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A Storytelling Autopsy: Friday The 13th Part 2

What follows is not a review, or even a proper critical evaluation of FRIDAY THE 13TH- PART II.  Instead, I'll try to peel back the storytelling mechanics to explain why the film still haunts us.

(warning: spoilers follow, in the improbable case you haven't seen the film.)

As the final act of FRIDAY THE 13TH begins, protagonist and ultimate survivor Alice brings water to boil in a tea kettle.  This sequence is just one of many “calm” moments preceding major shock sequences.  This, however, would be the last.  From the moment Brenda's body is hurled through the cabin's window onward, the original FRIDAY moves with breathless energy, hurtling the viewer down the last dips, turns, and drops of one of cinema's greatest roller coaster rides.  Although it couldn't have been planned at the time, that simple unfinished pot of tea would prove a valuable tool in establishing the “rules” of the film's sequel, FRIDAY THE 13TH- PART II.

As the film opens, Alice is dreaming, again, of the terrible day and night at Camp Blood.  This opening has duel purposes:  it reminds the viewer of the story up to that point, a helpful tool in the early days of home video, but it also establishes Alice as the narrator.  We share her dream and wake up with her in an empty apartment.  We feel her paranoia rise.  A shower- and then a phone call- is cut short.  Without any visual or audible clue, she- and we- sense that something is wrong.  And then Alice reaches for the refrigerator door.

Alice's murder is swift and shocking.  Punctuating the brutal murder, her killer removes the tea kettle from the stove and slams it down.  The message is clear: this is still FRIDAY THE 13TH and no one-- NO ONE-- is safe.

While no one would accuse FRIDAY II of deviating from the original's rigidly-designed framework, a subtle shift within the storytelling logic nudges the film into uncharted territory.  Whereas Alice was an artist, Ginny is a psychology student.  This gentle bit of character information does more than set up the penultimate confrontation with Jason, in which Ginny assumes the persona of Mrs. Voorhees to deceive Jason.  The original film is full of artistic touches (the shots of the docks as the storm breaks/the face of the moon interrupting the climatic chase/the reoccurring imagery: drowning, decapitation, etc), the sequel turns its attention to more rational concepts.

Ginny posits that Jason might not have drowned at all and witnessed his mother's death, an idea that conflicts entirely with the first film's campfire logic.  But, because this is Ginny's dream as she's wheeled out of the massacre on a stretcher, her concept is reality.  Jason didn't drown after all.  He saw his mother killed.  He's there for revenge.  The film goes a step further to punctuate this: here we actually get the campfire legend presented in its natural setting.  Paul breathlessly relays the story of Jason's death and Mrs. Voorhees' revenge.  But then Ted jumps out from the woods in a Halloween mask.  It's a cheap scare.  And with that, the filmmakers dismiss the  original film's lyrical structure.

To underscore the change, PART II reintroduces Crazy Ralph, the handshake character that established the first film's urban legend in just a few words, “You're all doomed”.  Ralph repeats his scene, nearly verbatim, but again it's played for laughs.  Not much later, the prophet of doom is removed from the narrative.  It's worth noting that his throat is slit with barbed wire, visually silencing his voice.

FRIDAY THE 13TH- PART II offers a wider range of characters.  This limits the scope of the movie, as it becomes impossible for them all to receive equal screen time.  There's no attempt to hide the identity of the main characters.  Ginny and Paul dominate the story.  It's no surprise when we follow them on their “last night out” to the local bar.  In fact, when they leave, so do we.  In doing so, we leave a large number of characters behind.  Ted, the prankster, serves as a visual reminder that a dozen or so character have left the stage when he asks a local if there are any after hours bars around.

Returning to the camp, we follow Ginny and Paul as they explore the site of the massacre.  These scenes almost exactly mirror the sequence in the original where Alice and Bill search for their missing friends.  It's at this point, precisely as Ginny yelps, “There's someone in this FUCKING ROOM-” that FRIDAY II separates itself from its progenitor and becomes its own film.  The chase that follows is protracted and elaborate.  The dizzying changes in location- under beds, inside her car, through the camp, into Jason's lair- matches Ginny's paranoia and terror exactly.  She's fighting the battle both literally and figuratively, both on the camp grounds and inside her head, Crystal lake is indistinguishable from the labyrinth in her mind.

The close-calls and near misses (and unlikely rodent encounters) all lead up to a single moment: Ginny pulls Mrs. Voorhees' sweater over her head, pulls back her hair, and plots to strike down the “boy trapped in a man's body” with a machete.  Here, Ginny is weaponizing her studies in psychology, turning a healing art into a killing trap.  Could she really have brought the blade down and killed Jason?  Apparently not, since her dream disallows a fair resolution to the question and resurrects Paul to rush in and save her.  We have no reason to believe Paul survived his initial assault.  Nor is it likely that he would have been able to find Jason's shack so far from the camp.  Nevertheless, he's back, alive, and puts up a good fight against a man twice his size wearing a flour sack over his head.

It's only when Paul's life is threatened that Ginny finally is able to strike, delivering a massive blow that nearly severs Jason's shoulder and arm from his body.  Shocked and numb, she insists on removing his mask.  Here's the crucial moment: just like the audience, she wants to know what she's looking at, a monster out of local myth or a malformed backwoods psychopath.  Is he a boogyman, or something less exotic.  At this point, we don't his face, or get the answer.

If Paul's rebirth is astounding, then the reappearance of Muffin the dog, seen earlier reduced to Dinty Moore, should tip off viewers that the film we're watching is not, in any way, meant as a literal narrative of hard events.  Muffin is the new tea kettle, a distraction before the last hurrah.  When Jason does appear for his final bow, breaking through a window and the story's fourth wall simultaneously, it feels almost perfunctory.  The movie has tried too hard to make him into a man instead of a monster, a psychological being rather than the creature in the closet.  This final jump scare is a pale imitation of the original specifically because the film does not support it.

We next see Ginny awaking on a stretcher.  As she's carried out of the camp, she asks about Paul.  No one answers.  We're never given any more clarity, but the most obvious conclusion would seem to be that Paul didn't survive his initial battle with Jason at all.  He never saved Ginny in Jason's shack.  Whatever did happen, she faced it alone.  Perhaps her trick did work and she did strike down Jason.  After all, the events at the opening of the next film put Jason on the floor of the shack recovering from his wounds.

Audiences didn't have long to heal from their own.
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