Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” was released in 1984, and then the franchise went into a long hibernation. Just kidding. It returned less than a year later with “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (1985). Refreshingly (and it’s just about the only refreshing thing in the movie), it skips the long “previously on” montage and gives us a decent nightmare sequence of a worm-covered Jason climbing out of his grave. Then we jump to the previous film’s Tommy as an adult.
If the casting directors were searching for an actor who looks as little like Corey Feldman as possible, they succeed by finding John Shepherd. He has the same skin color, but that’s about it. Oh, he has the same glasses too. Cuz everyone knows no two people wear the same style of glasses.
The production designers, costume designers and set decorators forget that this movie now has to be set at least 10 years in the future, because everything is totally 1985. A guy named Demon (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.) dresses and does his hair like “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson, and his girlfriend Anita (Jere Fields) looks like the girl from the “Thriller” video. Vi (Tiffany Helm), one of the teens at the rehab camp, has a goth-meets-Madonna thing going, and is totally into 1985-or-earlier music.
Look, predicting the near future is very difficult, and I don’t expect the people behind “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” to deliver a spot-on portrayal of the late 1990s from their perspective in 1985. But c’mon, you could just have Feldman return as Tommy and avoid the time jump entirely.
The screenplay by Danny Steinmann (who also directs) and “Part III” veterans Martin Kitrosser and David Cohen is OK in concept but idiotic in execution. The idea of having the killer be someone other than Jason is good. About halfway through the film, I took a break to do something more entertaining like empty the dishwasher, and my brain clicked back to the “on” position. It struck me that Tommy is obviously the killer.
I realized this fifth “F13” entry is doing the thing “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” (1989) would later be too scared to do. That film couldn’t make Jamie into the killer because she’s too young. But since Tommy looks about 30, he can be the killer and the ratings board will allow it.
But it turns out he’s not the killer; instead, it’s some guy we see briefly at the beginning, and we learn his motives in an epilogue. In theory, this is not a bad play by the writers – I’ll take a “who’s doing it” mystery over Jason simply hacking people up — but in execution it plays like a cheat. If a viewer is saying “Who’s that guy?” when the mask is pulled off “Scooby-Doo” style, you’ve underplayed your cards.
Even by “F13” standards, the characters are weak in “A New Beginning,” and it’s especially noticeable for two reasons. One, we spend a lot of time with them before anything scary happens, and at the end of that time, I find I’ve met zero likable people (including Tommy). Two, they are supposed to be troubled people, but there’s nothing notably wrong with any of them other than the traumatized and violence-prone Tommy.
Well, I guess Jake (Jerry Pavlon) has a stutter; I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to send him off to the crazy farm, though. In one sequence that’s actually pretty good, Robin (Juliette Cummins) laughs when Jake confesses that he likes her. Later, when she’s alone, she chastises herself for handling the situation poorly. Still, this is standard human stuff, not nuthouse stuff.
A couple other patients – Tina (the appropriately named Deborah Voorhees) and Eddie (John Robert Dixon) — are sexaholics. Again, this simply makes them “Friday the 13th” machete fodder, not extremely troubled people.
In a few of the kills, the killer goes after the victims’ eyes, but this isn’t a clue, it’s just random. A couple of the kills are creative, although Steinmann’s direction feels even flatter than the first four entries. This is partially because he’s hiding Jason’s full figure early on, since the killer’s identity is a mystery. But then it turns out the actual killer is built the same as Jason and wearing a bald cap anyway.
At least the director does a nice job of showing off a couple of the actresses’, um, assets; the meadow sequence with Tina and Eddie inches toward softcore porn.
Thanks to the unlikable characters and their blandly presented arcs, “A New Beginning” isn’t particularly fun to watch, but it is a fun trivia answer: It’s a rare “F13” film where Jason isn’t the killer (along with the first one!). Indeed, Jason isn’t even in this movie, unless you count Tommy’s visions.
Apparently he truly died at the end of the fourth installment, and now the saga is moving in a new direction.
Oh, wait. The next one is called “Jason Lives.”