Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One Good Slice Deserves Another

If there's anything that is a constant now in the film world, it is this...if a film is financially successful and obviously a genre picture (action/horror/scifi/comedy) you can usually expect a sequel within a few years.  It's kinda like death and taxes...but it wasn't always that way.  Before the 1980s most successful films were stand-alone successes and sequels were usually only made for low-budget drive-in fare (such as the myriad of films in the Universal Monsters category).  Sequels just weren't considered viable.  However, all of that changed with the advent of the slasher film.  Suddenly, studios realized that they could repeat their financial success with a horror film by simply copying the basic formula of the first picture (Robert Shaye, producer of the Elm Street films and owner of New Line Cinema often equated it to the recipe for a good fast food cheeseburger...low substance and cost, but high customer satisfaction and turnaround).  This was particularly true with the Friday the 13th series, where each film was a pale variation of the last featuring a checklist of formula points: Isolated location? Check.  Eight to ten hormonal teens?  Check.  Plenty of sharp and blunt objects?  Check.  Final girl?  Check.  Villain?  Check.  However, the first sequel proved to be a bit of a challange for the filmmakers because they didn't yet realize what they had...so they essentially did a remake of the first film.  What they didn't count on was their soap opera caliber writing would yield a franchise villian that would become as famous and beloved as the Universal Monsters before him.  So check out the birth of Jason Voorhees as we venture into Friday the 13th Part 2.

One year has gone by since Alice survived the attacks of the deranged Mrs. Voorhees at Camp Crystal Lake.  She is trying to paint and move on with her life...however an unseen stalker cuts her healing short one night when she finds Mrs. Voorhees' head in her icebox and (shortly afterward) an ice pick in her skull.  Five years go by and a Counselor Training Camp has been set up on the other side of Camp Crystal Lake, regardless of the warnings from the locals who are still shaken by the tragedy of "Camp Blood".  The new counselor's-to-be at the camp soon share their tales of Jason Voorhees, the grown up son of Mrs. Voorhees who witnessed his mother's beheading and now stalks the woods waiting to kill any teenager who happens to wander into his stomping grounds.  Legend soon turns to fact as one-by-one the teens disappear and soon only Ginny Field, a plucky psychology students, is left to face off against a masked assailant.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is an excellent repeat of everything that worked well about the first film, minus an entire cast of likable kids.  In the original, the characters and the actors who played them did a fine job of setting themselves apart from one another and being individuals (well, as much of an individual that one can be in a 90 minute horror film).  In Part 2, however, the majority of the characters are simply rehashes of characters from the first film.  The only characters who really stand out are Ginny amd Mark (a wheelchair bound adonis).  All the rest are copies.  The performers are game, however, and seem willing and up to the task of being the newest victims.  That brings us to Jason, who is the only popular franchise villain (aside from Mary Lou in the Prom Night movies and Tiffany from Bride of Chucky) who was not introduced in the first film of his series.  He was an afterthought and a motive for Part 1 to even exist (Mrs. Voorhees killed everyone for letting her son, Jason, drown in the lake) and was rewriten as a "boo!" moment in the finale of Part 1 (much to original writer Victor Miller's chargin).  Suddenly, he is not only rewritten again as a hulking drowning survivor...but now he is also as murderous as his mother.  It is a hard logic leap to make, considering that they would have dragged the lake and recovered the body almost immediately...AND if no body was found, they would have done a forest wide search and found poor Jason alive and well, traumatized and offering Momma no reason to get back at anyone.  But hey, this is horror writing, not Shakespeare...and so here Jason is, all grown up and pissed off having survived living off the forest for something like 27 years.  He is wild, silent, and fast as he chases the hapless Ginny through the forest.  I don't think the filmmakers believed that there would be a Part 3 at this point so his mystique isn't fully established beyond "mongaloid mountain man".  He doesn't even have his trademark hockey mask here, using a simple burlap sack instead.  It still works as a scary image, and makes him more like the Universal Monsters of old, generic and nondescript.  In this way, Jason may be the most effective horror villain ever accidentally created.  If you liked the first, you'll enjoy this one as well.  If you didn't, I'd say keep away.  It's more of the same from here on in.

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