|Review||Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)||Director||Danny Steinmann|
|Writers||Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen and Danny Steinmann|
|Cast||John Shepherd, Melanie Kinnaman, Richard Young, Bob DeSimone, Shavar Ross, Marco St. John, Tiffany Helm, Dick Wieand, Tom Morga and Corey Feldman|
“It’s a wonder his mind isn’t fried with all the drugs they been giving him”. – Matt
Five years after surviving a night of terror at the hands of Jason Voorhees; Tommy Jarvis (Shepherd) finds himself in a rural halfway house in New Jersey for mentally disturbed teenagers. Ever since that fateful night Tommy has been, more or less, a basket case and has never gotten the image of Jason out of his mind. The halfway house, run by Matt (Young) and employee Pam (Kinnaman) seems to be a decent place save for one horrible incident when a patient kills another with an axe. The staff and patients try to move on as best they can.
Before long a series of murders in the area shake up the local community and soon the killer’s sights are on the residents of the halfway house. Could it be that Jason himself is back from the dead and committing these murders?
-SPOILER ALERT FOR THE ENTIRE REVIEW-
There’s no way of discussing the merits and deficiencies of the fifth chapter in the “Friday the 13th” series without divulging the final twist. You have been warned!…but I think the vast majority of interested readers will already know the film by heart.
“Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (no Part V in the on-screen title) was long considered the series’ low point and mostly because of the fact that the killer isn’t Jason. It’s a shock ending, for sure, as most twists involve revealing who the killer is rather than who he isn’t but it left a bitter aftertaste for those expecting Jason. The MPAA also enforced some drastic cutting on the gore scenes leaving the film fairly tame especially considering with what the fourth instalment got away with. So the kills were lacklustre and the killer wasn’t Jason! How on earth were Friday the 13th enthusiasts gonna walk away happy?
As the dust has settled over the years the film’s reputation has grown steadily and it’s a welcome addition to the series as it bridges the gap between human Jason in Parts 2, 3 and The Final Chapter and zombie Jason in “Jason Lives: Friday the 13th. Part VI” (1986) and onwards. The fifth chapter is also quite adventurous and ambitious in how the story would possibly go forward. As Jason was pretty definitively killed in “The Final Chapter” the filmmakers decided to flesh out a final freeze-frame in the film that teased a possible scenario. It was a gutsy move and, in the end, it only half succeeds but the game attempt has come to be appreciated by more and more fans of the franchise.
“A New Beginning” (a clever title) basically sets up Tommy as the next killer for the franchise. There are a number of veiled clues for eagle eyed watchers (and listeners) tipping them off that the killer is someone else and the final frame basically cements Tommy in the role of future killer. The killer here has a bit of a backstory which explains his motives and it really isn’t that bad. A patient in the halfway house named Joey (Dominick Brascia) is hacked to pieces by another patient, Victor (Mark Venturini), and local paramedics Roy (Wieand) and his partner arrive at the scene. Roy is visibly upset when he sees Joey lying there in pieces and so he should be. Turns out that Joey was Roy’s son but Roy split years before and only watched Joey from afar. His son’s brutal killing sets Roy off his rockers and he dons a Jason look-alike disguise and starts killing people in the area and works his way to the halfway house. In turn the sight of Jason, even a look-alike Jason, and another bloody confrontation sends Tommy into Crazy-Land for good and he ends up donning the hockey mask and wielding a machete.
So this isn’t a “Chinatown” (1974) piece of material or storytelling but it’s more than meaty enough for a fifth entry in a slasher series that aims to surprise and take the story further. Problem is, and it’s an inherent one, that this is a fifth entry in an established franchise and certain requirements have to be met. The director was instructed to have a kill or a fright scene every 7-8 minutes apart and that alone leaves little room for backstories or any kind of character development. A required dose of T&A has to be supplied too. It’s all accounted for here and the film racks up no less than 20 kills overall and decent amount of skin. The cuts enforced by the MPAA look especially intrusive here but the jarring cuts from a kill scene to the next one has been a fixture of the series from Part 2.
“A New Beginning” also has a few unforgivingly idiotic characters mixed in with some genuinely interesting ones. Tommy is the crown jewel here and Shepherd admirably conveys his fragile and rather explosive mental state. Matt is interesting and well played by Young but his lack of screen time is disappointing. Fellow inmates at the halfway house make the most of their limited screen time and manage to assert of bit of personality before being duly dispatched of. Then there is a rather goofy looking sheriff (St. John) and a stupid looking deputy; a dumbass mayor; a country hick woman and her infuriatingly annoying son attempting some sort of comedy relief and fairly annoying would-be victims who get more screen time than they should before being killed off. Scenes involving these characters undermine a mostly successful low-key atmosphere much more reminiscent of the original “Friday the 13th” (1980) than the three sequels that followed.
In the end; “A New Beginning” is not some neglected gem nor the the bottom of the barrel as far as the “Friday the 13th” series is concerned (that dubious honor goes to the atrocious “Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday – 1993). It is, however, a gutsy film for trying to expand the universe in a series that was getting beyond repetitive and yet maintaining all the lovable clichés and nastiness that audiences expected to see. It’s not entirely successful but overall the film boasts a creepy atmosphere and has some terrific set-pieces and that crackerjack of an ending. But, not too unlike what happened just a few years later with “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” (1988) which promised an entirely new ball game next time around, the decision was made to bring back Jason in the next instalment. That was a fun film in many ways and it’s certainly among the funniest and subsequent sequels had their moments but it mainly went downhill from here.