Friday the 13th: Part II

The one undeniable truth of the movies is this: If a movie makes an exorbitant amount of money, and has even the remote possibility of a sequel, it will receive one. Such is the case of Friday the 13th: Part II, which takes place five years after the original despite being released a year later. The hope being, I wager, that the characters will forget the plot of the first film, but we’ll have a vague recollection and can sense familiarities. Go back and watch the first film before this one and see if “familiar” or “more of the same” comes to mind.

This film opens by removing the one remaining character from the previous film. She — name isn’t important because nobody in the series thus far has enough character for me to remember a name — is traumatized by what happened at Crystal Lake in the first film. She’s then killed. It turns out that Jason Voorhees didn’t like seeing his mother killed at that film’s conclusion, and he’s decided to take that into his own hands. Yes, he was supposed to have drowned years ago, but that’s unimportant. He’s alive and he kills the survivor in the film’s opening scene.

We then move to a spot on the same lake as the first film, although in a slightly different location and with a different cabin. A group of camp counselors have arrived for a training program — because it requires two weeks of training to be a camp counselor — even despite the legend which claims that Jason Voorhees is wandering around the forest and just waiting to end the lives of anyone he encounters, because he has mommy issues.

Of course, the legend is true, and Jason subsequently begins killing all of the counselors-to-be. It actually takes a significant amount of time longer in Part II for the killing to begin, because the filmmakers try — gasp — to bring depth and personality into the characters. There are scenes included solely in an attempt to help us differentiate each character from the others, although this mostly comes in the form of them having one specific trait. One’s in a wheelchair, one plays video games, one has a dog, etc.

They are eventually systematically picked off and killed. I can’t remember who goes first and who goes last but almost all of them die. This film feels almost identical to its predecessor. “Camp counselors go to a lake and are killed by a person with a knife” just about sums up the plot. But this one at least put in a little more effort. It was directed by Steve Miner, who produced the first film and presumably thought it could be better, because he made it again, just slightly improved.

What is better about it? Well, it doesn’t look like it was shot by someone who only has a small understanding of how to hold a camera, so that’s better. The cinematography doesn’t look quite so amateurish, and there’s a clarity that wasn’t in the last film. Some might dislike this, as the grungy look can sometimes be appealing to horror fans, but I find it ugly and unappealing — but not scary, which is what the horror films aim to be.

It has better motivation for its lead character, too. Jason comes across as a hurt man-child, not as a psychotic person who doesn’t understand what letting go is. We’re not sure exactly what his deal is, and without that explanation, we try to fill in the blanks, which can be more frightening than if the film were to bare all for us. Jason also gets to do a couple of creative things that his mother never attempted — double death via spear being one of the highlights — and imagination is something to be applauded in these things.

Unfortunately, the characters are still there simply to be fodder for the killer, the dialogue they’re given to deliver should embarrass anyone who has ever written a single word on a piece of paper, and their performances are nothing to write home about. I didn’t actively hate as many of them this time around, and indifference is far better than hoping they die, but they’re certainly not strong characters. At least I could tell them apart this time.

The film is still relatively dull, and I couldn’t help a desire to fall asleep while it was playing. While it’s an improvement over the first installment, you can only improve a flawed premise so much. The kids go to a lake and get killed. You need actual characters for this to matter, and an idea of how to build atmosphere and tension in order for it to scare us. Without these elements thrown in, the whole idea is bound to fail. It’s clear that the filmmakers don’t want to put in that much effort. As long as they have sex and gore, much of the audience will be happy.

Friday the 13th: Part II isn’t as bad as the first film, although I’d hesitate to call that a recommendation. It still falls into the “bad” category, as it’s not terribly scary or suspenseful, and you’re not going to care about much that’s going on. But it has been shot in a significantly nicer way, there is a touch more creativity to the proceedings, the killer is more ambiguous and therefore more frightening, and I could tell the characters apart, even if it didn’t matter who was getting killed at the time.

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