A Nite to Dismember is Nitehawk’s annual Halloween movie marathon, five back to back horror films played until the crack of dawn. For its second year, N2D features five of the best horror sequels ever made: Evil Dead II, The Bride of Frankenstein, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Return of the Living Dead.
Below, Fangoria editor Sam Zimmerman (@samdzimmerman) discusses the night’s third film, Friday the 13th Part 2.
“Did you know a young boy drowned…?” asks Pamela Voorhees in Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. This is a decent deal of time before the fright of our lives, before said young boy defies what we know to be the natural order of things and emerges ferociously—his sad deformity crafting a sort of sea monster—from Crystal Lake. But this brilliant nightmare, a terrifying epilogue by which to end one of the most iconic slashers of all time is ultimately a dreamy jolt. It’s Alice’s fractured mind, following a night of murder and campfire tales, at work. Surely, Jason couldn’t truly return.
He has, though. From the nightmare rendering of Crystal Lake, to a very real puddle of rain, this creature enters Friday the 13th Part 2 as human; simply a menacing, but significant, boot. He stamps down onto the wet street just after a young boy is called in to the house by his mother. Good thing, too. As we’ll come to see, the bogeyman is a physical, rough-handed entity. That boot is integral, it heralds not an elaborate legend like that which Stuart Charno’s Ted frightens his colleagues with around a campfire, but something primal and visceral and decidedly un-supernatural coming for us.
Here, before the hockey mask, before a totally raucous atmosphere descended on the Friday films is the best and likely eeriest entry. Director Steve Miner matches a hermit, forest-dwelling Jason with an ensemble of similarly down-to-earth kids. Paul (John Furey) is attempting to open a camp neighboring Crystal Lake and his would-be counselors are an endearing pack; playful, horny, adventurous and obnoxious, but not to the parodic heights at which subsequent slashers would take these personalities. Jeff, Sandra, Ted, Scott, Mark, Terry and Vickie are recognizable and sweet, anchored by the greatest of final girls, Ginny (Amy Steel).
Arriving late, and thusly introduced in a spotlight manner, Ginny is revealed to be an immediate leader. She has a humor about herself, and an utterly disarming smile. Our affinity for the charming and headstrong Ginny expands throughout the runtime and Miner’s clean, patient framing of it all (Kirsten Baker in the mirror, for example) lets the danger she and her compatriots are in speak for itself. That’s not to mention Ginny’s inherent kindess, finding empathy for a hypothetical, beastly Jason—that is of course until they meet.
Friday the 13th Part 2 leads to the best-directed final chase of any slasher, a taut sequence traversing the entire camp in which Miner alternates still, anticipatory compositions; frightful close-ups and even propulsive, roaming longish takes that make the stakes real. Likely the best moment is when the traveling camera meets Ginny around the corner of a cabin (as if the lens is another stalker) and follows breathlessly, in one shot, as she unsuccessfully attempts to get in a car and then proceeds to crouch in front of it. Miner stays with Ginny, leaving the frame open to catch baghead Jason (i.e. creepiest Jason) seeking her out.
Of course, it extends greatly from there, with similar set ups seeing Ginny frightfully confront a rat under a cabin bed and eventually happen upon Jason’s ghoulish hideaway. Throughout it all, both Ginny and Jason are resourceful, tactful (Ginny acting as Pamela, Jason slyly standing on a chair) and even human: Ginny sadly soils herself under that bed, while Jason’s stalking nature withers and cowers at a chainsaw. This of course makes Ginny’s earlier empathy reinforce a Universal Monster quality within the killer.
It’s this level playing field, forcing a knockdown, drag-out fight to survive that sees Friday the 13th Part 2 endure as the most affecting, frightful and engaging of the series. Its jolts are real, proving a late night treat for our all night ‘thon.