Fake Jason, Real Sleaze: FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING

Over at my Patreon I publish stuff that is subscriber only, such as a deep dive into Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. Here’s the opening of the piece – subscribers get to read, much much more. To read the whole thing become a $10 patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha!

A few years ago The Cinefamily in Los Angeles did a 35mm screening of the Tommy Jarvis Trilogy – Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – and I secured a comfy couch at the front of the theater. The couches were each reserved, and the one next to me was reserved for Quentin Tarantino. That couch sat empty for The Final Chapter, but just before A New Beginning started up Tarantino arrived and plopped his lanky body down next to me. Then, for the next 90 minutes, he hooted and hollered, enraptured by the movie. I watched him almost as much as I watched the film, and as soon as A New Beginning was over Tarantino got up and left.

That night was the night that my slow warming up to A New Beginning finally thawed me out on the film. It had been happening slowly, over many years, but being in the heat of Tarantino’s appreciation truly did it – I now love this movie. This weird, creepy, unfairly maligned movie.

They had truly intended to end the series. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was supposed to close the door on Jason Voorhees and Crystal Lake, four films into the cycle. The formula had already worn thin and returns were not what they had been, and so everybody involved figured it was time to cut and run. On to the next thing!

And then it opened. And it opened big. The promise of a finale to the series drew in the crowds, and they loved it and the movie made a lot of money. Once a movie makes a lot of money you don’t have too many options, at least not in the horror/exploitation space – you gotta make another one. You can’t leave that cash on the table.

But how to follow it up? The fourth film ended with Jason pretty convincingly killed, which is saying something, as he had previously been drowned, hung and axed in the face and yet continued to return again and again. But this time he had taken a machete deep in the brain, and he had slid down the machete, and then young Corey Feldman, a year out from Goonies, had gone to town on his head with that same machete. How to overcome this? The answer was kind of ingenious, and everybody hated it.

The conventional wisdom on the Friday the 13th films was, for years, that Part V: A New Beginning was always the stinker (at least until the series hit Jason Takes Manhattan). It was the worst one, the one with a Fake Jason and a bad mask and we all felt cheated by it. Nobody was showing up to see Roy the Ambulance Driver killing teens, we wanted to see Jason Voorhees, and the film spent its whole running time toying with that idea.

But the conventional wisdom was, as it so often is, wrong. A New Beginning stands proud in the middle of this 12 film series, and it is very unlike the previous films, despite being essentially the Same Old Shit. This movie is mean, it’s sleazy, it’s creepy. The previous four films had a certain structure and this one threw it away, opting instead for a steady series of slayings. It has a huge body count – 22 kills! – and it seems both dismissive of itself and strangely invested in its own psychodrama.

The previous four films had all followed the same outline – the characters make their way to the Crystal Lake environs (either a camp on it or a nice home) and they are actually a fairly pleasant bunch. They have small stories of their own, usually romance-oriented, and they spend the first act of the picture hanging out and trading wisecracks and putzing around cabins. There’s some sex, but these movies are actually lighter on sex and nudity than their reputation claims. In the first couple of Fridays the kids are all sort of regular kids; it isn’t until Part III that they begin becoming ‘types.’ I suspect that this is the result of the rise in teen sex comedies that came in the wake of Porky’s, movies that assembled a group of broadly sketched archetypes – nerd, jock, slut, prude, stoner, etc – but it wasn’t until Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood that this franchise really went down the bland type route.

At any rate, the previous four films all had a first act that might contain a murder – just to prime the pump – but that in modern terms are almost strangely sedate. It’s all set up because the premise is that we are going to watch these kids get picked off, one by one, through the second act. And we’re supposed to, if not care, at least feel tension about this – in the first three movies especially the kills are all done as tension set pieces. We’re not following the killer, we’re following the kids and we’re looking over their shoulders at all times, waiting for a glimpse of the killer.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning throws that all out. The movie has a group of teens in the woods – this time it’s troubled kids at a halfway house – but the film gets to the killing very early on. And, in a real twist on the formula, the first kill isn’t even committed by the film’s baddie, it’s a brutal slaughter committed by a random kid. From there it divides itself in two – the main plot follows Tommy Jarvis, survivor of Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter – and the other half is a series of vignettes, in which characters are introduced and then quickly killed off. Eventually these two halves converge into the third act, which itself changes things up from the already established formula.