Friday, July 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Friday the 13th: A New Beginning' (1985)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Completely undermining the claims of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, the fifth movie in the repetitive horror series, opened less than a year after its predecessor, promising, well, a new beginning for the aging franchise. It's the first sequel in the series not to open with an explicit recap of previous installments, and the first Friday the 13th not to take place at Crystal Lake. It opens instead with a dream sequence featuring The Final Chapter's Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who imagines Jason rising up from his grave to kill again.

That, of course, is exactly what the audience expects as well, but director and co-writer Danny Steinmann confounds expectations by moving away from Jason and Crystal Lake and cutting ahead several years to the now-teenage Tommy (John Shepherd) on his way to a mental institution. Like many horror-movie protagonists before and after him (including Laurie Strode and Kirsty Cotton), Tommy has been so traumatized by his experience with a psychotic killer that he requires constant care and supervision. And although Tommy seems like he's going to be the main character of the movie, he actually barely speaks and disappears for long stretches in favor of the same standard group of horny delinquents as in every other installment.

The facility where Tommy is sent is sort of a progressive home for wayward teens, which provides plenty of fodder both for the requisite gratuitous nudity and for Jason to hack and slash his way through. But wait, is that really Jason doing the killing? Spoiler for 27-year-old movie: No, it's not, and the movie is set up like a murder mystery, with Steinmann providing several suspects for the faux Jason running around in a hockey mask and wielding a machete. As always, the characters are less than one-dimensional and essentially interchangeable, and the revelation of the killer's true identity is seriously anticlimactic since we've previously seen the character utter maybe two lines in two scenes.

The one interesting thing A New Beginning has going for it is Tommy's trauma, but given how little screen time he actually has, Shepherd doesn't have much to do except look sullen and/or tortured. The scarred final girl (or guy) from a slasher movie has become as much of a cliche as the slasher itself, and Steinmann fails to explore the concept in any kind of compelling way (for one of the most interesting looks at slasher PTSD, check out Rob Zombie's underrated Halloween II). The movie ends (spoiler again) with Tommy completely cracking and becoming the killer we've suspected him to be all along, but audiences were so insistent on Jason's return that the whole idea was abandoned in the next movie anyway.

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