Five years after the events of the first film, psych major Ginny (Amy Steele) is amongst a group of new counselors to the campground neighboring Crystal Lake, who not too long after arriving begin being picked off by an at first unseen killer (keeping the structure of the original film) who's later reveal to be Jason, here sans iconic hockey mask (he would get that in the next film), favoring instead the hillbilly survivalist chic fashion of crusty overalls and burlap sac with one eye hole, and one must really give the old guy credit for accuracy with such a limited view. Ginny is the strongest of the series "final girls or guys". As portrayed by Steele, she is funny, sexy and smart, and for once, somebody actually gets some use out of a psychology degree as she relies on it and her knowledge of the folklore to completely fuck with Jason's head. While playing the mindless killer Jason is by no means an acting coup, stuntmen Warrington Gillette and Steven Dash, who both shared the honor of being the first to portray the adult version of the character, actually provide him with some distinction as their performances portray him as a simple minded yet savage man-child with a grudge against society.
Director Steve Miner keeps the pace moving briskly, imbuing enough shorthand so that we quickly know each character. In a scene that would probably make Joe Dante proud, he cuts from a little dog approaching Jason to hot dogs grilling on a barbecue. He also pays strict attention to the geography of the rooms and campground, giving the viewer a clear vision of the surroundings and the atmosphere of the lake. Miner's skills though really flourish once the murders become more prevalent, and the film transitions towards its fast moving final act. Smartly, he does not provide a full-on appearance by Jason other than passing views and shadows until more than fifty minutes into the film, and when he's finally revealed, it proves quite bracing. The last act is all chase, and it's a thrilling and unrelenting twenty or so minutes that never calms down, with Harry Manfredini's score (cribbed heavily from Bernard Hermann's work on Psycho) laying on the strings to maximum levels of intensity and jump scares that actually are still effective.
Lucky for the film that Miner proved to be a solid director at maintaining thrills because the MPAA took a knife to the gore with Jason like precision. Probably feeling the first Friday pulled a fast one after it became such an unexpectedly big hit, the censors would begin to crack down on violence in major studio released horror film as a response (the Paramount distributed My Bloody Valentine was another 1981 victim), threatening the films with a financially hobbling X rating. So the gratuitous skinny dipper's death is off-screen and even though a still would appear on the back of the VHS box, we cut away before seeing a double impalement. Strangely a more vicious kill, a machete to the face of a wheelchair bound counselor, passes muster, perhaps due to the fact it was stolen from Mario Bava's Bay of Blood.
Mainstream critics notoriously despised the Friday the 13th series, and much ink was spent on how it reflected everything that was wrong with society. Looking at them today though, the films are a bit quaint. In the wake of the Saw films the gore seems tame, and following the interchangeable anonymous victims in the Final Destination series, the Friday films are practically character pieces! While I am passed the point of letting nostalgic memories hinder my opinions or reviews, I must admit that on a personal level, these films meant a lot to me as a teenager and burgeoning film fan. They're nowhere near the achievements of John Carpenter's Halloween or Bob Clark's Black Christmas and lack the stylistic flourishes of a Bava or Dario Argento film, but the first four Friday the 13ths are all solid B-level horror films. And part II is the best of the lot!