Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988) **˝
The New Blood was a singularly appropriate title for Friday the 13th, Part VII. The original formula for the series had been so thoroughly strip-mined by the first four installments that it’s a wonder the makers of Parts V and VI were able to make their movies at all, and major changes were necessary if the franchise was to be saved from extinction. Part VII represented the first serious attempt to do something different with a Friday the 13th film since the day it became possible to talk about Friday the 13th films in the plural, and while some may snicker derisively at the results, you at least have to give director John Carl Buechler and writers Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney credit for trying. When they could simply have found some lame excuse to drag Jason Voorhees out of Crystal Lake— excuse me, Lake Forest Green— and send him off in search of another bunch of instantly forgettable Expendable Meat, they gave us instead the movie that has been aptly nicknamed “Jason vs. Carrie.” Whatever other complaints you may want to level, you certainly can’t say it’s just like all the others!
Who knows just how long it’s been since Tommy Jarvis laid Jason to rest beneath the waters of Crystal Lake? Long enough, I suppose, for the locals to get over the idea that the name itself is cursed, and change it back. Among said locals are the Shepard family— John (John Otrin), Amanda (Susan Blu, whose voice you might recognize from such 80’s cartoons as “Jem” and “The Transformers”), and their young daughter, Tina (who’ll be played by Lar Park-Lincoln, of House II: The Second Story, when she grows up). We begin in media res, as they say, with Tina out on the back porch listening to her drunken dad slap her mother around. When she realizes that John is about to come looking for her, she runs off down the pier behind their house and gets into a little boat. The skiff has already drifted out a good ways into the lake when Shepard sees what’s going on, and his alcohol-fueled rage is instantly replaced by concern that his daughter might drown herself by accident. Tina’s much too pissed to listen to anything the man has to say, however, and that’s a very bad thing for John Shepard. He doesn’t know it yet, but his little girl is an immensely powerful psychokinetic, and her fury at his behavior sends the pier on which he stands toppling into the lake beneath him. Shepard drowns, and the heap of debris that falls in with him apparently prevents his body from ever surfacing.
Tina spends much of the next ten years in a mental hospital, under the care of Dr. Crews (The Offspring’s Terry Kiser), who understandably believes that the girl’s main problem is lingering guilt over what she caused to happen to her dad. Eventually, the psychiatrist is forced to conclude that the asylum isn’t doing anything for his patient, and he takes a gamble that a return to the scene of the original trauma will provide the breakthrough he seeks. To that end, he dispatches Tina and her mother to meet him for a stay at the old place on Crystal Lake. The thing is, though, that it looks an awful lot like Crews is more interested in studying Tina’s rare mental talents than he is in repairing her damaged psyche. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the doctor seems to be actively courting a breakdown on his patient’s part for the sake of maintaining the level of emotional intensity that apparently brings out Tina’s psychokinesis. Tina, for her part, has some inkling of this herself, even if Crews still has her mother’s trust.
Next door to the Shepard place is another big summer cottage, which happens at the moment to be occupied by the usual bunch of Teenage Targets. The gathering has been organized by a boy named Nick (Kevin Blair, of The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 and Bloodstone: Subspecies II) as a surprise birthday party for his cousin, Michael (William Butler, from Ghoulies II and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III); the house itself belongs to the uncle of Michael’s friend, Russell (Larry Cox). Never let it be said that Nick is unwilling to sacrifice for his family. The other guests are all buddies of Michael’s, and Nick can’t stand a one of them. This is with good reason, I might add. Stereotypical rich cunt Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan, of Click: The Calendar Girl Killer) is the worst of the lot by a fair margin, but I don't think I’d want to spend much time around any of these people. What with the open gold-digging of Russell’s girlfriend, Sandra (Slumber Party Massacre II’s Heidi Kozak), the constant competition between the glamorous Robin (Elizabeth Kaitan, of Necromancer and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity) and the mousy Maddy (Diana Barrows) for the affections of pothead David (John Renfield), the equally constant— and apparently unmotivated— bickering of the token black couple, Kate (Diane Almeida) and Ken (Craig Thomas), and the annoying habit would-be writer Eddie (Jeff Bennett, a voice-actor on “Animaniacs” and “Gargoyles”) has of using all and sundry as a sounding board for whatever idiotic sci-fi premise he’s cooking up, I’d do whatever I could to hang out with Tina instead, too.
And you know what the worst part is, at least for Nick’s purposes? Michael doesn’t even show up. On the evening of the party, Tina and Dr. Crews have a particularly heated argument, and the girl storms out of the house to collect her thoughts out on what’s left of the old pier— the one she knocked down with her mind all those years ago. While she sits miserably contemplating her situation, her thoughts turn to her father, and it suddenly dawns on her that in such a state of heightened emotion as she now finds herself, her psionic abilities might actually be powerful enough to raise John Shepard from the dead. But unbeknownst to Tina, her father isn’t the only stiff at the bottom of Crystal Lake, and the other one down there has already shown a marked propensity for shrugging off death. When Tina concentrates her powers on the lake bed, it isn’t John Shepard who rises up from the water, but Jason Voorhees (stuntman Kane Hodder, whose other acting jobs include Prison and Alligator II: The Mutation). Neither Amanda nor Crews believes Tina when she says that she saw a man come out of the lake, but you already knew that, didn’t you? Michael and his girlfriend, Jane (Terror Night’s Staci Greason), would have believed her, though, for they are the first people Jason kills when their car breaks down about five miles out from their destination.
It’s at about this time that Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood reveals one of its most important— but least obvious— departures from its predecessors, the more recent ones especially. Only two of the killer’s victims this time around are people with no connection to the story, who wander into the film solely to inflate the final body count. Not only that, Jason spaces his kills out in such a way that it’s mostly plausible that the remaining characters wouldn’t learn what was happening until it was already too late. For example, he limits himself to just Michael, Jane, and the two totally extraneous characters on the first night, and then lays low all the next day. This gives Tina and Nick more time to bond with each other, and the rest of the jackasses at the party house more time to convince us that the human race really would be better off if the vast majority of them were culled from the herd before they had a chance to contaminate the next generation’s gene pool. And while Jason is making his methodical rounds of the Expendable Meat and Nick is combing the woods in search of his missing cousin, the duel of wills between Tina and Dr. Crews is fast approaching High Noon. Crews discovers quite early on that Tina really means it when she says that there’s a dangerous man on the loose, but having staked his career on the girl’s psychokinesis— which works only when her emotions are stretched to the breaking point— he can’t bring himself to reveal to Tina or Amanda what he now knows. Meanwhile, it’s beginning to dawn on Amanda that the psychiatrist she has thus far trusted so completely has something other than her daughter’s best interests in mind. Amanda never gets much of a chance to act on that realization, however, for she and Crews both have an appointment with Jason in their immediate futures. Amanda’s is one murder that Jason is going to regret, though. When Tina finds out what’s really going on at Crystal Lake, and that her own mother is among the dead, she stands up to Jason like no Final Girl before her ever has, and gives him a psionically enhanced thrashing he won’t soon forget.
Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood used to be my favorite of the whole series. These days, I think I’d have to give that honor to Part 2, but I still think it’s in the running for the number-two position. There are several reasons for this. First of all, The New Blood does exactly what its subtitle implies, and finally gets us the hell away from Tommy Jarvis and his unending vendetta against Jason. That plotline was more than played out, and to see it replaced by something as out-of-left-field as a face-off between Jason and a psychokinetic is a doubly welcome switch. Even more welcome is this movie’s return to something approximating the ruthlessness of the early films in the series. While it does make things a bit too predictable if we can count on only one character’s survival at the end of the movie, Friday the 13th, Part VI suffered from the opposite problem: Tommy, Megan, and the children of Camp Forest Green were so obviously off-limits to the killer that real tension and suspense were simply not possible. In The New Blood, although it’s immediately clear that Tina is going to be the Final Girl, all bets are off regarding every other character after her mother buys it. The snide tone of the last two movies is gone as well, which is something I couldn’t be happier about— given the choice between naive horror movies and knowing ones, I’ll take naive just about every time.
But the biggest change for the better has to do with Jason himself. The makeup design this time around is absolutely stunning, and shows an attention to detail that has hitherto been completely absent from any aspect of the Friday the 13th series. Jason really does look like he’s spent a good ten years rotting at the bottom of a lake. His clothes are little more than soggy rags, his skin is greenish and slimed with putrescence, and his bones are visible wherever they lie close to the surface— his ribs, spine, kneecaps, and shoulder blades. It’s when his mask comes off during the final clash between him and Tina that the makeup team’s workmanship really comes to the fore, though. The appliances used are as expressive as they are grotesque, and what’s more, the scars of every major injury Jason has suffered over the course of the series are in evidence, everything from the axe-wound to the forehead inflicted by Chris in Part 3 to the damage caused when Megan ran him down in the water with a motorboat in Jason Lives. You can tell the folks responsible for the killer’s new look are proud of their work, too, because Jason spends most of the climactic battle with his mask off. Even more importantly, Friday the 13th, Part VII also casts in the role of Jason— for the first time since Warrington Gillette and Steve Dash in Part 2— somebody who can halfway act. I don’t know that I’d trust Kane Hodder to deliver a line of dialogue, necessarily, but his physical acting is nearly up to the high standard set by Dash and Gillette, or by Nick Castle in the original Halloween. The paradoxical thing about characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers is that they’re easy enough to play, but surprisingly difficult to play well. For the first time in years, Jason has a personality in The New Blood, even to the point of registering recognizable emotions— albeit an extremely limited range of them. It isn’t for nothing that Hodder is the only man ever to play Jason in more than one movie, and the grumbling of some fans over the decision to give the role to somebody else in Freddy vs. Jason might be at least partly justified. All told, the makers of Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood did enough right to counterbalance the demerits racked up by the unlikeable characters, often illogical story, and frequently abysmal dialogue. That success was not to be repeated, however...