The first “Friday the 13th” (1980) is a trope codifier for the lake-cabin slasher flick, and by definition, trope codifiers lead to a lot of imitators, which have the reputation of being lesser films. “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1981) lives up (or down, as it were) to that bad reputation. The slasher stuff is fine in this directorial debut from Steve Miner, who would go on to a steady career, mostly in TV. But there are so many missed opportunities in the screenplay by Ron Kurz.
Seeing how many counselors show up for the training session at the new center next door to the condemned Camp Crystal Lake, I thought “Jason’s gonna be busy.” But he only kills off about half of them before the movie suddenly ends; the other half get off scot-free because they stay at the bar all night. It’s as if Kurz was behind on deadline and his bosses took his pages and said: “That’s enough, we gotta start shooting this; save the rest for Part 3.”
After a way too long recap of “Part 1” and the dispatching of that film’s Final Girl, counselor trainer Paul (John Furey) has dozens of trainees in front of him (most whom just go off to that bar and will be fine). He intriguingly mentions several dangers of camp living, including that many tools and some animals can be deadly. This sort of plays into Jason’s (Warrington Gillette) killing spree, although he mostly favors a pitchfork. It might’ve been fun if Paul’s speech was direct foreshadowing.
“Part 2” is also guilty of violating the rule of Chekhov’s Gun – or Chekhov’s Bear in this case. Unless Jason is the bear. Hmm, maybe I should give this film more credit. Or not.
Jason is a well-dressed farmer in this one, except for the cloth mask hiding his hideous face – which, to the film’s credit, we do see at the end. The de facto final act gets some mileage out of the “Psycho”-esque reveal that Jason possesses his mom’s dismembered head. He imagines she is directing his kills, and Final Girl Ginny (Amy Steel) – in a remarkable bit of ingenuity – poses as Mrs. Voorhees in order to trick Jason.
While “Part 2” theoretically builds on the mythology in the sense that it reveals Jason is alive, it raises far more questions than it answers. If Jason was alive between 1958 and the 1980 events of the first film, what was he doing during those 22 years when he aged from roughly 8 to 30? Just hanging out, I guess.
Ginny theorizes at the bar that Jason saw Mrs. Voorhees killed at the end of “Part 1,” and I think, in this saga’s sloppy fashion of storytelling, we’re supposed to know that is indeed what happened. The fact that he recovered the head before the cops arrived suggests he was present, and that these are revenge killings: This mentally challenged and facially deformed man sees all camp counselors as his enemies.
“Part 2” features a trope within a trope: the abandoned camp. The 2009 “Friday the 13th” reboot also uses this concept. It’s been five years since the events of the first film, and the old camp is nicely rundown and decrepit. The set designers and cinematographer Peter Stein – sticking with the rain and nighttime motif – do yeoman’s work.
I do like a couple of the characters: cute Vickie (Lauren Marie-Taylor) and wheelchair-bound Mark (Tom McBride), whom she’s crushing on. And Jason delivers perhaps my favorite type of slasher kill when he uses a spear to take out a post-coital couple in one fell swoop; his efficiency is to be admired.
Even though half of the group gets off without even encountering Jason, the kills come fast enough now that there isn’t much tension. And the attempt at creating tension with relentless use of the “sh-sh-sh-ha-ha-ha” score is annoying. “Part 2” is “kill-kill-kill.” It’s easily watchable but makes no lasting impact, although I admit its incomplete narrative does kind of make me want to press play on “Part 3.”