Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
Along with Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) ushered in a new era of slasher films that would forever change the nature of modern horror. Friday the 13th became the surprise hit of 1980, when Paramount decided to take an independent, no-budget film and distribute it nationally. It soon spawned countless imitators and a whopping ten sequels to date, along with a 2009 remake. Paramount was quick to make moves for a sequel following the impressive box office takings, and originally conceived the series as a discontinuous set of films, until theatre owner and co-writer Phil Scuderi insisted on the waterlogged Jason Voorhees returning for the sequel. Thus horror royalty was born.
It has been five years since the events on Camp Crystal Lake, and survivor Alice (Adrienne King) is getting on with her life in the only way she knows how: wearing purple plaid jumpsuits in the middle of nowhere. Her recurring nightmares become a reality when a mysterious attacker with sensible boots and casual slacks gets the jump on her. Meanwhile, a group of counselors is in training for the first to visit the area around the lake since the killings. Jason doesn’t take too kindly to these nubiles sexing up his woods, and harbours some resentment for the decapitation of his mother in the first outing.
In Friday the 13th – Part 2, the mandate was to replicate the success of the original, right down to the plot. Yet for a film that boldly advertises that “The body count continues…”, surprisingly little happens for the first 40 minutes or so of the film. Indeed, with one of the longest pre-credits scenes in film history, at least 10% of the slender running time is taken up with recaps and credits, leaving not much more than an hour to deal with the paltry 9 killings. Only four years later, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning would dispatch 22 meat bags, a definite sign of the times. For a while, director Miner plays with our preconceptions, and the lack of activity at signpost moments is done with a tongue firmly planted in cheek. Yet this inevitability falls away to routine once Jason appears.
This second chapter retains its significance for being the first to feature Jason as the primary killer, even if he was wearing a potato sack on his head. Although the trademark hockey mask wouldn’t appear until Part 3, Friday the 13th – Part 2 firmly established a pattern that would never change: increasingly stupid and scantily clad nubiles placing themselves in danger and a body count that became more important than any other element. It was the beginning of the end for mainstream horror in many ways, but despite negative reviews, it naturally went on to make a truckload of money. If Friday the 13th has become a parody of itself, and a low benchmark for horror, we’ve only got ourselves to blame.