Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood – A 30th Anniversary Retrospective
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood opens with a very cool intro, albeit an unnecessary one. Fading in to a cemetery at night during a storm, we hear the voice of narrator Walt Gorney, who is familiar to fans of the franchise as the lovable Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th (1980), and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Not that we need to be told at this point, but Gorney narrates how Jason Voorhees always comes back. Intercut with the footage of the cemetery is various moments from Part 2, Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). The sequence returns frequently to the cemetery between these clips. This is until we see the headstone of Jason’s grave explode from a lightning strike, which is actually unused footage from Jason Lives, of which we are then shown a recap of its events that lead into the prologue of the story here. The narration finishes with, “People forget, he’s down there… waiting.”
After the title card and opening credits, we are introduced to our ‘New Blood’ heroine Tina Shepard. In a flashback scene set a year after the previous installment, featuring Tina as a little girl played by Jennifer Banko (1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), she is standing outside the door of her parents’ Camp Crystal Lake cabin as she listens to them fighting. After she sees her father hit her mother, she runs to the pier and is chased by him. She gets on a motorboat in the lake, where a sleeping Voorhees is still chained to the bottom. Angry with her father, she channels once latent telekinetic powers that cause a tremor in the lake, and the pier to shake, break apart, and collapse as he falls in to his death. The narrative then flashes forwards nine years, and is a further messing up of the series’ timeline. The first film is set in the year it was made of 1979. Parts 2, 3, and The Final Chapter are all set over a long weekend five years later, in that last entry’s year of release in 1984, which is feasible. Things became convoluted after this. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) is set five years after in 1989. Jason Lives is set in the following year of 1990. This is set in 2000, putting its events twelve years into the future from the year of its release in 1988, which clearly features 80’s fashions, music, and technology. The expression on Jennifer’s face says it all…
Now in a very 1980s looking 2000, a teenaged Tina is played by Lara Park Lincoln (1987’s House II: The Second Story, and the 1988 Freddy’s Nightmares TV anthology show). She portrays one of the most sympathetic final girls of the franchise, and her performance is capably serviceable to the needs of this simple slasher material. We become invested in her plight due to her trauma of causing her father’s death, having spent six years in a mental hospital, and struggling to control something she does not understand, which comes on out of her anger. Her wicked psychiatrist Dr. Crews, the secondary antagonist here, manipulates her. He has brought her back to where it all began to her parents’ Crystal Lake holiday cabin, and he exploits her emotions, trying to keep her in an agitated state to bring her telekinesis to the surface, and catching it all on videotape for his own ends to further his career. In a later revelation, it seems he also wants her to bring back Jason Voorhees, but screenwriters Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney never bother to explain why he wants to do this. Crews is played by Terry Kiser, best known as Bernie in the cult 1989 comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, and he succeeds in getting us to loathe his character and long for his comeuppance. The scenes between Tina and Crews make for some of the most interesting and lively moments, helping to break up the monotony of the first hour or so.
When Tina is forced to confront Jason, who she accidently resurrected from his watery grave when trying to bring back her father, as his body was never recovered (again, never explained), it also forces her to confront her fears and to focus, so she can control her telekinetic powers in order to defeat the undead psycho killer. Okay, so Paramount was really reaching for ideas here, and the cheesy gimmick of “Carrie vs. Jason” as fans dub this, sounds stupid on paper… well, it is stupid. However, this makes for some nifty practical special effects, the likes of which are never usually seen in the slasher sub-genre of horror (aside from New Line’s bigger budget A Nightmare on Elm Street dreamscape additions), especially during the climax as Tina and Voorhees do battle, and the hulking hockey masked maniac now has a foe that actually has a powerful ability to defeat him. Kane Hodder, making the first of four consecutive turns as the killing machine, also pulls off some impressive stunt work here. All this makes for a great deal of dramatic energy, and an entertaining and memorable finale that ends the film on a high note.
I am not a fan of the decomposing zombie incarnation of Jason Voorhees, but Hodder really gives the role his all. With conviction, his constant heavy breathing makes sure we know that Jason is very pissed off, he is an unstoppable force of rage, and his commitment to the stunt work deserves much respect. The director and SFX artist John Carl Buechler greatly compliments the stuntman’s performance by creating one of Voorhees’ greatest ever looks. The appearance of his beat up hockey mask, the decay of his rotting flesh, his skeleton showing underneath his torn clothes, and chains hanging around his neck, make him look like a classic early horror movie monster, rather than a typical modern slasher villain. His unmasking in the climax to reveal his zombiefied visage is effectively ghastly.
Excluding the brightly lit day scenes, the proceedings are encapsulated in a somber atmosphere. This is induced by the dark lighting techniques during the night settings and a fresh take with the score provided by Fred Mollin, who replaces veteran series composer Harry Manfredini. This is a welcome change, but much of the soundtrack over the course of the film consists of recycled samples from Manfredini’s previous compositions, hence, his co-credit here. Yet Mollin’s original music leaves a lasting impression, which also provides a strong sense of unease and impending doom, and a suitably supernatural feel to the cheese-filled fun of the showdown between Tina and Jason Voorhees.
It is a shame then that all the film’s negative aspects undercut these positives. The teen characterizations of the supporting cast are bland and unsympathetic, the kills are extremely lackluster in their execution – cuts or no cuts, and it is terribly paced, and has a distinct lack of suspense and tension…
The structure of the set-up is borrowed from The Final Chapter, as a group of teenagers is situated in a cabin opposite the Shepard’s old holiday place, much like where the Jarvis family home was. The kids are holding a surprise birthday party for a friend who does not make it to blow out the candles on his cake, and his cousin Nick (Kevin Blair) is Tina’s love interest, who is actually an all-around nice guy, but has little to do. The rest of the teens are the most annoyingly obnoxious, forgettable, zero personality fuckwits to ever feature in a Friday the 13th film. The only real standout from this slasher fodder is the late Susan Jennifer Sullivan as Queen Bitch Melissa, who like Kiser does a solid intentional job of getting us to hate her, and anticipate her demise.
We have here characters so detestable that we yearn for them to be slaughtered in loving graphic detail, and in inventive ways, but we are deprived of this because the payoffs are so dull. Rooting for antagonists in horror instead of fearing them, in the hope they will kill protagonists we should fear for, as they are the ones we should be identifying with, is not real horror. This is an exploitative guilty pleasure, yet even this is robbed from us here. Save for the infamous sleeping bag kill, the set-pieces are the most uninspired of the franchise. It is made even worse by how the MPAA demanded a cut to shreds version, as this at least would have been a visceral experience with what would have been the goriest one of the lot. This is evident from this rough footage of the deleted scenes…
Jason is seen far too much, which became the norm for the series from Jason Lives onwards, and is one of the failings of these later installments as he was no longer scary as a consequence. Furthermore, Buechler’s talent is in SFX, not in directing, as he has no understanding of pacing and staging set-pieces in respect of build-up. Voorhees just suddenly appears, lumbering on to screen in full view, and kills with weapons that appear out of nowhere. There is zero suspense and tension, unlike when he was still lurking in the shadows in the first four films. Throughout the majority of the runtimes in these, we would only know he is a terrifying presence, seeing glimpses of him, and we would mostly just see his hands holding the murder weapons during the kill sequences, until his full reveal in the finale. He was still very human, a backwoods hermit deformed man-child on a psychotic murderous rampage, who was slimmer and would run. This iteration of the character was re-introduced in the 2009 reboot, but was tweaked a little with new personality traits.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is a mixed bag, as for everything good, there is something bad. It is at times engaging, but at other times tedious. It does not quite scrape the bottom of the barrel alongside the worst of the bunch – Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). In terms of quality control, and for cutting thick slices of cheese in parts that makes it passable entertainment, it qualifies for a place in the franchise rankings somewhere in the lower middle, or in the upper lower end. It is a hit and miss slasher sequel that is a watchable time waster, no more, no less – average genre fare.