Crystal Lake Countdown: Looking Back on ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’

Crystal Lake Countdown: Looking Back on ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’

Some movies — some entire franchises, in fact — just can’t win.  Although audiences constantly clamor for something new to come out of Hollywood, coming in the shape of either original movies or cleaver twists on increasingly familiar franchise formulae, they have constantly reacted with scorn and derision when they end up getting just that.  Exciting new movies like The Nice Guys (2016), Sing Street (2016) and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — all, incidentally, from the same year — are passed over for familiar dreck and novel twists on long-running series are often punished with low box office returns that only serve to reinforce the retread plots and characters that audiences are supposedly tired of.

For all of the derision it receives for supposedly just being the same one movie updated with bloodier kills and bigger body counters, the Friday the 13th series has had a long and quite frankly fascinating tradition of novelty.  The first film broke from the Halloween (1978) formula popular among competing slasher films by having a female killer and maintaining the mystery around who she was.  Its sequel, Part 2 (1981), broke with the established moral punishment of slasher kills and completely changed who the killer was from the first movie (switching from Pamela Vorhees to her song, Jason).  Part III (1982), an early instance of the initial 80’s 3D craze (itself a novelty that had been absent from the theaters for decades), was the intended end of the series and made a concerted live up to that conceit.  The Final Chapter (1984) straight-up killed off its iconic slasher.

Looking into the future of the franchise, Jason Lives (1986) brought him back as a zombie and infuse the series with a parodic sense of humor.  The New Blood (1988) had the Crystal Lake slasher square off against a telekinetic girl in a showdown that was far more fantastical than it was frightening.  Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) transplanted the killings from Crystal Lake (located in New Jersey) to the Big Apple.  Jason Goes to Hell (1993), easily the most insane of the long-running franchise, featured Mr. Vorhees as a parasitic, body-swapping, Cronenberg-esque entity that rarely appeared in his iconic, hulking form and centered around some new franchise mythology concerning his blood relatives.  Jason X (2001) again changed the locale of Jason’s killing spree, now set in the distant future and in space, and rebuilt him as a nano-tech infused cyborg.  And in his final appearance in the original series continuity, Freddy vs Jason (2003), he squares off against fellow slasher mainstay Freddy Krueger.

Each new film in the Friday the 13th franchise, whatever else you may think of it, it an exercise is radical novelty and frequent reimaginings of what a Friday the 13th movie ultimately is at its core.  And A New Beginning (1985) is no exception.

Crystal Lake Countdown: Looking Back on ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’

A New Beginning is essentially the Season of the Witch (1982) of the franchise: the Friday the 13th movie where Jason infamously isn’t the killer.  Rather, a group of troubled youths at a Crystal Lake halfway home — including a now teenage Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard), the protagonist from the last film — start getting killed off by somebody in a Jason Vorhees costume despite his definitive dismemberment by Tommy years prior.  When the killer (SPOILER ALERT) is revealed to be the father of a kid killed by a fellow teen in a fit of anger earlier in the film, Tommy dons a hockey mask of his own, presumably to continue where the last Jason left off.

While its admirable that the film chose to directly keep to The Final Chapter‘s climactic ending — both in that it kept to Jason’s definitive death in tact (at least until Jason Lives threw that out the following year) and continued to follow around new franchise protagonist Tommy Jarvis — there really isn’t much to recommend here.  Yes, the kills are a cut above many that the franchise had featured thus far, but the plot is the most nonsensical in a series known for its utterly bonkers writing and its characters are among the entire genre’s most obnoxious victims (with Joey (Dominick Brascia) and rednecks Ethel (Carol Locatell) and Junior (Ron Sloan) being a particularly egregious standouts in that regard).

Crystal Lake Countdown: Looking Back on ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’

As it turns out, A New Beginning was actually my entry into the franchise (way back when I was way too young to be watching anything of the sort).  And while the mayhem on screen is pretty fun at times — and the fact that the killer’s identity remains hidden for the entire film in a satisfying callback to the first movie — there really is no getting around the fact that the characters are all obscenely unlikable, deflating both the terror in their repeated assault and our investment in the slow-reveal of who the killer actually is (nostalgia be damned).

While it is hard to argue in favor of this film given its bottom-of-the-barrel quality, it should stand as a cautionary tale of fans failing to support interesting, new and creative directions that their favorite franchises choose to take.  Failing to stand behind the creators of our favorite series when they take genuine risks dooms us to increasingly tired retreads of proven plot points by increasingly risk-averse filmmakers who fear what might happen if they try to leave their own stamp on a storied franchise.  And while its true that Friday the 13th had some interesting entries after this one, they never strayed so far from their proven formula as to give us a new killer ever again (an interesting prospect that could have done wonders for the later Friday sequels).

Rating:  1/5

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