Whilst 1980′s Friday the 13th was a melting pot of ideas taken from a variety of recent successful horror films (specifically Carrie and Halloween), Friday the 13th Part 2 would lift a murder wholesale from a cult 1971 thriller called Reazione a catena. Originally distributed in the United States by Hallmark Releasing (who would also handle The Last House on the Left, the feature debut from Friday the 13th‘s Sean S. Cunningham) under the more commercial title Twitch of the Death Nerve, many have since cited the Mario Bava classic as a prototype for the summer camp slashers of the early ’80s. But the comparisons between scenes in both Bava’s movie and Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 almost bordered on plagiarism, despite the latter claiming to have never seen the film.
The sequence in question saw young lovers Sandra (Marta Kober) and Jeffrey (Bill Randolph) impaled shortly after having sex, pinning both bodies together as the spear digs deep into the floor under the bed. It would prove to be one of many sequences that the MPAA would severely neuter in an effort to avoid passing through a movie as gruesome as its predecessor. Regardless of how original the death was, it still remains a fan favourite and would – much like Kevin Bacon’s arrow-through-the-throat gag from Friday the 13th – require the assistance of a number of special effects artists.
With Miner unable to convince Tom Savini to return to provide the gory effects for the sequel, he had approached his old friend Stan Winston to take over splatter duties but, due to scheduling conflicts, he was unable to commit to the project. At the suggestion of make-up legend Dick Smith, Miner contacted a rising young artist called Carl Fullerton, whose credentials included the hit show Saturday Night Live and as Smith’s assistant on 1980′s Altered States. It would be Fullerton’s work on Wolfen, which he had presented to Miner whilst auditioning for the film, that would ultimately convince the director. Fullerton’s team would also consist of another Saturday Night Live alumni, John Caglione Jr., as well as Smith’s own son, David.
To achieve the effect, in which the spear is forced down through Jeffrey’s back (who is lying on top) and Sandra’s stomach, a special bed was designed which had a fake bottom. Kober was sat down on the floor against a couch support, with her head resting on the pillow and her body hidden underneath the bed. Randolph then lay down on top of her, with only his head and arms visible to the camera. Fullerton had created an artificial upper body that was then attached to Randolph’s back and laid out across the bed, giving the impression that both actors were laying down. The set up would prove to be extremely uncomfortable for both Kober and Randolph, who were forced to remain in the same position without a break for several hours, as the crew laid out the set for the difficult sequence.
In order to prepare for the effect, Fullerton went through several ‘dry runs,’ in which he would practice the gag without blood. This would involve thrusting the spear at a very specific target; a three-inch hole at the centre of the false back that would drive through to the floor, without breaking the body or injuring the actors. David Smith’s role during the scene was to operate an air pressure tank filled with blood made from jelly, that would be released at the point of impact. Satisfied that the effect would go according to plan, Fullerton stabbed the spear but missed the hole, causing the blood to pour across the bed. Several hours later, the crew had cleaned up the set and were ready to try again.
With the cameras rolling, Fullerton managed to hit his target, whilst Smith sprayed blood from the tank via a small syringe attached to the end of a tube. Blood sprayed everywhere, whilst pieces of gelatin that the torso was built from split and were visible to the camera, looking like chunks of torn flesh. Miner’s concerns that the MPAA would be ruthless to the picture proved to be true; when the movie was released on May 1st 1981, all of the gruesome shots were removed and fans of its predecessor were understandably disappointed. But not as much as the artists themselves, who express their frustration at having their work censored to the point that its effects were diminished.