Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Now that the Tommy Jarvis storyline had concluded, it left the door wide open for anything to be attempted in Friday The 13th, Part VII. Paramount had a great decision by hiring the awesome make-up effects master John Carl Buechler to direct the film, and then, there was the debut performance of Kane Hodder as Jason. There were workable elements in this film to make it great, but whenever I watch it, I just feel this doesn’t hit the mark. I don’t even think it’s a fault of MPAA censorship on the gore, of which there was an excessive amount. It just sort of feels like a poorly executed concept with not enough talent behind the script or in front of the camera to make it what it could’ve been.
Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has the ability of telekinesis, but this ability has haunted her for years now as it caused the death of her father on the docks of Crystal Lake when she was a little girl. As a young woman, she has returned to the lake with her caring mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and the deceitful and manipulative Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who wants to exploit Tina’s powers for his own fame. However, the teenage residents of Crystal Lake have something more to fear than Tina’s emotionally charged powers as she accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery grave. He begins yet another killing spree, but is not prepared for the challenge Tina’s powers pose for the undead killer of Camp Blood.
I believe what I don’t like about this movie is the lack of worthwhile characters and fun. There was always a sense of levity in these movies from even a few light hearted characters. People that were just fun to spend some time with before the slaughter began. The only characters in this film making any jokes are the insensitive jerks that are not worth spending time with. Our female lead of Tina is far too troubled of a character to gain any levity or much relatability from. There’s really nothing accessible about the character in how she’s presented. I really don’t think Lar Park-Lincoln was a good casting choice in this instance. She really does nothing interesting with the character, and spends most of the time with very dour or pouty expressions on her face. The film starts out when Tina’s ten years old, but her behavior never matures beyond that of a child when we flash-forward. While she is an active part of the story, it still falls back into that trap with Tommy Jarvis from A New Beginning in trying to make a hero out of a depressed, introverted character. The potential of what this character could’ve been really required an actress of more textured emotional ability. I don’t have an issue with the telekinesis idea as it’s something that really could’ve worked very well, but I don’t think it was well realized here. It feels like a concept that was nothing more than something on the page. It wasn’t developed with a sense of depth in concept or with the actress. Like so much in this film, it’s flat and hollow. The various effects are good for it, but it just needed a stronger character and performance behind it to really sell that this is someone worthy of combating the powerful undead Jason.
The rest of the cast is rather forgettable due to the uninspired writing. These characters are once again shallow stereotypes played up for one note gags or bland character conflicts. Not much effort is put into writing them. I’ll grant that they are better realized stereotypes than most, maybe due to the decent acting talents here, but that doesn’t make them good. I’ll certainly take this cast and its characters over the boring, disjointed group from Friday The 13th, Part 3, but I’d still rather spend my time with a more entertaining array of people. On a side note, it’s an interesting retroactive quirk that Terry Kiser happens to be in this movie, and does get killed since he’s partly best known for playing a corpse in the two Weekend at Bernie’s movies. Kiser is a solid actor with a fine range, but the role of Dr. Crews is such a badly written, one note, obvious bad guy that there was nothing substantive here for him to work with.
The music of the film is terribly uneven. It features Manfredini cues recorded for Jason Lives and original pieces of score from composer Fred Mollin, and they don’t mesh at all. They have very different tones and approaches. Clearly, the Jason Lives music is a little lighter and more fun than the usual Friday The 13th scores mostly utilizing horns, and Mollin’s stuff is very heavy, dark, and menacing primarily using percussion and strings. It suits the more grim, merciless, and dark edge of the film’s tone. I have no idea why this mish mash of different scores were used, let alone why they used recycled recordings from the previous film. This would be fine if they were comparable, but they clearly are not. It would’ve been better to solely use Fred Mollin’s music throughout as I love everything he did in this film and in Jason Takes Manhattan. Mollin also did some fine work as the composer on the unrelated television show Friday The 13th: The Series. I think he took this film and the next into a far more dynamic and foreboding musical realm than Manfredini ever demonstrated.
The climax of this film, how Jason is defeated, is just a horrible idea that is terribly executed. There’s just so much possibility that could have been taken advantage of with the film’s premise, but what the filmmakers do is just plainly bad. I mean, you’re telling me that no one ever fished the body of Tina’s dad out of that lake to have a proper funeral? They just left him to decay at the bottom of the lake forever, and he just happens to come back to life without a bit of decay on him? In theory, it’s a nice reversal of the dream sequence ending from the first film, but I can’t buy Jason getting taken down in this ridiculous, piss poor manner. The build up to this moment is excellent. Great action beats with high production values really ramp up the danger and menace of Jason. So much is thrown at him, and he just keeps coming back, more pissed off than before. Kane Hodder even does a full body burn in a rather long take (slow motion or no). Buechler really makes the whole third act impactful and visually impressive, but to have it end the way it does just feels like someone’s slap dash idea who got too tired to write a proper ending to the film. It’s just a bad idea, through and through, which makes me want to forget I ever saw it.
I will credit the film for having a distinctly darker tone than the rest of the series. Visually, it’s very dark and imposing. It surrounds Jason in far more presence and aura than ever before. This is also a credit to Hodder’s performance. He created a very thorough body language and mentality for Jason, and it truly penetrated through the screen. It truly made Jason frightening again, even if the film itself lacked suspense, a decent plot, or good lead acting. I get that people are supposed to scream in horror movies, but Lar Park-Lincoln seems to inappropriately scream at the top of her lungs at almost everything in the third act. It’s like she’s not there inhabiting the scene as an actor enveloping herself in the mood, but just screaming as if that’s the only reaction people are supposed to have in a horror movie. There’s just no genuine fear or intensity in her performance, despite how purely menacing Kane Hodder is as Jason. I think his debut performance was absolutely his best. It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t in a better movie.
Hodder is greatly aided by the stunning make-up design Buechler created for Jason Voorhees. Seeing the bones stick out from underneath the decayed flesh, and making use of the partially shattered mask to show just a glimpse of Jason’s zombified face are brilliant touches. This is a masterwork of special make-up effects artistry and craftsmanship, and is something that has not even been remotely challenged anywhere else in the franchise since. What gore we do get after the MPAA’s severe slashing of this film is exceptionally good, but even still, you hardly see any of it. This really was the most heavily edited down entry in the whole series of films, and I’m sure an uncut version would be filled with hardcore gore and graphic violence. That surely feeds into the overall darker, more aggressive tone of the movie. John Carl Buechler does give us a film that is nicely and consistently paced with a lot of creative kills that have become classics. However, it all does just feel like a blunt instrument due to a lack of real suspense. Anyone can show brutality and gore splattering across the camera lens. It takes a skilled filmmaker to tightly craft suspense, and Buechler hardly makes an attempt to deliver that integral part of good horror.
It’s been said that Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema considered the crossover idea of Freddy vs. Jason at this time, but the two studios simply could not come to an agreement. Thus, what ideas Paramount had for the film were adapted for The New Blood – which is a horribly generic title for a slasher sequel. It’s hard to picture it aside from a protagonist with a supernatural ability, but I doubt they had anything more than a vague thought of a plot for a 1988 Freddy vs. Jason movie. Maybe just the thought of it got the screenwriters anxious to throw a more powerful adversary at Jason this time, and really push the supernatural angle further. Of course, I think the script could’ve used more work overall to develop its premise and characters beyond just base concepts.
The New Blood had some potential, and did deliver on inventive kills and a hard edged approach. It feels like a brutal horror movie, but without the graphic visuals to complement it, due to the MPAA required cuts. However, it really comes down to a weak script, and some uninspired casting choices that just make this an unimpressive sequel for me. This could’ve delivered it all, but ultimately, delivered very little of anything, in my view. There’s not much entertainment value that I take from this sequel as the characters are often yawn inducing with the lead of Tina Shepard being the biggest offender. Again, it is very difficult to give a damn about who lives or dies when the characters are badly written or poorly acted. I know this film has its big fans, but I just need more than edited down, suspense deprived brutality and Hodder’s great debut performance as Jason to win me over.