10/3/12

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Kill Me, Tommy

After only two installments of the Halloween franchise, they tried to leave Michael Myers by the wayside with the maligned entry in the series Halloween III: Season of the Witch. While I love III (and if you haven’t seen the new edition put out by Shout! Factory you’re missing out on the best version of the film out there), the masses in general demanded their Shape, and sure enough six years later the franchise was born again in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers. However, the man in the Shatner mask was not the only slasher whose franchise tried to leave him behind. Such was also the case in today’s film, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Eschewing a numerical mark on this entry in the series, A New Beginning tries to become a jumping off point to leave the mythos of Mrs. Voorhees, Baghead Jason, and the hockey mask in the dust thanks to the murderous hands of Corey Feldman in Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter. We all know how well that worked out. However, director Danny Steinmann, who also wrote the film, crafted a tale which is deeply flawed, but it also manages to draw from the well from which so many slashers spring, the Italian giallo. So join me for this trip to slasher country where A New Beginning slowly and surely gives way to a new life for Jason Voorhees.


After an opening sequence which finds a young Tommy Jarvis (Cory Feldman) squaring off against a reanimated Jason, we are introduced to fully grown Tommy (John Shepherd) who is on his way to a new mental institution after shuffling around to several while he was growing up. (As to what happened to his sister Trish last seen in Part IV, the world may never know) Almost as soon as he arrives at the new institution the Pineway Halfway house, people start dropping dead. First off, a nut who they have chopping wood carves apart a fat, nerdy patient who was chopping wood. Then, even after he’s hauled off to jail, the bodies continue to pile up. Naturally, some of the usual suspects are offed. Kids having sex and smoking weed. Dead. Adults snorting Cocaine before a date. Dead. Nerdy hornballs. Dead. Cute New Wave chicks doing the robot. Dudes with Jeri Curls and a custom van. Random dudes with a broke down car. Dead, dead, and dead. Red herrings abound, and everyone from the ax murderer to Tommy comes under suspicion. However, it might be that Jason is really back from the dead and coming for Mr. Jarvis.

But, it’s not. I’m not going to spoil who the killer is other than to say that it was not Jason, and the only reason I’m even mentioning it is to discuss Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and the Italian giallo. While many slasher films have a similar feeling to gialli, most notably Black Christmas and the first Halloween, of all the Friday franchise (apart from perhaps the first installment), A New Beginning has the most in common with the style. Like a giallo, the film is rife with misdirection which leads the audience in several directions as to whom the killer is, but (as so often the complaint with gialli) the actual culprit is nearly impossible to figure out unless you pick up on some very subtle clues. The killer, who when eventually shown wears a mask similar to Jason but with blue stripes, is mostly seen in shadow or just as appendages, hands and feet stalking a victim. Essentially, this is the modus operandi of a giallo killer. There are also the added giallo tropes of an inept police force (and public officials in general), a fish out of water (Tommy in his new home), and a number of fairly graphic kills.

I say fairly graphic because the movie lacked somewhat I the gore department due to a vast number of cuts demanded by the MPAA. After going though the process no less than nine times, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning finally received an ‘R’ rating from the film board. This leads to a number of frustrating cuts in the film for the gorehound in all of us. While I am certain there is an uncut or directors cut edition, I watched the theatrical cut, and practically every time someone was killed there was a rough, jumpy looking cut where obviously a grosser scene had once made its happy home. I’m kind of glad I saw it that way so I could put myself more into the shoes of a theater viewer in 1985. To put it into and 80’s context (or at least as Joe Bob would have said), this flick had four boobs, one beast, and only one bucket of blood used extremely sparingly. I’m not sure what made the MPAA go nuts over the film (as both the last and next installments are bloodier), but it certainly hindered the success of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning as much as anything else.

Director Danny Steinmann, who also directed LBL favorite Savage Streets, defiantly had a plan when he went into A New Beginning, but if that vision is what came out of the other side after cuts and tinkering, I can’t be sure. While the film entertains, it stands an epic weak spot in the series, and it stands apart as being the only entry in the franchise that lacks an actual Voorhees. Overall, despite the stab at creativity, the combination of some fairly standard film making with the lack of bloody horror elements leaves the viewer with little impression past the film’s denouement. I won’t discuss what happens, but anyone who has seen it knows that this is where the film really goes off the rails. There’s also something really lacking in that there is no clear hero character. John Shepard’s Tommy Jarvis, as IMDB tells me, only utters 24 words in the entire film. Is that enough to make him a creep you can suspect? Yep, but not to make him a character the viewer gives two shits about. Apart from Tommy, there’s almost no one in the cast that stands out. Miguel A. Nunez Jr. , Snake from Return of the Living Dead, entertains as the Jeri Curled custom van owner Demon, but his part is all too short. The only other person who stuck in my mind was Tiffany Helm as the two toned hair New Wave punk, but I have to admit that’s because I have an affinity for crimped hair and people that can do the robot.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning stands as perhaps the weakest film in the series, but saying that, I’ve found it is the most controversial film in the franchise. Some people love it because it is the middle story of Tommy Jarvis, and some people hate it because it is the middle story of Tommy Jarvis. For me, it falls somewhere in between. I enjoyed it better than the pointless 3-D of Part 3, but I liked it less than Jason vs. Feldman in Part 4 (which I thought I had reviewed, but apparently not). It’s not one I think I’m going to pull off the shelf anytime soon, but I also find it to have interesting moments to it. Of course, the public at large was no impressed by interesting moments, and the very next year, Mr. Voorhees was back in Friday the 13th: Part 5: Jason Lives which wraps up the Tommy storyline and re-imagines Jason as a  explicitly supernatural force. In the 80's, Jason and Michael both fought back from being replaced (while meanwhile Freddy was like “Can I get a break here? I’m running out of jokes!”), but in the end it goes to show, you just can’t keep a good slasher down (even if you chain him to the bottom of a lake.)

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2 comments:

  1. While I have grown more fond of this one over the years, it is indeed a week entry. So much just goes awry here.

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  2. the worst of the series but has some interesting moments. i love the thunder'n'lightning hospital scene at the end.

    ReplyDelete

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