*. Given the success of the first Friday the 13th, a sequel was inevitable. And the bizarre ending of the original certainly left the door open. (By bizarre I mean the last girl’s insistence that Jason is still “out there,” despite his eruption from the lake clearly being a dream.)
*. The creators of the original (producer/director Sean Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, effects man Tom Savini), have always said that a sequel was not their intention. Indeed, they felt that one would be logically impossible. Which it was, but that wasn’t about to stop the gravy train.
*. What the original team would have liked to do was create an anthology series of unrelated horror films using the Friday the 13th title/brand. This was an interesting idea, but not as commercial as simply repeating the same formula over and over.
*. So, more of the same, on a slightly larger budget and with a very fast turnaround (Halloween II would come out the same year, and that franchise had a head start). One has low expectations, and they are not disappointed.
*. But let’s give the film some credit, and offer up a partial defence of its more egregious failings.
*. The opening sequence shows some competence. Yes, the cat-through-the-window gag is just one of the far too many false scares played on the audience, but the head-in-the-fridge business works well (even if it doesn’t make any sense). And it’s a pretty convincing head! Better than Jason’s face at the end anyway.
*. Sticking with the pre-credit sequence, it’s worth noting that well before Scream the makers of these movies were totally aware of all the clichés they were mining, from the cat to the scary phone call to the shower tease. They didn’t poke and nudge you, but they weren’t giving you this stuff straight up either.
*. There are a number of little touches throughout that suggest we are at least seeing professional if not inspired filmmaking. When Terry returns to her cabin to find a knife, the way she tosses her towel at the POV camera is clever. And when she’s inside the cabin I like how she drops out of sight only for her head to pop up facing us in the foreground. You have to appreciate the little things in a movie so generally bad.
*. While on the subject of Terry (played by Kirsten Baker), I will of course frown and tut-tut at the Buttman-style camera work that follows her ass around, but if you’re going to ogle the female body (and this movie has a fetish for watching them undress), then Baker is hard to resist.
*. Fans of the series usually rate this as one of the better entries, though it’s missing a lot. Jason isn’t a superpsycho in a hockey mask but a handicapped guy schlepping around with a flour bag over his head. The ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma music is downplayed. And, worst of all, there are no good kills!
*. It seems a lot of the “good stuff” wound up on the cutting room floor. The censors were antsy following the backlash against the first film. So, to take the most glaring example, the double shish-kabob of the couple in bed (a shameless steal from Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood) was cut to the point where nothing at all is seen.
*. I also think the story structure is wrong. The kids are killed off in a bunch too quickly in the middle of the film, leaving too much of Ginny just running around being chased by Jason.
*. Ginny seems a feisty one, so it’s a little disappointing that she does nothing to help Paul in their first confrontation with Jason.
*. The ending is one of the worst ever. “Where is Paul?” Well, where is he? There is no explanation. In their defence, it was said that the original ending had the head of Mrs. Voorhees on the altar opening its eyes and smiling, but that it was felt this looked silly so it was cut.
*. Or at least that’s what was said. I think it’s a terrible excuse. If the ending was silly then they did it wrong, or it was a bad idea in the first place. And how would a smiling, decapitated head have explained anything? Apparently it would have “implied” or “indicated” that Paul was dead. How so? And how does it explain what happened to Jason (a point muddied even further by the opening of Part 3)?
*. I think it’s worth quoting the conclusion of Roger Ebert’s review of this film, just because it addresses a point that I find myself pondering more and more as I collapse deeper and deeper into middle age. “Sinking into my seat in this movie theater from my childhood, I remembered the movie fantasies when I was a kid. They involved teenagers who fell in love, made out with each other, customized their cars, listened to rock and roll, and were rebels without causes. Neither the kids in those movies nor the kids watching them would have understood a world view in which the primary function of teenagers is to be hacked to death.”
*. So much has been written about this film, especially online. You can read books about it, watch documentaries on it, listen to interviews and commentaries, go to conventions and meet the stars, join discussion forums that argue over every little detail. Which is fine. It is a movie with a large cultural resonance to go with its long commercial tail. But at the end of the day, it really is a worthless piece of crap.