Friday the 13th is a series consisting of gradual evolution. The way the general public perceives the Friday the 13th franchise isn’t the way it began, and honestly, it took a while to get there. Friday the 13th part II is the next step in that evolution, and though it still isn’t the “Friday the 13th” we all recognize, it’s just a little bit closer.
A few months after the events of the first film, Alice, the only survivor of Mrs. Voorhees’ killing spree, is mysteriously murdered by an unknown assailant. Five years after that, this guy named Paul opens up a Camp Counselor training camp out on gloomy Crystal Lake. The counselors-in-training are doing what they do best; having premarital sex, smoking weed and skinny dipping in the middle of the night. This, of course, is just asking for trouble. The counselors are then picked off one at a time by a mysterious killer wearing a burlap sack over his head.
Friday the 13th part II can be credited for bringing the star of the franchise into the spotlight; the grand debut of Jason Voorhees. Yes, he did appear briefly at the end of the first film (in probably its most memorable scare), but this is his first appearance not only as an adult, but as the star of the series. Of course, this isn’t the hockey-masked, machete-wielding Jason you’re probably thinking of. This Jason wears a burlap sack over his head with only a single eye-hold cut out, and uses a pitchfork as his weapon of choice. He also runs at top speed, chasing his victims through the woods, as opposed to contemporary Jason, known for slowly stalking his prey at a snail’s pace yet somehow always catching up to them.
The origin offered for Jason in this movie is the first of many the series will provide, and Jason’s history will become more and more convoluted as the installments progress. The explanation for Jason in this film is probably my favorite of the various origin stories, to be honest. Here, as Paul explains it, Jason survived his drowning in Crystal Lake, but due to his mental retardation, lived out in the woods all his life. Apparently, he saw Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation and out of rage vowed to slaughter anyone who enters Crystal Lake ever again. The campfire scene where Paul relates the origin is done very well, and adds a great urban myth angle to Jason’s history.
While the kills in the original Friday the 13th were legendary, the ones offered in this installment are an overall improvement. That’s one typical constant about the Friday the 13th franchise, the kills get better and better with each sequel. This time around, we have a VERY angry Jason. There’s usual stuff, like snaring people from trees and slicing their throats, eating little froo-froo dogs, stabbing two people at once while they’re getting it on and so forth. But, I have to say, this movie captures one of Jason’s most ridiculously pissed-off kills ever: he buries a machete in the face of a dude in a wheelchair then wheels him over to a flight of stairs and pushes him down the staircase. Holy crap! Director Steve Miner, who would also go on to direct the third film, really got the ball rolling with this installment and, if it weren’t for him, the Jason we recognize today probably would not even exist.
So there you have it. Friday the 13th part II is one of the better films in the series, and I actually prefer it over the original, but some people might be put off by Jason’s burlap sack and pitchfork. I’d still give it a B+, though. Jason’s just so damn angry in this movie.