The blog has been on hiatus for a few months, and as yet I’m still undecided on whether I’ll be returning to regular posting soon. Truthfully, I’ve only even watched one movie in the past two months. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to let today go past without continuing our infrequent traditional idiocy of watching and reviewing Friday the 13th films on the day in question. After all, whenever the blog starts up regularly again, whether it’s soon or whether it’s still a while off, it’ll be nice to have a continuous run of this nonsense.
And believe me, the fifth installment in this franchise — directed this time by Danny Steinmann in his fourth, final, and largest credit as writer/director — is full of idiocy and nonsense. And I don’t just mean the characters.
Although obviously that applies as well.
The film picks up a number of years after the end of the fourth film, perhaps 15 or 20 years. Tommy Jarvis, child hero of the last film, has grown up to be a man who still suffers from the psychological effects of his battle with Jason Voorhees. He has nightmares and hallucinations of Jason, relies on an assortment of anti-psychotic drugs, and has been bounced around from mental institution to mental institution until he is finally sent to the rural halfway house that is the setting of this film. John Shepherd, who plays the adult Tommy, actually does a reasonably good job in the role; it’s not a great performance, given that it’s mostly a silent one (Tommy is not much of a talker these days), but he does a good impression of a man whose grasp on sanity could use some assistance.
It’s not a bad working premise for the film, but unfortunately instead of character development, it’s mostly just used as an excuse to create the setting. Having gradually reduced the victim characters in the previous films to cardboard cutouts with quirks — not that they started out great — the writing team has carried this out to its logical conclusion by having them all be mental patients. No more need to worry about the characters not behaving believably, because mental patients don’t behave like “real people”… or at least that appears to be the thinking at work here. Of course, the characters are otherwise indistinguishable from the Crystal Lake campers of previous installments; they’re still oblivious to anything but the opposite sex. In order to provide some completely unsympathetic victims, the halfway house is given a pair of neighbors who are extreme stereotypes of inbred hicks; it’s more-or-less what you would get if you threw Mama’s Family into the middle of a horror movie.
In fact, while comments are often made that a film series has devolved into self parody, here is one which very well could have been written as a Saturday Night Live sketch, albeit not one from one of the better casts; it’s not like it’s being funny on purpose, after all. But it is funny in its own way, because it is so inept at what it’s trying to do, especially compared with the original film. The first Friday the 13th was a success because it was able to build up the suspense. The fifth… does not. It seldom appears to even be making the attempt; it’s just chop, chop, chop. There’s more than one scene where the scene opens with a character minding their own business for a few seconds, then they turn the corner and die. No preamble, no suspense, just a hatchet to the head and end scene. Once may work for a surprise, but doing it over and over again just gets old, despite the occasionally-inventive murder methods. On the rare occasions the film does seem to start building suspense, it blows it on a cat scare (or in one case, a bunny scare).
On top of that, it throws in a few of the standard tired old cliches… sometimes more than once. Two separate cars break down at critical moments, there’s the climactic barn scene (what is it with this franchise and barns?), and there are, of course, games with the ending which are unsatisfying for completely opposite reasons. The concluding revelation is unsatisfying due to a complete lack of build up, and the obligatory “final scare” twist falls flat because it has been foreshadowed (and shot down) every step of the way.
I know that different genres need to be judged on different merits. I’m not asking for deep insightful characterization from a Friday the 13th film — though I’ll note it could have gone in that direction in this case. I’m not even asking for there to be a particularly intricate plot. I do, however, ask that there be some consideration thrown the way of the plot, and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning does not deliver on that point. It only barely qualifies as a coherent movie instead of a series of vignettes of a briefly-in-scene hatchet.
Fun fact: There are between one and three Friday the 13ths in every year. Non-leap years that start on a Thursday, and leap years that start on a Sunday will have three Friday the 13ths; the rest are split evenly between single-F13 years and double-F13 years. 2014 is a single-F13 year, but 2015 is one of the rare triple-F13 years. I have until February to get over the distaste of this one, and another will follow immediately after in March, with the third falling in November.