December 5, 2013

Movie Review: Friday the 13th - A New Beginning (1985)

The idea that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was going to be the last appearance of Jason Voorhees, or even the last Friday the 13th movie did not last very long. Less than a year after the release of The Final Chapter, theaters across the country were playing host to the next entry in the series, which would go on to win the opening weekend Box Office. Dubbed A New Beginning, this fifth entry would mark the beginning of the decline in box office receipts. It peaked with the success of Part 3 and The Final Chapter. Fortunately, the slipping box office did not preclude them from making a few more films after this (low budgets helped make them remain profitable).

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was directed by Danny Steinman, taking over for Joseph Zito. Steinman does not have many credits, but his career did begin in 1973 with the hardcore porn film High Rise (which he also wrote), and also includes the 1984 revenge film Savage Streets, which starred Linda Blair. The movie was written by David Cohen and Martin Kitrosser, who would then team with Steinman on the screenplay. The name Kitrosser might seem familiar, and it should, he was part of the writing team on Part 3, where he had initially pitched an idea similar to the one utilized here. I am kind of glad it did not make it the first time around, as it seems better suited to this character.

The movie opens with a boy walking through the woods in the rain, he is wearing a yellow slicker and has a flashlight. The camera changes perspective and it is revealed the boy is none other than Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). He comes across a grave, scrawled across the marker is Jason Voorhees. While watching from the trees, a couple of guys come through with shovels, intent on digging up “The Main Man.” They do. Jason pops up and kills them. Tommy watches, horrified, from the treeline. Jason sees him, approaches, raises his machete, Tommy screams and then wakes up. It was all a nightmare.

Tommy is now a teenager (17 perhaps?) and has been released to a halfway house. Ever since the conclusion of The Final Chapter, our Jason-killer has been attempting to come to terms with what happened. This fifth movie hearkens back to the first two, with its attempts to inject some psychology. Tommy (now played by John Shepherd) is a basket case and clearly not suited for any type of human interaction. He is sullen, withdrawn, and has nightmares and visions of being stalked by Jason. It doesn't help that people start dying when he shows up. Is it Jason? Could he still be alive after the machete slashing Tommy delivered? Or is it possible that Tommy has snapped and thinks he is Jason?

As we get deeper into the movie, we are presented with a lot more death. If this movie has one to offer, it is some really brutal kills. There is the clever, like with the flare, the traditional machete style kills, and some nastiness like the hedge clippers and the leather strap. There is even a kill that appears to be stolen from Silent Night, Deadly Night. These kills are certainly out of anger and hatred, and it shows. Considering how Tommy is portrayed and the psychological scarring the most definitely happened when he hacked Jason up, it certainly seems plausible that Tommy could be letting loose on these folks in this fashion. Still, the thinking has to be that would be much too simple, there has to be something else, right? The movie does go a long way towards keeping the killer a secret, not even revealing the hockey mask until 71 minutes in. Yes, we do see a hockey mask before that, but it is only in Tommy's visions/nightmares.

Of course, when the climax arrives, it is revealed even more directly that a different direction was being taken. This did not sit well with a lot of fans. To this day, a friend off mine refers to this as his least favorite, even going so far as to say he hates it and refuses to watch it. One day, I will get him to give it another chance. It is not exactly a bad movie, but it certainly isn't one of the better outings. It may just be the worst of the series, but to me that does not make it bad. Sure, it is different and is the second film (out of the first five) where the killer (SPOILER) isn't Jason Voorhees. You could even look at this movie as a Friday the 13th rip off, as the killer is attempting to duplicate Jason's nastiness. It certainly seems like a good cover under which to engage in some revenge killing and not be suspected.

It is strange, I can understand the backlash from fans, but at the same time I don't know why. Rather, I know why, I just don't want to expect it. Very often slasher movies are accused of being the same thing over and over, and t an extent this is true. This can seem especially true of this franchise, you have teens with no or questionable adult support, and a killer going around slaughtering them. I like to think there is a little more too it than that, and while the Friday films do seem to target the mainstream horror audience, they do try to add a touch of depth. This time it was looking for a way to continue a series where the bad guy is dead by having us wonder about the sanity of the bad guy's killer.

It seems the fans wanted more of the same and this movie sort of proves the idea that you can never win. People will cry for something new/different/whatever, but when you try you are attacked for not being enough like what has been done before. In all seriousness, A New Beginning is not all that bad of a movie. It focuses on some great kills, it has its share of violence and gore (reportedly sent back to the MPAA 9 times to get an R rating), and tries to give some questions as to who the killer might be. The idea that it is Jason is there, plus Tommy, and the there is the actuality of someone trying to have widespread revenge on those he blames and finding Tommy to be a convenient scapegoat.

Yes, I like this movie, it is a worthy piece of the franchise and does a good job of bridging the series into its next phase. You can look at parts 2-4 as a trilogy based on the time frame (they all occur during the same week), and then you have A New Beginning which is a sequel to the The Final Chapter, with its character focus.

It has some solid performances for this type of film, plenty of running and and screaming, and a continuing idea of Jason (or fake Jason) arriving like a storm that you cannot control or escape. There always seems to be a rain storm when the hockey mask wearing maniac begins his killing sprees. We also get another nice stinger towards the end that will leave wondering about a certain someone's continued grip on any semblance of sanity.

Least favorite outing? Perhaps. Bad sequel? No. If you are among the haters, perhaps give it another shot. Attack it from the perspective of filmmakers trying to be a little creative and offer up a little something different that actually is interesting and really does fit with what came before.


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