Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning/Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) -*½
I’d love to be able to peek inside the heads of the people who were in charge at Paramount during the mid-1980’s. For better or for worse, the Friday the 13th series was among the studio’s biggest and most consistent moneymakers during the first half of that decade. Why, then, would Paramount do something like publicly announce the demise of the series— especially in as attention-getting a manner as a title like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter? My personal suspicion is that the primary motivation was political. It never quite reached the level of Great Britain’s “Video Nasties” panic, but there certainly was a vociferous backlash against gore movies in this country during the Reagan years. Paramount being a major studio and all, it’s easy to imagine them feeling a bit queasy about being the ones behind the most high-profile franchise of all within the universally despised slasher subgenre. The thing is, though, that Paramount’s morals (if that’s really what led them to the decision to kill off the series) were only as good as their profit margins, and the studio’s resolve evaporated almost immediately when the box-office returns from The Final Chapter started coming in. There was just too much money to be made. Of course, simply shooting another sequel and leaving it at that was obviously out of the question, not after making such a big deal of the fact that they supposedly weren’t going to do that anymore. So Paramount played what was probably the only card available to them under the circumstances, and followed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter with Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (which apparently didn’t acquire its Roman numeral until it was released to cable and home video), promising some kind of major shakeup in the series.
The movie begins with what must surely be its cleanest break from prior tradition: it starts off, not with a stock-footage recap of the last four movies, but with a pre-credits dream sequence. Tommy Jarvis, slayer of psychopaths (a cameoing Corey Feldman in this scene), dreams that he is standing at the edge of a forest clearing in the middle of an intense thunderstorm. In the center of the clearing is an ineptly constructed grave, the makeshift headstone of which identifies its occupant as Jason Voorhees. While Tommy watches from the cover of the underbrush, two teenage yahoos arrive with shovels in hand, intent upon digging up the grave for “a look at the main man.” That proves to be their undoing, but you already knew that. Jason then turns his attention to Tommy...
...who suddenly jolts awake, revealing that many years have passed since the end of the last movie, during which he has grown up to become Bless the Child’s John Shepherd. Tommy has been sleeping in the back of a van marked with the logo of the Ungar Institute of Mental Health, which is driving him to a halfway house (halfway camp?) known as the Pinehurst Youth Leadership Center. This is because young Tommy’s close-quarters run-in with a virtually indestructible psycho has left him a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Having spent a long stretch at Ungar with little noticeable improvement, the Jarvis boy is now being handed over to Dr. Matthew Lederer (Richard Young, of The Ice Pirates) to see if the less restrictive environment of Pinehurst will do him any good. Tommy doesn’t seem to care for Dr. Lederer (call him Matt) very much, but he opens up a bit to the doctor’s assistant, Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman).
Actually, given the circumstances, maybe Tommy would be better off keeping to himself. No sooner has he arrived at Pinehurst than three major disruptions occur. First Sheriff Tucker (Marco St. John, who played small roles in The Happiness Cage and the 1982 remake of Cat People) arrives on the scene with the camp nymphomaniacs, Tina (Debisue Voorhees, from Avenging Angel and Appointment with Fear— I can’t figure out which was a bigger factor in her casting, her name or her tits) and Eddie (Assault of the Killer Bimbos’ John Robert Dixon), in the back of his cruiser. They are followed in short order by Ethel (Carol Locatel, from the TV version of The Bad Seed) and Junior (Ron Sloan) Hubbard, the generic Movie Rednecks on whose property the two teens were caught fucking. If you thought the town sheriff could cause a scene, wait ‘til you see what a couple of incensed hillbillies can do. There’s worse to come, though, for shortly thereafter, an overeager twit named Joey (whose mother died giving birth to him and whose father ran off when he was just an infant) makes the mistake of pushing his psychotic fellow inmate, Vic Fadden (The Return of the Living Dead’s Mark Venturini), just a little too far, and gets dismembered with an axe. (This may have been intended to make us consider Fadden as a possible suspect once the killings begin for real. If that’s what the filmmakers were aiming for, they didn’t try nearly hard enough.) One of the paramedics who comes to collect Joey’s body (Dick Wieand) has an oddly strong reaction when he sees the corpse.
That night, we see that Vic Fadden isn’t the only killer lurking in or around Pinehurst. A couple of hotrodders are killed by a man armed with a knife and a road flare when their car breaks down on the way to pick up some trashy girls. Two more victims— one of the orderlies who dropped Tommy off at the halfway house and his waitress girlfriend— follow 24 hours later. Most of the cops are baffled, but Sheriff Tucker thinks he knows who the killer is— Jason Voorhees. The local mayor is understandably skeptical. “Jason Voorhees is dead!” he rightly objects, “His body was cremated! Now you go out and find me a goddamned live suspect!” It is interesting, though, that Tommy keeps having hallucinations in which the slain killer stands watching him, clutching a bloody axe.
The murders move to Pinehurst itself the following day. Tina and Eddie run off to have sex in the woods, and are cut down, along with the drifter the Hubbards had hired as a handyman just that morning. When the nymphos still haven’t returned come nightfall (for obvious reasons), Matt goes off to look for them in the company of the camp’s cook (Vernon Washington, of The Dark and The Last Starfighter). Meanwhile, Pam and Tommy take the cook’s grandson, Reggie (Shavar Ross), to see his aptly named juvenile delinquent brother, Demon (Miguel A. Nuñez Jr., from The Return of the Living Dead and Leprechaun 4: In Space), who is in town tonight with his girlfriend, Anita (Jere Fields). The visit doesn’t last long, because Tommy gets into a fight with Junior Hubbard... assuming such a one-sided ass-whipping as Tommy gives the other man can honestly be considered a fight. Either way, Tommy is so distressed at his inability to keep his instinct for violent self-preservation under control that he runs off into the woods alone, leading Pam to collect Reggie and go out after him once she’s dropped the boy off back at the camp. Thus no one is around to see it when somebody subjects Demon and Anita— and then the Hubbards as well— to a most Jason-like slaughter.
Now with Pam out looking for Tommy and the other two adults still on the hunt for Tina and Eddie, that leaves Reggie in the care of Pinehurst inmates Jake (Jerry Pavlon), Robin (Juliette Cummins, of Psycho III and Slumber Party Massacre II), and Violet (Reform School Girls’ Tiffany Helm). This does him no good at all, for it takes the killer just minutes to dispatch all three of them while Reggie sleeps. Pam comes back, having failed to find Tommy, just as Reggie discovers the bodies. That’s when the killer finally reveals himself, and damned if he doesn’t want people to think he’s Jason Voorhees. There are a couple of subtle clues that he isn’t, however. This killer is wearing navy blue coveralls instead of the gray-chinos-and-khaki-work-shirt ensemble that Jason was killed (and presumably buried) in, and the markings on his hockey goalie’s mask are different: a pair of turquoise-gray triangles pointing diagonally downward under the eyes, rather than the upward-pointing red ones on the cheeks and matching v-shape above the bridge of the nose familiar from the last two movies. This is also the smallest Jason we’ve yet seen, no taller or bulkier than— now that you mention it— Tommy (although, interestingly enough, most of the murders are shot from angles that give the impression of a killer much taller than this one turns out to be when we finally get a good, clear look at him). Pam grabs Reggie and runs, but all she finds in the surrounding woods are the dead bodies of Matt, the boy’s grandfather, and one of the paramedics we’ve been seeing off and on throughout the movie. The counterfeit Jason soon has the two of them cornered in a barn on the Pinehurst property, but Pam is prevented from assuming the mantle of Final Girl when Tommy appears in the doorway behind the killer. (So much for all those hints that he was the one wielding the machete, huh?) The ensuing confrontation ends with the killer plunging from the barn’s hayloft to his death on some spiky contraption that is apparently used for bailing hay. As for his identity, well... would you believe it’s the other paramedic? Sure you would— it’s not like we’ve got many other characters left, after all! Turns out he was Joey’s long-missing father; when he saw the kid’s hacked-up body at the halfway house that day, I guess he just went a little haywire. The movie ends by suggesting that twice was too much for Tommy Jarvis, though, and that it really will be him behind the mask in any subsequent sequels that might get made.
Martin Kitroser once again takes up his pen in service of the Friday the 13th series, and the result is a film even dumber than his previous Friday the 13th, Part 3. We really shouldn’t blame him too specifically, though— he had no fewer than three accomplices to the crime that is this movie’s screenplay. It never ceases to amaze me that an entire platoon of writers can be put to work on a script and still come up with something as wretched as Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning. I mean, you’d think that even if all of them were incompetent ass-trolls, they’d be incompetent in different directions and catch each other’s most egregious slip-ups, giving rise to colorless mediocrity rather than any sort of really aggressive badness. Apparently that’s not how it works, though, and the greatest critical challenge presented by this movie is trying to figure out where to begin tearing it to pieces.
I guess we could start with the body-count inflation. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that the more obnoxiously stupid an 80’s slasher flick is, the more dead bodies it will wave at the camera in an attempt to compensate. The Friday the 13th series aimed high in this department to begin with, and the final casualty lists have only gotten longer as the numbers after the title have grown larger: ten deaths each in the first two films (well, nine plus one implied in Part 2), twelve in Part 3 (or thirteen if you count Jason), fourteen in The Final Chapter. A New Beginning buries all previous records, though; if you count the three characters who are murdered in dream sequences, this movie features an astonishing twenty-two killings! A more telling measure yet of the desperation that had set in by this point is the fact that half of those deaths serve absolutely no purpose in the story. Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, the preposterous notion that paramedic Roy Burns could have so little emotional investment in his son that he could abandon him to become a ward of the state when he was just days old, and yet still care enough about the boy to be turned into a homicidal maniac by the news of his murder. Let’s also leave alone the even more ridiculous idea that Burns would attempt to cover his tracks by pretending to be a notorious serial killer, known by everyone to be some six years in his grave. There’s still no reason in the world for him to kill Demon, Anita, the hotrodders, the orderly from the mental hospital, the orderly’s girlfriend, the Hubbards, their drifter handyman, or the other paramedic. The idea, presumably, is that Roy’s killing spree is meant as an act of revenge against the staff and inmates of Pinehurst, who failed to prevent Joey’s murder, and yet the majority of Roy’s victims have no connection to Pinehurst at all! The writers’ miserable in-jokes don’t help any, either. The closest they ever come to real wit is in the main title sequence, when Jason’s mask crashes into the Friday the 13th logo from behind, causing it to explode— turning the tables thereby on the last movie’s main title sequence, in which the logo blew up the mask.
Compounding the idiocy of the storyline is an annoying hint of contemptuous camp that director Danny Steinmann allows to seep in around the edges. One gets the feeling Steinmann knew he was making a piece of shit, but his thinly-veiled winks in the audience’s direction convey the sense that he regarded himself as superior not only to the material, but to its intended consumers as well. The scene between Sheriff Tucker and the mayor especially seems marked by a note of, “fuck this movie, and fuck all you dipshits who are going to pay money to see it.” There is one really fascinating aspect to Steinmann’s technique, however, a strange form of ersatz suspense that I’ve never noticed in any other movie. You could almost call it “meta-suspense.” There are a number of scenes in Friday the 13th, Part V that derive literally all of what limited suspense they create from audience recognition that similar events led up to a scare scene in previous movies. Take the lead-up to the second double murder. There's no reason to imagine that “Jason” would want to stalk the asylum orderly or his girlfriend, nor is there any indication that the killer is in the area when he comes to pick her up from work. Hell, the two designated victims aren’t even anywhere near the woods! Nevertheless, the structure of the scene cues us to expect their immediate demise. They have sex on their minds; they’re snorting coke; they separate from each other; the waitress flashes her breasts in the mirror while changing out of her uniform in the diner’s bathroom; there’s a false scare involving a cat. We’ve seen all those things before in one Friday the 13th film or another, and we know that each one presages doom for the character involved. But— and this is Steinmann’s innovation, if you can call it that— that a priori knowledge is the sole suspense-generating element in the scene. I don’t know whether to score that as remarkable laziness or remarkable efficiency— I might incline toward the latter, if it had worked worth a damn.
In summation, Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning is, for the most part, too doltish even to be fun. It’s a sad state of affairs indeed that the highest recommendation I can give it is to say that it features, on average, the best-looking female victims in the series to date. There is one scene, though, that almost makes it all worthwhile. When Violet meets her end, she’s up in her room, listening to her stereo and dancing. I can think of no better encapsulation of mid-80’s genre cinema than this moment, in which Violet, with her crimped hair and her sexy two-tone dye-job, is snuck up on by a Jason Voorhees wannabe while doing the robot to a song by Pseudo Echo.