Saturday, June 30, 2012

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back To Camp...

Friday The 13th Part 2(1981)
Director: Steve Miner
Cast: Amy Steel,John Furey, Kirsten Baker

Slasher films were the most popular horror genre of the 1980s, for better or for worse. They helped keep the genre popular with moviegoers, but also threatened to destroy it with largely poor, formulaic pictures that robbed the genre of much of it's mystery and suspense. The most popular franchise in this genre was begun in 1980. Designed as an imitation of Halloween(1978) by one of the filmmakers of The Last House on the Left(1972), Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th became a box-office hit that would lead to nearly a dozen sequels over the next twenty years, seven of which were produced in the 1980s.
The first sequel is a landmark film, at least for the fact that it introduces the character of Jason, however improbably. You see, he survived the supposed drowning in the 50s and has been living like a hermit ever since in the woods and now wants to take revenge for his mother's death, no matter that it contradicts much of the plot of the first film, since Jason was firmly an urban legend or a figment of a twisted imagination. It also seems odd that there was any revenge in the first place, since he survived the ordeal in the 50s, but oh well. It's foolish to look for logic in these things, anyway.

This film takes place right after the first film, with the dull heroine of the last film, Alice(Adrienne King) alone at home, where she conveniently has flashbacks about her ordeal, gore intact. She has awful taste in clothes, wearing some green jumper and bitches and complains to her mom on the phone, not to worry. Of course, her mother should, because a silent killer is walking up the street and it's Jason, because the producers needed more money. Alice gets scared by a cat, which only happens in horror movies, because they are usually comical creatures in real life and opens the fridge, where she discovers the decapitated head of Mrs. Voorhees, you know, the one she lopped off in the first film? Well, Jason brought it with him for some reason, and proceeds to drive a screwdriver into her skull. Now after that charming opening, we proceed five years later to a new group of counselors ready to make acquaintance with death.
Much of it plays out like the first film, including having a horny couple with a truck, complete with a prankster/nerd who tells some of the "best" jokes, most involving fecal matter. Even Crazy Raplh(Walt Gorney), everyone's favorite doomsayer from the original is back to warn the kids about(what else?) impending doom!
Best of all, the director has the wonderfully good taste to set his camera on the lower backside of the sexiest of the counselors, Terry(Kirsten Baker) an outrageously hot babe who has brilliant taste in wardrobe, choosing only to wear the tightest and skimpiest clothing possible(I love that Mickey Mouse shirt) and gets a rock from a slingshot shot at her butt from a wise man(Russell Todd) who performs several such shenanigans throughout, because wouldn't you? I mean look below, fellows, look below.

After that brilliant interlude, we are introduced to the main characters, including what may be the favorite among Friday the 13th heroines, Amy Steel, as Ginny, a far more lively and likable character than Adrienne King's catatonic like performance from the first film. She stars with a crappy Volkswagon, which predictably, keeps conking out and has to get her mechanically inclined boyfriend, Paul(John Furey) to help her. They make a good couple and have decent banter, better than is usually found in these films. Before long, with everyone settled, including Terry(aka. SuperBabe) and her little dog, "Muffin"(this is not innuendo: there really is a little dog named Muffin), Paul proceeds to tell the story of Jason around a campfire, which reminds one of the same year's The Burning. He warns everyone not to go to Camp Crystal Lake, which is next door to their own camp. Of course, the next day, that young couple from the truck decide to do just that but are nabbed by the typical hick Deputy, who gives them a warning and than drives away, but not before getting into a pointless chase through the woods after Jason, where he gets a claw hammer in the back of his head for his troubles. Ouch. Later, Crazy Ralph even bites it, getting garroted with a piece of barbed wire. Double ouch.
That night, most of the counselors, including Ginny and Paul, decide to go in town and get wasted, leaving a skeleton crew behind including the truck couple, Jeff and Sandra(Bill Randolph and Marta Kober) Mark, a fellow in a wheelchair(Tom Mcbride) and nice girl, Vickie(Lauren-Marie Taylor) who wants to jump Mark's bones, even if he is paralyzed. There's also Scott, the non-character who only exists to do what any sane heterosexual male would do and that is hit on the smoking hot, Terry, who also stays behind, emphasis on the behind. I mean, sooner than you can say, "da-yum!", she decides to take a completely, gratuitous nude swim, going full frontal and proving that she's this series biggest babe. It's hands down the most spellbinding moment in the film.

Now the fun has begun and Jason decides to get busy, as everyone else is. When in Rome, I guess. Scott has a brainstorm and decides to steal Terry's clothes, because, why not? She gets sorta-pissed and chases after him, before he gets stuck in a trap. She agrees to set him free, though i'm sure the women in the audience are crying blood at this point. Scott hangs around for a bit, before Jason offers his assistance, but having awful sight, accidentally cuts his throat. Mega-Babe returns with her Swiss-Army knife and screams and we are spared her death by a merciful editor. Meanwhile, Vickie and Mark decide to do it, so nice girl goes to get ready, though it's for naught, because Mark gets a machete tossed in his head and her pals, Jeff and Sandra get a spear shoved right through them mid-coitus. If anyone ever argues the impact that Mario Bava's Bay of Blood(1971) had on this, remind them that both this exact death and the proceeding skinny-dipping/voyeur scene was in that earlier movie. Bava's camerawork is copied here, effectively.
Vicki returns and discovers the couple dead and dies a cruel death at the hands of Mr. Personality himself, Jason, who we discover is dressed just like the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown(1976).
Back at the bar, Ginny begins talking about Jason, not gossip or anything, but that she believes he may be alive. She's pretty sincere here, i'll give her that, but this little epiphany seems rather forced and construed, causing the guys around to chuckle and laugh, which is actually logical. Since when does she feel a rapport with Jason? It must be those brilliant screenwriters at work again!
Well, whatever, her and Paul return to camp and find it for alot of blood and a few corpses. Soon, they fight off the maniac killer and predictably, it's Ginny on the run, because slasher movies hate men as much as they hate women(everybody?) and Ginny goes through some ordeal. Remember the crappy Volkswagon? Yeah, it doesn't start up, as expected and she is forced to run away, even pissing herself when a rat runs by(I gotta confess, rodents never gave me an ounce of fear. What's up with people getting all freaked out by them?) and she ends up at Jason's pad, where she discovers a shrine to his late mother, decorated with her severed head and the bodies of his latest kills. It's a charming decoration, but before she can admire it, Jason arrives back home and she dons his mother's sweater and pretends to be her, echoing images for me of Psycho(1960). 
Our psycho, actually falls for it, the big dummy and it almost works, until Jason sees the severed head of his mother and remembers that Mom is dead. Duh! He fights Ginny and Paul shows up and they fight some more, before Ginny drives Jason's machete into his shoulder. Why not the head, you ask? That's a mystery only money-hungry producers can answer, my friend, for you know the big old boy ain't dead, so before you can be faked out, expect him to tear through a window and grab Ginny leading to one of the worst endings on record.
I'll be honest, though. The build-up to the final appearance of Jason is actually quite suspenseful and Amy Steel is very good here, looking appropriately terrified and on edge. Jason arrives, sans mask, and looks like a hairier version of himself from the first film's flashbacks, or like Sloth from The Goonies(1985). 
Anyway, the ending makes no sense at all. Ginny is being whisked away to the hospital, even though it was she that we last saw being taken by Jason, and not Paul, who is presumed dead. All of the other counselors who were in town, are not present, not even Terry's Muffin, who decided to grace us with her presence at the conclusion. Was it a dream? If so, what actually happened? This lack of logic certainly goes hand in hand with the nature of the film as a whole, but it does not excuse it, because it's still a weak cop-out and every time I've seen this film, since I was a kid, I have always thought this was a bad ending and still do.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is exactly what you would expect from an 80s slasher movie. It's short on logic and characterization, and high on gore and contrivance. In many ways, it's no better or worse than the original film, though it's difficult to replicate the same kind of gritty, grimy feeling of dread that was felt throughout the first film. Not that i'm recommending Friday the 13th, but it has an undeniably disturbing  feel to it, nonetheless.
This sequel is more familiar to how future slasher films would behave with a stalking madman and creative deaths, largely enacted on horny teens in the woods. Jason is not much of a character, though and I have never really fully understood the fascination behind him, besides that cathartic effect that audiences may get at his nefarious deeds. In this film, he has yet to sport his famous hockey mask, opting instead for a potato sack, clearly reminiscent of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. His murders are quite gory, though apparently much was still cut to appease the MPAA, including most of the spear through the couple scene, which is the most famous death in the movie. Not that it detracts, because the restraint actually probably enhances any atmosphere, however meager, that Steve Miner was able to conjure up.
The screenwriters missed a huge opportunity by not having the kids explore the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake, which would have allowed for some haunted house scares, instead of the one room-bargain-basement we get with Jason's shack, a place that seems to have been ripped from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974). Along with the various nods(or steals) from the work of Mario Bava and John Carpenter, it's hard to congratulate this film on originality.
Like the first film, most of the cast are adequate, hardly the faceless cattle that would populate the later films. These kids have some personality, including the odd addition of a wheelchair bound counselor, who receives an unkind cut, one which plays fast and loose with the whole mentality of Jason, who only exists to kill because he's not much of a character. Ted(Stu Charno) is the "comic" relief, filling in for "Ned" from the first film, except this guy doesn't get killed or is involved in the end action. Instead, he relates one bathroom joke after another. For example:What's brown and sits on a piano? Give up? Beethoven's last movement! Ho, ho! That guy slays me, just too bad Jason didn't slay him.
At the risk of falling to the cathartic whole, it seems that as these films progressed the idea was to make these people as insipid and unlikable as possible, hoping that the audience would want them killed. There's something very disturbing in that, even if I confess, I felt it myself.
The girls in this one are prettier and nicer than the last film, led by Amy Steel, who brings more conviction to her part than was warranted. Her sense of humor and intelligence made her stand above other, "we are the survivors because it's ironic, yet expected" types that were so prevalent in these things. Her character actually has real reactions and does not just become an unrealistic warrior. She's scared, and rightly so, making her empathetic and credible.
It's a shame to see some of the other girls get it, because they are not just beautiful, but fairly nice. I mean, Lauren-Marie Taylor's character has clearly romantic designs set for Tom McBride's wheelchair bound, Mark and the fact that she's giving that guy a chance, makes her seem pretty sweet. Plus, her death is made more cruel, because she actually faces Jason head on and pleads for her life. It's not one of the film's best moments.
Of course, when a film is as mediocre as this, the best moments are usually the most exploitative and certainly for male audiences, the most remembered scenes are those involving the gorgeous, Kirsten Baker. The odds on favorite for sexiest Friday the 13th babe, and possibly in the slasher canon. It was important to attract young(typically male) audiences by promising female flesh and certainly this delivers. Her wardrobe is incredible, the kind seldom seen outside of the Playboy mansion(including the greatest booty shorts of all-time), and considering the camera focuses a solid 12 seconds on her butt alone, I think it's safe to say, this woman is in a league of her own. The skinny-dipping scene is completely pointless, except to titillate the audience, which succeeds at admirably and certainly helped keep this viewer awake through the long stretches of tedium that proceeded it. What can I say? It's what I remember most about this movie, and I guess that says a lot!

This is certainly no classic movie. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Friday the 13th Part 2 is just as hare-brained as it's predecessor, with it's inane plotting and one-dimensional characterization(even though some try) and it's not close to being a good horror film with virtually no scares, gore proving to never be an adequate replacement for true atmosphere and suspense. However, it may be the more entertaining movie, offering more exploitation than the previous film, including more gore and nudity and unintentional humor to keep guys like me awake through it all. Slasher fans will likely regard this as a must-see and certainly it is a must-see among the boozehound/frat-boy elites as it caters well to this most undiscerning crowd. B-movie fans and certainly, girl oglers of any age can appreciate some of this film. Friday the 13th Part 2 is sort of fun in the most empty-headed way imaginable, but at least that's a distinction.

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