Sunday, June 15, 2014

Census Bloodbath: This Is The Part Where The Supposedly Dead Franchise Comes Back To Life

Year: 1985
Director: Danny Steinmann
Cast: John Shepherd, Melanie Kinnaman, Shavar Ross
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The year was 1984. After increasing moral outrage and MPAA sterilization, Paramount decided that a stake was going to be put in the Friday the 13th franchise's heart with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. That promise of pulling out all the stops for the last ever Jason movie caused that little film to bring in a box office 13 times larger than its budget. Whoops.

What was a savvy studio to do, having sent one of their biggest cash cows out to pasture? Well, a mere 11 months later Friday the 13th: A New Beginning plopped into theaters, so it's easy to guess what decision they made.

This is the least permanent setpiece in all of cinema.

For the record, in a review like this, with a movie this old and of this quality, spoilers don't exist. So if you truly and deeply care about not knowing the ending of a much maligned slasher sequel, please go watch it immediately so you can come back and see how remarkably astute and sharp-witted I am in my analysis. 

Luckily for Paramount, The Final Chapter afforded them a quick and dirty entry point into a sequel: the character of Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who went a little bonkers in the end of the last entry and got machete happy on the hockey masked serial killer that murdered his mother. Unfortunately Corey Feldman was in the middle of shooting a little-known adventure movie called The Goonies and was unavailable for most of the infinitely brief shooting schedule.

In response to this, director Danny Steinmann (of the 1980 proto-slasher The Unseen) stuck Feldman in a brief dream sequence in the film's opening, then launched the film into the future as teenage Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd, who would later become a born again Christian, denounce the franchise, and take a bit part in The Hunt for Red October) is being taken to Pinehurst, a rehabilitation center for troubled youths located in the Crystal Lake township.

A place where he can acid wash his hair in peace.

Tommy is a skittish, untalkative boy who has a tendency to Kung Fu Grip the hell out of anybody who tries to sneak up on him. In short, somebody who actually needs psychological treatment and help from a halfway home like this.

Although he clearly doesn't need a personal trainer.

The other kids, though? Aside from Vic (Mark Venturini), who has some pretty deep-set rage issues, and Joey (Dominick Brascia, who would complete a Census Bloodbath hat trick with 1984's They're Playing With Fire and 1986's Evil Laugh in which he played Evil Laugher) who has some sort of coded form of Asperger's, all the teens in the home are just as sane as any other character in the Friday the 13th franchise. Which isn't saying a lot, I suppose, because they all suffer from sex addiction, Ill-Advised 80's Hair Disorder, and Temporary Deafness when there's a killer shanking someone with a railroad spike in the next room, but there's certainly no indication that they need to be in a treatment facility like this.

But for whatever reason, this teen Meat exists and for that we gotta Meet them. There's Tina (Debisue Voorhees, also of Innocent Prey and Appointment with Fear, who was almost certainly cast for her surname, although her willingness to go topless probably helped), the resident sex fiend; Eddie (John Robert Dixon), Tina's other half and wearer of hilariously low cut shirts, one of which goes almost all the way to his belt; Jake (Jerry Pavlon), who has a stutter; Violet (Tiffany Helm), who is the movie's appointed 80's Ambassador and looks like the love child of Madonna and a keytar; and Robin (Juliette Cummins, who went on to become a veritable Scream Queen in Psycho III, Deadly Dreams, and Slumber Party Massacre II), who is a human female, an empty shell who exists only to be punctured by machete.

As if that wasn't enough to swallow, there's also Dr. Letter (Richard Young), the director of Pinehurst; Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman), the assistant director; Reggie (Shavar Ross, later a recurring actor on Diff'rent Strokes), the hilariously overwritten minority and grandson of the caretaker; and Ethel (Carol Locatell) and Junior (Ron Sloan), the hillbilly garbage mom and son that live next door and arrive every now and then to provide their own very special (read: absolutely noxious) brand of comic relief.

You can practically smell them through the screen.

So that's quite the impressive cast (in terms of size and nothing else). And we're not even through with it, although I will stop the laundry listing. You see, this is the film that began the Friday the 13th bad habit of introducing side characters that are totally unconnected to the plot so they can perform one scene and then get bumped off. It's the worst kind of body count padding, because it's hard to care about the fate of some random hick who washed up onscreen during the middle of the second act.

Because of the sheer number of these types of scenes, it's nigh on impossible for A New Beginning to maintain a cohesive plot with any means of propulsion whatsoever. But, for what it's worth (not a lot), there is in fact a story buried in here.

After the angry Vic kills the supremely annoying Joey - one could say he's the Olaf of slasher characters - with an axe while he's chopping wood (the one and only moment in a later Friday the 13th sequel to truly surprise me, so kudos), Tommy is on edge and sees visions of Jason around every corner. When people around the center end up missing or dead, Tommy wonders if the man he hacked to death with a machete so many years ago could possibly have returned to exact his revenge.

Unfortunately Tommy just isn't nearly as interesting this time around as he was in The Final Chapter and would be again in Jason Lives. This is partially due to a bland performance from Mr. Shepherd, who can't even find the joy in getting to do cool karate moves (which he promptly forgets once it comes time to battle Jason - another bad habit of the franchise is people forgetting or not utilizing learned skills when it's crunch time.) and partially due to the fact that his character just straight-up vanishes for the bulk of the third act in support of a half-assed "is Tommy the killer?" mystery plotline.

Spoiler #1: Tommy is not the killer. Spoiler #2: His maskmaking skills also have no applicable use in this film.

The time has come. Do you want to know who the killer is? DO YOU?! WHO IS WEARING JASON'S MASK?! It's Jason, right? ...right?

Naw, it's Roy.

Who? Exactly.

Go ahead and control-F to search for any mention of Roy before this paragraph. Did you find anything? That's because Roy is an inconsequential minor character. A paramedic with two brief scenes. It turns out that he's the father of Joey, the boy who was killed by Vic in the beginning, and seeing his son's dead body sent him into a rage spiral and he decided to copycat Jason Voorhees in order to exact bloody vengeance.

Oops, there goes the can of worms.

First of all, audiences hated that it wasn't Jason behind the mask. There was a general outrage the likes of which had never been seen before in the horror community. It was like if George Lucas had put Hello Kitty stickers on Darth Vader's helmet in The Empire Strikes Back. Let me be the first to say that I personally have no qualms with Jason not being the killer. He wasn't the killer in the original movie, so it's not like there's no precedent. And it's still a fun bad movie about a guy in a hockey mask killing promiscuous teens, so it doesn't really matter what the dude's name is.

What does matter, however, is narrative logic, of which this film has not one iota. There's the fact that the killer is such a random side character, only the most sharp-eyed viewers will actually be able to remember his face when it's time for the big reveal. There's the fact that his revenge motive is utter hogwash because many of his numerous victims had nothing to do with Pinehurst at all and were in fact miles away from the property when they were murdered. There's the fact that he gets so in character as Jason, he apparently remembers Tommy Jarvis' attack and responds to him like an old enemy. There's the fact that Vic, the boy who killed his son, is never even killed.

And why the Jason thing in the first place? I mean, obviously they wanted to make another Friday the 13th movie, so that's why. But seriously. The filmmakers try to get around the bait-and-switch by making the mask's markings powder blue instead of the traditional red (which can be seen in Tommy's fantasy version of Jason), but there's only so far I'm willing to follow that idea down the rabbit hole.

See for yourself - Roy Jason

"Real" Jason

I am impressed that the film managed the internal continuity to separate the fake and real Jason, especially considering this is also the movie in which Jason tightens a strap by turning it both clockwise and counter-clockwise and a dead body appears in a bed in the space of a cut. But, moving on.

I don't ask a lot from these movies in terms of realistic psychology, but is that really the best copycat motive anyone could come up with? I know you had a month, but come on! I'd rather have Tommy Jarvis be the killer. I'd rather have it be Violet, turned to violence by her sinful rock n' roll music. Heck, I'd rather have it be Pamela Anderson, tired of being viewed as a sex object and ready to embark upon a new career path.

I would watch the hell out of that movie.

So while I'm totally fine with a non-Jason killer, this movie could have used a couple hundred more rewrites before its release, and it is certainly not helped by the deficit of decent gore effects. The film was too thrown together and cheap to afford the lovely designs of a master like Tom Savini and was one of the most neutered by the MPAA in the series thus far. The final nail in the coffin is Pam, the de facto Final Girl, one of the most ineffectual female characters to ever grace the silver screen, tripping her way across the flat forest floor, and generally turning into a useless, quivering heap whenever "Jason" is around.

So without a solid killer, a memorable heroine, or great grue, A New Beginning shouldn't have a leg to stand on. However, the film is so terrible and so firmly entrenched in the 80's that it's fabulously ripe to be mocked.

Every outfit and song comes from a time where the insides of people's closets could sear a cornea if you weren't wearing the proper eyewear. One of the early false scares involves a cat falling onto somebody from the ceiling of a restaurant

And the acting is the worst in the series - not exactly one known for Oscar-caliber talent in the first place. Mark Venturini approaches his character with all the delicacy, grace, and misplaced venom of Chris R from The Room, one of the greaser characters is played by a timid and effete man who exudes the awkwardness of a fifth grader in a turkey costume, and Melanie Kinnaman, our very own Final Girl, overacts like the worst of the silent film actresses of yesteryear, over-extending every limb like she's about to be tied to a railroad track.

Pictured: Pam in a more low key moment.

Luckily, one of the hallmarks that keeps the slasher-exploitation genre totally engaging is present in full force - awkwardly shoved in topless scenes. One, a teen sex scene, fits in perfectly with the genre and the franchise. The one where a waitress flashes herself in the bathroom proclaiming "It's showtime"? Not so much. And the scene where a bare-breasted Robin gets in bed, carefully positioning her blanket so as to not cover her nipples? Classic. Even Pam gets in on the fun, running around in a soaking wet see-through top for a solid ten minutes toward the end. 

A New Beginning takes place in a universe where bras have never been invented, possibly having been sucked into the wormhole created when it was announced that The Final Chapter would have a sequel. It's so misguidedly sleazy that it's impossible not to laugh.

Throw in the tacked on "Tommy is the bad guy" shock ending that would immediately be forgotten and you've got yourself a prime cocktail of awful. It's no good as a sequel to the beloved Part IV and it's just plum dumb, but at least it's got a lock on being one of the best bad pictures around.

Killer: Roy (Dick Wieand) as Jason Voorhees (Tom Morga)
Final Girl: Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) feat. Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman)
Best Kill: Violet is killed while doing the robot in her room to this song.
Sign of the Times: Literally anything Violet ever says, wears, or does.

Scariest Moment: Corey Feldman's "scared" face in the dream sequence looks uncomfortably pleasure-filled.
Weirdest Moment: Demon and Anita flirt through the wall of an outhouse while he poops out his enchilada.
Champion Dialogue: "Crap, my ass!"
Body Count: 21; including the killer, 2 in a dream, and one person killed by somebody other than "Jason." Any way you slice it, it's the highest body count in the series so far.
  1. Neil is stabbed in the gut with a machete in a dream.
  2. Les gets a spike to the neck in a dream.
  3. Joey is axed to death by Vic.
  4. Vinnie gets a flare in the mouth.
  5. Pete gets his throat slashed.
  6. Billy gets axed in the head. 
  7. Lana is axed in the tummy.
  8. Raymond the Drifter is stabbed in the stomach.
  9. Tina gets her eyes clipped with garden shears.
  10. Eddie's head is crushed against a tree with a leather strap. 
  11. Anita's throat is slit.
  12. Demon is speared through an outhouse wall.
  13. Junior is decapitated on his motorcycle.
  14. Ethel is cleavered in the face and drowned in her stew.
  15. Jake is cleavered in the face.
  16. Robin is macheted in the chest through her bed.
  17. Violet is macheted in the stomach. 
  18. Duke the paramedic has his throat slit.
  19. Matt gets a railroad spike through the head, pinning him to a tree.
  20. George aka Gramps has his eyes gouged out.
  21. Roy falls onto a bed of spikes. 
TL;DR: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is hilariously awful, no two ways about it.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 2494
Reviews In This Series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (McLoughlin, 1986)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

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