Interesting. By happy coincidence, Kirsten and I both recently ended up watching sequels from different horror franchises where an emotionally traumatized survivor named Tommy has to come face-to-face with the monster from his childhood.
Luckily for me, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is a little better than Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I mean, don’t get me wrong: it’s not ART. But I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
As with all my F13 reviews, there will be ALL THE SPOILERS. You have been duly warned.
Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) has not entirely recovered from his traumatic ordeal in The Final Chapter, when he was Bald Corey Feldman and killed the shit out of Jason Vorhees. But he’s still released from the mental institution he’s currently living at and moves to a halfway house in the middle of the woods for troubled teenagers. Which, of course, is when people start dying.
1. Per usual, the summaries provided by both IMDB and Netflix are both seriously flawed.
IMDB’s is just wrong. Still haunted by his gruesome past, Tommy Jarvis – the boy who killed Jason Voorhees – wonders if somehow he is connected to brutal slayings occurring in and around the secluded halfway house where he now lives.
No. No, he doesn’t. We’re supposed to wonder that, but Tommy, as far as I can tell, doesn’t wonder shit. Tommy barely has dialogue, much less conversations about the possibility he’s somehow responsible for everyone dying. I mean, he’s the main character in this movie, and he only speaks 24 words. That’s like the John Rambo School of Dialogue, except that Tommy isn’t lucky enough to have some big monologue at the end. Admittedly, he does hallucinate Jason throughout the film, but there’s never any shot or scene to suggest that Tommy thinks, ‘Hey, maybe I’M the one killing people.’ Surprisingly, this is not an ‘I’m Not Crazy, I Tell You, I’m Not Crazy! Wait . . . Maybe I’m Going Crazy’ movie.
Netflix’s summary, on the other hand, is appropriately snarky, yet makes me wonder if the person who wrote it has a very different idea than I do on what makes someone ‘maladjusted’: Having landed in a mental hospital after “killing” Jason in The Final Chapter, an older Tommy is released to a halfway house populated by the usual maladjusted teens. Then, surprise … the grisly murders begin anew.
This is not incorrect, exactly, except that the teenagers in this movie are basically like the teenagers in every other 80’s slasher movie. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of them that I can see. I mean, except for the fact that they’re stereotypes because wow, do we land heavy on stereotypes in this one. But otherwise — nobody seems particularly diagnosable. Sure, one stutters and one’s vaguely gothic and one is incredibly, incredibly annoying. But none of these seem like deeply compelling reasons to live at a halfway house meant for people making their first steps out of a mental institution.
Okay, I take it back. This guy . . . yeah. There’s actually something pretty wrong with him.
2. In fact, let’s be clear on this, people: this is the worst halfway house for troubled teenagers in the world.
Look, I am no expert on what life at such a place would be like. I won’t pretend to be any kind of authority here. And I get that there aren’t supposed to be a ton of rules because the idea is to get these kids back on their feet, not institutionalize them some more. That being said, perhaps allowing the young man who clearly has serious anger management issues unsupervised access to sharp weapons such as, oh, a fucking axe, is — all things considered — not the best call. Not to mention, it also appears to be incredibly easy to sneak weapons into the house. And the people there don’t seem to have counseling sessions or anything. They don’t even learn learn wilderness skills, which is obviously a missed opportunity. I desperately wanted this to be the slasher version of Higher Ground and was deeply disappointed.
Also: I find it especially hilarious that the Sheriff insinuates he might have to shut the halfway house down if the horny teenagers who live there keep running off to have sex on other people’s property. But when a kid straight up murders another kid with that handy axe I just mentioned? Nothing. Oh, sure, the police come and take the body away. One paramedic seems particularly perturbed (we’ll come back to that), while the other is the most insensitive jackass known to man, like, he’s the kind of psychotic jerk that is usually reserved for employees of mental institutions. (Thankfully, this movie has a total asshat of an orderly as well. Wouldn’t want to miss any tropes, you know.) But as far as anyone mentioning consequences, like, “Holy shit, we’re closing this place down until we figure out some better safety regulations?” Yeah, no.
3. On the upside, I was very happy when Axe-Wielding Vic murdered Annoying Joey.
So, Annoying Joey is also the “Fat Kid Who’s Always Shoving Candy Bars in His Mouth” because hey, you know how those overweight people can pretty much never stop eating and always have chocolate smeared over their mouths because, well, that’s fat people for you, amirite? If Annoying Joey didn’t have two candy bars in his pocket at all times, surely he’d be skinny, yes? Ugh.
In addition to that bullshit, Annoying Joey is also incredibly obnoxious and awkward, and I’m honestly not sure if he’s supposed to be mentally challenged or just not particularly bright. Either way, he seems to be played for laughs, and I was trying to resign myself to the fact that I’d be watching him for two hours . . . when Axe-Wielding Vic just up and murders him. I know this is the kind of response that makes me seem like a sociopath, but I was very grateful for Annoying Joey’s sudden demise. Also, intrigued. Usually, Jason’s the only one killing anybody in a Jason movie. The Friday the 13th movies are nothing if not formulaic, yet this particular film surprised me a number of times.
3A. Unlike the vast majority of Jason movies, A New Beginning is actually something of a murder mystery. Most of the people in this movie are killed by an unseen assailant. You’d think Jason because, you know, Friday the 13th and all, but there are other possibilities. Tommy may have gone nuts. Axe-Wielding Vic may have escaped. The Paramedic Who Keeps Making Odd but Seemingly Significant Facial Expressions may secretly be a killer.
There’s something interesting about setting up a murder mystery in the fifth movie of a franchise that’s primarily linked by the same antagonist. (Always excepting Mrs. Vorhees, of course.) Admittedly, it’s a pretty vague mystery. Vic isn’t a particularly serious suspect. I just kept him in mind because, really, how many homicidal maniacs can you have running around the same neck of the woods? (Don’t answer that.) And nobody seems to really suspect Tommy — we only do as audience members because we’ve all seen horror movies before. (Although I feel like turning a survivor into a villain was kind of new ground in 1985. But we’ll come back to that later.)
Hell, the only people in the movie who actually do suspect Jason are Tommy — for obvious reasons — and the Sheriff — for God knows what reasons. Honestly, the Mayor’s like, “Who’s killing these people?” and the Sheriff’s like, “It’s Jason!” and the Mayor’s like, “You idiot! Jason’s dead! What the hell’s wrong with you?” and the Sheriff’s like, “I don’t know! It makes no logical sense that I would think a man who’s been dead for five years has suddenly reanimated unless I had some kind of backstory to support my belief in either the supernatural or Jason’s evil ways, a backstory which I totally don’t have.”
I do kind of wish there were more intentional suspects. Still, I enjoyed that there was some mystery to our killer’s identity. It made the film a little more entertaining because watching Jason OR Imposter Jason kill unsuspecting teenagers one at a time while they stand there cowering gets old pretty fast. Chase sequences, you guys. They’re not just for the main heroine and hero.
As a side-side note: I also find it interesting that horror movie franchises are primarily linked by their antagonists (Jason, Michael Myers, Jigsaw, Chucky, etc), whereas action franchises are almost always linked by their heroes (John McClane, James Bond, Ethan Hunt, Riggs & Murtaugh, etc). There are franchises where both hero and villain reappear (Scream — at least to the extent that it’s always some version of Ghostface trying to kill Sidney), but you never see, say, a sequel where Sidney faces a new serial killer, or Sidney after she’s become an FBI profiler or something like that. I wish there were more cross-genre franchises like that. I would give just about ANYTHING to see an awesome trilogy that has a lead female protagonist go from Final Girl in a smart horror to Kickass Cop in an action thriller to Romantic Lead in a darkly funny romantic comedy. That would be amazing.
I’m going to continue with this review instead of working on that, but I want you to know that it’s hard. Because my brain has now been seized by ALL THE IDEAS.
3B. Unlike II, III, and IV, this movie did not begin with stock footage from the last film.
It did begin with a dream sequence and a flashback to No-Longer-Bald Corey Feldman, but this was all new material. Apparently, No-Longer-Bald Corey Feldman was supposed to star in this movie, but scheduling conflicts with The Goonies meant that he had to limit his role to a cameo. I’m sure to this day that he’s deeply disappointed by that decision.
3C. A few characters that you would normally expect to die actually survive. I feel mildly better, anyway, knowing that the ‘Don’t Kill the Child’ trope is ultimately stronger than the ‘Kill the Black Guy’ trope, because while the former trope might be annoying, the latter trope is awful. Also, I kind of can’t help but like Reggie (Shavar Ross).
Actually, for a slasher made in the 1980’s, there are a surprising number of black characters in A New Beginning. I mean, I don’t want to pretend this is a progressive film by any means. Cause, yeah. It’s not. Three of the four black characters are related, and they all seem to lean pretty heavily on racial stereotypes. Also, three of the four characters die. (One of them is Spider from The Return of the Living Dead, in case you were curious.) I suppose there is a fifth black character who survives too, if you define ‘character’ as a cop who’s only in the background and has no dialogue of any kind. Which, no. You don’t.
In fact, I don’t believe any of the cops die, including the Sheriff Who Inexplicably KNOWS that Jason is the killer. Even more shocking, the Slimy Mayor survives. (I’m not sure why he comes off as slimy, considering all he really does is demand that the next suspect in the homicide investigation not be a dead man. And yet, somehow he does, and it’s really rather remarkable that he doesn’t bite it. I honestly wonder if the director just forgot about him entirely.)
4. Let’s briefly go back to discussing stereotypes. Not only do we have them, but we have them from multiple decades.
I could maybe understand the waitress in the pink 50’s dress — like, maybe she works at a themed diner, I don’t know — but I am very thrown by the random pair of less-than-charming greasers on the side of the road. A New Beginning came out in The Best Year Ever, also known as 1985. Why the hell are there suddenly greasers?
There’s also a dude of absolutely no consequence who appears to have time-traveled straight from the Great Depression. And at least one guy is still stubbornly holding onto his clothes from the 1970’s, even though we’re halfway through the 80’s at this point, and I think it’s time to let it go. (Okay, that doesn’t quite qualify as a stereotype. But between the 30’s, the 50’s, the 70’s, and the 80’s, we have quite the range of fashion displays in this movie.)
Other stereotypes found in this movie, all of whom die: the Hillbillies, the Goth-Punk Girl, the Kindly Grandfather, the Awkward Nerd Who Can’t Get Laid, and the Teens who Constantly Have Sex Outdoors.
5. About those hillbillies — they’re pretty terrible.
I’ll admit, the mother made me laugh once or twice. The actress was really going for it, like, Okay, if my job is to play some crazy, inbred, hillbilly cliche, then I am going to SHINE, dammit. I appreciate that level of commitment. That being said, these characters are just awful. The hillbilly son is especially bad, since he unfortunately seems to take Annoying Joey’s place as the fairly obnoxious and almost certainly mentally handicapped character that the movie continuously pokes fun at. This is one of those tropes I feel like I keep running into and don’t understand at all. I would be really, really happy to never see it again, but if I continue watching movies prior to 1990 — and let’s be honest, probably movies after that too — it’s doubtful I’ll be that lucky.
6. If you’ve ever seen any of the Friday the 13th films before, you know that Jason tends to kill in small groups of two. He targets a couple of people, waits for them to split up for whatever reason, and then kills them one at a time. What’s interesting in this movie is that something unusual connects many of our victims: music. Our killer keeps attacking people right around the time that one of the pair starts singing. After the third time this happened, I desperately wanted Imposter Jason to have a musical motive. Amateur singers drive him crazy! This is what happens when you can’t hold a tune!
Sadly, this was not to be.
7. I thought bringing in Tommy’s horror masks was a nice nod to continuity. I’m a bit disappointed that Grown Up Tommy never donned one in a climactic battle with Jason — cause c’mon, how AWESOME would that have been — but I still liked the touch. Of course, the continuity was a little less impressive in how it never explained what happened to Tommy’s sister. In this movie, Tommy looks at a picture of Trish and his mother as if they were both Jason’s victims, but they weren’t — Trish was the Survivor Girl of the last film. I guess she got run over by a Convenience Truck shortly after The Final Chapter?
8. So, here’s a thing: you know what I always do before I go out on a date? I unzip my shirt, look at my bare breasts in the mirror, and enthusiastically remind them that “it’s showtime!” I feel like that’s a very common thing to do, and I think if you poll most women, you’ll discover that they often take the time to speak directly to their naked tits whenever they’re really excited.
I must admit, however, that I don’t generally sleep in the nude, so I’ll have to assume that the movie is accurately depicting how a woman would take off her bra — but not her panties — and climb into bed, pulling the sheets up to just under her boobs so that they’re still exposed for all the world to see.
In an entirely unrelated note, you know The Hawkeye Initiative? I kind of want someone to draw a series of comics or make a short film where all the male characters are as scantily dressed and ridiculous as the women in horror movies. That would be awesome.
9. I laughed pretty hard at the scene where the cat spooked the waitress in the restaurant. Of course, getting scared by a harmless animal is practically old hat in movies like these, but this cat appears to being flung from the ceiling, like maybe God threw it down from the sky. This immediately reminded me of Community, of course.
I watched this episode (and “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”) again shortly after finishing A New Beginning and laughed even harder. (I also watched Psych’s “Tuesday the 17th” and plan to soon follow it up with “Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast.” Halloween episodes are the best.)
10. Imposter Jason — who’s been chasing our only-surviving heroes — naturally appears right in front of them at one point during the film. Of course, it’s not like Jason hasn’t regularly trumped physics before, but somehow this seems even more ridiculous, perhaps because the bad guy in this movie is not, in fact, a supernatural killing machine, but a bleeding, psychotic, grieving paramedic who lost his only son. (I’m both annoyed with myself for not immediately realizing that the paramedic was Annoying Joey’s dad — although I did at least know that he was the killer — and happy that the first horrible axe-murder happened for an actual plot related reason. I was going to have some seriously snarky words for this movie if it didn’t. Er, snarkier.)
Mek and I did briefly hope that perhaps there were TWO Jasons in the mix, but sadly, it’s still 1985, not 1996, and this — along with my Awesome Musical Motivation Killing Spree — was not to be.
11. Finally, I haven’t really discussed Tommy in much detail yet.
Admittedly, I haven’t really discussed Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) much either, perhaps because she feels entirely inconsequential to the story. She’s certainly not the most annoying Final Girl in the franchise (that continues to be Chris), but as far as I can tell, she’s only there because you always have a Final Girl, not because she’s interesting or does anything particularly plot-relevant. Basically, she’s blonde and she cares about people. That’s about all there is to really say about Pam.
Now, here’s what you need to know about Tommy:
A. He’s wearing glasses in the beginning of the movie, but they magically disappear soon after he arrives at the halfway house because . . . they confiscate eyewear instead of axes? Maybe?
B. Tommy’s probably supposed to be about 17. I’m not sure if they ever give an exact timeframe, but that would be my best guess. The actor, unfortunately, is emphatically not seventeen. Not that this is unusual by any means for Hollywood, but somehow, I found it even more distracting than normal. Both Tommy and Axe-Wielding Vic especially stood out as seriously grown ass men.
C. When he comes face to face with Imposter Jason, Tommy initially just stands there, all, “Jason? Buddy? Remember me? Dude, we go way back.” Unfortunately, since this is Imposter Jason — which Tommy would know, if he’d just pay attention to the fact that Jason’s actually bleeding — they can establish no psychic friendship bond, and Tommy gets sliced up a little.
D. At the very end of the film, Tommy has a dream where he kills Pam. He wakes up and briefly hallucinates Jason, who disappears . . . straight into Tommy’s MIND! Yes, Tommy has now turned into a New Imposter Jason.
Of course, there is no explanation for who in the HELL put the hockey mask in Tommy’s hospital drawer (much less where the knife comes from), but this series has never bothered to explain Magical Happenings before, and it’s certainly not going to start now. The point is, Tommy’s now evil and Pam probably isn’t going to remain a Survivor Girl for much longer.
Or really, who knows what happens to Pam? Because as far as I can tell, she will go the way of Trish Jarvis, never to be heard from or seen again. See, audiences were very unhappy with the idea of Tommy as the new Jason — less because they gave a shit about Tommy and more because they wanted Jason to be, you know, JASON. Which, honestly disappoints me a little. Of course, it’s all a little abrupt and silly, how Tommy turns evil in the film, but I continue to be interested in the idea of a horror franchise that evolves, and as far as I can tell, this series entirely stops trying to do that after this movie so fantastically failed to win over audiences.
This is how you get resurrections by lightning, people. This is what you asked for.
Sheriff: “Morning, Ethel. My, don’t you look lovely today.”
George: “Go and let everyone know breakfast is ready.”
Reggie: “Yo! Breakfast! Come and get it!”
George: “I could’ve done that.”
Reggie: “Are you afraid of spiders? Are you afraid of rubber spiders? Are you afraid of rubber spiders on strings?”
Mostly what you expect — nonsensical, silly, occasionally offensive — but with a few little surprises along the way. Not my favorite in the franchise, but certainly beating out Friday the 13th: Part III by a wide margin.
Er. Find a halfway house that has less axes?
A RANDOM PICTURE OF MICHAEL VS JASON FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT:
Aren’t they adorable?