There’s an old song by Crosby, Stills & Nash which sagely urges that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” With so many horror films in recent years failing to deliver the sort of thrills that made us genre fans in the first place (Consider the bulk of this year’s theatrical output, if you need proof!), the Schlockfinder General has long labored to heed the advice of those old hippies and try to love even the least lovable of contemporary scare screeners. Of course, some movies are just so awful that they’re destined to be shunned and ignored until they fade from existence. Another old song declares that “you’re nobody until somebody loves you,” and some celluloid stinkers wholly deserve to remain nobodies forever. But often, even the most seemingly indefensible clunker has merits which can be appreciated – and even savored – by an open-minded, fun-loving fright fan. For this reason, I give you THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE… The third defendant in this court of public opinion? FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING!
When you get right down to it, the saga of Crystal Lake has always been one of new beginnings. Steve Christy wants to re-open his parents’ summer camp, and Mrs. Voorhees gets a chance to finish the work she began a decade and a half earlier. Jason looks for his mother but instead, upon witnessing her decapitation, finds his destiny. A few years later, he gets a new look and a new lease on life when a dumpy kid named Shelly introduces him to a little piece of safety equipment known as a hockey mask. Still later, Mrs. Voorhees’ pride and joy finds life beyond the grave, away from the shores of Crystal Lake, outside the confines of his disfigured body, and even beyond the solar system. Hell, he’s even experienced the ultimate form of fresh start – the reboot. Through twelve screen outings, Jason’s story has been an inspirational one, an uplifting tale of constant rebirth and revitalization.
But in the history of the FRIDAY THE 13TH film franchise, there’s only ever been one true new beginning. By letting that kid from THE GOONIES hack poor J.V. into filets at the end of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, the folks at Paramount had backed themselves into a corner. How could they keep the cash cow series alive when its infamous antagonist was irrefutably, undeniably deceased? The answer was that someone else was going to have to take up the machete and pick up right where good old Jason left off.
By now, you know the story of FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING – teenager Tommy Jarvis is transferred from an insane asylum to a halfway house for troubled youth when his doctors (rather prematurely) conclude that he’s completely gotten over the trauma of turning a psycho killer into ground chuck when he was 11-years-old. No sooner has Tommy arrived, though, when one of the patients at the nut hatch goes batshit and takes apart the token fat kid with an axe. Pretty soon, someone is running around in a hockey mask, knocking off one-note teens and sleazy, small town stereotypes with abandon. Has Jason come back from the afterlife, or has poor, disturbed Tommy finally gone off the deep end? Neither; the killer turns out to be Roy, a paramedic who also happens to be the deadbeat father of the chunky chump axed to death in the film’s opening moments.
Though A NEW BEGINNING is the sixth highest grossing film in the franchise (not bad for a series whose 13th installment is currently in preproduction), many fans view it as an unforgivable artistic failure. Whatever it may have going for it, these aficionados argue, it ain’t FRIDAY THE 13TH without Jason. I have to confess that, despite my unwavering “half full” worldview, I was once inclined to agree with the movie’s detractors on this all-important point. Even as a horror-mad adolescent coming of age at the height of the slasher craze, I had trouble accepting the notion that the Camp Blood mythos could begin again without a single member of the Voorhees clan on hand to get the heads rolling. When I first saw the film, I was admittedly unimpressed.
But many years and many more viewings later, I’ve come to realize that A NEW BEGINNING was not only exactly what the series needed at the time of its release; it’s also a rip-roaring good time for any lover of drive-in exploitation, FRIDAY THE 13TH fan or otherwise.
Think about it. Even by this series’ standards, Part V is brimming with gratuitous nudity and graphic violence. It features more sleazy characters per frame than every film in the HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series combined. It’s got cocaine, outdoor sex, perverts, peeping toms, hillbillies, nutjobs, crooked politicians, marijuana, an extraneous dismemberment, and a good dozen or so relatively offensive (but enjoyable) 80s stereotypes. Most of its murders have overtly sexual overtones – a naked girl’s lustful eyes are gouged out with hedge clippers; her horny boyfriend’s head is crushed with a leather strap; a vaguely homosexual greaser is killed with a very phallic road flare in the mouth; another naked girl gets a long, hard machete right between her bare breasts. In fact, were it not for the pesky MPAA, A NEW BEGINNING would have featured a scene in which one nubile New Waver takes the killer’s blade right in her womanhood, if you follow me. There isn’t this much death and debauchery in an entire season of LAW AND ORDER: SVU!
My personal favorite scene involves a hip, jerry-curled good-for-nothing named Demon, who happens to be the older brother of Reggie, the 12-year-old live-in grandson of the cook at the halfway house. Demon shows up in his van with his hot squeeze Anita in tow and promptly lights up a joint, which he and the girl share in front of the hero-worshipping Reggie. After Reggie takes off to mack on an older white chick, Demon gets a case of explosive diarrhea and runs to a nearby outhouse, doubled over and groaning as he strains to hold back the oncoming storm. Inside, we are treated to a symphony of grunts, moans, and sickeningly wet sounds as he relieves himself. When Anita tries to scare him by shaking the outhouse, our nauseous friend shifts from cool drifter to woman-beating misogynist, calling her “bitch” and promising that she’s “gonna get it” when he gets out. To make things up to him, Anita begins singing a sweet melody, sparking what is undoubtedly the only shithouse soul duet in the history of cinema. If the sight of these two warbling lovebirds performing a musical number while one of them sits in the pungent vapors of his own runny feces doesn’t warm your heart, however, fear not. The fake Jason promptly arrives and, like Simon Cowell with an expense account at Home Depot, offers his own sharp critique of their vocal stylings. Anita gets her velvet throat slit open, while Demon is impaled with a great big metal spear.
Now I’m no Rachel (or Fred Olen) Ray, but I know that when you throw together a bargain basement El DeBarge, a foxy mama, an outdoor toilet, Mary Jane, Mexican fast food, Dudley from DIFF’RENT STROKES, a tender love ballad, Montezuma’s Revenge, a gallon of blood, and a homicidal maniac in a hockey mask and a bald cap, you’ve got a gourmet grindhouse stew goin’!
A NEW BEGINNING is sort of the HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH of this franchise – if it wasn’t called “FRIDAY THE 13TH” and the killer wasn’t imitating Jason Voorhees, it would be fondly remembered as a minor classic of the slasher Golden Age. Indeed, the filmmakers could have spared themselves more than two decades of scorn by just going ahead and making Tommy the killer, since fans of THE FINAL CHAPTER would have been far more amenable to that obvious “twist” than to some contrived nonsense about a tortured EMT and his functionally retarded offspring. But even with its misleading title and muddled mystery, the movie delivers more than enough titillation and carnage to make it worth 92 minutes of your life and a place on your DVD shelf. It’s the sort of tasteless terror tale that no less an authority on the subject than the great Joe Bob Briggs would (and did) award four out of five stars for its wonderfully wretched excesses.
And just try to get that Pseudo Echo song (and the jerky dance Violet does to it) out of your head! “There’s a man with no life in his eyes…”
NEXT ON THE DOCKET: The forgotten slasher “classic” SILENT SCREAM, starring the legendary Barbara Steele!