At this point, I’ve been a fan of the Friday the 13thfranchise for most of my life. It was my gateway into horror. Because of that, I’ve grown to read deeply—often far too deeply—into a lot of these movies and particularly into Jason as a character. These are all films I’ve seen far too often. It’s become one of my favorite things to watch any of them for the umpteenth time and pick out things I hadn’t noticed before, details that are sometimes intentional and often times probably not. Sometimes they’re little character quirks that help me to appreciate the movie with new eyes, or contextualize it with the rest of the franchise. Some things are so noticeable that you think they have to be intentional, even when you understand that there’s almost no way that they could be.
That, in particular, brings me to Friday the 13th Part 2 and its characterization of Jason. So much of what I love in this first sequel stems from its portrayal of Jason, especially with how well it works alongside the rest of the franchise. Because, after all, this is Jason’s first time out as the Crystal Lake Killer and it really genuinely feels like that in ways that truly work, whether they were planned or not.
Friday the 13thwas, obviously, a massive success. Had it not been, I don’t think anyone involved would be shy about admitting there never would have been a sequel at all. Neither Sean Cunningham or Victor Miller agree on very much these days, but they both have said that at the time they thought a sequel with Jason taking over the mantle of killer was the stupidest thing in the world. Cunningham would continue to say so for years before eventually returning to the franchise to produce Jason Goes to Hell, even though he still had yet to really have any kind of love for the character at the time.
Steve Miner of course took over as director for Part 2 and deserves a lot of credit for the shaping of Jason as a killer, especially cinematically. The POV shots that defined the first are still a part of the second, but give way to more obscure framing, showing us the killer’s feet or hands—which were absolutely a part of the first movie as well, but had a little less focus.
Friday the 13th Part 2 makes an almost immediate improvement to the original by clearly setting up Jason from the beginning. The original film had much more mystery surrounding the killer. There was a dark past to Crystal Lake, to be sure, it was a place where terrible things happened from time to time, but no one had ever really known who did any of them. That was why the camp had remained closed for so long. Every time they tried to open it up, things went south and they had to cancel, and this Friday the 13th is shaping up to be the most extreme case of an attempt-to-reopen-gone-horribly-wrong to date. The ultimate reveal of the killer is less than satisfactory for many people, as great a character as Mrs. Voorhees is, because she’s introduced into the movie only minutes before announcing herself as the villain.
Part 2, on the other hand, sets up Jason from its opening minutes. It uses what the filmmakers were insistent on not being a sequel setup (Jason’s popping out of the lake and Alice dreamily saying “He’s still there”) to set up the sequel so that everyone would know who the villain would be this time around. This death, more than maybe any in the franchise, truly feels like a revenge. Even if Alice has returned to the lake to help get her through the memory of her ordeal with some exposure therapy, Jason still comes for her in her home. She opens the fridge to find his mother’s severed head. He’s setting this up to confront her with what she did, moments before ramming an ice pick through her skull.
There’s something very premeditated about Alice’s murder compared to the rest of Friday the 13th Part 2. Once the movie shifts to its new group of counselors, there’s much more open talk about Jason. There’s a name associated with the badness of the area. Jason has become a local legend, a kind of urban myth, or a boogeyman in the vein of Cropsey. Which is interesting to note, as the Cropsey legend more directly inspired another summer camp slasher, The Burning, that very same year. Jason is literally a story told around the campfire to scare kids or—in this case—even the counselors. While slashers obviously have room for the prototypical murder mystery, this movie does a very good job of explicitly stating exactly who the killer is and the impact that their presence has had on the general area, whether people believe in the legend or not.
This reputation for Jason is manufactured as a campfire story that’s apparently been around for years, which is interesting to note as this is actually Jason’s first go-round as the central killer. The backstory does a great deal in establishing the version of Jason that the film depicts, but it’s the actual characterization that’s really interesting to me. The way Jason is portrayed is literally pitch-perfect when comparing this sequel to the rest of the franchise. This is the first time we’re seeing Jason do it on his own and it could not work better as such, even if it wasn’t intentional.
Because this honestly feels like Jason Begins, even if the film is not told from his POV. In Friday the 13th Part 2, Jason makes a lot of rookie mistakes. It’s so noticeable that it almost has to be intentional, to some degree. Obviously, he still gets the job done. But when it comes down to that final showdown with Ginny, especially, he’s extremely clumsy. Jason literally loses track of her at one point, he tries to get the jump on her by standing on a chair, only for that chair to break underneath him. He accidentally gets spotted by the police, who even discover his hand-made home in the woods, nearly outing his presence permanently. He tries to hide and it doesn’t go well, he tries to fight but is genuinely surprised when someone gets the upper hand on him. Hell, when Ginny comes at him with the chain saw, he’s flat-out scared.
These are all things that Jason would get much better about as the franchise went on from here. Part 3 depicts Jason as a much more confident killer, though even then he’s not completely there yet as he still throws a big baby tantrum when he can’t find Chris in the barn at the end of the movie. He gradually comes into his own, cementing himself as a confident mass murdering psychopath as those early movies go on. But in Part 2, he’s genuinely not there yet. And while it’s funny to a degree, it’s also legitimately endearing to watch.
Ginny also proves to be the perfect protagonist to go up against this earliest incarnation of Jason. This film features the killer as an actual central character for the first time, and her obsession with trying to get to the bottom of the campfire story is so perfectly, ironically balanced with a Jason who does not totally have the hang of what he’s doing. Ginny is clearly right about his devotion to his mother, at the very least, but there’s also a lot speculation on her part while Jason is more than anything just trying to figure out if he’s any good at this whatsoever.
Even the killer’s very different appearance—as this was obviously pre-hockey mask—works so well when you consider Part 2 to be Jason’s trial run. Let’s switch genres for a second to consider the superhero origin story. This is such a staple of that kind of tale, both on the page and on the screen. Most cinematic versions of Batman and Spider-Man have seen the killer wear some kind of lo-fi early costume before settling on their iconic look. The first season of Daredevil sees Matt Murdock don a black bandana and tight shirt as his superhero costume before revealing his more classic suit in the finale, a move which many superhero shows have tried to imitate since.
This is obviously unintentional on the part of this first Friday sequel for many reasons, not the least of them being that the hockey mask in Part III is something that was kind of made up on the fly and just happened to be the mask they wound up going with as they started that production. But it works so well in retrospect. It has so much in common with that archetypal origin story, even if Jason is still wisely framed in the background—not even shown in full until the last act—while much more screen time is given to the new cast of characters and to Ginny in particular.
In the 2000s, when both the superhero move boom and the horror remake craze were happening at the same time, there were much more direct correlations between the superhero origin movies and the slasher reboots, many of which were more explicitly told from the killer’s perspective. In fact, Batman Begins and Rob Zombie’s Halloween have almost identical pacing. Both of those types of films at the time revolved around meek people who suffered some kind of traumatic childhood event, grew up being told that there was something different about them that made them special, being unsatisfied with the world around them before ultimately deciding to take matters into their own hands. The only difference was that they fundamentally fall on different right/wrong dichotomy that both kinds of films represent.
Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn’t at all go to that extreme, but there is DNA of what would be done with those slasher reboots in it. And the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13this certainly included in that, to the point that it actually does see Jason don Part 2’s burlap sack before settling on his iconic hockey mask and updating his look in the classic comic book movie tradition.
With Jason’s trial-and-error approach to murder and Ginny’s fixation not only on psychology but specifically the psychology of Jason, it’s perfect that the showdown between the two ultimately ends with her manipulating him into thinking that she’s his dead mother. Just seeing Ginny put on that dead woman’s sweater shows how far she’s willing to go to survive, as well as her commitment to her own belief that Jason is driven by this connection to his mother. Although, that’s a pretty easy conclusion to jump to when she’s confronted with a shrine containing the woman’s severed head. The fact that Jason falls for it is no surprise, and not only because he’s a relatively easy character to outsmart. It all goes back to the fact that he’s never really done this before. He’s liable to fall for anything when he’s got chairs unexpectedly collapsing under his weight.
And this clumsier approach to Jason is honestly great. It’s not taking anything away from the character, it’s not making him less intimidating whatsoever, but it is showing what a learning curve this first massacre is for him and I think that approach is ultimately endearing. It’s a stepping stone for the character and the franchise, it’s setting up who he is and what he’s about, twisting and reinventing the mythology in clever ways—as well as inventing most of it from the ground up. There’s a lot more going on in Friday the 13th Part 2 than it’s often given credit for, and that stems from the villain all the way down to the lively, energetic ensemble of would-be counselors. It’s a movie you can watch as both a simple and effective slasher of the era or as “baby’s first massacre” and enjoy almost equally, because it is both things and it does both of them very well.