Friday, May 20, 2011

Mrs. Voorhees and Son

In a thoughtful and amusing guest editorial at Brutal As Hell, Jeff Martin argues why Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) could be the worst horror sequel ever. I myself think The Fly II deserves that title (and possibly the title of worst horror film ever), but that would be another post. My point here is to argue that far from being the worst horror sequel ever, Friday the 13th Part 2 is an imaginative follow-up to Friday the 13th (1980) that preserves most of what was pleasing about the original while taking the series in a new direction.

I am a latecomer to liking this series at all. When I first saw Friday the 13th years ago, I so despised it for what I took to be flat direction, imitativeness, sluggish pace, and weak characters that I fast-forwarded to the end rather than watching at the usual speed. Having just seen Ft13 again recently, it seems to have improved considerably. It is still not as good as Halloween, its most obvious source, but it has a crude simplicity and an elemental vigor. The combination of dark woods, moonlit lake, nubile camp counselors having sex, and assorted stabbings and slashings is effectively nightmarish. And there is much to be said for the deformed destructive being (DDB)--the slasher--who is revealed to be Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). A mannish, middle-aged woman who holds all camp counselors responsible for permitting the drowning of her little boy, Jason, decades ago, Mrs. Voorhees is appropriately creepy, saying sweet things and carrying a knife. She ends up beheaded.

However, where Ft13 tops itself is in the frisson in which the final girl, Alice, is resting in a canoe on the lake when the boy Jason, who is hideously deformed, emerges moss-covered from the waters to attack her. The police tell her it was a dream; she protests that it was real. In a logical, scientific universe, she couldn't be right--how could a boy survive all those years underwater? But in the horror movie universe, her dream--even if it was only a dream--is enough to leave the audience with an extra jolt of horror and unease, an extra bit of appreciation for a DDB (this time, Jason himself).

In the opening of Friday the 13th Part 2, Alice, shortly after the action of Ft13, is killed by an adult Jason. This adult Jason proceeds to kill a new set of camp counselors who have come to the lake. Again there are the dark woods, moonlit lake, nubile camp counselors having sex, stabbings/slashings, all about as effective as in the first movie. The difference is the DDB: not Mrs. Voorhees and the dreamlike water boy, but a full-grown man who walks on land, maintains a shrine to the head of his deceased mother, and wears a hood for most of the film as he avenges her death on all camp counselors. When his face is revealed, he is as monstrously deformed as the child glimpsed in Ft13. He is Jason.

This is too illogical for Martin, who, in his editorial, points out that Jason is "a dead child." That is true, if we are to believe Mrs. Voorhees. According to her, her son drowned as a child, and dead children do not grow up, much less walk around slashing people. But let us not forget that Mrs. Voorhees was crazy. Maybe she was so consumed with grief for what she thought was Jason's drowning that she didn't realize the boy survived. And maybe the boy was crazy too--crazy enough not to go home. Maybe, as local legend has it (according to Ft13-2), he survived on his own in the woods as a wild man, only emerging to avenge his mother when she got beheaded. The boylike water wraith who figured in the frisson of Ft13 was only Alice's dream. By then, the real Jason was all grown up, waiting to kill Alice at the start of Ft13-2.

Admittedly, all this sounds far-fetched, enough so that Martin dismisses Ft13-2 altogether. "I have a lot of problems with Friday the 13th, Part 2," he writes. "The biggest problem is the fact that it exists."

I don't go that far. I agree that this much mother-son craziness is a lot of plot machinery to swallow as the basis for a movie. But Psycho based itself on a lot of mother-son craziness too, and succeeded well enough that few people minded. Ft13-2 is, clearly, not as good as Psycho, but it succeeds in its own way in presenting a new DDB--the adult Jason Voorhees. This DDB was so potent he featured in a long line of sequels, greatly outslashing his own mother. By introducing such a DDB while preserving what was good about its predecessor, Ft13-2 works as a sequel to Ft13.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films


Anonymous said...

That was a well-constructed counterpoint to my article, Sir. I appreciate the feedback.

Jeff Martin

George Ochoa said...

Thanks. I appreciated your article.