Friday, May 13, 2016

Happy Friday the 13th: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

I could have selected any Friday the 13th film to review today, to celebrate this horror holiday. 

But I chose 1988’s The New Blood, directed by John Carl Buechler, for a few reasons. 

First, this entry features my all-time favorite kill in the long-lived slasher franchise: the sleeping bag murder. 

And secondly, the film’s climax is dominated by a clutch of really great, really inventive gags. Jason Voorhees, like Wily Coyote, gets felled by a falling roof, and punctured by nails to the head. And then he falls through a staircase, and finally gets burned alive (or undead, as the case may be.)

What’s not to love?

Well, actually, quite a lot. 

The New Blood is not exactly a good horror film, but at the very least it helps demonstrates a theory that I have attempted to explain to my eight-year old son, Joel.

And that theory goes like this: Once upon a time horror films didn’t take themselves so bloody seriously, and emerged, sometimes, as a whole of fun. 

During my teenage years, a group of high school friends would get together on Friday nights and we’d all go see these films at the theater. The Friday the 13th movies were good for a laugh; and sometimes good for a scream too.

That doesn’t mean such films are actually good, however. It only means they are fun.

The New Blood is, in terms of this dynamic, buckets full of “fun.” It’s not good in any conventional or critical sense.

If you are seeking a “good” Friday the 13th movie, I would recommend the 1980 original, the 1981 first sequel, or Part VI: Jason Lives, which has a great sense of humor about itself.

The New Blood -- a kind of Jason vs. Carrie on the cheap -- also represents a point of no return for the franchise. The Jason saga was competing, at this historical juncture, with the far more popular (and more imaginative) Nightmare on Elm Street series, and the writers/producers/directors of the late era Friday the 13ths embarked upon creative somersaults to help Jason compete.

In the span of a few years, Jason battled Carrie, visited New York City, became a body-hopping demon, went to outer space and was re-born as a menacing cyborg, and then went head-to-head with Freddy before, finally, a 2009 reboot that felt like Jason’s Greatest Hits…one…more…time.

A New Blood is the inauspicious start of that trend, an era when a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach was adopted for the Friday the 13th franchise. New Blood is low brow, slapdash and dumb for a lot of its run, and yet, in its climax, just the right amount of zany too.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement? 

That’s probably true.  The acting in the film is dreadful, the story is ridiculous and underdeveloped, and yet the final act -- featuring Jason riddled with nails, doused in gasoline, drowned and otherwise abused --plays like real life Looney Tunes cartoon.

Even against my better judgment, I can’t quite resist the bloody thing.

So Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood?  I can’t help but love it…at the same time I’ll tell you flat out it isn’t a very good or accomplished film.  Sometimes fun is just where you happen to find it.

A young girl, Tina, is traumatized when her parents argue at their home on Crystal Lake. She runs down a pier, jumps into a boat, and wishes her father dead.

The pier collapses and her father drowns. Tina, possessing telekinetic abilities, feels lingering guilt over his demise.

Years later, a teenage Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) returns to Camp Crystal Lake with her mother and her psychiatrist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser).  She walks to the pier where her father died and attempts to resurrect him.

Instead, she awakens the sleeping juggernaut, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder).

The undead Jason is soon back to his old tricks, hacking up and murdering local teenagers. But before long, Tina realizes she must harness her unusual mental abilities to put an end to Jason’s reign of terror…

My first observation on this re-watch of The New Blood is that, in the Friday the 13th universe, the 1980s have lasted for approximately 25 to 30 years. 

Think about it: We know from on-screen title cards in the first film the action occurs on the cusp of the 1980s. 

Three films follow and then in The Final Chapter (1984), we meet Tommy Jarvis, a ten year old kids, or thereabouts. 

He kills Jason, and Jason is dead and buried. 

Eight or so years later an adult Tommy Jarvis visits Jason’s grave to be certain the killer is dead, and ends up accidentally reviving him (with a little help from lightning).

But in that film, Jason Lives, it’s still the mid-1980s, even though almost a decade has passed.

Now, The New Blood starts. One early image is of Jason defeated, right where Tommy Jarvis left him: floating submerged in a lake. 

A little girl with psychokinetic powers, Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) wishes her father dead at the lake, and the pier upon which he stands crumbles and falls apart. He drowns. 

Seven to ten years later, a high school aged Tina returns to the lake and attempts to revive her father with her unusual mental powers, but awakens Jason instead.

So Jason has been at the bottom of the lake for about a decade at this point.

And yet it’s still the 1980s. 

Talk about a hell you can’t awaken from: a world of shoulder pads, acid-washed jeans, and mullet haircuts lasting for not a few years, but a few decades.

The other crucial thing to understand about the film is that in this eternal-1980s, Jason has developed the power to defy and violate the laws of physics. 

Sure, in other films of the franchise, Jason possesses the knack of always appearing at the right place at the right time so he can execute the most isolated or vulnerable teen victim. 

But here, he actually seems to boast the ability to teleport.

During one kill sequence, two teens decide to go skinny-dipping in the Lake. One young woman strips down, and gets into the water.  She submerges, and while she is underwater, Jason murders her boyfriend.  She pops up from underwater to see her boyfriend dead, murdered, and suddenly -- just a second or two later -- Jason emerges from under the water too, right next to her.  Without making a sound (like splashing water as he enters the lake), the killer has moved from somewhere on shore to being underwater, only inches away from his prey.

This power grows more pronounced in Jason Takes Manhattan, when a victim in a cruise ship disco sees Jason at the room’s entrance, but can’t manage to keep his eye on him, and Jason teleports closer and closer to him…

Jason’s been through a lot these films, however, and perhaps it is no wonder that he’s taking the easy way out, using teleportation skills to catch and kill his quarry. The film’s best and most humorous kill occurs, similarly, when he picks up a girl in a zipped-up sleeping bag and smashes her head first into a nearby tree. 

The (violent move) is so easy and simple, that you may feel Jason just isn’t into his work anymore. There’s no hunting or stalking here, no ratcheting up of the fear.  He just slices open a tent like a can of fruit, pulls out the girl (in sleeping bag) and with one shot unceremoniously cracks her skull.

It feels, at least to me, that all the energy in the film was being rallied for the climax, which finds Tina doing her Carrie shtick and using her fearsome mental powers against Jason. There’s a great shot here of the roof dropping on Jason’s head (and then his undead hand punching through shingle). 

And then Tina telekinetically douses Jason in gasoline and sets him on fire.  Jason burns, in glorious long-shot before our eyes, and I’d be lying if I said the stunts and effects didn’t still look impressive.

I also love how Jason looks in this film. He’s been rotting so long that we can see the skeletal structure of his back poking through his flesh, and when Tina telekinetically tightens his trademark hockey mask on the back of his head, white/yellow pus oozes out of his flesh. 

In other words, Jason looks like a real monster, not just a mad-dog slasher this time around, and I appreciate the adjustment in premise. He’s been dead and buried before so he’s clearly a supernatural entity of some type.

Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of The New Blood is the manner of Jason’s resurrection, which I alluded to above. Tina’s telekinetic powers miss their target, her Dad, and accidentally hit Jason instead.  

This is almost as bad as a dog pissing on Freddy’s bones…in a dream.

I didn’t know that telekinesis works this way; that it can make wrong turns or hit unsuspecting corpses.

Of course, if Tina can resurrect the dead, like Jason or her Dad, just using her mental powers, why doesn’t she resurrect her Mom before the end of the movie?  

Once you open up that can of worms, it’s tough to shut down. Why not resurrect all the dead kids who are still in one piece?

The New Blood is filled with dopey, quasi funny moments that hover in a nebulous twilight zone, half-way between the realm of intentional and unintentional humor.  Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) slowly goes cross-eyed when gutted by Jason, for instance.  And one teenager is killed by a party horn to the eyeball. 

It’s tough to take any of this action seriously, at any level, and yet one scene -- with a young woman trapped in a wood-shed as Jason hunts her -- is surprisingly suspenseful.

The New Blood makes me laugh every time I watch it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it isn’t concerned with much of anything, besides punishing vice (the precursor, universally, to slice-and-dice).  I noted here that dead teenagers aren’t the only commonalities of all these franchise films.

Instead, every Friday the 13th movie features a moment in which a storm rolls in, lightning crackles, and the power goes out.  Jason moves in with the storm, a supernatural avenger operating under cover of Mother Nature, punishing transgressors for the unpardonable sins of premarital sex and smoking weed.

It used to be that critics did a lot of hand-wringing over these films, but in today’s horror film environment, the New Blood looks positively innocent and naïve. 

Still, in the telekinetic-a-thon of the finale, viewers do get their money’s worth out of this Friday the 13th entry, and good heaping dose of fun, too.

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