Friday the 13th: A New Beginning AKA Friday the 13th, Part V
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Starring: John Shepherd, Melanie Kinnaman, Shavar Ross, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Carol Locatell, Debi Sue Voorhees, Juliette Cummins, Rebecca Wood, Ron Sloan, Marco St. John, Dick Wieand, Richard Young
1/2 (out of 4)
The finality of Jason’s death in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is more than apparent. The guy was chopped up into little pieces by Tommy Jarvis with his own machete. Plus, the movie was titled “The Final Chapter”, a really big clue that there won’t be any more Friday the 13th movies. Except the film made over $30 million dollars, on an roughly $2 million dollar budget. That’s 15 times what it cost – do you honestly believe Paramount is going to sit there and just let that cash cow die? Of course not – producers and execs have to get paid. It was certainly nice (and prescient) of the writers to leave an opening for a sequel – one that would surely have to explore the psyche of poor Tommy, traumatized by his ordeal with the killer, and force him to work out some serious issues. I suppose they could have gone the supernatural route – have Tommy possessed by Jason, for example, but I think I prefer a more realistic story, which is what Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (also known as Part 5) gives us – for about the first five minutes. In the opening pre-credits sequence, Corey Feldman returns in a cameo to witness two dunderheads dig up Jason’s grave, only to see him revive and dispatch them with his trusty machete. Tommy is about to be killed when he wakes up, finding himself in a van being transported to the nut house. Yes, it was just a nightmare, and the now-20-year-old Tommy (John Shepherd) finds himself living in an experimental halfway house somewhere in the woods (I assume in the vicinity of Crystal Lake, although I don’t believe it’s ever mentioned). Not too soon after he arrives, one of the local “residents” – an awkward, overweight, chocolate-bar eating kid named Joey, is brutally chopped up into pieces by another “resident” named Vic. (Tip for mental institutions: you don’t send violent psychotics to no-security halfway homes in the woods, and if you do, don’t ever assign them to wood-chopping duty). After this unfortunate incident, the local folks start falling prey to a mysterious killer. Is it Vic, possibly escaped from the police? Is it the strange drifter in the dirty wife beater? Has Tommy Jarvis finally snapped? Or has Jason Voorhees returned from the grave?
I admire Friday the 13th Part 5 for teasing us with a woods-slasher-mystery. What disappoints me so is that it fails on so many levels. Had director Steinmann and the writers chose to deeply explore Tommy’s psychosis, it might have worked, but they only partly focus on it. There’s no honest effort to get into Tommy’s head, besides the occasional vision of Jason in his room. Shepherd does ok with the limited role he is asked to play, which is basically to look scared, to look intense, to shake violently, beat a few people up, and look scared again. He hardly speaks at all, which I think is a mistake – he’s unable to make any lasting impression and therefore it’s difficult to care much about his predicament. All of the other patients of the home are fairly interchangeable, with no real personalities, although the tradition of hot girls continues – this time around Debi Sue Voorhees (yes, that’s her real last name) wins the prize as the absolute knockout – but Juliette Cummins and Rebecca Wood do their best. As far as colorful characters go, there’s Miguel A. Núñez Jr. (Return of the Living Dead) and Carol Locatell as a crazy hillbilly mother (she’s funny), along with her semi-retarded son (Ron Sloan, who sorta looks like Randy Quaid from the Vacation movies). I suppose you might also give consideration to the character of Reggie, played by Shavar Ross (also known as Dudley from Diff’rent Strokes – I assume he was hired as the Corey Feldman successor). Final girl Pam is played by Melanie Kinnaman; she tries hard to approximate Amy Steel and Kimberly Beck but can’t quite reach their range. Otherwise, Part 5 continues the tradition started in Part 2, which is to introduce characters ever so briefly, and then kill them off almost immediately. They’re just meat for the grinder, except this time around the MPAA decided that gore was suddenly offensive, so we only get a bare glimpse of the kills. It’s just as well, since we only get a bare glimpse of characterization, suspense, and logic.
The reveal of the killer in Part 5 is frustrating, since it’s sorta obvious who it is, and yet at the same time, when his face is revealed, you almost don’t recognize him – his screen time being so minor. It doesn’t make sense anyway – not only are the reasons for his actions difficult to believe, but his supernatural abilities (transporting himself ahead of his victims, crashing through doors, surviving multiple stab wounds and being hit by a forklift) don’t make any sense for a simple flesh-and-blood psycho. Where the character of Tommy ends up isn’t surprising either. The whole thing just plods along like a well oiled machine, but it lacks the “charm” of the first four pictures, if that’s the right word; it just doesn’t carry the same atmosphere. There’s only one sequence – a murder of a waitress in a parking lot – which is composed in a manner that evokes the memory of a giallo, but it’s very fleeting. It’s a bummer, because I think this film had a lot of potential – I liked the idea of local legends being manipulated for nefarious ends, of how a man might commit crimes of murder and hide behind the “mask” of a long dead killer. It’s like Jason was Keyser Soze – anyone could pick up the mask. The problem is that the movie doesn’t have its heart in it. People don’t like this installment because Jason isn’t the one doing the killings. That’s just about the dumbest thing I have ever heard – a man in a mask who doesn’t speak but slaughters teenagers doesn’t exactly have the kind of personality you would miss. Does it really matter who is under there? Besides, there are plenty of other, more valid reasons to dislike the film. I liked where The New Beginning wanted to go, I just don’t like the road it took to get there.
- Bill Gordon