It’s hardly a revelation that the most common conception of Jason Voorhees in popular culture is a man in a hockey mask wielding any of a number of sharp cutting instruments. If pressed, some might also describe the deformed boy seen in the brief flashbacks to his drowning in the first Friday the 13th, and then in the dream sequence the film’s backers took as the setup for a sequel its screenwriter and director never intended to make. When Friday the 13th Part 2 was made without them in 1981, it had as its antagonist an adult Jason, but it wasn’t until Part III came along the next year (on August 13, 1982, making it the first in the series to actually be released on a Friday the 13th in the U.S.) that Jason stole a new outfit off a clothesline and commandeered a hockey mask from a weekending weirdo, finally settling on his signature look. The utilitarian one that came before it, though – denim overalls, plaid shirt, sack hood – goes with the Jason Voorhees who’s the most recognizably human, with all the limitations that entails and the clearest motivation for going on a killing spree.
This directness is right in line with the ramshackle house he’s constructed on the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake, complete with an altar to his dead mother, whose beheading at the hands of Friday the 13th’s final girl prompts him to track her down and murder her two months later. The sequel then jumps forward five years, by which time Jason has become a legend fit for Paul, the head of the new counselor training center that’s opened up across the lake from the infamous “Camp Blood,” to use as a campfire story where he gives it to his assembled CITs “straight” about the local boogeyman.
“It’s ancient history,” Paul insists. “Jason drowned, Mrs. Voorhees was killed, and Camp Crystal Lake is off-limits.” End of story as far as he’s concerned. Later on, though, his assistant Ginny muses, “What if there is a Jason?” and applies the child psychology she’s majoring in at grad school to his case history. She even speculates about the possibility that he saw his mother get killed, “and all just because she loved him.” As to what he’d be like today, the three possibilities she throws out are “out-of-control psychopath,” “frightened retard,” and “child trapped in a man’s body.” Hey, why not a package deal?
As directed by Steve Miner (associate producer/unit production manager on the first Friday), Part 2’s Jason is adept at keeping himself hidden, both from the camera and the horny CITs he spends the second half of the film methodically stalking and slashing. Naturally, this comes after spending the first half clandestinely observing their comings and goings while periodically upping the body count by eliminating local harbinger Crazy Ralph and a cop whose warnings similarly go unheeded.
Following the formula of the original Friday, which kept the identity of its killer a mystery until Betsy Palmer pulls up in her Jeep with 20 minutes left to go, Miner doesn’t give Jason his first close-up until Part 2 reaches its home stretch. And once it’s down to him and Ginny, he takes a lot of punishment, even appearing to be knocked out at one point. It’s then that Ginny stumbles onto his lair, finds his mother’s shrine, and puts on her grimy sweater to psyche out the vengeance-seeking man-child. Even Adrienne King, who played his first victim, says in the documentary Crystal Lake Memories, “My heart broke. I really felt bad for Jason.”
As well she should, because when Paul rejoins the fray and Jason is outnumbered, he takes a machete to the shoulder which puts him down for the count (but, significantly, not out). It is then that Ginny unmasks him, but Miner saves the reveal of what the little boy has grown up to be for the requisite shock ending, leaving the door open for a sequel clearly already on the drawing board.
Such was also the case with the 2009 Platinum Dunes reboot, which presents viewers with a Whitman’s Sampler of plot elements drawn from the first three Fridays. This extended to putting Jason in a grungy-looking hood for a third of its running time, before having him switch to the more iconic hockey mask after randomly stumbling onto one. Jason Mark XII has also had a lot more time to hone his archery, axe-throwing, and electrical wiring skills, in addition to digging an extensive network of tunnels and stringing up tripwires and warning bells so he can be alerted to any horny and/or pot-addled young adults in the vicinity. Throw in his superhuman stealth, strength, and agility, and nu-Jason is about as far removed from the one in Part 2 as you can get. No need to even bother psychoanalyzing him.