Director: Steve Miner
Screenplay: Ron Kurz and Phil Scuderi
Cast: Amy Steel (as Ginny Field); John Furey (as Paul Holt); Adrienne King (as Alice Hardy); Warrington Gillette (as Jason Voorhees); Walt Gorney (as Crazy Ralph)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #17
Regardless of my opinion of the first Friday the 13th, I'll actively remind myself continually that Part 2 is a significantly better film than the original. A great deal of my problems with the original are completely excised and replaced with something significantly better. The feel of the seventies is still here and, more so than the first, the backwoods atmosphere is significantly more palpable here. Having scenes in the broad daylight that are tension building, not just for blank dialogue like the first, really helps emphasising that no one is safe, and the lush American woodlands here is even more atmospheric distinct. Rather than just a set the woodland here in the sequel is both a beautiful place but also dangerous without killers in it with bears and dark passages in the middle of it. If anything it does signpost that Steve Miner is significantly better than Sean S. Cunningham at least in terms of these Friday the 13th films in direction, at least in the sense that when you get a prolonged moment of a kettle boiling on a stove its actually used to build up dread rather than wasting time like in the first.
Another huge advantage is that the characters are actually likable. There's some strange aspects - Muffin the dog is cute, but I wasn't expecting a full blown theatrical reveal for her at the end of the film usually expected for non-canine human beings - but there're characters here that are so much more interesting to the point you actually care for them, a rarity in slashes that's a significant advantage for this one. Amy Steel, with the best surname for a final girl actress, is so much more charismatic and given a character in Ginny whose more rewarding - resilient with intelligence but with clear grit to her. That grit drastically contrasts that obnoxious virgin parallel with final girls in these films, something clearly obvious in how she basks with a beer at the bar, with the attitude of a grown woman, contemplating the possible innocence of Jason Voorhees before everything went wrong for his family. All the characters are likable even if they're one note, to the point one's death is actually tragic connected to how everything was looking great for them, done in at such a cruel moment and in a rare moment for a slasher you actually feel pain for their death.
There's still flaws sadly but they're more things that should've been fixed rather than sabotaging the film completely. Harry Manfredini's score is still overbearing to a detriment. The chase scenes in the last act as well, while far more engaging, do become repetitious; I've always found the more slower, dramatic moments in horror cinema more engaging, chase scenes unless you're the best like in Halloween (1978) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) always in danger of coming more off like action scenes than something for the horror genre, meant to be more contemplative or moody unless you get the tone right. Crazy Ralph (Gorney), from the first film, is a comical character who doesn't work, like a parody of a character from a horror film, but he thankfully only has a small role before [spoiler] he thankfully buys the farm. and, while the controversy over this film taking scenes from Mario Bava's A Bay of Blood (1971) are not that problematic for me, the censorship to the film scuppers the recreation of the spear scene from the first film to an immense detriment.
Thankfully everything else is solid, a lot more done right here. The opening sequence, crushing the hopes of the fans of the first film and effectively crushing the prequel at the same time, does work as it appropriate sets up how no one is safe. Having likable characters helps build up fear as much as having a villain who is far more a prescience throughout the film from the beginning; borrowing the sack from The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) helps as does having a hulking figure in the shadows who is both clumsy, not safe when a chair collapses to pieces under him like for anyone, but still dangerous and resourceful. The sense that this feels more darker and sinister than the first film helps a lot, where even a sense of a character wetting themselves in fear doesn't come off as tasteless but a moment of anxiety before pulling themselves together. The only regret with this film is that it's stuck to the first like a Siamese twin. Despite the extensive use of prequel footage, you're stuck knowing that the first film has to exist to enjoy this one, and the fact that this ends up with a confused chronology as a result of doing this yet undermining plot points from the first to get a better narrative does cause a headache if you think about it too much. Unfortunately like many sequels, the timeline and mythology of the franchise was already existing in parallel dimensions from the second film onwards but at least Friday the 13th Part II is a significantly better work that can be enjoyed by itself, the prequel preferably buried somewhere to be forgotten for me while this did the premise better.