A Storytelling Autopsy: Friday The 13th - A New Beginning

What follows is not a review, or even a proper critical evaluation of  FRIDAY THE 13TH – A NEW BEGINNING.  Instead, I'll try to peel back the storytelling mechanics to explain why this entry in the franchise... well... I'll try...

(warning: spoilers follow, in the improbable case you haven't seen the film.)

A fifth FRIDAY THE 13TH was an easy call for Paramount pictures.  Produced cheaply, easy to advertise, and guaranteed to secure a profit, the series was, at this point in 1985, the most successful horror franchise on the market.  Possibly of all time.  Killing off the central character of the saga had produced massive interest (and box office receipts) for the fourth film, but created an uphill challenge for the next batch of filmmakers.  Later on in the series Jason's resurrection became a dismissive afterthought, but at the time it must have seemed an impossible task.

That, and the fact that the producers didn't understand what they'd created.  The assumption stood that all these films needed to satisfy its core audience was blood and breasts.  The idea that a hulking, mute, blank-slate of a serial killer had attained celebrity status and was now the main draw was beyond their thinking.  No, for A NEW BEGINNING, they'd focus squarely on blood and breasts.

Fuck Jason Voorhees, they seemed to say.

In the past four Autopsies, I've focused largely on point of view narrative issues to illustrate how literary devices were used to compel strong visceral reactions from the audience.  With the exception of the fourth film, there has always been limitations to this; each film has scenes outside the scope of the “narrator”.  There's no possible way to approach NEW BEGINNING in this way since it quickly betrays any sense of narrative view and never bothers to establish a firm perspective.

The film opens with the nightmare that would have ended FINAL CHAPTER if that film had been told from Tommy's point of view.  Jason's graveside resurrection, murder of the grave robbers, and pending execution of young Tommy are events told expressly from within Tommy's adult mind, appropriately enough in the form of a nightmare, all of which should lead the viewer to believe the entire film that follows should remain in that same perspective.  Occasionally the movie does go back inside Tommy's mind, mostly for cheap hallucination scares, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be any point of view at all.

Too many diversions from the main plot make the film seem random and unfocused.  We seem to be following the story of a halfway house's doomed patients, but then the action will abruptly cut to somewhere else in town- a break-down on a back road, Ethel and Junior's shack, the local diner- without any transition whatsoever.  Ultimately, it feels like characters and situations are being set up simply to facilitate nudity and violent death.  This reduces the film down to level of pornography, bad sit-com humor, and snuff- there's nothing here besides titillation, cheap laughs, and death.

To be fair, it seems that the screenplay does make some attempts to utilize narrative techniques to engage the viewer, albeit more simplistic and routine examples.

During the opening dream sequence we see young Tommy approaching Jason's makeshift grave (one which rivals the production value of the graveyard in Ed Woods' PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE), he stops as he sets sight of Jason's tombstone.  We get several l close-ups of Tommy's face lit by strobes of lightning as he watches grave digging punks defiling the grave.  Later, the adult version of Tommy is mesmerized by a blinking neon sign.  Another shot repeats the effect while he rests in bed.   Thematically, there's an attempt to link these sequences with Tommy's irrational fear of a dead serial killer's return.  Except, of course, that the scenes are filmed with such haste and disregard that none of it really comes through.  Shakespeare did it better... in Macbeth... in 1606.

Most NEW BEGINNING fans point to the film's colorful, outrageous characters as the main draw.  And although the acting is generally not up to the level of FINAL CHAPTER, PART II, or the original, the cast are all game for offbeat comic beats and intentionally awkward performances.  With the material handed to them, they're all fine.  But, y'know...

For a halfway house for former mental patients, there's remarkably little attempt to show any hint of insanity... except for Vic.  And why anyone would think he would be “halfway” to any sort of recovery is beyond me.  The others seem like typical kids, more or less, with problems, yes, but nothing that would require hospitalization.  Seriously, what was Violet's diagnosis?  Being a cliché New Wave fan?  What sort of halfway house puts Vic and Tommy in the same room as Joey and Robin anyway?  Is nymphomania a clinical disease?  The whole manufactured set-up reeks of lazy, convenient storytelling.  How bad is it, you ask?  Consider this: someone is killing off kids with mental issues... and yet the movie never convinces us that any of these kids are potentially dangerous.  It's the anti-whodunit.  Frankly, it would stump the Mystery Machine gang.  Or maybe just annoy them.

Speaking of Scrappy-Doo, the final explanation for the murder spree leaps fearlessly over the line into self-parody.  At least, I hope it does.  If not, we're expected to believe that a paramedic who abandoned a child coincidentally happened across  his dead son, went insane, adopted Jason's persona (for some... reason... anyone... Bueller?), made/found/customized a full disguise (but didn't get the mask quite right), and then evolved into a nearly-unstoppable killing machine.  Over the course of a weekend.  I guess he had the disguise hanging in his closet for a while.  Like most formal wear, he was just waiting for the occasion to spring up.  Dead offspring?  That'll do.  Suit up.

It all seems like a first draft, doesn't it?

The movie ends with another jump scare.  And it doesn't work at all.  If Tommy wasn't the killer all along, why would he have finally lost it after dispatching Roy?  Wouldn't it have been therapeutic?  And really, doesn't that bring us back to the exact spot we were in when FINAL CHAPTER concluded?  What's the point of this movie?

It's a shame, too.  Tommy, the mask maker, could have been a great villain for the series.  In fact, how wonderful would the climax have been, with only a little tweaking, had it revealed that Tommy-- insane--  had masterminded the entire massacre?  Perhaps we could get flashbacks explaining that it was Tommy that riled up Vic.  Tommy encouraging Roy, even providing the bald cap and hockey mask.  Directed him to the victims.  It makes sense.  It could have worked.

Sadly, such ambition is not to be found in the existent film.

Vic should really have just eaten the goddamn candy bar.

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