31 Days in October, 31 Horror Films – 2015
Day 13: Burnt Offerings, Friday the 13th Part 2
Burnt Offerings (1976)
I feel like I’ve seen films like this before. Introduce a locked door and spend the entire narrative making you beg to see inside. It is simple device and though it works, it creates a loose bond with the audience. Once you see what lies behind that locked door you no longer have any use for the narrative. Mystery is fickle that way.
There are no more perfect examples of this narrative failing than Burnt Offerings. No one can say the filmmakers didn’t try to elevate the thin story. Oliver Reed and Bette Davis bring subtlety and depth to otherwise paper thin characters. Reed’s performance is truly noteworthy, though ultimately futile. There were some very interesting ideas floating around and outside of this script. Something about Southern legacy, time and fate, institutions and their power over the individual despite going against human nature… great ideas stuffed into the folds of a single, predictable narrative trick.
In Burnt Offerings the magician’s assistant is far more interesting than the magician.
Friday the 13th Part 2
The first Friday the 13th film shaped an entire subgenre of American popcorn slasher. I love it for that. Actually there isn’t much I don’t love about the first film but if we’re going to talk about underrated camp horror, please do not forget the sequel. There are so many amazing things we can talk about in this sequel: the exploding title screen, the nearly 15 minute opening sequence that does almost nothing for the rest of the film (and yet, does everything), the solid emphasis on teen sex, and the utterly abstract ending, which goes through the motions of an ending but doesn’t actually stand up to logic.
The first film sets up some great ideas and an effective expectation for how the audience should watch. This is important to note if you want to understand the popularity of the franchise past episode 5, and how it takes a sharp turn from serious horror to irreverent camp from episode 6 on. The second film, however, does just as much heavy lifting. It solidifies the formula, retracing lines from the first film in order to emphasize the exquisite pleasures of variation. That the highly sexualized teen girl will be slain is not a mystery, how she is slain, now that’s what the film wants you to wonder. Though only the second film, Friday the 13th Part 2 immediately presents itself within a franchise context. It revels in that context, in fact. It loves it’s context, and so do we.
The title screen explosion after a long, very long, introductory sequence, which joins the tethered ends of both films is key. The link between the first film, the first 15 minutes of part 2, and the rest of the part 2 is not of narrative substance. The link is sensational. It is the joyous tone of summer horror picked up from where we left off. It only makes sense if you view it within the context of Friday the 13th’s meta-substance. The Jason-ness, which pervades each film. A celebration of faceless Freudian violence and excessive abandon that could have only been generated in the 80s.
Burnt Offerings introduces its narrative with a obscured (masked) room. Friday the 13th Part 2 does the same thing. The first film established a Jason mythos without crossing into the supernatural. This accounts for the famous trivia of the first film, made popular in the film Scream. The second film has no such out and has to figure a different way to engage the mythos of the first film. They do so in the guise of a large man with a bag over his head and more than one expository monologue about the existence of Jason from the first film. The film can only end once the mask has been unveiled and we see the true identity of the killer. The fact that the film doesn’t feel like a mystery is it’s own special sauce. The viewer already “gets” who the killer is but what we really want to know are the details of his disfigured face. Burnt Offerings may have dealt in general ideas but Friday the 13th Part 2 lives for the details. This is so true that once we see the details of the masked killer’s face, the general idea of how the film ends doesn’t matter so much. The film freezes in the middle of high action and jumps forward in time to the next morning where the final girl is inexplicably being packed away into an ambulance, then it just ends…. and we don’t mind at all. It is still a satisfying ending and we leave the movie comforted by the fact that Jason can kill again, which he does, for 10 more films and counting.