Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
      ( 2/18/2009 06:59:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"BEING A CAMP COUNSELOR ISN'T THE GRAVY SUMMER JOB EVERYONE THINKS IT IS." For many slasher film aficionados, the Friday the 23th franchise doesn't truly take off until its second entry: when Jason Voorhees takes charge. Sean Cunningham's initial Friday, after all, only featured the iconic killer as a young boy dream creation; it's the first sequel that imagined him as full-grown, "some sort of demented creature, living in the wilderness" of New Jersey.

The Jason that we meet in Part Two hasn't been fully tweaked into the hockey mask wearing murder machine that we know from later installments, though. This half-formed Jason wears a burlap sack with one eyehole (must not do much for his depth of vision) and a surprisingly fresh pair of boots over his large feet. We see these boots a lot in the flick, since new series director Steve Miner keeps the camera on 'em during most of his appearances in the first two-thirds of the picture. The demented creature lives in a trashed-out trailer with a grungy toilet and a shrine devoted to his decapitated mother. The latter is respectfully festooned with burning candles and the occasional camp counselor corpse. Ah, the rustic life.

First time we see Jason do his thing, it's for the purpose of dispatching Adrienne King's Alice, the sole survivor of the initial Friday. Per a feature included in the first flick's DVD set, the filmmakers originally wanted Alice back for a more substantial role in the sequel, but the actress' personal distress over being terrorized by a stalker fan kept her from participating in all but a few days of shooting. Her presence in the opener proves effective, though I'm still wondering how Wild Child Jason knew how to use a pay phone to terrorize poor Alice.

The pre-title sequence also established Part Two as a more conventionally shot horror flick than its predecessor. It even pulls out one of the hoariest tricks in the horror movie canon -- the shrieking cat that jumps out at the heroine to a soundtrack sting -- just to get the audience tittering. This somewhat slicker approach ultimately works against the movie's scares, however. Aside from Alice's unexpected demise, there's not a single surprising moment in Part Two.

Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the moving rating system. Prodded by prudish critics like Gene Siskel (who, infamously, printed Betsy Palmer's address as part of a campaign against the first Friday), the MPAA was noticeably harsher in its rating of Two's killing scenes than it was the first. In place of Tom Savini's show-stopping grand guignol murder fx, quick cuts and suggestion were the order of the day. Thus, the killing of a couple mid-coitus was presented through the shot of a spear coming down, then a quick cut to the underside of the bunk where we see the bloody spearhead poking out. The actual moment of penetration was cut, significantly weakening the bit.

Though Alice's scene reportedly occurs two months after the first Friday, the film's big story doesn't take occur until five years later. There, the first of many doomed attempts to open a summer camp on Crystal Lake in the aftermath of Mrs. Voorhees' rampage begins -- as the usual gaggle of horny students converge on the area to provide steady victims for our psycho killer. Among these are Ginny (Amy Steel), a Child Psychology major who'll use her book learning to deceive the immature Jason, and Paul (John Furey), the idiot who wants to open a summer camp for inner city youth within hiking distance of the place they call Camp Blood. Among the other potential victims are a wheelchair-bound counselor, a way-too-skinny skinny-dipping blond and her cute fluffy dog. When the pup meets up with Jason, director Miner immediately cuts to a shot of hot dogs on the grill.

A couple of for-real grown-ups also buy it in this flick: Crazy Ralph, the prophet of doom who also showed up in the first outing, and an unfortunate cop who happens upon Jason's trailer and the sight of Ma Voorhees' decomposing head. Still, the primary body count remains them horny kids, though, interestingly, Ginny manages to survive the movie though we clearly know that she's been active with Paul. Jason even inexplicably leaves her alive, even after crashing through a window and grabbing her. Wha happened? Darned if we know since the movie's finale is pretty choppy. Last thing we see is a shot of Jason's shrine with a flow tracking shot moving in on Mama's face; we wait for something to jump out at us, but nothing does. A definite anticlimax.

Part Two's "deluxe edition" DVD set also includes yet another entry in the ineptly shot "Lost Tales from Camp Blood" series, a piece on Friday's place in the horror con scene plus an interview with Peter M. Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. It's from Bracke that we learn that over a minute of grisly fx footage was excised from this outing and that initial creators Cunningham, scriptwriter Victor Miller and makeup man Savini refused to be a part of the sequel because they thought the idea of Jason being the killer didn't make any sense. Initially, Cunningham & Miller wanted to turn the series into an anthology title, much like John Carpenter attempted with Halloween: Season of the Witch -- and we all know what a box office bonanza that turned out to be.

And so the Friday the 13th series became The Jason Show. It'd take several more entries before filmmakers would introduce any supernatural elements to "explain" this unstoppable creation; for now, he's just a deformed man/boy with a lotta pointy things. "I doubt Jason would have even known the meaning of death," would-be shrink Ginny states at one point in Part Two, as she drunkenly reflects on the image of demented Jason watching his mother die. Clearly, the self-taught slasher learned its meaning over the years.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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