Going on seven films and spanning nearly a decade of being in theaters, the Friday the 13th series entered into its last phase as a major horror franchise. The first movie was a quick cash-in on the nascent slasher subgenre and actually stands out quite a bit from the more pedestrian crowd getting released at the time. Part 2 (1981) was an equally unique take on the same material, standing out from the competition for the exact same reasons. Part III (1982), the supposed end to the franchise, showed how much better the series could be when the studio actually pumped some real money into it. The Final Chapter (1984), another supposed end for the franchise, took risks you simply don’t see from established franchises solely because it was supposed to be the end of all things Jason. Although certainly lacking in terms of quality, A New Beginning (1985) tried to continue the franchise after its mascot had been brutally dispatched in the last entry, introducing us to a pair of copycat killers continuing on Jason’s bloody legacy. And then came Jason Lives (1986), a raucously funny and utterly fantastical reimagining of Jason as a hulking zombie forever patrolling his old stomping grounds of Crystal Lake.
Up until Jason Lives, the franchise had been grounded in some semblance of reality: a mortal killer dispatching with flesh-and-blood victims with generally mundane household or campground items. Sometimes the killer was Jason Vorhees, the deformed son of original murderess Pamela Vorhees. Sometimes it was an avenger of or successor to him. But always, always, always it was a person: no more powerful or deadlier than any other.
In order to bring the franchise back to “basics” — in which Jason, who had been killed off in The Final Chapter and cremated sometime before A New Beginning, was the killer — writer-director Tom McLoughlin had franchise mainstay Tommy Jarvis dig up his (unburnt) corpse so that it could be reanimated by a chance lightning strike: gleefully throwing out anything that resembled realism in a franchise that had clutched to it since 1980. And with all bets off for the series’ future, new filmmakers were free to take whatever creative liberties they liked with the latest films (so long, that is, as Jason remained the killer).
This brings us to the events of Part VII: The New Blood (1988). Although trapped beneath Crystal Lake by Tommy Jarvis at the end of Jason Lives, the murderous ghoul just wouldn’t die, and instead waited with a patience that he had no choice but to learn in the brackish depths where he was presumed to have drowned as a child. Ever since a young girl named Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) unlocked her telekinetic powers, resulting in the death of her father at Crystal Lake, she has become withdrawn and despondent. Wanting only to help her, the girl’s mother (Susan Blu) and her psychiatrist (Terry Kiser) take her back to the source of her trauma where she accidentally frees Jason from his underwater prison, allowing him to stalk the sleepy campgrounds once more.
If this premise sounds suspiciously like “Jason vs Carrie,” it’s because it basically is. After the initial plans for a Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Friday the 13th (1980) crossover between fell through between Paramount and New Line — a project that would remain unrealized until 2003’s Freddy vs Jason — the studio scrambled to come up with a new solo film to keep the franchise going in the meantime. And while a great many scripts and concepts were thrown around, the versus idea stuck in the studio’s raw and a legally distinct Carrie White stand-in was chosen as the franchise’s new Final Girl (the New Blood of the title).
Although it was admittedly a fun little “what if” concept for a movie, the character never really worked the same way that other franchise protagonists (like Alice, Ginny, Chris and Tommy). Her trauma made her an outcast from the other teens populating the cabins of Crystal Lake, putting her at odds with them, whereas the other movies’ characters always had some deeply rooted connection to one another (either as coworkers, friends or family members). Tina, however, is at odds with everybody from her functionally normal neighbors to her ineffectual mother and her abusive doctor, meaning that her interactions with the other characters are less interesting and we, the audience, are given less opportunities to grow to like her over the course of the movie. She’s a sympathetic victim of repeated trauma and abuse yes, but nothing in her personality invites us to take sides with her (other than in her opposition to Jason).
In additional to the less integral cast of characters, the film was raked over the coals by the MPAA before its release. In order to secure an R rating, the ratings board demanded numerous and extreme cuts to the film, making it one of the most bloodless and least visually interesting of the entire series. Most of the death scenes either couldn’t been seen at all or had to be reshot with tone-down gore and violence. And while little could save the film from its less than interesting stretches of teen drama, inventive and violating kills and genuine slasher dread would have gone a long way to making this film watchable (even if only by the standards of its own franchise).
Beyond the scripting issues and the MPAA mandated cuts, the film’s greatest sin is that it feels like an utter waste of such a great premise. Sure, its protagonist was just Carrie with the serial numbers filed off, but with her telekinetic powers, they could have covered a lot of visually inventive ground. From melee weapons repurposed mid-air to deconstructed cabins used as projectiles to water bending the lake water against the man that they had until-now imprisoned, there were a lot of interesting and unique ways in which Tina could have fought back against Jason. Instead, it’s used for a few bloodless exchanges between them and as the impetus of a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
Whereas Jason Lives was able to be both good and interesting at the same time — fun and fantastical in equa measure — The New Blood is neither and marks a departure from the franchise trying to be any more than exactly the kind of low-grade “body count” film that it was always accused of being by its most ardent critics. At least the movies that followed had the decency to be so endlessly riffable. The New Blood is just disappointing.