Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and Cody Hamman and Priscilla Tuboly mark the occasion with some Film Appreciation.
The film begins with a great narration over a montage of moments from previous Friday the 13th movies, getting us up to date on the legend of Jason Voorhees and all that has gone on before. Some time has passed since the events of the sixth film in the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason Lives. The tactic Tommy Jarvis, the hero of Friday the 13ths part 4 through 6, used to put a stop to undead slasher Jason Voorhees's last killing spree appears to have been very effective, as years have gone by and Jason remains exactly where Tommy left him, chained to a large rock at the bottom of Crystal Lake, his rotting body seemingly dormant of any consciousness.
Things have been so peaceful around Crystal Lake lately that a group of young friends and acquaintances feel perfectly safe coming to the area, gathering in the vacation home of one character's uncle, to spend a weekend celebrating the birthday of their pal Michael. While they get up to the standard slasher fodder activities of boozing, smoking dope, skinnydipping, hooking up and having premarital sex, there's more serious business going on at the house across the lane.
Teenage Tina Shepard and her mother have coincidentally returned to their former home, the only other house in this secluded section of Crystal Lake, on the same weekend as the birthday party, accompanied by Tina's psychiatrist Doctor Crews. Tina is deeply troubled by a traumatic event that occurred at this house when she was a child - the accidental death of her abusive, alcoholic father - and Crews has brought her back here under the pretense of allowing her to get over her issues by confronting them head-on.
But Tina is a very special girl. Although Mrs. Shepard believes they're doing this for her daughter's well being, that Doctor Crews really is trying to help Tina, it turns out he's only trying to help his pocket. Crews hasn't brought her back to Crystal Lake to help her, he's brought her here to exploit her. Tina is telekinetic, she has the ability to move and manipulate objects with her mind. The key to her powers is a heightened state of emotion - if she's upset, things happen around her. Crews intends to document their sessions closely while in her childhood home, keeping her stress levels high while she stays at the source of her emotional disturbances. In his eyes, this girl's gift/curse is his ticket to fame and fortune.
Following the recap montage and opening titles, the movie's story starts at the lakeside house with a young Tina having to witness a fight between her parents. Seems like a recurring event which has her fed up with her father, who has been drinking again and ends up hitting her mother, again, so Tina runs out of the house and takes a boat out onto the lake. When her father follows her to apologize and to plead for her to come back to shore, she lashes out at him with "I hate you! I wish you were dead!" And her powers make it so, causing the dock he's standing on to collapse, drowning him in the lake. It's an act she instantly regretted and has been tormented with guilt over ever since.
So tormented that when she goes out to the edge of the lake, crying, looking out over the water, apologizing to her lost father, and senses a presence within the lake, she focuses intensely on that presence... she thinks she has found her father... With the words "I wish I could bring you back" and a concentration of her abilities, Tina resurrects the man in the lake. But it's not John Shepard who wades out of the water after Tina passes out from shock and exertion, it's Jason Voorhees.
The birthday bash becomes a bloodbath from that point on, as Jason proceeds to stalk the area and knock off anyone he comes across, one-by-one.
They're certainly not deep characters, but most of the partiers do have their own stories and subplots going on. There's hook-ups, relationship troubles, betrayals...
Doctor Crews isn't the only villain among the people in TNB, there's also the spoiled, rich, bullying manipulator Melissa, excellently played by Susan Jennifer Sullivan. Sullivan unfortunately passed away in 2009, but she'll always have a place in the hearts of Friday the 13th fans for her portrayal of Melissa. She provided the series with one of the most delightfully hateful, hateable characters in the ranks of its bodycount, and for that we thank her. She did an awesome job.
Other notables among the partiers are genre regular William Butler (Ghoulies II, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Night of the Living Dead 1990, director of Gingerdead Man 2 and 3) as ill-fated birthday boy Michael; Heidi Kozak (Slumber Party Massacre 2) as admitted gold digger Sandra; Diana Barrows (My Mom's a Werewolf) as Maddy, a frumpy girl with an inexplicable crush on resident stoner David; and Elizabeth Kaitan (Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity) as Robin, Maddy's rival for David's affections.
A pair of unfortunate campers also fall victim to Jason, a sequence that culminates with one of the most popular kills in the entire series: as a girl named Judy disrobes and gets into a sleeping bag in preparation for her firewood-gathering boyfriend Dan's return to their tent, Jason is outside making quick work of Dan and stealing a machete from him. Jason then slices his way into the tent, grabs the sleeping bag wrapped Judy, drags the writhing sleeping bag outside, then slams the bag and the girl within against the side of a tree.
Eagle eyed fans have spotted the fact that the crew apparently didn't capture a proper exterior shot of the tent during filming, because the stalking POV shot we get of it is actually stock footage of a tent lifted from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, used despite it featuring rainfall and wet trees that don't match the weather in The New Blood.
Plagued by visions of Jason's killing spree, Tina knows that something is very wrong here, but is unable to fully convince anyone else until it's much too late, partially due to interference from Doctor Crews. He never believes Tina's visions until he sees proof for himself later on that she was indeed right and there's a murderer on the loose. Even then, he still doesn't come clean and warn anyone about what's going on. His unscrupulous "research" is more important than anything.
Along the way, Tina befriends one of the partiers, The Hills Have Eyes Part II's Kevin Blair Spirtas as a guy named Nick. He shows an instant romantic interest in Tina, who's not having it at this point because she doesn't want to drag anyone down with her problems. She tries to warn him away, telling him that her head is really messed up, she's spent time in a mental hospital, "You don't want to mess around with me." But he's more understanding about her issues that some of the others are, and he keeps pursuing her. We see their relationship grow into something more, and they end up taking on Jason together... Although Nick really isn't much help when it comes down to that, getting knocked around and knocked out so we can focus on the main event.
Tina vs. Jason.
When the cast of characters has been substantially whittled down and the film has reached its climactic sequence, we viewers are treated to one badass final battle between the telekinetic heroine and our beloved slasher. One reason why I'm such a fan of slashers, and of Jason Voorhees in particular, is how resilient they are. I love watching them take damage and keep on going after their victims. They can take a licking and keep on ticking, and Jason takes quite a beating in the final scenes of this film. Placed in a life or death situation, Tina finally masters her abilities, controlling them and focusing them toward one purpose: to fight back against Jason. She electrocutes him with power lines, knocks him through a staircase, drops a porch roof on top of him, causes a house to explode... It's cool, it's exciting, and it's filled with destruction eye candy.
Due to Tina's efforts, Nick does manage to survive to the end credits, and after viewers were left wondering what really happened to the character of Paul in part 2, whose sudden disappearance in the ending has him added to most bodycounts that have been compiled, it's nice that they make sure here to show that Nick and Tina are both fine at the end. Nick regains consciousness in the final moments and, bewildered and scared asks, "Where's Jason?" Don't worry, Tina handled it.
Following 1986's Jason Lives, the series producers at Paramount had tried to make a deal with New Line Cinema to get a Freddy vs. Jason crossover film together and in theatres in the late '80s, but they couldn't find a satisfactory way to slice the money pie (after FvsJ was finally successfully made for release in 2003, a similar problem would put the kibosh on the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash project that New Line attempted to assemble as a follow-up), so Freddy moved on to 1988's A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and Jason returned in '88's The New Blood.
In many ways, The New Blood is a standard Friday the 13th movie. The set-up of Jason going after a house packed with partying youths directly across from a family home was even lifted from one of the most popular previous installments, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. One reshoot was even done in the same house that was used for the Jarvis household in TFC. But as evident from the snyopsis above, The New Blood definitely has its own uniquely interesting aspects.
Jason didn't get to face down Freddy Krueger in his seventh film, but screenwriter Daryl Haney cooked up an idea that had Voorhees facing off with his own preternaturally powerful adversary. He pitched the idea of making his heroine telekinetic, an idea which was immediately embraced by producers who compared the character to another horror icon, Stephen King's Carrie. Though troubled, Tina is a more well-adjusted character than Carrie, but her powers are very much the same.
Makeup effects artist turned director John Carl Buechler (who provided FX for the 4th and 6th Elm Street movies, the 4th and 6th Halloweens, and Hatchet, among others) wasn't much for slasher flicks, but with the inclusion of Tina and with Jason now a walking, rotting, killing corpse, he leapt at the chance to make a Friday the 13th that had more supernatural elements and took on a more surrealistic tone. Tina's powers and visions were his way in to making something that was a little different.
At the same time, he didn't slouch on the kills. He filmed the characters being taken out in brutal, bloody ways. A head crushed to a pulp in Jason's bare hands, a face whacked open with an axe, spewing guts, impalements, victims writhing in pain... Unfortunately, almost none of his gore made it to the screen, as The New Blood took a beating from the MPAA. The kills play out very quickly and at times jumpy in the final, R-stamped cut of the film. Because of this, over the years TNB was as popular, maybe even more so, due to what wasn't in it rather than what was. For over a decade, fans demanded the chance to see what was excised from the death scenes. Finally, the footage was released for us to see, the downside being that it now only exists on a poor quality VHS dub of the workprint. The crowd pleasing kills in Hatchet could almost be taken as Buechler getting to make up for the fact that TNB got chopped up so badly.
Hatchet also reunited Buechler with frequent collaborator Kane Hodder, who was that film's undead slasher Victor Crowley, but is best known for the role Buechler landed him in The New Blood.
Hodder made his series debut as Jason Voorhees in TNB, and was so well received that he was brought back to play Jason in three further sequels (which saw the character going to Manhattan, Hell, and into outer space), making him to first man behind the mask to play him more than once. Watching TNB, it's easy to see why Hodder became a fan favorite. He gives a fantastic performance his first time out, bringing a strong intensity, a real sense of menace, and a clear, burning rage and hatred for anyone he comes across. Especially for Tina when she's knocking him around.
Hodder is helped out by the way Buechler presents Jason in the film. This is not a film in which the killer is kept hidden for most of the running time, Jason is on full display throughout his scenes. He's given close-ups as he draws in ragged breaths through his battered hockey mask, the camera lingers on him for hero shots, during stalk and kill scenes it seems like we spend as much time with Jason as he pursues his potential victims as we do with the person running for their life. Buechler and Hodder's Jason is the epitome of an unstoppable killing machine, Buechler has even referred to him as "the meat Terminator".
To go along with his glorious amount of screen time, Buechler also crafted for his Jason one of the character's most badass looks of the series. Jason has been through a lot to get to this point, and Buechler has every bit of that journey represented in the design. There's the axe mark from part 3, the machete wound and missing eye from part 4, the boat propellor damage from the end of part 6... Jason's years underwater have not been kind, either. His clothes are a ragged mess. He was already a walking, decaying corpse in Jason Lives, but his decomposition has gone much further by now, through his ripped up clothing we can see his bones showing through his rotten flesh. The busted remnants of the chain Tommy Jarvis placed around his neck at the end of Jason Lives continues hanging there through the movie. This film's Jason is just amazing to behold.
The cast around Kane Hodder's Jason Voorhees does well with what they're given to do. In addition to those already mentioned, Lar Park Lincoln carries the heroine role capably and gives an endearing performance as the tormented-but-powerful Tina, with Jennifer Banko (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) appearing in the beginning as Young Tina. Prolific voice actress Susan Blu comes off as a caring mother and has some strong dramatic moments in the role of Mrs. Shepard, and Terry Kiser, who would become popular for playing a dead body in the Weekend at Bernie's movies, shines as the despicable Doctor Crews.
By then, I had seen parts 1 through 6 dozens of times each. My memories from watching The New Blood when I was around eight years old are still very much alive. I remember that every time I saw it back then, whether it was on a tape recorded from the rented copy or on TV, the prologue/narration at the beginning used to really creep me out. Not in a way that'd get me scared or anything, but there was something about the narrator's voice and the way he said it all that just got me excited to be watching it, looking forward to what was coming. It wasn't until very recently that I found out it was actually Walt Gorney, who played Crazy Ralph in parts 1 and 2, doing it. I've heard about it being him before, but never knew for sure because it doesn't sound like him. Cody confirmed it was him, which is impressive because he sounded so different as Ralph. That makes it even cooler to me and makes me appreciate his acting even more.
Jennifer Banko as the younger Tina used to remind me of the little girl in Poltergeist (Heather O'Rourke) and that added to the creepiness factor because Poltergeist was a movie I didn't get to watch a lot. My mom was always talking about how it was too intense and how a lot of bad things happened while they were shooting it and with people that were in it, and it just got to me. To this day I won't watch Poltergeist very often at all, even though I'm a big Tobe Hooper fan.
Friday the 13th: The New Blood is tied in to some of my earliest memories. Since I had been introduced to the series and got into horror at age three with the VHS release of Jason Lives in early 1987, I already had a year of fandom under my belt when TNB was hitting theatres, and I was hyped for it. Even though I was just four years old at the time, I can clearly remember when I became aware of TNB's existence: I caught a TV spot on my maternal grandmother's television. Jason was back to go after more people, and the moment that most got me excited was a shot of Melissa saying "There goes the neighborhood", followed by a shot of a house exploding. This was amazing, this was epic, this was going to be awesome!
I wanted to see TNB in the theatre. Even at four, I was keeping a list of all the movies I wanted to see, and TNB was going on it... Problem was, I still didn't know how to spell some words at that point, and "Friday" was one that hadn't sunk in yet. So when I wrote "Friday the 13th 7: The New Blood" on my little piece of paper, I had to represent the word "Friday" by drawing a picture of eggs in a frying pan ("fry") beside a drawing of the sun ("day"). I'd say that was rather clever of me. Despite that bit of ingenuity, I could not get my mom to take my little tyke self to the theatre during TNB's run.
So I missed out on seeing the movie on the big screen, but you can be sure that I rented the movie as soon as the VHS hit video store shelves, and I've been a fan of it ever since. Of course I have been, I love every Friday the 13th movie, these movies are very dear to me. I still have some vague memories of that first viewing, though many more viewings have followed. There were years of renting the movie occasionally, seeing its VHS case with its cool cover art on video stores shelves. Finally I owned the VHS, bought the year I spent my birthday and Christmas money to collect the entire series on VHS. DVD followed... a couple copies of the DVD... Soon, I'll own it on Blu-Ray as well.
TNB isn't one of my top favorites of the F13s, but I do get a lot of enjoyment from it. Jason is brought to the screen in exemplary fashion and pitted against a heroine who can really take a stand against him when she puts her mind to it. I thought the Tina vs. Jason battle was awesome when I first saw the movie at four years old, and have continued to think so throughout the years.
I wish Sandra had more lines and more screen time, because I've always liked Heidi Kozak. Something else I wish is that Michael and his girlfriend Jane, as well as the campers Dan and Judy, felt more like characters and instead of just being there for the bodycount. Watching the version of the movie with the deleted and extended scenes put in where they belong helps with that. The extra moments should've been in the final version, like the uncut death scenes. The only death scene that is better in the theatrical version is Robin's. Her original death was lackluster - Jason enters the room, carrying David's head, which is not something he usually does, and swings the machete across her stomach. It just feels weird. Being thrown out of the window works better, in my opinion.
Even though I love The New Blood and have watched it so many times over the years, it could've been better. The score needed more of the series' original composer Harry Manfredini's music and less of the music by Fred Mollin, who took over for this one and Jason Takes Manhattan. The loud banging music is not effective at all, it's just extremely annoying. The tent scene from part 4 should not have been reused, the tent is different in size, shape and color and it never rained in this movie. I don't think the location was very good either, it looked too brown and dry, I prefer the feeling of summer time in parts 1, 2, 4 and 6.
Speaking of 4, The Final Chapter, which is the movie they were trying to recreate, I feel like it could've gotten closer if some of the things I mentioned had been fixed. The scene in The Final Chapter where Jason chases after Trish up the stairs has always been one of the most intense moments in the series to me. We don't have that in The New Blood, but scenes like Jason standing in the dark in the corner of the dining room while watching David walk into the kitchen and Tina electrocuting him in the mud puddle are pretty fulfilling. Not to mention that Kane Hodder is great as Jason, he's always been one of my favorites, and after reading his autobiography I respect him even more. I liked C.J. Graham as Jason in Jason Lives, but I'm glad we got Hodder for parts 7, 8, 9 and 10. I still can't believe he didn't get to be in Freddy vs. Jason, but that's a different topic. All in all, The New Blood is a fun, cool part of the saga and one I never skip when watching the Friday the 13th movies.
Its release had an impact on both of us in our childhoods, and twenty-five years later The New Blood is still a film we rewatch regularly and probably always will be, an entertaining chapter in a franchise that is very important to us.