Monday, October 4, 2010

Friday the 13th Part II

"The body count continues..."?  No, the tag line to this film should be "It begins...!"  Friday the 13th Part II is the film that introduces audiences to slasher movie villain extraordinaire Jason Voorhees for the first time as an adult.  In retrospect, it is damned odd that Jason ended up being such a popular character; you don't usually get the face of a franchise in the second movie in the series.  Crazier things have happened, though --- Friday the 13th Part V, I'm looking at you.

The movie opens with a six minutes of footage from Part I, showing new viewers how Alice (Adrienne King) managed to protect herself and kill the psychotic Pamela Voorhees.  This practice of assuming that a sequel has attracted enough viewers unfamiliar with the series to require an extensive flashback is pretty common in horror movies (see every Saw sequel.  No, wait...they're awful), and this might be the first to take such lengths to explain plot points that most audiences don't care about.  You see, Alice has been having a rough time since the events in Part I; she's been having nightmares and isolating herself because she's having trouble trusting people.  There's a reason she should have these problems; someone (named Jason) has tracked her down to her home and he's gonna get some killing done.  But first, he calls her and hangs up when she picks up.  This clues her in to search her house for an intruder...
Quick side note, folks.  Wouldn't the killer (named Jason) have to be calling from another phone line, like a neighbor's or a payphone, to dial Alice's number?  It's not like they had cell phones in 1981.  And yet, the phone rings, and suddenly she feels that the unidentified caller must be in her house?  As the head dinosaur wrangler from Jurassic Park would say, "Clever girl."
He plays around with her, though, hiding in her apartment until she opens her refrigerator and finds Pam Voorhees' severed head next to her milk --- then she gets a heaping dose of vitamin ice pick administered to her temple.

Five years later, a new group of counselors are preparing to get trained at a new summer camp that is near the old Camp Crystal Lake.  The group is not very well defined, so you don't have to worry about accidentally caring about any of the characters.  The only one who actually gets to display more than one dimension is Ginny (Amy Steel), and even she is not especially likable.  Speaking of unlikable, the head counselor (and Ginny's love interest) gives the female counselors this advice to avoid bear attacks: "Keep clean."  Yes, that is a menstrual blood reference, and no it's not hilarious.  By this time, Jason Voorhees has become a campfire spooky story.  Why he is the scary story and not his maniac mother, I don't know.  Regardless, this camp group is the first to stay near Crystal Lake since Pamela Voorhees bloodied up the place.  According to the campfire tale, Jason never died, but lived in the woods --- instead of with his mother for some reason --- and lived off of roots and berries until he witnessed his mother's death and took revenge on her killer...and he will use lethal force to keep strangers out of his wildnerness for more unexplained reasons that (let's be honest) are not important to this movie's target audience.  Well...that's certainly a jump in logic from movie to movie.  Still, it establishes Jason as the mysterious killer from the first scenes and kind of sort of explains why Jason is not a drowned child corpse, so there's that.  Eventually, the night before the children show up, the counselors have one last night of freedom before they have to work and they want to go into town to party.  Apparently, all these teens are 21, because they are all served at the bar.  Six stay behind to watch the camp, and that is when Jason strikes.  I think you can figure out what happens next.  After these suckers die, the head counselor and Ginny return.  Ginny has a pretty good head on her shoulders and immediately notices something is very wrong.  Is she clever enough to avoid death by Jason?  Do you care, or do you just want to see a blood and boobies?

That's what I thought.  This Friday's body count was ten (although one is implied); aside from the campers, Jason kills a police officer, the local nut who liked to tell people they were doomed, and Alice.  The kills were decent, but nothing fantastic.  As far as nudity goes, this movie's a little odd.  Yes, there is nudity, and no, it's not Kevin Bacon again.  However, there are a few instances where the scene called for some sort of undressing and it wasn't shown.  I'm old enough to buy pornography, so nudity-free movies do not bother me, but this movie has a full frontal scene; it's just incongruous for a movie with a skinny dipping night swimming scene to shy away from another character getting changed into "something more comfortable" before having sex.  It's not a big deal, but it is strange enough to pull me out of the movie for a moment, and that's never a good sign.

So, this is Jason's first appearance, and it's...honestly, a little underwhelming.  Sure, he does have an awesome kill (knife through the head of a paraplegic), but the premise of Jason as a retarded hobo (please note that Ginny called Jason retarded, I called him a hobo) is kind of silly.  I don't like Jason's character design --- when you finally see him without a sack over his head, he looks like a cross between Sloth and Eric Stoltz in Mask.  And if he's been living in the woods for all this time, how does he have clean clothes that fit him and nice boots?  You might reason that Jason inherited his mother's belongings, but if the local folks aren't sure he exists, then he must have never lived at home after his alleged drowning.  That makes no sense, but whatever.  This movie also marks a few tendencies that are not seen in the rest of Jason's movies.  As the first kill shows us, Jason can use a phone.  He also has a garrote wire on him whenever local crazy guys need killing.  Oh, and sticking a knife into his shoulder will slow him down for a moment, but a kick to the groin knocks him down for a few minutes.  I'm not saying that I can handle a groin shot (or a stab wound) better than Jason, but I would expect him to be a little less sensitive.

The acting in this movie is pretty wretched throughout.  I liked Steve Daskawisz as Jason well enough, even if he is clearly the least physically intimidating actor to play the part.  The rest of the actors...well, let's just say that I wasn't sad when any of their characters died.  The direction in this movie is just awful.  I don't think I'm asking a lot of a slasher movie that uses the camera as the killer's point of view to actually use it as the killer's POV.  There are so many times where the camera shots go from standard to handheld POV shots, but are just fake outs for the eventual Jason attack.  I don't like being faked out, but I can live with that in a movie like this; this was director Steve Miner's first film, and he was certainly no Hitchcock.  What I can't stand is when the POV shots are used to clearly indicate the killer and the killer is in the scene, but could not possibly avoid being seen by the other characters.  Oh, look, there's half of a branch in the way as a nubile teen looks directly into the camera, which is supposed to represent the eyes of the killer.  Unless the tree's fruit is homicidal maniacs, then a single branch should be enough to blend in.  Oh, look, the camera POV is hiding from behind a tree as counselors are walking toward it...and then the POV camera sees Jason walk after the kids, but he crosses in front of the tree; so, the cameraman was behind the tree, Jason was chillin' next to the tree (because he clearly wasn't hiding behind it), and all the counselors are wandering around, making notes like "Okay, to get to the archery range, just go past cabin three, down the path, and take a left at Jason."

One last comment: I would like to point out that this film takes place five years after the first film.  The first film took place on June 13, 1980 and Alice disappeared from her home "a few months later."  I'm going to make a huge assumption that the townspeople's claims of it being "quiet for five years" means that they have had at least five years of murder-free day camps.  Since the counselors are being trained to run a summer camp, this should be taking place at the end of May or the beginning of July.  Add all that to the fact that 1986 had June 13 on a Friday, and I think we have our date.  Why do I care?  Any time a franchise takes the effort to clearly establish their time line, I feel it is only courteous to pay attention to it.  I don't really have a good reason for it, but I assume it will help me mock the series in later reviews. 

I will give this movie some credit for being a solid (if typical) slasher pic, but the cinematography was some of the worst I've seen in a widely released movie.  Despite this being the dawn of the Jason era of slasher flicks, I have to downgrade it to a

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