A Storytelling Autopsy: Friday The 13th Part 7 - The New Blood

What follows is not a review, or even a proper critical evaluation of FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD.  Instead, I'll try to peel back the storytelling mechanics to explain why this psychokenetic entry in the franchise still haunts us.

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

By 1988, a cinematic cold war was already brewing between Paramount's FRIDAY THE 13th franchise and New Line Cinema's NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series... and Jason was losing the battle at the box office.  Paramount suspected that the best days for their hack-n-slash property were behind them and that market viability for future installments was increasingly bleak.  Still, the cost-to-profit ratio was still, for the moment, a lossless proposition, so a seventh installment in the saga was an inevitability.

It's a clear indication of Paramount's lack of confidence in their franchise that they pursued the concept of a FRIDAY/NIGHTMARE crossover but abandoned it when they were rebuffed by New Line.  Only a few years later New Line were able to secure the rights to Jason and bring the idea to fruition on their terms.  If Jason was the king titan of the slasher in the early '80s, Freddy had snatched away the crown in the later half of the decade.

Needing a new path forward, the producers kept the idea of a supernatural cinematic battle but changed Jason's opponent.  It's been said that Tina, the movie's telekinesis-enabled heroine, was modeled after Carrie White, the titular character of Stephen King's novel and the subsequent Brian DePalma film, but this is a gross oversimplification.  Carrie's powers served as the means to leverage a broad metaphoric revenge-fantasy storyline, the central concept relying on the commonality of teenage ostracism, disconnect, and self-pity.  Both novel and movie work best as negatively-charged nostalgia, encouraging the viewer to remember their own high school years not through rose-tinted glasses but rather through cynicism and desperation.

Tina is none of these things.  Ruled by guilt over an uncontrollable psychic tantrum that left her father dead, her powers- and her character arch- is essentially therapeutic.  Using her rage to avenge her mother's murder counteracts the guilt associated with killing the other parent.  At the beginning of the film she's socially awkward, a nervous, tittering mess just coming out from an institutional life.  At end, she's strong and empowered.  Her final words?  “We took care of him”, referring to herself and her father.

An underlying theme in the film is the effect of a parent's death on the surviving offspring.  Both of Tina's parents die in the course of NEW BLOOD's running time, of course, but the film never asks the viewer to react to either event.  Neither is staged for a massive emotional response but rather as mechanical plot points, a justification for Tina's rage that will ultimately defeat Jason.  This approach is probably for the best considering the parallels between Tina and Mrs. Voorhees' story, which would make it difficult to navigate a narrative that asks for a sympathetic response for one but not the other.  Mrs. Voorhees loses her son to the waters of Crystal Lake, projecting her wrath at the camp counselors for not watching Jason but never accepts responsibility for her absence when he needed her supervision.  Likewise, Tina is unable to come to grips with her own lack of control which caused her father to drown in the same lake.  If anything, Mrs. Voorhees might be the easier of the two with which to identify as she played no direct role in Jason's death.

If Jason's resurrection can be considered a supernatural outgrowth of his mother's rage, then Tina's powers certainly come from childhood fears and anger over the breakdown of the American family.  As we're introduced to young Tina, she's a witness to domestic abuse.  She runs from the problem, literally and physically, and spends the rest of the film, until her mother's death, continuing to flee.  She only stops her flight after finding the body of her mother.  At that point, she stares down both her guilt and her mother's murderer and decides to fight, weaponing the mental power she inadvertently used to kill her father to defend herself.  To survive.

This is Tina's rehabilitation program: electrocution by power wire, flowerpot to the head, porch roof collapse, strangulation by power cord, glass lamp to the face, two floor free fall, rusty nail to the forehead, full body burn, constricting mask straps, and...

House explosion.  Ultimately, the destruction of her childhood home, although traumatic, is necessary to allow her to continue her life without the restraints that the house on the lake represents.  She no longer has to return to the place where she killed her father... because it no longer exists.  Similarly, by resurrecting her father as her final weapon against Jason, she completes the cycle of embracing the past and using it as a strength instead of a hindrance.  As much as fans might detest the Mr. Shepherd's appearance at the end of the film, thematically it makes perfect sense.  I'd even go as far as to suggest (warning: fanboy heresy coming) that the studio was right to insist that Mr. Shepherd  not be a decayed zombie.  The battle at that point is inside Tina's head.  She should see her father as she remembers him.

After all, by any serious logic, Jason's childhood body should have disintegrated completely in the lake long before his own resurrection.  Insisting on a “realistic” approach at this point is beyond silly.

FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII's subtitle, THE NEW BLOOD, refers equally to the new batch of college-aged Jason-bait as it does Tina by herself.  “Blood” often refers to lineage.  A man's daughter is his “blood”.  It also, no doubt, referred to Paramount hope to inject new interest into the franchise.  This chapter is often name-checked as a fan favorite, at least for this era in the series' history, its box office receipts are another matter.  Although it maintained its predecessor's 19 million dollar box office, it was clear that no new moviegoers had been roped in by this newest gimmick.

Jason would have one last chance at Paramount.

The executives began re-arranging the deck chairs and watching the waters rise.

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