Film Review: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

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After four great movie posters in a row for this franchise, we get the laziest one yet. There is nothing to this. There is no interesting graphic design at all. Bleh.

If the previous installment in the Friday the 13th franchise tried to signal where the franchise was going (“the final chapter”), then this latest installment certainty kept that theme going, with 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.

It sure took them a while, at least, to decide what to do with the Friday the 13th franchise: We’re 11 months and nine days between The Final Chapter and A New Beginning. I can’t get over how short of an amount of time we’re talking about. To write a script, cast and select a director, shoot the film, edit the film and spend time marketing the film. All of that in 11 months. At least make it a full year to get people begging to see another Friday the 13th film!

We also have a new producer behind this one, with Frank Mancuso, the one who wanted to kill Jason Voorhees off in the last one because he felt he wasn’t getting enough credit for its success, out, and Timothy Silver in. Silver seemed to find more success on the small screen than the uh, silver screen, with co-producing credits on Melrose Place in 1993-1994, and The X-Files in 2001-2002, and Community in 2013-2014.

In the director’s chair, Danny Steinmann is tasked with trying to restart the series and point it in a new direction. Prior to this gig, Steinmann most seems known for a silly hardcore porn flick, 1973’s High Rise. Given what I’ve already heard about A New Beginning (that it ups the sex and body count compared to the last film, which already had the highest of both up to that point in the franchise), that actually makes a lot of sense. Interestingly, a year prior to this, he did 1984’s Savage Streets, a teen vigilante action film starring 1973’s The Exorcist’s child star Linda Blair.

And the final note on him: This was basically the last film he ever did. Welp.

Beginning

Martin Kitrosser, who along with his wife, Carol Watson, received screenwriting credit for 1982’s Part III, is back here, and is credited as a screenwriter and for the story, along with David Cohen. Aside from two other flicks, this is all Cohen would be credited with doing. Steinmann also gets credited on the script.

This is the most barren film in the franchise so far in terms of behind-the-scenes notes. There’s not much else to add, other than what I hinted at that Steinmann shot a lot of the film like it was a porno under the (rather ironic) fake title Repetition. Apparently, actors involved were disappointed to learn they were in the fifth Friday the 13th film instead of a different film.

Also, as seen in the featured image, the mask design is different from the iconic mask: Here, we have two blue triangles pointing down rather than the three red triangles, with the lower two pointing upward, according to Wikipedia.

The conceit of this film is that Jason Voorhees really was killed by 12-year-old Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman) in the Final Chapter. This film genuinely set out to chart a new path for the Friday the 13th series without Jason Voorhees. WHICH IS INSANE TO ME. What is wrong with Hollywood producers and Paramount Pictures? Whatever one thinks of the quality of the Friday the 13th films, they were cash cows and a large part of that was the character of Jason Voorhees. Why mess with the formula?

If I’m being charitable, I get that the first film didn’t even have Jason Voorhees (Pamela Voorhees, his mother was the killer) and the second one wasn’t the iconic look of Jason Voorhees, so what’s wrong with switching it up again? Well, by that point, you’ve had two films with his iconic look and three featuring him. He was a staple that there was no going back on. Again, as I’ve mentioned before, just as it was folly to try to go ahead with Halloween films without Michael Myers, it’s folly to go ahead with Friday the 13th films without Jason Voorhees.

The only “returning” cast member is Corey Feldman in a cameo appearance as Tommy Jarvis, otherwise we have another entirely new (incredibly large) cast of characters.

Shavar Ross, who plays Reggie Winter, stands out to me because he played Alex “Weasel” Parks on my favorite television sitcom: Family Matters, which started four years after this film. Ross also had a reoccurring role as Dudley Johnson, Arnold Jackson’s best friend (played by Gary Coleman) in the NBC sitcom Diff’rent Strokes.

I don’t recognize any of the other actors and actresses, but surely Debi Sue Voorhees, who plays Tina, was cast purely because of the coincidence that her last name is Voorhees, right?

One other notable element in front of the camera is Tom Morga, who plays Jason Voorhees. He also portrayed Leatherface in the 1986 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Michael Myers in the first half of 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. That’s fun!

The Amazon Prime synopsis for the film states, “This time he seems to have set his sights on the young patients at a secluded halfway house. And more than a few of his teen targets end up in half, in quarters… you name it, Jason does it.”

I see someone is having fun with the synopsis-writing over at Amazon. Well, I’m intrigued to the extent of the synopsis making it seem like Jason Voorhees is actually in the film.

Jasonbegin

This truly is a new beginning: This is the first film in the franchise (well, besides the first one, obviously) to not feature a flashback as the opening. Instead, we see Tommy Jarvis (as his 12-year-old self) going to the grave of Jason Voorhees. It’s a bit amusing that they would even create a grave for him. For some reason, two guys decide to dig up Jason Voorhees’ grave, and we do get a great visual of him in the ground with worms coming out of his hockey mask (albeit, I find it funny he would be buried with his hockey mask on).

But not to worry, it’s all a Tommy Jarvis dream! A dream sequence instead of a flashback is a nice change of pace at least.

When Tommy wakes up, we see that he’s an adult Tommy now. So, to recap, the prior three films after the a five-year jump between the first film and the second, all took place in the span of a few days. Now we’re jumping ahead another five years, which would put (in the film’s universe) us in 1990, my birth year!

The title sequence is similar to the last one, only with the new mask exploding through the title, and then our vantage point has us putting on the mask. Also, I was wrong, Mancuso, Jr. is still listed as the executive producer.

I do like that the film is going to take place at Pinehurst Youth Development Center because it makes sense that Tommy would be a bit messed up in the head, to say the least. I also like that they’ve continued Tommy’s interest in making scary Halloween masks.

I see they’ve also continued with the idea behind the Shelly character from the third film, a lovable, if mildly annoying, overweight guy, this time with Joey played by Dominick Brascia. Then for some reason, this other character, Vic (played by Mark Venturini) gets upset at Joey’s chocolaty face and axes him to death! It was a bit goofy.

In fact, there’s a lot of goofiness so far in the film, and we get that particularly with Steinmann’s obvious porn influence in the scene with Lana (played by Rebecca Wood) and Billy (played by Bob DeSimone. It literally comes across like something cut from a porno with the dialogue and Billy’s 1980s porn mustache. Yuck. Also, let’s be honest, there’s no way that Lana’s character would be into someone like Billy. Billy looks like a middle aged man and not even at least an attractive middle aged man.

Apparently, continuing that porn trend, the sex scene between Voorhees (the actress) and Eddie (played by John Robert Dixon) was “much more graphic,” but Mancuso Jr. asked the film’s editor, Bruce Green, to cut it down and make it look more like a “Pepsi commercial.” Alrighty then. It took nine trips — nine! — to the Motion Picture Association of America, which gives out the ratings on films, to get the film down to an “R” rating instead of an “X” rating. About 16 scenes had to be edited down.

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There’s some killing. And some more killing. And some more killing. And a little more killing.

At about 70 minutes int the film, we finally see someone who looks like Jason Voorhees (again, with the different mask) burst through the door of the house. That’s a great visual, but also, 70 minutes. Whoever this killer is is also able to transport, as he somehow beats Reggie and Pam (played by Melanie Kinnaman) to the ambulance far beyond the house, even though they had a running start.

We also still don’t know who the character is, but the look is off for me. He’s much smaller than the version in the last film, and his gait is weird. I suppose you could argue since it’s not actually Jason Voorhees, then it makes sense to be a bit … weird and off from the way Jason Voorhees is played.

That said, I am howling, as the kids say, at Reggie coming at the killer on a tractor. Again, the way it’s played, like a lot of the film, it comes across goofy rather than conquering hero and serious.

I will say, one thing this film does that is interesting is it’s about eight months ahead of its time on is that we have a grown male as one of the “final girls,” which would become a bit more well-known with 1985’s (in November) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. But really, we replay the scenario in the last film with Trish and 12-year-old Tommy by having Pam and Reggie as “final girls” as well. In fact, between Reggie’s tractor save of Pam, and then saving her by shoving the killer off the barn into some sort of spiky apparatus, he’s more of the conquering hero, even if Tommy technically finishes the killer off. Go, Reggie!

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But they waste that opportunity and setup with Reggie, Pam, and to a much lesser extent actually, Tommy, as the surviving victims, and instead focus on all of the other characters because there’s so many deaths to set up with those characters (19 deaths). Characters, mind you, that we don’t care anything about. There’s not a single likable character in this film, even teenager Tommy isn’t that interesting. I take that back: Reggie and Pam are inoffensive as characters. Like I said, neither do a whole lot prior to the last 20 minutes, but they’re also not annoying. So they’re neutral.

They do play the psychological game with Tommy, where he think he’s seeing Jason Voorhees, and he’s snapping on a number of individuals. That’s good. But if the film focused more on that trio and delving more into Tommy’s psychological issues, then it’s a better film.

Visually, the best shot of the film is when the killer does return to get Reggie on top of the barn. I don’t know how he got back to the top, but that visual of him outside the barn trying to grab Reggie looks great.

Turns out, Roy (Wieand), the paramedic at the beginning of the film, was the killer, and apparently, the father of Joey, who was axed to death. Motive. Doesn’t make much sense why he would start killing everyone like Jason Voorhees would instead of just Vic. Okay. Again, what’s the purpose of having this be a Friday the 13th film, with all the hallmarks of such a film, except the thing that most makes it a Friday the 13th film, Jason Voorhees? If you’re going to make it a new killer, which again I find to be stupid (call it a different film, don’t put it under an established brand), then at least do different things with it. It’s all flimsy, with some ham-fisted exposition thrown in at the end. Then for some reason, Tommy has a Jason Voorhees (the new version) mask. And apparently the psychotic break is complete, as he puts the mask on and we’re left hanging on whether he’s going to kill Pam or not. Bleh. Bleh, I say.

Honestly, aside from some decent shots, this is easily the worst film of the franchise so far. Yes, they’re all watchable because I still like the 1980s horror aesthetic and the camp environment, but even if you’re a weirdo like me, who at least likes the special effects of the deaths, the special effects aren’t anything to marvel at either. Nothing quite works here.

And the box office seems to agree. While it still made $22 million on a $2 million budget, which is incredible, it was considered a flop compared to its predecessors. And yes, at this point, we know critics don’t care for it, but it’s the first sign that fans are a bit weaker on the franchise for obvious reasons: There’s no Jason Voorhees.

Fortunately, they do something about that in the next installment …

bleh

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