Juliette CumminsCorey FeldmanMelanie KinnamanFriday the 13th
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Medium: film
Year: 1985
Director: Danny Steinmann
Writer: Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, Danny Steinmann
Keywords: horror, slasher
Country: USA
Actor: Anthony Barrile, Suzanne Bateman, Dominick Brascia, Todd Bryant, Curtis Conaway, Juliette Cummins, Bob DeSimone, John Robert Dixon, Corey Feldman, Jere Fields, Tiffany Helm, Melanie Kinnaman, Richard Lineback, Carol Locatell, Ric Mancini, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Corey Parker, Jerry Pavlon, Shavar Ross, Rebecca Wood, John Shepherd, Sonny Shields, Eddie Matthews, Ron Sloan, Marco St. John, Caskey Swaim, Mark Venturini, Debi Sue Voorhees, Vernon Washington, Chuck Wells, Dick Wieand, Richard Young
Format: 92 minutes
Series: << Friday the 13th >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089173
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 11 December 2009
It's not good, but it doesn't deserve the derision I've seen it get in some quarters. Its failures can be split into two kinds: (a) reasons why fanboys would hate it, and (b) more objective crimes against cinema, most of which fall into the category of "it's a Friday the 13th film" and hardly seem to warrant different treatment from its predecessors. I certainly don't see it as the worst Friday the 13th film, or even the worst so far. Personally I enjoyed it more than parts 1-3, although I'm sure it helped that my expectations were apocalyptically low. Those were passable but slightly empty films that seemed to me less than the sum of their parts, whereas this is pretty much gibberish but struck me as having a bit more personality.
Its plot really is a shocker, though. Even in a franchise that wears its incompetence like a badge and barely has a total of thirty minutes' plot across the four films to date, this instalment stands out as uniquely hare-brained. If the earlier films in this franchise were running naked after the art of screenwriting with a chainsaw, this film is nuking Robert McKee from orbit as the only way to be sure. It's the genetically engineered super-soldier of its branch of evolution. Cinema can hardly go further in the direction of a lack of plot structure, since it's hard to get more ramshackle than having no storyline at all. In fairness it avoids the bigger sins like plot holes, character actions that don't make sense and so on, but that just makes it a purer example of what it is.
The best way to explain is by synopsis, but you needn't worry about spoilers because the film doesn't contain any. I'm not kidding, by the way. Some movies can't be discussed without spoilers (e.g. Psycho), but this is a rare example of the opposite. Tommy Jarvis from Part 4 is traumatised by his experiences with Jason Vorhees and is currently being transferred to his latest mental health institution. Billy introduces Tommy to Pam, who takes him to meet Reggie and Matthew, who explains that the house is run on an honour system. The house's staff seem nice enough, but its inmates look to be immature and unstable. Vic murders Joey with an axe, for instance. So far the film's narrative has been proceeding conventionally, but this is where it starts breaking up like Arctic ice floes. 1. Two bad boys called Vinnie and Pete are having trouble with their car, whereupon someone murders them. 2. Billy drives to the diner to pick up his girlfriend, Lana, and someone murders them. 3. Eddie and Tina sneak off to have sex, spied on by Raymond, and someone murders all three of them. 4. Pam, Reggie and Tommy visit Reggie's brother Demon and Demon's girlfriend Anita, but afterwards... no, go on, guess. 5. Junior is annoying Ethel (and us) until someone murders them. You could keep this up for days, but then the script realises that it's nearing the end of the running time and rushes into a laughable ending in which Reggie decides he's Ripley from Aliens and I honestly lost track of which corpses we'd already known about, so my best guess as to body count is around 16-18-ish. Finally the guy in the hockey mask turns out not to be Jason but some guy we've almost forgotten about who got about twenty seconds' screen time over an hour ago. After that there's an epilogue with the survivors in hospital, with dream sequences and an attempted reboot of the franchise. It's your choice how you interpret it, but the next movie will ignore all this and just bring Jason Vorhees back from the dead again. The end.
No, I'm not exaggerating. That middle section is nothing but folks we've never met before, popping up when it's their turn to die. In fact I'm understating the case, since the finale is hilariously bad by anyone's standards and will need its own separate kicking later. This movie is almost incredible in the way it ignores story. Everyone we meet is a throwaway character with only a few minutes' screentime, even the leads. I like some of these actors a lot, but they're being left stranded by a film that keeps switching focus to the next bunch of cannon fodder. I'm reminded of a cliche from the Doctor Who books. We'd suddenly find ourselves inside the head of some unfamiliar character, being told about his family, ambitions, job and shoe size... which of course guaranteed that he was going to die in the next three or four pages. This whole movie's like that. Who's that? Oh, they're dead. Who's that? Oh, they're dead, too. Mind you, at least the Doctor Who novels would try to create a bit of poignancy in these vignettes, whereas these are the kind of characters who exist more for "it's showtime!" (takes off her top).
I did like the protagonists, though. There's Tommy Jarvis, who's no longer played by Corey Feldman because he was busy on The Goonies. They bring him back for a dream sequence (not a flashback), but otherwise Tommy's all grown up and played by John Shepherd. It's a challenging role, being deeply disturbed and yet also bottling it all up, preferring to avoid conversation. He's the main character, but he only says 24 words throughout the film. Shepherd does really well with this, manages to be hostile, brooding and on occasion shockingly violent, yet also oddly sympathetic. He's still making those monster masks. He randomly beats the shit out of people who are annoying him, but I approved since that's a survival instinct in a Friday the 13th film and they were both dicks anyway.
Another memorable character is being played by Shavar Ross, a charismatic child actor who never seems forced or unnatural. "Do me a favour, don't kiss me when there's people around, okay?" I liked his scene with his big brother, who as it happens is being played by one of the few people here who went on to have an acting career. I'll even mention the pretty blonde who helps manage the loony bin, who's likeable despite being so unconvincing at the 67 minute mark that I thought we were being tipped off that she was the killer.
Most of the others are fine. One thing I liked was that since Jason's still dead, the film's having fun with red herrings as to which incidental character's really going to be wearing the hockey mask. It's nothing too obvious, but it's still fun. Someone will give a murderous stare for no apparent reason, be seen carrying around an axe or else merely be saying unfortunate dialogue. "As far as I'm concerned, all those loonies should be killed off one by one." It gives a bit of texture and it helps the film's world feel a bit more real. We meet a lot of people, although usually briefly, and I like the way this gives us a bigger picture than usual. For once the outside world isn't oblivious to what's going on. The townsfolk have opinions on all these disturbed teenagers. The police are being pressured from above to catch the killer. It's also worth mentioning that the disturbed teens are dysfunctional idiots who can't even interact normally with each other, which means that even if they're stupid and unsympathetic, at least they're convincing. So that's better than A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, then.
No, the people I disliked were the rednecks. Old Troll Mama is over the top, but her knuckle-dragging son is like Mr Gumby out of Monty Python. While they're on screen, the movie turns into a sketch show. The rest of the film I could live with, but they were too much for me. "You big dildo." Note also the policeman who says, "Looks like we got us a maniac on the loose, eh, sheriff?" and you'll see that we seem to be visiting Congenital Inbreeding, Hicksville.
Then there's the comedy finale. What's funny about it is that the filmmakers have taken the wrong lesson from Part 4, which gave us a kick-arse finale by giving its Last Survivor a meaningful fight against Jason. This film though has its Last Survivors beating the crap out of pseudo-Jason in such a one-sided fashion that it looks as if they're bullying him. A small child drives a yellow bulldozer through a wall, while the blonde finds a chainsaw. C'mon, give him a chance! After that Tommy turns up, only to stand there emoting as pseudo-Jason walks up to him slowly and hits him with a machete. Tommy watches him coming and everything. Of all the things I admire about John Shepherd's work in this movie, the greatest by light-years is how near he gets to pulling this off. Naturally Tommy doesn't die, so now it's three on one. Look out, pseudo-Jason! He's got a penknife! Unfortunately any sympathy we might have felt for pseudo-Jason disappears when he assumes that Tommy is dead and there's no need to stab him to be sure, despite the fact that the guy's just climbed up a loft ladder. What a stupid pseudo-Jason.
You're probably thinking this doesn't sound good, but it still doesn't explain why so many fans hated it. Did all the previous films have plots? Did none of them have goofy finales? Anyone who thinks this is a good franchise presumably has a healthy tolerance against all this stuff I've been talking about, so we're going to have to look for other explanations:
(a) Maybe they hated Jason not being Jason? Admittedly it's a lacklustre unmasking since you'd have to have been paying close attention to remember the killer's thirty seconds of screen time over an hour earlier, but the clues were there (albeit amid red herrings) and the film spends a surprising amount of time afterwards on a rather good explanation of why he did it. More likely is that the fans felt deceived and betrayed. I can imagine them saying that, too.
(b) The kills suck. The body count's way up there, to an extent that for its sake they've abandoned any attempt at plotting, but they almost all look rubbish. We hardly ever see the weapons going in, with most of the gore shots being merely a quick look at the bodies afterwards. Admittedly there are one or two exceptions, but they're rubbish. Throat-slittings never look convincing, merely drawing a line across the actor's neck instead of cutting the flesh. In fairness the spike through the toilet wall is okay, while I laughed out loud at the fake decapitation. There's nearly some imaginative stuff here (e.g. Roman candle in the mouth, shears in the eyes), but we see so little that it's no surprise to learn that just a month before release, the MPAA demanded edits to sixteen gore or sex scenes. The film was submitted nine times before they agreed to an "R" rating instead of an "X". Damn, where's Spielberg when you need him? Oh, and the "strap around the head" death is silly.
(c) The nudity, although what's left is still eye-catching. The film knows its duty and the breasts have been getting bigger as the series goes on. However the blonde heroine never gives us a tit shot despite spending the entire finale in a wet shirt. Disgusting, I call it.
Overall, this is laughably weak filmmaking. The story's so threadbare that you'll see reviewers misremembering Tommy being accused of murders he didn't commit even though no such thing ever happens, because your brain might start inventing plotlines in hindsight. Nature abhors a vacuum, you see. As storylines go, it's a Rorschach blot. Half the cast is inbred, retarded, annoying or psychotic and not all of them have the excuse of being inmates in a mental institution... but I don't mind the film. It has personality. Its disturbed teens are plausibly so. Its policemen aren't just cannon fodder. There's quite a lot of drug use. We meet lots of different kinds of people, a few of whom are fun and/or psychologically interesting and played by good actors. Shepherd and Ross in particular are worth a look. Jason staying dead allows the filmmakers to play with those understated red herrings, which I thought was one of the more interesting things here and made a change from yet more bloody Jason. Oh, and not only is there a False Scare by Cat (blatantly thrown on-set by a stage hand), but there's also a False Scare by Fluffy Bunny Rabbit, which made me laugh.
Obviously I'd never dare recommend it, though. I'm not that crazy.