Friday the 13th is a great slasher film that gets a lot of things right. And horror fans owe it a debt of gratitude for introducing us to Jason Voorhees and for helping to solidify the slasher film formula introduced in flicks like Black Christmas and Halloween. With that said, I would argue that Friday the 13th isn’t the best flick in the franchise. Being first doesn’t always equate to being the best and this is one of those cases. I’m of the mind that Friday the 13th Part 2 (which turns 40 today) is better than the original.
The series’ sophomore effort took what worked about the first and built upon that, subsequently paving the way for a storied franchise with a number of really exceptional entries (and a few that didn’t quite land).
Why is Friday the 13th Part 2 a superior effort to the first? Well, the 1980 original is thrilling and scary and enjoyable. But the fatal flaw is that it fails to establish Mrs. Voorhees as a character until mere moments before she’s revealed to be the killer.
As a lot of slashers do, Friday the 13th follows the giallo structure. But it breaks from giallo conventions and doesn’t introduce us to the killer until just before she is revealed as the antagonist. Friday the 13th would have been an even better film if it had worked Mrs. Voorhees into the script early on and leaned into the murder mystery angle a bit more. As it stands, the way we meet her feels almost like an afterthought. However, that’s not a concern with the second installment. Friday the 13th Part 2 breaks from the giallo conventions out of the gat and clues us in that Jason is the killer.
Friday the 13th Part 2 also upped the stakes with a bitchin’ cast of characters that are hard not to like. Each of the key players feels like someone you wouldn’t mind spending time with. This is a sequel that doesn’t just cast supporting players to set them up as cannon fodder. You don’t want these characters to die and when they do, it’s upsetting. I’m not knocking the cast of the original. There are some great characters in that flick. But the cast of Friday the 13th Part 2 is quite possibly the most relatable in the franchise at large.
I can’t touch on the cast without spending some time talking about the film’s final girl. Ginny is a smart and resourceful character. And making her a child psychology student was a wise choice. That background gives her a leg up when she faces off with Jason. And she uses that leg up to better her chances of survival at the end.
Ginny is empathetic and compassionate in a way that makes her hard not to like. She understands what may be motivating Jason and stops to consider his experience before passing judgment. She’s one of very few characters in the franchise to take stock of how the trauma Jason has endured has informed the person he has become. Moreover, she stays cool under pressure and keeps her wits about her when most people would be hysterical.
So many characters in horror films attempt to overtake the killer by brute force alone. And that is a natural response. But the fact that Ginny attempts to appeal to Jason on a psychological level is insightful and makes her that much more noteworthy.
In addition to a great cast of characters, Friday the 13th Part 2 also boasts some terrific jump scares that get the timing just right. Upon re-watching it for the first time in a while, I was taken with how effective director Steve Miner’s timing is. The musical cues and the mounting sense of dread really work well together to deliver some noteworthy scares.
Friday the 13th Part 2 strikes a great balance between paying tribute to the original and carving out its own path. I love that we see Alice and Crazy Ralph briefly but this follow up effort is really its own beast. Straying too far from the original in a sequel can alienate viewers. But if a follow up effort is too similar to its predecessor, that is also problematic. Friday the 13th Part 2 really finds the right balance and is everything a sequel should be. It’s enjoyable and respectful to its predecessor without being a rehash. Hell, it even improves upon the first film. And it’s hard to ask for more than that.