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Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

September 12, 2019

 

In a time of fractious and divided politics, it’s probably for the best that the Senate never takes up debate on the merits of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Because that could be the final push needed to end all democracy.

And thus we enter No Man’s Land, the perilous Hero’s Journey into the Twitter-verse—the Randall Flagg vs Whoopi Goldberg level of Internet clickbait, where Yours Truly will make a bold proclamation to the online horror community (who as rumor has it, may have an opinion or two on the genre’s most notorious franchise):

A New Beginning is the best Friday the 13th film.

Haha. Just kidding. But prepare yourself, because I’m going to bat for this movie. Alas, for those of you who consistently rank A New Beginning low on your lists, grip that baby blanket tightly (or bottle of bourbon, if you’re an alcoholic baby), as this is where I stand with my Top 5:

5. Part 3
4. Part VI: Jason Lives
3. Part V: A New Beginning
2. Part 2
1. Part 4: The Final Chapter

There, the cards are out on the table. Yet, before you start cracking your knuckles and pulling that keyboard closer, let me explain why. The main reason I always have Part V so high on my list is that none of the other films contain this choice line of dialogue:

“You big dildo. Eat your fucking slop!”

Yeah, so what did Percy Bysshe Shelley say about poetry? That it “lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” Ew. Probably not the best quote to use about dildos, but you catch the drift. The point being, A New Beginning is poetry.

Or some shit.

Danny Steinmann’s 1985 sequel was infamous for pulling the same stunt as Halloween III: i.e., no Jason Voorhees. So upon release, it met the same kind of intense pushback from fans that derailed the Halloween franchise for several years. People were pissed. Instead of an unstoppable killer who looks like Jason that is Jason, it is an unstoppable killer who looks like Jason that isn’t. The killer is actually [spoiler alert]…someone(?).

Thirty-four years later, those differences seem kinda silly in retrospect, but I do understand why fans at the time had the reaction they did. But the time is now; you’re older, wiser—you’ve seen more movies. And I’m willing to bet none of those films featured death by incidental enchiladas.

My argument is that hopefully the passage of time will allow some to experience A New Beginning in a kind of vacuum, outside the franchise as a whole, and as its own singular entity. Because by itself, it’s a massively entertaining, bonkers, sleazy-ass slasher. If this had a different killer, a title like Mental House Massacre and was rediscovered on a Severin disc 30 years after the fact, people wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it.

But I understand some cannot separate the slash from the slasher, and that’s too bad. I’ll just have to exist in a universe where Friday the 13th fans don’t enjoy the film with the most nudity, the most kills, and the most rednecks riding dirt bikes.

I’m sure if you’re reading this you’ve seen this film many times, so I’m not going to rehash the “plot” here. Though I do want to address one crucial, very underappreciated aspect: Danny Steinmann directed the hell out of it. The kills are brutal and wonderfully staged, the colors pop (especially the couple scenes bathed in that nice, retro neon glow), and the pacing never lets up. It may be the most fast-paced slasher this side of Halloween II.

Which is something, given Steinmann’s background. He came up the ranks the same way director Tom DeSimone (Hell Night, Reform School Girls) did: through porn. Though perhaps not on the same level as DeSimone craft-wise, he proved to be a great journeyman-paycheck director, having the year before directed the underrated Linda Blair with a crossbow film, Savage Streets.

My only real critique of the film—and it is significant—is that the setting has been relocated from Crystal Lake. Yes, yes, I know I’m violating my own rule here by not viewing the movie in a vacuum, but this does speak to that ritualistic nature of the franchise: the camp, the counselors, the systematic killing. I honestly get why this turns people off the film altogether.

However, being the first film in the franchise to truly open up the world, it allows for a larger canvas that includes some truly unusual characters and story threads. Why are there 1950s-like greasers who show up suddenly? Whose idea was it to have a young kid live with a bunch of unstable mental patients? Was there really sexual tension between that dirty redneck lady and the drifter she made clean out the chicken shit?

Great cinema should leave you asking these very important existential questions.





 

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