It's them damn enchiladas
It’s an obvious joke to point out that Friday the 13th: A New Beginning came out just 11 months after the supposed series-ending Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. But it’s still pretty damn funny.
Nonetheless, I actually like the clear demarcation between Part 4 and Part 5 of the series. There was indeed a thematic sendoff of sorts in The Final Chapter, in which the pure simplicity of the format, as outlined in Part 1 and gradually refined over the subsequent three entries, reached its apex. With Part 5, we have Friday the 13th trying on a bunch of different hats and trying to find a new identity.
The end result, I regret to say, is a big ol’ messy bummer. The failed gambles start with the very premise: This outing is set at a halfway house and putative resort for teenaged head cases. This mere setting, with teens whose issues lie beyond the easy-going frivolity of the characters of previous entries, casts a pall over this entry. David Steinmann, the director and co-writer, has little sense of how to make these darkened characters fun to spend time with, especially juxtaposed with the off-putting comic relief the movie includes.
A New Beginning also attempts to build out a larger world and even some continuity with previous entries in the series, moreso than past sequels. The protagonist is the now-older-teen Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd), a.k.a. the tween played by Corey Feldman in Part 4 who smashed Jason to a bloody pulp in the climax. In fact, Feldman briefly reappears in a nightmare that opens the film.
This is the first Friday the 13th entry that attempts to be a joke-filled horror comedy. Previous entries were, of course, often funny, but in the blackly comic nature of the premise: exaggerated teen caricatures getting stabbed by a psycho in increasingly outrageous manners and circumstances. Here, the series is out of its wheelhouse trying to evoke laughs with stock characters and punchlines more out of a traditional comedy than a campy funhouse thriller.
Alas, nothing that tries to be funny actually lands, meaning significant portions of the script are nails on a chalkboard. The worst offenders are the white trash caricature duo of Ethel (Carol Locatell) and Raymond (Sonny Shields); or maybe it’s the jive-talking Black stoner named Demon (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), who gets digestive issues after eating Mexican food. In the latter case, at least we have the amusing payoff of him getting stabbed through the wall of an outhouse.
The one wrinkle in the story that actually shows promise (if not execution) is the series’ embrace of whodunit storytelling: Previous entries, especially Part 1, had been shot in such a way to conceal the identity of the killer, but none of them embraced the structure or intrigue of the mystery. Part 5 gives us some real looming tension over whether Jason has come back from the dead. If so, how? If not, who’s killing? The idea of a slasher’s mask being a tool for obfuscating the identity of the killer would form the basis of the Scream movies a decade later.
The upshot of having so many fresh ideas and gimmicks is that there is a huge ensemble of characters to show nude and to kill. This film has an absolutely ridiculous body count (and body count, if you catch my drift — Steinmann had directed adult films in his past). Characters are stabbed left and right to the point that I often couldn’t remember who a character was when they died because we’d only seen them once before. And only a couple of the kills have any gnarly or visceral impact, making the actual stabby portions a drag, too.
It adds up to pretty easily the worst of the series up to this point, dropping down past Part 3, which at least had some gimmicky fun and a strong ending. Fingers crossed the sense of experimentation continues in upcoming entries. Heck, maybe some those experiments work will actually work next time.
- Review Project: Friday the 13th Retrospective