I’ve complained that most of the “Friday the 13th” sequels tentatively try something new but don’t commit to it, so I admire “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988) for committing to a supernaturally inclined protagonist. And even though these films are made on the cheap, always casting soap-opera-level actors, they get a good one to play Tina Shepard, Lar Park-Lincoln. It helps tremendously that she’s not merely a random Final Girl, but instead gets a complete hero’s origin story under the pen of Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello.
“The New Blood” opens with young Tina’s (Jennifer Banko) telekinetic powers emerging when she’s mad at her dad (John Otrin) after he has been arguing with her mom (Susan Blu) at their Crystal Lake cabin. A dock collapses and kills him.
Then we jump ahead to Tina as a teenager or young adult, which means the saga is now firmly in the 2000s if we account for the previous time-jumps as well. As usual with this series, the production team still has everything reflect the time the film was made, 1988 in this case. But with its emphasis on special effects and a heroine who fights back (although Park-Lincoln is good at playing scared too), “The New Blood” does feel closer to the next era of slashers, whereas the first six are more of the previous era.
Or maybe it’s just that director John Carl Buechler is more engaged than his recent predecessors. The killings by Jason (Kane Hodder, in his debut) are less rote. When Jason stalks Maddy (Diana Barrows) in a shed, Buechler takes the time to build up suspense; Maddy outwits Jason for a while before meeting her demise. We haven’t seen such a prolonged engagement for a while.
The setup for “The New Blood” is the same as in “The New Beginning” (the fourth movie): There’s a party of young people in one house, and a family next door. These young people are drawn marginally better than the “Animal House”-type crowd of “The New Beginning.” Maddy lacks confidence around boys (a nice flip of the script for this series), and Eddie (Jeff Bennett) is an aspiring sci-fi writer.
Next door, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) is studying Tina’s powers under the guise of helping her – something Tina and the audience know right away but Mrs. Shepard is slow to catch on to. Crews is broadly drawn, for sure, but it’s something a little different when he purposely puts Mrs. Shepard in the path of Jason when he’s chasing them through the woods (which, by the way, are reasonably creepy here).
Park-Lincoln has good chemistry with Kevin Spirtas, who plays Nick, a decent dude from the party. We know he’s a rock-solid guy because he chooses time with Tina over Mean Girl Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), who is even more one-dimensional than Dr. Crews. Their budding relationship is not complex, but it’s not nothing; the simple fact that we follow them throughout the 90 minutes allows it to become something genuine by this series’ low standards.
The showdown of the telekinetic Tina against the undying Jason is silly but fun. Buechler and his editors use that “Carrie” technique wherein they frame tight on Tina’s eyes as she uses her telekinetic powers.
The nudity returns after taking “Part VI” off – perhaps a response to fan complaints – but the gore is still toned down from earlier in the series. The kills are often suggested more so than shown; particularly disappointing is the payoff to Jason chasing Crews with an electric weed whacker. It’s clear that the ratings board cut this sequence short.
That said, when the mask comes off at the end, the monstrous look of Jason’s visage is awesome. He truly looks like he’s been rotting at the bottom of Crystal Lake for a decade.
The film also includes mechanical effects that are appealingly herky-jerky in the way of the first “Terminator” (1984) – which gets referenced here in a line of dialog and through a slight industrial addition to the familiar “Friday the 13th” score.
“The New Blood” isn’t massively better than the other sequels. But its willingness to focus on a single protagonist and give her superpowers to fight supervillain Jason make it stand out from the pack.