13 Fridays is a 13-week look at the entirety of Friday the 13th series, starting on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, and running through Halloween 2021. It will run parallel to other series we’re running in late summer / early autumn, including another round of No Sleep October essays. Every week features an essay about one of the Friday the 13th films in chronological order, written by new and regular Midwest Film Journal contributors and staff writers. Some have seen the whole franchise. Some are novices and neophytes, jumping into the movies without watching the rest of them to offer unvarnished thoughts.

“Five long years, he’s been dormant, and he’s hungry. Jason’s out there … watching, always on the prowl for intruders. Waiting to kill … waiting to devour. Thirsty for young blood.”

I’m a fan of sequels. They’re not always great, sometimes they’re not even good and most don’t even come close to surpassing the original. Once in a while, though, we’re blessed with a sequel that doesn’t fuck with its predecessor but only elevates it.

Five years after the events that rocked Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th Part 2 is born. At a camp not far from where those young and horny teens were butchered, a new crop of counselors is getting ready for a summer of fun. The resulting story does service to the original and succeeds in growing beyond it. It’s everything the first had the potential to be, with a bigger budget, twice the gore and better-looking counselors. It’s also almost immediately hornier than the original. Hormone-driven teens at summer camp are a stereotype for a reason because it’s always true, and the first two films are the realest. Something about the trees and the scent of mosquito repellent just automatically makes people want to hook up. I spent my formative years at a camp every summer growing up and I can attest to this fact. It’s basically a rule. You set one foot into the woods, it’s like a switch goes off and suddenly you’re looking for a target to pair off with like a horny teenage terminator. 

Unlike the first, Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn’t take its time before shocking the audience. Within the first few minutes, we already have a body — the first film’s survivor, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) mysteriously killed by someone just off-screen. It’s a cold-open murder of someone you don’t expect to die so quickly, a trick that Scream harnesses a decade and change later; who wants to bet that little Billy Loomis watched someone take an ice pick to the cute blonde and got some ideas? Before the killer leaves the bloody scene, their last act is to take Alice’s whistling kettle off the hot stove. Apparently, murder doesn’t bother them, but piercing tea kettle noises do. It’s the details.

The next to die is Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), the town doomsayer from the first film. The first two victims are the first film’s Final Girl and the town’s Prophet of Doom? You don’t expect that. No one is safe. 

Not even the poor guy in the wheelchair.

Disability, as it’s used in this film and throughout the horror genre, can be cringeworthy. Mark (Tom McBride) in a wheelchair is the first visible disability we’re shown in the Friday the 13th films, other than Jason’s facial deformities. Disability in horror isn’t something we often see utilized, and when it is, it’s often depicted through a character who lacks the control, independence and relative competency afforded to more able-bodied characters. Franklin in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is a prime example, made a sitting duck because he’s in a wheelchair. Even in the world of dreams where anything should be possible, Will in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is ultimately unable to defend himself on his own. Their disabilities are shown as burdens and only burdens instead of as part of their overall character.

Mark is never really seen as physically vulnerable for his disability. He’s basically just one of the heartthrobs who happens to be in a wheelchair. He’s a strapping young jock who can beat anyone at arm wrestling. He and Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor) are part of the group who stay behind instead of going into town; his claim that it’s because nobody wants to deal with a drunk in a wheelchair, but if he hadn’t been made to feel so limited by his situation and gone with the others, he might have survived the night. At least his impressive arm strength is what (almost) gets him the girl, but sadly, his flirtations with Vickie and isolation at camp make him an early target for Jason.

Yes, it’s a slasher film. Everybody dies. Mark’s death is particularly iconic — stabbed in the face with a machete and pushed down the stairs. It’s a death that plays specifically on the fact he’s a wheelchair user. This aspect of Mark’s legacy remains a controversial one. However, when McBride tragically passed away from AIDS complications years later, fans offered their own creations in tribute to him for the AIDS quilt presented in New York in 1999. Several squares were submitted depicting art of a man in a wheelchair with Jason in the background. Intent matters more than impact, but Tom (and Mark’s) legacy is now forever a part of Friday the 13th’s long history — as it should be, so we can keep having discussions like this. And the significance of his legacy doesn’t stop there.

McBride was also the franchise’s first openly gay actor. Slasher films, with their open horniness and reliance on cheap, local casting, have always contained abundant queer subtext in their stories. They’re fundamentally underground exploitation films, and the nature of their emphasis on cool kills and simple stories allowed writers and actors to insert innuendos and characters that sometimes slipped past the more mainstream 1980s audiences. Unfortunately, that didn’t always work out; Mark Patton, star of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, described his experience as a closeted actor starring in a movie so clearly about coming out as being told he’d never work in Hollywood again as anything besides roles for gay men.. In the documentary Scream, Queen!: My Nightmare on Elm Street, Patton described the unintended consequences of starring in the film leading to him being outed himself.

Still, McBride’s legacy was felt in the Friday the 13th series. There’s a reason why slashers remain popular in the LGBTQ+ community, and the Friday ones in particular. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood has so many openly gay cast members that fans affectionately refer to it as Frigay the 13th. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that charming detail in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday where Jason French-kisses men to insert the “Jason parasite” into their mouths. 

Does this make the Friday the 13th series, and Jason himself, queer allies? You decide.

Of course, the real shining star of Friday the 13th Part 2 is Ginny Field (Amy Steel) — a compassionate psychology major who seems to understand Jason’s mommy issues from the start, urging her friends over a beer to “think beyond the legend and put it in real terms.” She even feels some sympathy toward Jason when discussing his motives before later weaponizing her knowledge in a final showdown with Jason himself. Using her wits and background in psychology to trick him, she puts on Pamela Voorhees’s gross old sweater and pretends to be Jason’s mother in front of the shrine he built for the late Pamela’s dead body — a shrine surrounded by the bodies of her fellow counselors. It works and she survives, at least for a time, her resourcefulness and tenacity making her a truly unforgettable Final Girl.  Unfortunately, Ginny never returns for any future films and her fate is left ambiguous. The absence of both her and Alice, quintessential Final Girls who, in any other series would return for another round, is always keenly felt.

“If you can take that darkness out and look at it, then you can conquer it. You can defeat it. You can actually deal with it. It’s when we try and hide it from the light that it overcomes us.” 

The Crystal Lake Memories documentary discusses at length how we need horror movies, and these monsters like Jason, to cope with the real evil in our everyday lives and hold our own experiences up to the light — words that ring uncomfortably true, with the real-life stalking King dealt with following the first film’s release and how the lasting effects from that experience altered her life and career. These dangers are very real for women and a large reason why the genre has such a persisting female fanbase. It’s the same reason so many more women follow true crime stories; we represent the majority of the intended victims. Of course we would want to see women like us fighting a psychopath in a mask and winning. 

In the immortal words of Wes Craven: Horror films don’t create fear, they release it.

The women of the first two Friday the 13th films harness their fears and draw strength from them. Alice dukes it out fearlessly with Pamela in Friday the 13th’s final moments. A the end of the second, Ginny efficiently uses a combination of physical strength and cunning to subdue her attacker. Slasher films at the time were where everyday women could see themselves as heroes, not just victims: Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, and, a few years later, Heather Langenkamp in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, it is largely thanks to the success of Halloween, still an aggressively female-dominated series to this day, that Friday the 13th even existed past the initial concept. Movies like these empowered women and still do.

The female-driven influence in this film, and the overarching series, is everywhere you look. The iconic “Ki Ki KI, Ma Ma Ma” theme comes from Mrs. Voorhees’s own words, thanks to a bit of audio editing. Long after she’s dead, Pamela Voorhees continues to immortalize the series, a metaphorical shrine to the real one her son created in her memory. Although a coincidence of film production, the first time Jason appears on-screen in Friday the 13th Part 2, and for the only time in the franchise’s history, he is played by a woman (costume designer Ellen Lutter). In an industry dominated by men, women manage to hold a lasting place in horror, both on and off the screen. It’s impossible to forget images like that of Sally Hardesty in the back of the pickup truck, Ginny Field harnessing her power in a murderous matriarch’s sweater, Alice Hardy swinging that machete down on Mrs. Voorhees’s head, Nancy Thompson turning her back on the monster in her nightmares, or Sidney Prescott’s triumphant reply of “Not in my movie.” Endless moments of women taking back their agency and their lives from those that would strip them of both. Horror is healing.

I’ll be honest: I love these movies but I’ve never been very interested in the “awesome kills.” Maybe that’s because, like Ginny, I’ve always been more interested in the psychology of these films. Jason chasing the counselors around wearing a burlap sack over his head should be ridiculous but feels genuinely menacing. There’s also the duality of Mrs. Voorhees seeking revenge for the death of her son, and her son seeking revenge for the death of his mother in turn. These films capture a not-so-distant generation that still trusted strangers and left their doors unlocked, completely ignorant to the real dangers around them. Growing up in the early 21st century, all of that feels quaint and distant. Also, that old “have sex and you die rule” in horror films? Not one that really holds up here, if it ever did. Everyone dies whether they decide to get busy or not. You just make it easier for Jason to corner you if you do.

The only thing I really take issue with is the fact that so many of the women run around camp in their underwear or nothing at all. Think of the bugs.

Friday the 13th Part 2 borrows a lot from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre besides the inclusion of a man in a wheelchair being brutally murdered by a masked killer. Jason’s baghead form is more Leatherface than what he would eventually become. He’s territorial, defending his home against unwanted trespassers, a real “get off my lawn” situation where his backwoods home has been invaded. What else is a homicidal mama’s boy supposed to do except defend his property? The franchise understandably grows beyond the summer camp setting in later movies, forcing Jason to branch out beyond the lake area (even going to Manhattan, which I haven’t seen). That’s why I always come back to the first two films the most. They’re comforting, like an old, blood-soaked security blanket. A security blanket that isn’t actually all that interested in comforting you.

Friday the 13th Part 2 marks the real beginning of Jason, transforming him from a spooky campfire story to a terrifying living legend who just won’t stay dead. For all of its imperfections (and it’s an ’80s slasher, so there are many), it’s still arguably the most instrumental film in the franchise’s extensive and weird-as-hell mythology, home to some of the most memorable Final Girls and Final Moments in the genre and helping to shape what the rest of the series ultimately becomes (with a little help from the original). The only real downside to the second film is a lack of Kevin Bacon. 

In the end, there might not be a whole lot to these movies without a fair amount of self-projection. Maybe there doesn’t need to be. Sometimes just being hot and horny is fine, too.