Betsy Palmer died this week at the age of 88; an esteemed actor best known to horror fans as Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s menacing mother in Friday the 13th. Although she initially thought the script “a piece of shit”, she took the role so she could buy a new car, and the rest is horror history.
Following the box office success of the 1980 original, a sequel was churned out a year later. Taking over producing/directing duties from Sean S. Cunningham, Steve Miner asks: “Why change a winning formula?” Friday the 13th Part 2 serves up more sex, blood and heads in fridges.
The story, such as it is, follows another group of camp counsellors (as in counsellors at a summer camp, not camp counsellors – though there are some suspiciously short shorts). But would you believe it, the camp is right next to the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, now nicknamed Camp Blood after the massacre of the first film.
Because they’re characters in a horror film, they have to be told not to go near Camp Blood. But because they’re characters in a horror film, they do it anyway. One rainy night, while most of the counsellors are out on the town, naked Terry (Kirsten Baker) decides to go for a walk. It’s all fun and games until someone goes for a walk.
What ensues is wall-to-wall carnage, as Jason takes bloody revenge on these two-dimensional teenagers – their only crime: being obnoxious to the point of gruesome death. There’s Tom McBride as machete-faced Mark, Stuart Charno as the guy from Ratatouille and Amy Steel as our befreckled hero Ginny (or possibly Jenny, depending on which take they’re using).
Whatever her name is, she’s the most developed character by virtue of having a tiny amount of character; we know she’s tough because she holds a chain saw, we know she’s agile because she runs with a whistle round her neck and we know she’s clever because she beats a boy at chess. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but it works.
This slasher sequel is better than most; tonnes more fun than Halloween II or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. There are some strong scares, effective POV shots and a brutal villain in Jason (Steve Dash/Warrington Gillette), who spends most of the movie with a bag on his head – he wouldn’t find the iconic hockey mask until Part 3.
But Friday the 13th never tries to hide its scuzzy simplicity; the key to the franchise’s remarkable success. It strips the slasher film down to its bare bones, and then hacks them to pieces. It’s nothing but knives and (k)nudity, cutting between sex and violence with glee. Unashamedly nasty and unpretentiously fun, this pre-Scream franchise is an exercise in pure stalk ‘n’ slash cinema, which never pretends to be anything else. It’s as upfront as a knife to the face.
Just look at this film’s tagline: “The body count continues…” It certainly meets the Trade Descriptions Act. Nowadays it would be: “THE SCARIEST FILM EVER, HONEST!” The enduringly entertaining Part 2 is a more than serviceable sequel, thanks to Steve Kirshoff’s gory effects, Harry Manfredini’s magnificent music and Betsy Palmer’s scene-stealing cameo.