than it did in later installments.
There are also quite a few decent performances among the new cast, especially Amy Steel as the all-important “final girl.” Steel has a very appealing tomboyish quality that favorable recalls Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. In fact, the film represents the last time that characterization was really given any thought at all. Subsequent entries would stick to firmly established horror-movie stereotyping: the gum-smacking slut, the virginal girl dressed like she just walked out of an Emily Bronte book, the joker, the game-playing nerd, the fat kid (who was often combined with others to create “Fat Practical Joker” as in Part III’s Shelly ) the jock , the preppie, etc. The characters in Friday the 13th, Part II are hardly icons of screenwriting grace, but for the most part they seem like fairly normal teens who we could almost imagine hanging out with.
We should also single out the efforts of Tom McBride as the wheelchair-confined Mark, whose naturalistic performance is quite good, giving Mark a happy, positive life-outlook without the irritating After School Special, can-do pathos inherent in most portrayals of the handicapped (sadly, McBride is also the first counselor from a Friday the 13th film to pass away for real – he died of AIDS related causes in 1995.) And we couldn’t talk about this film without mentioning Kristen Baker’s Terry, the object of many a pre-teen crush in the ’80s. It’s partly the bowl cut and sporty workout clothes, but it’s her nude moonlight swim that really set fan’s hearts a flutter. Baker is one of the great MIA cases of the series; bit parts followed her Friday the 13th, Part II job, then she was seen working at an art gallery in California in the ’90s, but like Daniel Simpson Day, her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Another plus in Friday the 13th, Part II’s column is its depiction of Jason. He wouldn’t get his trademark goalie mask until the next picture, and the reveal of Jason here gives us a truly frightening and semi-realistic visage. When we picture killers living in shacks deep in the woods (and thanks to this film, we frequently do), it’s usually in a variant of this very ensemble: mud covered work boots, a filthy overalls and lumberjack shirt combo, topped off a burlap sack with a single eye hole over the head (obviously someone on this film remembered Charles B Pierce’s The Town that Dreaded Sundown). Oddly, the burlap sack gives Jason some personality that the hockey mask took away later in the series, though without the famous mask, Part IV may well have been the final chapter. There’s the most basic stab at creating a personality for the character in Part II – a window of opportunity that was rapidly closing.
Paramount’s new Blu-Ray of Friday the 13th, Part II contains a lovely 1080p transfer that freshens up the 18-year-old film considerably. We didn’t see the DVD release of the deluxe edition last year, but the image on the Blu-Ray is light years ahead of their previous bare-bones issue. It’s still a low-budget horror picture, and folks should set their expectations accordingly, but we noticed improvement in color stability and detail over the Blu-Ray release of the original film.
All the extras contained in the DVD version of the deluxe edition have been ported over; with a single exception, all are in HD.
- Inside ‘Crystal Lake Memories’ (HD) is a chat with the amiable author Peter M Bracke about writing his tome on the series. It’s a lovingly put-together coffee table book that really is a must-have for fans, as Bracke was given unprecedented access to Paramount’s Friday the 13th archives.
- Friday’s Legacy: Horror Convention (HD) takes us to a cast-and-crew reunion at an unnamed horror convention (possibly the Texas Frightmare weekend?) that artfully avoids the myriad uncomfortable moments that these events produce and presents a golden-hued view (we guess that Tom Savini, a notoriously ill-tempered con guest, is on his best behavior in front of the cameras).
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part II (HD) continues the bizarre short film series began as a supplement on the original Friday disc. It’s a mercifully brief but professionally-made (by the same names listed in the credits of the other supplemental features) bit of fan fiction that is connected to the Friday the 13th films tangentially at best.
- Jason Forever mixes archive interviews with more current sessions with the actors and stuntmen who played the character through the Paramount-produced portion of the series.
Also included is the original theatrical trailer (HD) that literally continues the body count motif from the origina Friday the 13th’s preview. It’s a shame that director Steve Miner couldn’t have recorded a commentary track (for this, but especially for Part III) as he’s easily the most successful filmmaker to helm a Friday film (his credits include House, the Mel Gibson vehicle Forever Young, Halloween H20, and Lake Placid).