December 7, 2013

Movie Review: Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood (1988)

In 1986, Paramount brought to us the conclusion of the Tommy Jarvis arc, which began in 1984 with The Final Chapter (funny, “Final”). That movie was made not just to close the sequence, but as a reaction to the displeasure with which A New Beginning had been received. The studio heard and responded with a return of the real Jason Voorhees, thus kicking off the next era of one of our favorite mass killers. Jason Lives introduced us to the zombie Jason! A relentless, reanimated killer corpse. What's not to love? Anyway, after taking 1987 off, the franchise returned with a new actor behind the mask and a set of victims for the machete wielding slasher in Friday the 13th: The New Blood.

This seventh film in nine years saw the franchise return to the top of the box office heap, if only for one week. The movie had a decent opening upon its arrival on Friday May 13, 1988, besting holdovers Colors and Beetlejuice to claim the top spot. It would go on to a disappointing finish where it did not even cross the $20 million mark. It continued the downward trend that began with earnest with A New Beginning. It is a shame, as this really is a solid entry in the series and features the first appearance of the man who would play Jason 4 times, and the only one to play him more than once (so far).

The directing duties were handled by John Carl Buechler (pronounced “Beekler,” I have been told). Buechler is a make up and special effects guy who has an impressive resume, The same year The New Blood came out, he worked on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and A Night on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The guy has a connection to the big three all in the same year! He also directed movies like Cellar Dweller and Troll. As for writing, that was handled by Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello. Haney was also behind the writing of films like Xtro 3: Watch the Skies and Emmanuelle, Queen of the Galaxy. As for Fidello, this is his lone feature credit. It is interesting to note that this was originally conceived as a Freddy vs. Jason movie, but Paramount and New Line could not resolve the red tape.

The New Blood opens with a recap of the series thus far, highlighting a number of the kills in clip show form. The clips themselves do not exactly tell the story, they are accompanied by a little something of a surprise. There is voice over warning of the death curse and how Jason is still there, waiting. The voice over is delivered by none other than Walt Gorney, who is better known to fans as Crazy Ralph! You remember, that guy in the first two films billed as the town loony, but clearly knows more than everyone actually realizes. It is a nice addition with a nod to the past as we prepare for the present.

The movie actually starts with a flashback sequence. We hear voices, a bit of struggle and a man who does not sound all that friendly. A young girl comes running out of the house, gets in a boat and rows our a little ways into the lake (Crystal Lake, of course). Her father comes out on the dock, pleading with her to come in. She angrily tells him she hates him, then the dock begins to shake and then collapses, with father drowning in the lake. Cut to the present...

As the movie truly begins, it has been some years since the events of Jason Lives, Jason is still chained under the lake. Now, why Tommy never told anyone, I will never know. You'd think he'd want some more definite closer than a chaining him to an underwater rock, despite the poetic balance of putting him back where he was thought to be way back in the first movie.

Anyway, like in The Final Chapter, there are a bunch of kids renting a cabin for a weekend party while a family is living next door. Well, not exactly a family, but the little girl from the opening, now a teenager, Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), her mother (voice actress Susan Blu), and her doctor, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser, Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's). You see, Tina has telekinetic powers that appear when she is under emotional distress (she made the dock collapse that killed her father). Crews wants to help her get over the trauma, although he has decidedly different motives that are not in his patient's best interests. Dr. Crews is a jerk, it's that simple.

The movie gets underway pretty quick when an upset Tina runs out to the lake where her telekinetic powers run slightly amok. This results in Jason, still chained under the waters from the prior movie, to be released and reanimated (again). He comes smashing out of the waters and heads off in search of kids to kill. Tina passes out, and when she comes to wonders where the guy went to. Of course, no one believes her.

Jason begins walking around the woods, killing indiscriminately. The kids are killed in a variety of fun ways, including by way of party horn. Of course, no one notices the dwindling numbers of the living, and Tina cannot convince anyone that she saw anything, sees anything (she is plagued with visions of the murders), or knows anything. The kids next door think she I just weird, and her doctor just wants to control her abilities.

Everything builds to the inevitable showdown between Jason and Carrie, errr, Tina. It is a fight that is nicely foreshadowed by the opening credits. Jason is big, nasty, and physical, while Tina, is small, scared, and quite dangerous in her own right.

The New Blood is one of my favorites of the series, although it would have been even better had the MPAA not been so brutal with it. If you thought Jason was a brutal fellow, the MPAA make him look like Winnie the Pooh. It is common knowledge that MPAA seemed to use the Friday series as its personal punching bag and this may be the entry that was most damaged by their interference. Virtually all of the kills were cut to achieve the needed R rating. Just watch, you will see that in practically every kill there are cutaways or clever editing to disguise the gore/violence. I found it to be most noticeable here than in any of the other films. Sadly, it has been reported that much of the excised footage has been destroyed and it is unlikely/impossible for us to ever see it the way it was intended.

I mentioned earlier that this was the first appearance of the only man to play Jason more than once (so far). That man is none other than Kane Hodder. He brought his own brand of physicality and thoughts of how he should act and thus crafted one of the best and enduring Jasons of the series. I feel fairly certain that when most people think of Jason, this is the version they think of first. It is kind of funny considering this is the seventh in the franchise. We have come a long way from Steve Dash's portrayal in Part 2. I think this portrayal feeds off of Richard Brooker's work in Part 3. Hodder has a slow and methodical approach, a specific way in which he begins his motion, combined with the heavy breathing make for a very imposing individual. Plus, the look here is just great, the rotted, decomposing fellow with the broken mask, this probably my favorite look.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is one of my favorites. It has a great take on the bad guy, an interesting and damaged heroine, a solid supporting cast, and is just a lot of fun. Some may think of Tina as bland, but she really isn't. She is damaged, withdrawn girl who does not understand her abilities, has to deal with the murder of an abusive father, and deal with a mother who just does not understand. She is rightfully withdrawn and not trusting. Dr. Crews is a delightfully malevolent coward. Melissa is a fun and openly bitchy character. I even like the nerdy genre guy trying to write horror stories. This is just a flat out, entertaining romp of a Friday movie that gets a lot right.

It also has an ending that is reminiscent of the final moments of the second film, albeit with the reveal of the fate of the male lead. No one knows what happened to Paul at the end of Part 2. At least, I don't think so..

Highly Recommended.

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