“This is a small town, and small towns are supposed to be safe!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER made almost as much as its predecessor so – Ah, hell, who are we fooling? Let’s make another one so immediately that it can be released in less than a year!
To restart the series they went to director Danny Steinmann, whose horror experience was THE UNSEEN (1980), and who’d just done SAVAGE STREETS starring Linda Blair. Steinmann gets a writing credit alongside part III co-writer Martin Kitrosser – because they used his early attempt at the part III script that would’ve been about Part II’s Ginny in a mental institution – and newcomer David Cohen, who rewrote that script (and would go on to write and direct HOLLYWOOD ZAP , about “two friends, one searching for his father, the other searching for the ultimate sexual video game competition.”)
FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING cold opens with the type of storm the original FRIDAY THE 13TH had to build to. Part IV’s pre-teen Jason-killer Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) is visiting a cemetery (not the same “old cemetery” from the last installment) where there’s a makeshift grave for Jason (who buried him?). Tommy watches as two idiotic, cackling fuckos dig up Jason’s worm-covered, still-masked corpse just for laughs. And then, for some reason (or none at all – you know how these resurrections go) Jason sits up and kills them.
The good new: it’s only a dream. The bad news is maybe it was a dream of a memory that really happened. Or a dream that represents Tommy’s psychosis. And the other bad news is that Feldman was only available to shoot in his backyard on a day off from THE GOONIES, so they switch to grown up Tommy (John Shepherd, THUNDER RUN), who is locked up at the Unger Institute of Mental Health before being transferred to the Pinehurst Youth Development Center (please note that one of the guards taking him is reading a porno mag) where (two years before A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) he will live among a variety of misfits each with some small gimmick or defining trait – one stutters, one eats, one fucks all the time, etc.
We have another good title sequence – in fact, possibly the best on a conceptual level. Okay, the font they chose for “A NEW BEGINNING” is a little generic, but otherwise the sequence is absolutely top shelf.
It starts with the original three-dimensional FRIDAY THE 13TH logo, and this time rather than some text it’s a picture of the hockey mask that flies in from the horizon, crashes into the logo and makes it explode. When the smoke and debris clears the mask remains and the subtitle fades in over it.
But after the text dissolves away is when it gets next level. That’s when the mask rotates around so that we glimpse the inside of the mask, and then we see through its eye holes. It sort of reminds me of the way MAGNUM FORCE‘s titles reverse the perspective of DIRTY HARRY’s “do you feel lucky, punk” scene so that we see it from the suspect’s point-of-view and realize how scary it is. In this case it’s telling us the movie will be about people beginning to see the world like Jason does.
Primarily, of course, we’re supposed to wonder if Tommy is struggling with his inner Jason as he tries and fails to fit in at Pinehurst. When he gets flipped a bunch of shit by Eddie (John Robert Dixon, ASSAULT OF THE KILLER BIMBOS) he doesn’t just take it, he lifts him above his head and flip-slams him through a table. It’s played more as scary and out-of-line than as giving a bully his comeuppance. There’s also a part where Tommy fights somebody pretty much Chuck Norris style. If only we weren’t busy wondering if he’s a killer he could go out and solve crimes while kickboxing and that would be a pretty good new beginning in my opinion. All bets are off for what this series is about now.
Unsurprisingly, Tommy seems confused about if he’s a psycho or not. He looks in the mirror and sees Jason’s mask. Speaking of masks, he still has the latex monster ones he made when he was a little boy. Keeps them in his luggage. That’s cool that they allow that. He also has a photo of his mom and sister that he looks at as if mourning, though his sister survived part IV.
Pinehurst has some absolutely awful neighbors, cartoonish hillbilly stereotypes Ethel (Carol Locatell, COFFY, SHARKY’S MACHINE) and her large adult son Junior (Ron Sloan, BANZAI RUNNER), who acts like he thinks he’s in a TEXAS CHAIN SAW movie. They refer to Pinehurst as “the looney bin” and try to get the sheriff (Marco St. John, CAT PEOPLE, HARD TARGET, MONSTER, THE PUNISHER) to shut it down because they caught Tina (Debi Sue Voorhees, AVENGING ANGEL) and Eddie “screwing their heads off” on their property again.
If they would’ve just waited a little bit there was a legitimate reason to be upset coming up: a punk guy named Vic (Mark Venturini, Suicide from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) is annoyed that the big guy (Dominick Brascia, IRON EAGLE, director of HARDROCK NIGHTMARE) with chocolate smeared on his face keeps bothering him while he’s trying to chop wood, so he ax-murders the poor guy. Vic gets arrested, but then other people start getting killed: Pete (Corey Parker, SCREAM FOR HELP) and Vinnie (Anthony Barrile, Escape at Dannemora), the c-word using greasers who say “Look, as far as I’m concerned all those loonies should be killed off one by one”; a waitress (Rebecca Wood, BARBARIAN QUEEN II: THE EMPRESS STRIKES BACK) and her horny cokehead nurse boyfriend (Bob DeSimone, “Porn Director,” ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER; Eddie and Tina (after outdoor sex). Eddie is an absolute class act because he does that hilarious prank where you sneak up behind your girlfriend the day after both of you saw one of your friends murder one of your other friends with an ax and you put your hand over her mouth to scare her. Just a total crack up!
Two important startling animal notes: One – the waitress, Lana, is inside her closed diner by herself and is frightened by a cat that flies at her as if tossed or catapulted. Where did that come from? Two – Pete is startled by a bunny in the woods. Bunnies, of course, protect us from Jason (see my part III review). So obviously Jason is not the killer in this one. Duh. But the sheriff is convinced he’s come back to life again and is killing everybody in this area that I don’t think is exactly Crystal Lake. Others suspect Tommy, having apparently seen that scary look on his face at the end of part IV.
At one point Steinmann and friends decide to introduce a red herring: the big, scary looking Raymond (Sonny Shields, a stuntman from THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN) who shows up out of nowhere to ask Ethel for work, and she hires him, but then he’s immediately killed. A very short-lived red herring. Eventually it seems that our main characters must be Pam (Melanie Kinnaman, “The Woman,” BEST OF THE BEST), who is the assistant to the doctor running the facility, and Reggie (Shavar Ross, voice of Buckwheat on the Little Rascals cartoon), a little boy whose grandpa (Vernon Washington, THE LAST STARFIGHTER) is the cook. Well, someone who appears to be Jason (Tom Morga, who was Leatherface in the bridge scene of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and Michael Myers in the first half of HALLOWEEN 4) shows up and throws poor Gramps through the window, as Jason is apt to do. Reggie crashes a tractor through a wall to bump him, and Pam has a machete vs. chainsaw duel with him. Both respectable.
Finally Tommy shows up and fights Jason, confirming once and for all that Jason is not Tommy in disguise – I assume he had a dentist’s appointment or was washing his hair or something during all of the other killings. Luckily there’s a random bed of spikes on the ground, so Tommy impales Jason on it and Jason’s mask comes off Scooby-Doo style and it’s not just the hockey mask, it’s also latex makeup, and it’s covering…
OH MY GOD IT WAS ROY THE WHOLE TIME!
Wait – who’s Roy again?
Roy (Dick Wieand, PATERNITY) was a paramedic who reported to the scene when Vic killed Joey, and it turns out he was secretly Joey’s father, so the trauma of it caused him to put on cinema quality special FX makeup to impersonate Jason and murder like a dozen people. It could happen to any of us.
In the final scene Tommy, who had been so traumatized by killing Jason in part 4, is now so traumatized by killing Roy while impersonating Jason, that he finally does snap and puts on the hockey mask and is about to stab Pam.
A NEW BEGINNING has long had a reputation as one of the worst of the series. Although it opened at #1 above PORKY’S REVENGE, it made considerably less money than the two chapters before it, and obviously the one where the killer is not Jason or even Tommy but just a random dude dressed as Jason is not gonna be most fans’ favorite. But in recent years it has improved its reputation a little, gaining favor among some for being considerably meaner, sleazier, trashier and uglier than the rest.
I’m not one of those people. I respect the attempt to do something different with the story, but in my opinion this is the first total misfire in the series. The trouble is that it’s not really different in interesting ways – it’s just missing some of the elements (besides young people getting murdered after getting laid) that previously defined a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. It lacks not only the lake and cabin atmosphere, but (thanks to the MPAA starting to resent the series) the great gore FX. It continues the too many jerks approach started in part IV, with a whole house full of featured shitbags and several tangents to introduce various pockets of secondary shitbags. And the biggest problem is that there’s no central character to root for – Tommy ties it to the previous chapter, but not only is he a different actor, but in order for us to believe he might be the killer he has to be withdrawn and creepy at all times, not to mention disappear without explanation during all the important scenes.
The closest thing to a favorite character for me is Violet (Tiffany Helm, one episode of Freddy’s Nightmares, daughter of Brooke Bundy from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3-4). Not because she has a personality, but because she’s a New-Wave-looking girl with crimped hair who pouts and wants to be alone in her magazine-clipping-covered corner to practice popping and locking.
A good example of this movie’s scumminess is this left turn where Reggie (who says that he is known as “Reckless” in his neighborhood) begs to be allowed to visit his older brother, Demon. So far so good. He goes to meet Demon at a trailer park, and Demon turns out to be played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr., another guy from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (where he had the equally cool name “Spider”). He dresses cool and seems cool and then the very next scene he has diarrhea from eating a burrito and he calls his girlfriend (Jere Fields, Rick James’ “Ebony Eyes” video) a bitch and threatens to beat her and then gets killed.
It should also be noted that by now we have moved completely into the territory of the stereotypical slasher movie where there are characters played by Playboy models who strip down to their underwear for no reason even in a halfway house with no locks on the bedroom doors, or have sex in the wide open outdoors during a mass murder spree. And though those things will definitely get you killed, by Roy’s rules you don’t have to have had sex, you could also just be an awkward guy who gets up the guts to tell his crush he “wants to make love” to her and she laughs at him and he goes upstairs to cry. Unfair.
In Crystal Lake Memories, many of the people involved in the film seem creeped out by Steinmann, some calling him a porn director. He did direct the 1973 hardcore film HIGH RISE under the pseudonym Danny Stone, but similar could be said of Wes Craven. After the publication of the book, a fan named Jeff Cramer tracked Steinmann down and did what I imagine is the most detailed interview the director (who died in 2012) ever gave about his life and career. He says he worked as an actor for a while, then got a job for a production company in Puerto Rico and started directing commercials. Then when he saw DEEP THROAT in Times Square and people were talking about the mainstreaming of porn, he figured out how to make one himself on 16mm film at the film studio where he worked, with the crew he’d used to make toy commercials. He said it was very profitable, but that he turned down offers to do more porn. He got a job working for Gene Roddenberry at Paramount, and was an associate producer on his 1977 TV movie SPECTRE. As mentioned earlier, he wrote and directed the 1980 horror film THE UNSEEN (but was unhappy with it and used another pseudonym) and 1984’s SAVAGE STREETS starring Linda Blair.
FRIDAY THE 13TH series producers Phil Scuderi and Steve Minasian saw in-progress footage of SAVAGE STREETS and turned it down, but signed Steinmann to direct A NEW BEGINNING as well as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT PART II.
Scuderi assigned Steinmann not only a premise, but a graph telling when to kill people. Asked by Cramer who the two greaser characters were, Steinmann says, “They were two guys that needed to be killed. They had nothing to do with the story… In order to comply with Scuderi’s graph, you had to introduce some characters and kill them three or four minutes later.”
He says the production went smoothly, he got along well with the cast and was surprised that in Crystal Lake Memories they portrayed him as “a paranoid, tense, out of control sex pervert and cocaine addict; desperate, crude, incompetent and an asshole with no talent.”
After A NEW BEGINNING, Steinmann wrote the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT sequel and scouted locations in Wisconsin before finding out the producers had not properly secured the sequel rights and couldn’t make it. Other subsequent projects collapsed, including a monster movie with Charles Band that ended when Empire Films went bankrupt. So it wasn’t really a new beginning for Steinmann – he never completed another movie. But the series would live on.