FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 2 - Blu-ray review

The new camp counselors are interchangeable with the old ones. Different faces, same basic people.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Was there ever a less-deserving movie franchise than the "Friday the 13" series? The first movie was kind of fun in a silly, campy, primitive sort of way, and the rest of the movies have been almost identical to it in plot and characters. There hasn't even been much variation on the theme: A vicious, unstoppable killer in a remote summer camp murders a host of stupid, horny college kids in ever more gruesome ways. The only dubious pleasure for the audience is in guessing which dumb character is going to get it next and in what grisly fashion.

Now, what do you mean you want to know about the plot of 1981's "Friday the 13th, Part 2"? I thought I just told you. They're all the same. OK, here's the deal: It's been five years since a maniac murdered most of the counselors at New Jersey's Camp Crystal Lake (although it was only a year after they made the first movie). So what happens? The county condemns the old place, but they let somebody else build a new summer camp just a hop, skip, and a jump away. A new set of victims, er, counselors--college kids working the summer--show up early for training, and the killer murders most of them by the end of the picture.

You see, there's this boy, Jason Voorhees (played by Warrington Gillette in the unmasking scene and by stuntman Steve Dash in the rest of the show), that everyone thinks drowned in Crystal Lake. But he didn't. Instead, he witnessed his mother's decapitation at the hands of a camp counselor, and he's been hiding out ever since, keen on killing every camp counselor he can find. He's got a shack in the woods where nobody has noticed him all these years.

Several characters return from the first installment. The first is Adrienne King as camp counselor Alice Hardy. I read that in real life an obsessed fan stalked the actress, and she wanted no more part of the films. She asked that the screenwriter, Ron Kurz, write her out of the story, which he did, dispatching her character in quick order. She gets a few minutes at the beginning, mostly in a flashback to the first movie in order to provide some back story for the new one, and then a few more minutes shortly into the plot. Afterwards, the actress stayed away from appearing in any movie of any kind for over twenty-five years.

The other returnees are Walt Gorney as Crazy Ralph ("You're all doomed") and Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees (mostly in archival footage). I rather liked them, but they would not make any more return visits, either.

The new camp counselors are interchangeable with the old ones. Different faces, same basic people. There is the designated dork, and a flock of beautiful young folks. The acting is uniformly awful, but they're all cute, so it doesn't matter. The plot is nonexistent: Crazed killer massacres counselors, one by one, as they wander off alone into the woods or to their cabins or they decide to have sex. Jason doesn't seem interested in watching.

So, all that's left for the audience is a series of guessing games: Which character will die first, which girl will take her top off first, things like that. This time we not only get a few topless shots, but a few bottomless ones, too. It's not much, but it's all you're going to get.

The two new leads are John Furey as Paul, the head counselor, and Amy Steel as Ginny, his assistant. Paul tells all the fledgling counselors to stay away from the old campgrounds, now designated "Camp Blood" by the locals, which, naturally, makes an open invitation for some of the youngsters to head over there.

This was director Steve Miner's first film, and he would go on to do "Part 3" and the much better "House" (no, not the television show, the horror movie). His job here is mainly to set up a succession of red herrings; you know, those misleading clues that make you worry for a moment but turn out to be nothing. He and the scriptwriter do it so often that when something serious really does happen, we don't care. It's like the boy who cried wolf. And again we have Harry Manfredini's musical background score, sounding more than ever like Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho," with a little of John Williams's "Jaws" thrown in for good measure.

We also get a whole slew of point-of-view shots from Jason's perspective. Jason, you understand, is one of those villains who is everywhere at once, creeping around a side of the lake one moment and lurking outside a cabin on the other side of the lake a minute later. Wherever you expect him, that's where he'll be. Maybe he's looking for his hockey mask. That's the only thing he doesn't find in the movie. Instead, he's just good ol' "Sack Head."

It looks like the filmmakers got so confused with "Friday the 13th, Part 2," they couldn't even decide on the title. On the opening screen, it reads "Part 2," an Arabic numeral. On the original trailer, it reads "Part II," a Roman numeral. If they couldn't coordinate something that simple, you can understand why maybe they'd screw up the details of the plot, too. Actually, rather than a plot, we get scene after scene of clichés. It's nighttime and a female is alone by the lake, so of course she takes her clothes off for a skinny-dip. The monster is chasing another female, who jumps in a car, so of course the car won't start. If they had had cell phones back then, the batteries would have died. There's even a little "Texas Chainsaw" thrown in; the script doesn't miss a beat.

The movie generates virtually no tension and no suspense, largely because we know in advance who's going to die, and we don't know enough about the characters to care about what happens to any of them. The oddball ending (be sure to watch the disc's accompanying featurettes) begs for a sequel, which, unfortunately, we get. Again and again.

Paramount do their part in transferring the movie to Blu-ray in its theatrical aspect ratio, 1.85:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec. But it's hard to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. This was a low-budget production, after all, and the toll of close to three decades can't have helped matters. The video engineers appear to have cleaned up the print as best they could, but without a full, frame-by-frame restoration, they left some shortcomings unresolved.

The picture quality varies from exceptionally bright and clear to muddy, fuzzy, blurry, and rough, with everything in between. Colors are usually pretty good, although facial tones tend to be too dark much of the time. Daylight shots come off best; dark, nighttime shots worst. In the darker scenes, where the film's natural print grain is most evident, the passage of time seems to have exacerbated the situation. Black levels vary considerably, too, sometimes deep, yet often fading into bluish-gray, particularly at the edges of each frame. Detailing comes off only so-so.

The English audio options here are the film's original 1.0 monaural and a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix. The main virtue of the TrueHD is that it's smooth and agreeable. Just don't expect anything approaching a modern blockbuster soundtrack. There is a fairly restricted front-channel stereo spread and very little activity in the rear speakers beyond a touch of musical ambiance and a little rainfall. Dynamics, bass, and treble are likewise modest at best. Let's say the audio is better than ever but a long ways from state-of-the-art.

The extras don't amount to much, but at least most of them are in high def. The first thing is an eleven-minute featurette titled "Inside 'Crystal Lake Memories'" (HD), where host Del Howison interviews Peter Bracke, author of a book about the "Friday the 13th" series called "Crystal Lake Memories." Next is a seven-minute featurette, "Friday's Legacy: Horror Conventions" (HD), on the appeal of such conferences for fans and stars alike. Then there's another "Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 2" (HD), a nine-minute drudge. And, finally, saving the best for last, "Jason Forever," a thirty-minute panel discussion filmed in 2004, hosted by Peter Bracke, and featuring four of the actors who played Jason over the years: Ari Lehman, Warrington Gillette, C.J. Graham, and Kane Hodder. Their recollections of making the films are more fun than the films ever were.

The extras wrap up with fourteen scene selections; an original theatrical trailer (HD); bookmarks; pop-up menus; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
With the appearance of a new "Friday the 13th" remake, both Paramount and New Line seem to be issuing Blu-ray and special-edition DVDs of every "Friday the 13th" movie they can find. In addition to this BD of "Friday the 13th, Part 2" and the BD release of the original movie, we get "Friday the 13th, Part 3-D" (BD), "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" (DVD), "Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning" (DVD), "Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives" (DVD), and the new "Friday the 13th" remake (BD and DVD).

Whatever the number of "Friday the 13th" movies there are now, it's too many, with "Part 2" among the worst of the bunch.


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