Thursday, May 3, 2007

Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Director: Danny Steinmann

You can’t keep a good franchise down. It’s hard to follow up a movie that was entitled “The Final Chapter,” and this film proves that. Let’s get a few things out of the way first: First, Jason ISN’T the killer in this film. It’s a copycat killer who is even less creative than his idol. So we’re off to a good start. Secondly, I know what you’re thinking: “The disturbed Tommy from part four has put on Jason’s work boots and jumpsuit, and carried on the tradition.” Wrong!! Tommy’s now a near-mute. He has a total of about three lines in the film, and he’s not even necessary to the plot. This film negates the ending of the last one. It would make sense, or at least “Friday the 13th sense,” that Tommy would be our new Jason. Either they didn’t want to use this idea and fulfill expectations, or they simply forgot about it (the more likely scenario). Either way, this film could exist in its own universe, and quite honestly seems to. It probably falls into the category of "it's so bad, it's good."

Eschewing the traditional “flashback” openings of its predecessors, we now know we’re in good hands. It’s also a grim omen that this film is incapable of retaining any classic elements of this franchise. We begin with Tommy Jarvis (played this time by John Shepherd) waking up after having a nightmare about Jason being dug up and continuing his rampage. It’s now several years later, and Tommy is still dealing with the death of his mother, and going nuts-o by chopping Jason to bits. He awakens in a van on his way to the Pinehurst Halfway House, relieved to find out he’s not actually Corey Feldman. Tommy’s now a despondent, Chuck Norris-ish, man-child with a zipper fetish. He’s greeted by the Pinehurst staff and patients. The patients appear to range from the slightly bored to raging violent psychotics. They all wander about the premises, having sex and occasionally attacking each other. It’s not long before one resident ends up chopping another to bits with an axe. I suggest changing “axe class” to macramé or yoga, or something like that… just a suggestion. Tommy witnesses it all, and keeps having visions of Jason wandering around Pinehurst. Jason stands outside Tommy's window in an homage/ripoff of "Halloween." Or maybe Jason just wanted to perform a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" -- "'Tis the East, and Tommy is the sun."

From then on, Tommy assumes the role of the red herring, and takes a back seat to the plot as “Jason” goes on his merry way. The killer takes out an exhibitionist waitress and her coked-up boyfriend, who looks like he should be managing an Arby’s somewhere, in traditional axe stabbing fashion. Another duo, on their way to a "Grease" audition, is offed via a road flare to the mouth, and a knife to the throat. At one of the crime scenes we’re given a major clue to this Sherlock Holmes inspired brainteaser. When an ancillary character is given screen time to merely stare ominously into the camera for more than a few seconds, you know something’s up. Pay attention, you might miss it!! It’s the filmmaking equivalent of screaming, “Get it???!!!!” (wink, wink). We're assured Tommy can't have anything to do with the murders when the dead bodies turn up in his room. Whenever the film goes out of its way to tell you who the murderer is, it's always a set-up. The kills are more implied than they are creative. Out-of-frame stabbings are abundant, and the killer likes to take out people by the eyes for some reason. The nudity is unashamedly and unabashedly exploitative, which is good, since the cast is now back to their “porn star” physiques... unfortunately, that goes hand-in-hand with "porn star" acting abilities. The only character worth his weight in gore is the Michael Jackson wannabe named Demon. It shouldn’t be that pleasing to watch a pole impale someone, but hey, it works for me. “Michael” first shares a duet with Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty) while in an outhouse dealing with his enchilada issue. Janet is quickly dispatched with a knife to the neck; finally back to basics. Jason then attempts the ole “sword-through-the-box” magic trick, with Demon playing the part of his lovely assistant. I can only imagine the standing ovations that scene got in the theaters. There’s also a redneck mother and son team that are probably more suited for an episode of “the Beverly Hillbillies.” Both of whom are decapitated. Mom’s head goes in her stew and Jr.’s flies off while riding his motorcycle. There’s the naked couple who have sex in the woods; always a bad idea in a Friday the 13th film. The buxom babe is taken out with a pair of hedge-clippers to the eyes, and her boyfriend gets his head crushed against a tree in a makeshift tourniquet. There’s a Madonna-esque girl who gets a machete to the gut while rocking out to Muzak, and a topless girl who gets a knife through the chest while on the top bunk bed. There are also a few scenes with the standard clueless Sheriff and his deputies. The scene between the police and the mayor looks like something out of an acting class: "How NOT to do a scene."

The cast is finally whittled down to two: Reggie (played by Shavar Ross), the sassy black kid, and Pam (played by Melanie Kinnaman), the bland and blonde Pinehurst counselor. Once again, the battle ensues in a barn. Jason should know better by now to STAY AWAY FROM BARNS!! Jeez!! Suddenly Tommy shows up, but he panics and gets a machete to the chest. He’s merely wounded. You see, when it’s integral to the plot, Jason has terrible aim. He also has the ability to simply forget about his injuries. Earlier he was run over by a bulldozer manned by Reggie's stunt double, and stabbed in the leg. He simply decides to stop limping, and carry on. Anyway, Reggie shoves Jason out of the top floor of the barn, but Jason’s still clinging for dear life. Tommy chops his arm off (with his own machete again), and he falls onto an oddly placed bed of spikes. His mask flies off, and it turns out it wasn’t the real Jason after all. It was Roy!!! Remember the character who stared longingly into the camera for no particular reason? Yup, that was Roy, the ambulance driver. We learn from the Sheriff that the chubby, chocolate-loving nerd axed to death at the beginning was Roy’s son. Even the Sheriff doesn’t seem to understand what he’s saying. I guess that was enough to send Roy into a killing spree, or something like that. Finally, the film frantically jams its foot in the door to keep this franchise from closing forever. Tommy wakes up in the hospital and has a nightmare about killing Pam, who was visiting him. After waking up from that, apparently he thought, “Hey, that ain’t such a bad idea.” Pam enters the room to find Tommy’s bed empty, and it’s revealed that he’s standing behind her, now sporting the hockey mask, and raising his knife. That’s probably how the film should have begun.

There’s a lot wrong with this film. You could remove it from the series without missing a beat. It’s a complete sidetrack. It's almost so bad that it's endearing, but can’t quite seem to figure out the “Jason formula.” Sure the breasts have increased in both size and number, but where are the inventive deaths? For that matter, where the hell is Jason? It’s not that hard to figure out what Jason fans want. It’s not like we’re mixing a formula for an energy efficient fuel here. It’s more like the formula for Kool-Aid. In the end, “A New Beginning” can’t hold a candle to any of the Friday the 13th films. It’s more like someone whored out the “Jason” name and tried to make their own film. But greedy corporate executives would never do something like that… or would they? Yes they would.

Best Death: Wannabe Fonzie gets a mouthful of road flare.

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