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Fangoria #12Friday The 13th Part II
Fangoria #12
By James H. Burns

The surprise hit of the 1980 film season was Sean Cunningham’s Friday The 13th, a low-budget “horror” entry produced by Georgetown Productions.  The terror flick shocked Paramount Pictures, who had picked it up for the release to make a few quick bucks with the drive-in crowd, when it evolved into the 20th-largest grossing film of the year (topping Filmways’ and Brian DePalma’s so-called major motion picture, Dressed to Kill).

Friday The 13th told the plight of a group of counselors being murdered one by one at Camp Crystal Lake. The camp’s “curse” and killer turned out to be Mrs. Vorhees (Betsy Palmer), the mother of a “hideously deformed boy,” Jason, who had drowned in the camp’s lake over twenty years earlier because of two counselor’s negligence.  After a suspenseful showdown, Mrs. Vorhees was decapitated by the one surviving teenager, Alice (Adrienne King).

Friday The 13th Part II picks up with Alice, safely in her own home, dreaming of the terrifying nightmare that she endured at Camp Crystal Lake. Aroused from her nap, Alice goes to the refrigerator to fetch her cat a snack, only to find Mrs. Vorhees’ severed head starting wickedly back at her.  From out of nowhere, a mysterious stranger thrusts an icepick through the base of  Alice’s nose, signaling the start of Jason’s revenge. . .

Friday The 13th Part II’s main plot line begins five years later as a group of young adults are making their way to a counselor training session at Lake Region, a settlement in the same area as Part I’s “Camp Blood.” When the majority of the youths leave for a night at a local music club, it isn’t long before Jason’s reign of terror begins.

“We set out to make the most terrifying film ever,” says Friday The 13th Part II’s producer-director, Steven Miner (who also served as the original’s associate producer and unit production manager). “I know that every horror director says that, but I really think we did it. I set out to top Friday The 13th. So far, we’ve had some very successful screenings.”

Thoughts of a Friday The 13th sequel began occurring to Georgetown Productions immediately upon the film’s prosperous opening week last spring. At that time, Steve Miner was in Rome working with director Wes Craven (Last House on the Left, Stranger in the House) on pre-production for a movie entitled Marimba (temporarily suspended by still in development). Plans for Friday The 13th Part II became definite last July when Georgetown decided to begin shooting in September, enabling Paramount to capitalize on the original’s audience by releasing a sequel only one year later after the first film’s premiere.

“Because Georgetown wanted to shoot the sequel so quickly, Sean (Cunningham) wasn’t going to be able to do it,” recalls Miner. “Sean was busy preparing a lot of projects at other studios. I was originally approached to only produce the sequel, but it soon became clear to me that I would do as good a job at directing Part II as anybody else could. I was familiar with the first film and I’ve been a fan of horror movies all of my life.  This would be the first time that I directed a theatrical feature, but I had done second unit directing on a couple of movies that I’ve produced and I’d also directed some industrial films. I think I understood what the first picture’s audience and fans of the genre wanted in the second chapter.”

Producing and directing Friday The 13th Part II would prove to be a difficult task. Many horror enthusiasts felt that the initial movie offered nothing more then its grotesque murders and, inherently, another opportunity to marvel at the work of makeup master Tom Savini.  These fans thought that the killings weren’t supported by enough true plot substance.

“Friday The 13th worked well,” Miner counters. “The enjoyment with this kind of film is audience participation. The audience didn’t even mind the dumb stuff, because they could talk back to it.  They really stayed with the story. What does happen with a lot of these movies is that they have terrific ad campaigns but then they don’t deliver. I don’t think that was the case with Friday The 13th , because business continued strong for weeks and weeks. Practically all of the advertising money was spend during its first week of release, which means that its continued success was based on a good word of mouth.  Everybody that I’ve talked to really can’t wait to see the sequel.

“In my film, Jason looks much different,” Miner states, “but that could be because he’s five years older now. Yet he’s not the living dead, as some rumors have speculated. I think that Jason survived his drowning. That’s how I approached it, but that doesn’t mean that Alice saw the real Jason.  In Part II, Jason doesn’t talk like Mrs. Vorhees was imitating him. In fact, in this movie, Jason can’t or at least doesn’t, talk.”

Confronting the question of whether or not Jason survived was one of Miner’s lesser worries. He also had to overcome some of the original picture’s more principal problems.

“Saying there were mistakes in the first film’s script was not the way I approached it,” says the director-producer. “I came to the project thinking that there were some very good things about the first script, mainly the structure. I felt that the overall framework-the way the story was told-worked. We tried, however to improve upon some of the character dialogue flaws. We attempted to make the characters a little more realistic. We did avoid ‘strip monopoly. . .’”

Miner and screenwriter Ron Kurz (who had done some rewrites on Part I’s script), did indeed give their movie fuller characters. Yet their reminiscent structure – including a throat slashing and an after-sex murder – might disturb some theater patrons who pay to see a new production. These scenes’ saving grace is that, for the most part, they are put against different settings and emotional moods from what was utilized in Cunningham’s feature. Other holdovers from Part I are Harry Manfredini’s “Hiss, hiss, hissing” Jason soundtrack theme, a swimming hole sequence, and Walt Gorney as the camptown’s resident weirdo, Crazy Ralph.

“Walt is really a very dedicated actor,” Miner smiles. “I think that he tends to live his roles. We’d be between takes, sitting around the location, and Walt would be talking to himself. I don’t know if he does that in real life, but he did it on the set. Crazy Ralph is so strange, that maybe Walt had to act weird all of the time in order to stay in character.”

While retaining Walt Gorney and Adrienne King was fairly easy, getting Friday The 13th’s production personnel to return was nearly impossible. Most follow-ups have sometimes as much as two years after their predecessor’s release before they start shooting, but since Friday The 13th Part  II was slated to begin so quickly, most of the original’s crew were committed to other projects.  Perhaps Miner’s largest loss was the absence of Tom Savini.

Tom’s a good friend and a very talented man,” says Miner. “Unfortunately, he was involved with another film in Buffalo (The Burning). When his schedule kept running over and it became apparent that he wouldn’t be able to do the sequel, I called a good friend of mine in Los Angeles, Stan Winston [Gargoyles’ “background” creatures, Dead and Buried].

“When I called Stan about Friday The 13th Part II, he said that he wanted to do it, but that he also had a bunch of conflicts. One of the problems was that I had to shoot here in the East Coast and Stan was busy with his studio in California. [Winston wound up casting Betsy Palmer’s negative mold for Mrs. Vorhees’ severed head.] Stan told me to call Dick Smith, who then highly recommended Carl Fullerton. [Fullerton had worked in various capacities on such endeavors as Saturday Night Live, The Wiz, the upcoming Wolfen, and as Smith’s assistant on Altered States] Stan also thought extremely well of Carl. It was a disappointment not to use Tom Savini again, because he has such tremendous creative energy and is a joy to work with. Now, he even has certain box office appeal. But when Carl Fullerton brought a severed head that he had made for Wolfen – it was so amazingly lifelike and extraordinary – to our first production meeting, I knew that he’d be up to the job. I confidently feel that after Wolfen and Friday The 13th Part II, the name Carl Fullerton will have box office appeal as well. He’s incredibly skilled and creative.”

No matter how important script, cast and crew may be the real star of any graphic horror film is its special effects. Fortunately, Miner’s gamble on the relatively unknown Carl Fullerton paid off. Fullerton’s work in the sequel is certainly as disturbing as anything created by Savini for Part I.

“The most elaborate makeup effect is the ‘after-sex’ impaling through two bodies at the same time,” comments Miner. “We used special rigs and some excellent large body appliances that Carl Fullerton made which necessitated the actors being put in very uncomfortable positions. Carl and his assistant, Dick Smith’s son, David have a kind of air pressure tank that shoots blood out. They made the scene really gruesome. The blood is made up of jelly and stuff. . .It’s horrible!

“My favorite murder is when Mark (Tom McBride) gets the machete in his head. Part of the thrill in these movies is that the audience knows that the guy or gal is going to get it, but the tension builds up as they’re trying to guess when and from where the murder’s going to come. What I like to do is distract the audience as much as possible. The buildup to the machete killing is nice because it really throws the audience off. I think it’s cleverly conceived and executed. To do the murder, I had a special mask built to cover Tom McBride’s face and catch the machete. With a quick reverse cut, though, it seems like the murder actually happens on screen. The mask was very simply built from a catcher’s mask that we put Styrofoam on. We made the machete out of balsa wood.”

Unlike many first-time directors faced with helming a horror opus, the prospect of dealing with intense gore effects didn’t bother Miner.

“I really found it interesting,” Miner admits. “On the last film, Tom Savini took over the editing studio in my house in Connecticut to build all his stuff. I was with him all of that time, so I got a pretty good working knowledge of how all the various tricks work. With my background as an editor, I was able to easily visualize the effects sequences. In fact, I storyboarded the whole film. I very carefully worked out how the effects scenes would work, how one shot would cover another. That enabled me to tell Carl to build only exactly what we needed. The storyboarding was very enjoyable, because it was like putting all the pieces together of a giant puzzle.”

Working with Carl Fullerton may have been fun for Steve, but the detailed makeup effects must have caused some of the actors to have doubts about their decision to let themselves be murdered on celluloid.

“They were all good sports about it,” notes Miner. “The makeup – particularly Jason’s – was terribly uncomfortable. Jason’s makeup covered all of the actor’s [Warrington Gillette] Face. Warrington was in makeup for six hours to get the appliances on. Once Warrington had it on, he couldn’t eat. Warrington had to do that twice, because the first time they filmed the sequence where you get to see what Jason looks like, it didn’t work. That was one of the scenes that I didn’t figure out properly. There was a lot to coordinate. In the first Friday The 13th, it took us three takes to get the scene where Jason comes up out of the water correctly shot.”

Miner’s mention of Jason’s makeup prompted FANGORIA to remember the controversy that surrounded our coverage of the last film (see FANGORIA #6) On Part I, Tom Savini was instructed to make Jason look like a mongoloid. FANGORIA received complaints when we ran a photo feature entitled “How To Make a Mongoloid” (see “The Postal Zone,” issue #8) Although Miner claims that Georgetown Productions didn’t receive any admonitory letters, Jason doesn’t appear as a mongoloid in the sequel.

“We never said ‘mongoloid,’” Miner insists. “Someone else on the staff did, but I’m not going to pass the buck. That word was used, but not to belittle or make fun of handicapped people. ‘Mongoloid’ was used to describe someone who might be horribly deformed and at the same time be mentally incapable of taking care of himself. Tom might have just latched onto the word ‘mongoloid’ and made him look that way.”

Along with a “new look” for Jason, Miner also brought to the sequel a new female lead, after spoiling Adrienne King’s “girl-next-door” good looks in the precredit sequence. Amy Steel fills the lead roll of Ginny, the youth who ultimately faces Jason in the final confrontation. Like King’s Alice, Ginny is an independent type, but Steel injects her heroine with another quality: sex appeal. Casting Steel in the lead role was a cagey move for Miner, who is aware that fright film fans are fond of starring actresses cut from a traditional, unabashedly sensual mold.

“I think that Hitchcock figured that one out, with Tippi Hedren and the rest,” says Miner.  “We were really fortunate to get Amy for the part. Our casting agents, Simon and Kumin, did a terrific job scouring New York for the best people, and it shows in the movie. The basics still hold true – you have to care about the characters.”

Another coup for Miner was his success in signing Betsy Palmer for a return appearance in the sequel, despite the letter writing campaign stirred up by Chicago critic Gene Siskel, who encouraged his readers to write to Betsy Palmer at her home town to express their shock at her participating in such a film. The scene that features her cameo appearance is one of the best of the entire movie.

Undoubtedly, Miner’s film will have to face some of the critical barbs that were thrown at the Cunningham film. Miner isn’t too bothered by the prospect, however.

“Critics don’t understand this kind of movie,” he says. “You have to show some realistic violence in order to make the setup frightening. You can’t scare people nowadays without showing some kind of gore. I have my doubts whether the audience that enjoys ‘pure’ psychological terror exists anymore.

“You don’t necessarily have to dwell on violence, however, to satisfy an audience. Still, I’m sure there will be people, especially critics who will think that we’ve gone overboard. All I have to say to them is, ‘Don’t go see Friday The 13th, Part II.’ If you don’t enjoy this type of picture, fine – but other people do. I can’t worry about what the critics will say.  If we made a movie to please the critics, we probably wouldn’t be doing justice to our audience.”

While Miner may be able to brush off the expected jibes of the critical press, there is one set of critics that cannot be ignored – the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America. Since last year, the MPAA has responded to the demands of alarmists like Chicago’s Siskel, and have taken a tougher stance on film violence – as anyone knows who has seen the difference between this magazine’s coverage of Bloody Valentine and the severely cut version that was released to theaters. If the ratings board stamps Miner’s current cut of the picture with an X rating, Miner and the picture will have to return to the editing room.

“I am worried that we’ll have to edit a lot of the film,” Miner admits. “I was involved with the trimming that we had to do on the first one, though, and our cutting didn’t diminish the movie’s effectiveness. We basically just had to tone down some of the excessive blood.  If that’s all we have to do on this one, it won’t be too bad. The success of Friday The 13th Part II isn’t based on total explicitness.”

One solution to the possible MPAA problem is to release Friday The 13th Part II without a rating. But while small distributors can afford to release their films without the MPAA’s approval, Paramount Pictures cannot, since it would cause them political problems with their other, larger budgeted productions. Isn’t this a state that might make Steve wish that his movie was being released by a company like United Films Distribution (the firm that releases George Romero’s pictures)?

“A major is always much more effective in releasing a movie,” answers Miner. “They have the money for advertising and the ability to line up an incredible number of theatres. But I guess it’s too early to say. My answer would really have to be based on how much we have to cut in order to get the ‘R’ rating. It would obviously be a shame if whatever trimming we have to do ends up hurting Friday The 13th Part II. It would be sad not to release a film in its most effective form.  But Paramount has brilliant marketing and they’re the best people to distribute this picture. We’ll have to wait and see.”

One condition that might damage Friday The 13th Part II is already in the film. Throughout most of the picture, Jason wears an Elephant Man-type mask. Albeit Jason is supposed to terrify theatre crowds, his hood might make them giggle.

“That was an unfortunate coincidence,” Steve concedes, “but we finished shooting right before The Elephant Man came out. The mask wasn’t meant as a joke, so I hope people won’t laugh at Jason. I don’t think it will remind people of The Elephant man, however, because the two films are so completely different.”

Since Friday The 13thwas such a great success, if its sequel fails financially, the blame will be entirely leveled at Steve Miner. Since this is Miner’s directorial debut, that could possibly stop his promising career.

“This is my break,” comments Miner. “Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham and I all started out together on Last House on the Left, but this is my first major shot. I’ll be judged on this film.  I really wanted to do better then Part I, and I think I have. So far, I’ve been very fortunate in my professional life. But even if Friday The 13th Part II is a terrible bomb, which I know it won’t be, it won’t stop my career. I still have a lot of years ahead of me.”

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