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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2012-Day 2: FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981)

One of the great lessons of the FRIDAY THE 13th series: Fuck and die. (NOTE: This shot was cut from the final MPAA-approved version, so don;t expect to see it if you decide to check this film out.)

As we all know, success at the box office pretty much guarantees sequels, no matter how ill-advised or completely stupid and unnecessary they may be, and there is perhaps no greater example of this than the multitude of follow-ups spawned the original FRIDAY THE 13th (1980). The first film was just a humble little indie gore film that got picked up by a major studio (Paramount) for distribution, and its catalog of creatively gory murders shocked the motherfucking shit out of mainstream audiences who never set foot inside of the garden variety grindhouse theater, where this kind of thing was quite commonplace (and often far, far more extreme in content). I was barely fifteen when it hit and let me tell you in no uncertain terms that its impact on the local kids of my age was positively seismic. My parents occasionally took me with them to violent/gory R-rated movies when they could not find a sitter, so my childhood prepared me for FRIDAY THE 13th, and I frankly did not understand what the big deal was. It wasn't scary or suspenseful and the story was virtually non-existent, populated as it was with a pack of cardboard ciphers about whom it was simply impossible to care. What the viewer was left with amounted to "cinema as abattoir," a moving picture confection of gore for the sake of gore, disguised as actual horror. Now, I have nothing whatsoever against gore and violence — which you no doubt are aware of if you regularly read this blog — but I personally don't find gore with no resonating narrative to be scary, per se, so my young peers' decreeing that FRIDAY THE 13th was "the scariest movie ever made" struck me as a load of galloping horseshit.

But everyone has their own opinion and horrorphiles dug FRIDAY THE 13th so much that it raked in a fuckload of cash — a real windfall since its production budget wouldn't get you as decent meal at Manhattan's pricey Hill Country Barbecue — and so it was that FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 was unleashed upon a gore-hungry public  just shy of a year after the initial entry.

This first in a long line of sequels is virtually interchangeable with its immediate predecessor, only it somehow manages to generate even less suspense and fewer scares — a real accomplishment, that — and is really only notable because it's the first time that the series' main bogeyman, Jason Voorhees, shows up in the (apparently) undead flesh to wreak havoc upon the latest batch of horny, cardboard summer camp counselors. That in and of itself was no mean feat since the first film quite clearly established that Jason — a grotesque hydrocephalic "retard" horror stereotype — died some twenty years earlier, and his deranged mother committed the murders the first wave of counselors the audience was led to believe were attributable to the restless spirit of the drowned special needs kid. So with both the actual murderer and her disturbing son very much dead — despite Jason memorably turning up in the first film's shock ending (which was shamelessly ripped off from Brian De Palma's CARRIE) — how would the filmmakers come up with a viable killer for the sequel? Simple: have absolutely no regard for anything even resembling logic and have Jason inexplicably be alive and homicidal, though now grown up. As long as he was there to graphically dispatch all of the other characters in the utterly perfunctory "story," who cared if it made no sense?

And while Jason would in short order go on to become one of the indelible horror icons of the late-20th century (and beyond), his signature hockey-masked appearance did not fall into place until the franchise's cash-in on the brief 1980's 3-D boom, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982). In FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2, Jason is visualized as pretty much a hillbilly in overalls and shitkicker boots, with his head covered by a cloth sack with a single eye hole cut out of it.

That look, though very appropriate for a spooky story told around a campfire — which, to be fair, these movies kind of are — appears fucking ludicrous when realized outside of one's individual imagination, and when coupled with the listless, sub-TV movie direction and pacing found in this suspense-void time-waster,  it's not even remotely imposing, scary or memorable. And even when  the sack comes off and we see Jason as a misshapen-headed longhaired mutant (or whatever the fuck he's meant to be), he remains uninteresting and not at all frightening. And is he a ghost? is he some odd undead haint? Is he some sort of indestructible mutant retard? Don't ask me, because it's not explained here and it's never really answered in a satisfactory way in any of the subsequent sequels.

The bottom line on this film is that it's the first of this franchise's entries that is a total waste of time. Your life will be utterly unaffected if you give it a pass, and for all intents and purposes one could skip it and proceed straight to the next film without missing a single (flimsy) narrative thread. And while FRIDAY THE 13th PART III is also a brain-dead, by-the-numbers slaughterhouse potboiler, it's considerably more lively than this turgid dud.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

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