Film Review: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (dir. by John Carl Buechler)

Hi, did everyone out there have a good Easter?  I did!  My entire family got together up at my Uncle’s place.  There was a big Easter egg hunt and me and Erin smuggled in extra Easter eggs which we then “helped” our niece and nephew discover.  Usually, going to my Uncle’s place means a day spent laying out near the pool in a bikini and trying to work on my tan.  (Though, to be honest, I’m a redhead so I don’t so much tan as I just burn.)  However, this Easter, it rained so most of the day was spent inside and watching figure skating with my sisters and cousins.  I hope everyone else had a good Easter as well and I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little late with my latest review in my series looking at the Friday the 13th franchise.  In this post, I review 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.

(Minor Spoilers Follow)

As I mentioned in my review of Jason Lives, The New Blood was the first of what I like to call Friday the 13th’s gimmick films.  In these films, Paramount Pictures (and later New Line Cinema) attempted to revive the franchise’s declining profits by adding a gimmick.  No longer would it be enough for Jason to simply show up and stalk unfortunate campers.  Previous installments had their gimmicks (such as Part 3 being filmed in 3D) but they all stuck with the same basic story and structure.  However, from now on, Jason would no longer just be a silent antagonist in a communal cinematic nightmare.  From now on, he would fight psychics and Freddy Krueger and go to both outer space and New York City.  (And don’t even get me started on the film where he was revealed to actually be some sort of weird space slug.  Not yet, anyway…) 

The problem with the gimmick films is that, along with dealing with the gimmick, they still had to deal with the business of killing summer counselors and other random campers.  Whereas previous film made at least a little effort to provide the viewers with interesting and/or attractive characters, the gimmick films are distinguished by a real laziness when it comes to characterization.  Ironically enough, surrounding the gimmick with such weak material only served to remind the viewer just how gimmicky the gimmick ultimately was.  That is why the gimmick films are my least favorite of the franchise.

That said, The New Blood is probably the best of the gimmick films.  Anyone who doesn’t think that being called the best of the worst is much of a compliment has obviously never been in a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors

The New Blood of the title is a girl named Tina Shepherd.  When we first meet Tina, she’s ten years old and living in a house that sits on the shores of Crystal Lake.  (Apparently, the residents of Forrest Green decided to change the name of the town back to Crystal Lake sometime after Jason Lives.  If nothing else, these two films convinced me of the importance of zip codes.)  One night, as Tina listens to her father and her mother fight, she runs out to a nearby dock, gets in a canoe, and starts to float away.  Her father runs out onto the dock and shouts at her to return.  Tina yells back and suddenly, the entire dock collapses and her father drowns.  As all of this is going on, we discover that Jason just happens to be in the lake, chained to a rock below the dock.  (You have to wonder what having a zombie serial killer chained up a yard away from your house does to property values.  Nothing good, I imagine but then again, what do I know about real estate?)

Anyway, jump forward ten years.  Tina (now played by Lar Park Lincoln) has just been released from a mental asylum and returns to Crystal Lake with her psychiatrist Dr. “Bad News” Crews (played by a wonderfully evil Terry Kiser).  Dr. Crews claims to be helping her deal with her feelings of guilt but actually, he’s seeking to exploit the fact that Tina has latent psychic abilities.  What all can Tina do?  Well, that’s a good question because the film itself seems to be unsure of just what exactly Tina is capable of.  As a result, Tina often seems to have whatever psychic abilities are most convenient for whatever’s happening on-screen at the moment.  While most of the time Tina seems to be telekinetic, there are other times when she can see the future, set fires, and even raise the dead.

It’s this last power that gets everyone in trouble when, one night after getting annoyed with Dr. Crews, Tina runs out to the lake and attempts to bring her father back to life.  While she fails to bring back her dad, she does manage to free Jason (played here, for the first time, by Kane Hodder) from his chains.  By this action, Tina joins the long line of horror film heroines who are ultimately responsible for every death that occurs over the course of the movie.

That’s pretty bad news for the vapid collection of potential victims who are trying to throw a surprise birthday party in the house next door.  Among those potential victims: nice guy Nick (Kevin Butler) who falls in love with Tina, evil Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan) who wants Nick, Eddie (Jeff Bennett) who spends his time talking about a sci-character called “Space Mummy,” and about a half-dozen other people whose names I didn’t manage to catch.  Seriously, this is the most empty-headed and shallow collection of dumbfug toadsuckers ever!  As opposed to previous installments (in which the actors at least had enough chemistry that you believed that they just might actually spend a weekend at the lake together), the victims in New Blood feel as if they were just randomly dropped in the house just so that Jason could kill them.  They’re such a vacous, spiteful collection of people that, for the first time in the series, you truly find yourself rooting for Jason. 

Anyway, the birthday boy never shows up for his party but that doesn’t really worry anyone at the house.  As one of them puts it. “You know Michael.  Guy probably got arrested for drunk driving and spent the night in jail.”  (Sounds like a great guy, no?)  No, Michael’s not in jail.  Michael’s dead because Tina brought Jason back to life and soon, so is just about everyone else.  It all leads to a final apocalyptic battle between Jason and Tina that manages to be both silly and exciting at the same time.  It also goes a long way towards making up for what we’ve had to sit through in order to reach it.

One of my favorite chapters of Peter M. Bracke’s excellent oral history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, deals with the making of The New Blood.  Say whatever else you will about this film’s cast, they’re some of the most outspoken in the history in the history of the franchise.  Reading their memories about making this film, three things quickly become clear:

1) Everyone was scared of Kane Hodder.

2) Lar Park Lincoln didn’t like the majority of the cast.

3) The majority of the cast didn’t like Lar Park Lincoln.

In fact, quite a few really nasty things are said about Lar Park Lincoln but you know what?  Outside of Kane Hodder and Terry Kiser, Lar Park Lincoln probably comes the closest to giving an actual performance than anyone else in the cast and I think it can be argued that she makes Tina into one of the few truly strong female characters ever to be found in a Friday the 13th film.  Take it from a former community theatre ingenue: it takes as much talent to make a slasher film “final girl” credible as it does to play Margaret Thatcher.  As for the rest of the cast of disposable victims, they’re some of the most forgettable of the series.  In the role of Nick, Kevin Blair (who reportedly did not get along with Lincoln and who has absolutely no chemistry with her on-screen) is stiff but handsome and Susan Jennifer Sullivan has a lot of style as the bitchy Melissa.  Otherwise, they’re a pretty bland group and director Buechler doesn’t seem to have much use for them other than to make sure that they’re in the right position to be killed by Kane Hodder.

The New Blood is best remembered for introducing Kane Hodder in the role of Jason Voorhees.  Though I personally believe that The Final Chapter’s Ted White was the best Jason (he was certainly the most ruthless), it can’t be denied that Kane Hodder was the perfect embodiment of the version of Jason that came to dominate the last few films in the original series.  Whereas Ted White’s Jason was a calculating killer, Hodder’s Jason is a machine that happens to be designed for killing and little else.  He kills not so much out of anger or pain as much as he kills, like any good zombie, just because that’s the only thing he knows how to do.  One reason why this film’s final battle is actually exciting to watch is because it’s set up as a confrontation between the literally cerebral Lar Park Lincoln and the overwhelmingly physical Kane Hodder.  Hodder, famously, is the only actor have played Jason in multiple films and he earned that right with his performance here.

And make no mistake about it: Hodder gives a performance in this film and, as a result, The New Blood is a lot more watchable than it has any right to be.

(I would also suggest that if you do watch this movie on DVD, be sure to listen to Hodder and Buechler’s commentary track.  Both of them seem to be having so much fun watching the film that it actually makes the film more enjoyable.)

While The New Blood did, ultimately, make more money than the previous Jason Lives, it still failed the match the box office success of the first few films in the series.  Though Lar Park Lincoln apparently wrote a script for a sequel that would have featured Tina and Jason once again going to war (interestingly enough, it’s rumored that Lincoln’s script opened with Kevin Blair getting killed off), Paramount decided to try out another gimmick and abandoned the new blood for Manhattan.  The end result was one of the worst films in the series but we’ll deal with that in my next post.

11 responses to “Film Review: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (dir. by John Carl Buechler)

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