When we last left little Jason Voorhees at the end of 1980's 'Friday the 13th,' he was popping out of the surface of Crystal Lake, all moss-covered and bald-capped, dragging the film's heroine down into the watery depths. Well, okay, actually it wasn't really him, it was just a corker of a "chair jumper" trick ending. Jason, you see, was supposed to have long been dead, drowned and waterlogged at the bottom of the lake or thereabouts, the victim of camp counselor neglect. So, when 'Friday the 13th Part 2' came along a year later, how could Jason suddenly age about 10 years, grow hair, pack on fifty pounds of muscle, and learn how to wield a machete? Well, in Hollywood, where there's a will there's a way, and even with Jason previously a lump of seaweed, the filmmakers just figured "screw believability! " and presto, a new screen icon was born.
Regenerated villain aside, the plot of 'Friday the 13th Part 2' isn't all that different from the plot of 'Friday the 13th.' With Jason's mama now dispatched, we jump ahead five years, when a new group of dim-witted counselors return to Crystal Lake to reopen the camp yet again. After a rather effective bit of pre-title mayhem (where Jason learns how to use a telephone and tracks down the previous film's heroine, Adrienne King, and quickly dispatches her with an ice pick to the head), 'Part 2' becomes more remake than continuation. We get a fairly-likable group of new counselors, who spend about 30 minutes of banal set-up partying, smoking dope and having sex. Then, one by one, Jason picks them off in creative fashion. It's up to our plucky Final Girl (the very winning Amy Steel) to save the day, as she returns to camp to give Jason some good chase for the money, before performing junior-level psych on his mommy-loving brain and seemingly killing him with a well-placed whack of the machete. Cue fade, and inevitable next sequel...
If the attraction of the 'Friday the 13th' series has always been about its predictable if still-pleasurable parade of slasher conventions, it is also a series that lives and dies by its direction. I will go out on a limb and say I think Steve Miner's piloting of 'Part 2' is the tightest of any of the 'Friday' flicks, and this even ranks as his best film. His first turn in the helmer's chair, Miner is all youthful exuberance, and he's unapologetic to simply carbon copy the original, but make it faster and more visually adept, and employ sturdier production values. This is still a pretty low-budget flick, but it nicely balances the dark, woodsy roughness of the original with a slicker color palette and some nice Steadicam work. Watch how Miner darts in and out of the confined cabin interiors as Steel attempts to allude the speedy Jason in the film's last couple of reels. There's nothing new in 'Part 2,' but Miner makes it so zippy it almost feels fresh.
Newfound slickness aside, the "characters" in 'Part 2' are again wafer thin. We get the usual types: the slut, the good girl, the geek, and even a wheelchair bound hunk. But Steel's heroine Ginny rates as my pick for the best Final Girl in the 'Friday' series (and, next to Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode, perhaps the entire slasher cycle). Steel is the rare slasher star who can actually act, and let's give her kudos for selling Ginny's ludicrous-on-paper speech about the "lost and lonely little boy" Jason without hysterical laughing. Critics can mock the 'Friday the 13th' series all they want, but Jason is undeniably a pop culture icon, and his beginnings were really cemented here, in 'Part 2,' and not in the original 'Friday the 13th.' That this one-dimensional character now has any dimension at all is, in part, thanks to Steel's delivery of some pretty ridiculous backstory.
Despite improvements in character and quality in 'Part 2,' is this a great horror film, or even a good movie? I suppose not. I'm sure my continued appreciation and enjoyment of it is colored by nostalgia (and the fact, I will freely admit, that I'm totally biased, having written a hardcover tome about the entire 'Friday' series, "Crystal Lake Memories," available now at your local bookstore). But I still think it is the leanest and meanest of the franchise, and it's refreshing to watch it now, as it's free of the gimmicks that so weigh down the later, more desperate entries in the series. 'Friday the 13th Part 2' is as straight-ahead as Jason's ax. It's to-the-point, unpretentious, atmospheric, and often-still-suspenseful slasher fun -- this was the glory days of Jason. So if you only see one 'Friday the 13th' sequel, I say it should be this one.
'Friday the 13 Part 2' was released on DVD back in the late 1990s, and looked pretty good. Paramount remastered the film for a deluxe edition DVD earlier this year, and now, a few months late, it arrives on Blu-ray. (Both releases utilize the same high-def master.) Presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (soft-matted to 1.78:1), this is the best version yet. It doesn't totally surmount the film's low-budget origins, but 'Part 2' looks quite nice.
The old DVD had a somewhat dodgy source (with sporadic blemishes and dirt), but this upgrade is cleaner. Blacks are solid and much more consistent, and I didn't detect much of any print flaws. The image is also brighter, with better contrast and depth. Colors, too, seem more vibrant, especially reds and greens. Film grain, however, is quite prominent, especially during low-light shots that can look fuzzy. Sharpness is slightly improved, though the film still is soft by modern standards. Framing is also spot-on, with none of the close-cropping found on Paramount's recent Blu-ray of of the original 'Friday the 13th' (which came from the international cut and was more zoomed-in versus the old R-rated DVD version). I noticed no artifacting problems, save for some slight noise and very slight edginess. All in all, I was pleased with this transfer.
(Note: Though there was talk of seeing an unrated version of 'Friday the 13th Part 2' on Blu-ray, sadly only the R-rated theatrical cut is included. According to Paramount, the original lost gore footage remains unfound, so as of this writing, it appears we will likely not see an unexpurgated version of 'Part 2' anytime soon.)
Paramount has remixed Jason, too, in Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit). The audio, particularly the score, doesn't benefit hugely from the refresh, but it does sound a bit better than the Blu-ray of 'Friday the 13th.'
Though the 'Friday' scores by Harry Manfredini are immediately identifiable and classic, they were recorded fairly economically, and sometimes the elements sound brittle and harsh; particularly the shrieking strings, which can grate. There's also little dimension to the 5.1 mix. Low bass still sounds flat, and the rear channels are pretty dull, with faint bleed and processed surrounds (when they are audible at all). Dialogue is probably the main improvement, as I found the mix more understandable and background chatter more distinct. But this is no great 5.1 remix -- keep your expectations in check.
Okay, now the big disappointment of this first-ever "Deluxe Edition." For reasons I understand to be time and budgetary in nature, Paramount did not opt to interview much of any cast and crew of 'Friday the 13th Part 2.' Unlike the DVD/Blu-ray releases of the rest of the Paramount 'Friday' series, which at least have some talent participation, there's really nobody from the film here at all, aside from convention-shot material. So I'll be honest -- I'm grateful to have my book plugged on this disc, but I'm not tooting my horn to say that I'm the only person that appears here who has anything new to offer on the making of the film. I wish there had been more done here for the fans. (Most of the video extras are presented in full HD, with the same subtitle options as the main feature.)
'Friday the 13th Part 2' gets my vote for the most well-made of the early 'Friday' sequels. The plot is just a re-do of the original, but it promotes Jason to star villain, is fast-paced, and features a great Final Girl in Amy Steel. This Blu-ray boasts a nicely upgraded picture, decent audio, and disappointing extras. It is not really the special edition I, or fans, likely hoped for, but delivers on the bottom line. If you're a Jason fan, 'Friday the 13th Part 2' should probably be in your Blu-ray collection.
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