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Franchise Friday - Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning

Yes, there were other horror movie franchises throughout the 80s…but most people always know what you’re talking about if you just refer to the big three: Freddy, Michael and Jason. And of those three, you have to give props to Freddy, as he’s the only one that didn’t take a film off. Michael took a sick day for Halloween 3 and Jason, the real one anyway, decided to sit out of Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning…which is what we’ll be taking a look at today.

Jason Voorhees is dead. Yet death finds a way as the bodies start to pile up once again around Crystal Lake. Could it be the halfway house for troubled youth, where a very troubled Tommy Jarvis has ended up after years of psychiatric treatment? Could it be the hillbilly family, an abusive mother and her deranged infantile son, who have sworn a violent end to the makeshift treatment center? There are just as many suspects as corpses when a Jason copycat does his best to remind everyone that Crystal Lake will never outrun the legacy of Camp Blood.

The middle chapter in our Tommy Jarvis trilogy provides something interesting, if not entirely unique, in horror filmmaking – a look at the PTSD that must surely afflict any of Jason’s survivors. Not that we’ve had many up to this point, as the survivor of Part 1 was quickly dispatched in the opening minutes of Part 2 and possibly the same fate awaiting the survivors of Part 2 but the actors chose not to return to the franchise. Now, obviously, the traits are played up, but they are here: withdrawn and quiet, easily triggered, prone to violent outbursts (in some cases)…and, of course, there’s the underlying theme of the entire film: will this be enough to push Tommy over the edge and take up Jason’s legacy?

The problem is that the movie has some difficulty with that last bit, as if in some ways not really knowing the answer to that question until the very end…and even then, it feels like an ending that’s kinda forced. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s look at how the movie never really pulls off painting Tommy as a suspect. While, yes, many times he’s absent from when the kills are committed, some of these absences are a little contrived, while some of them are seriously legitimate absences. Of course he’s going to be absent from the house when Violet, Robin and Jake are killed…he’s with Reggie and Pam when that happens! Now, in the movie’s defense, yes, when Tommy is triggered and has a violent outbreak, he sees Jason and if the movie had handled that just a touch better, Tommy would have then become a perfectly viable suspect. Instead, this really only happens at the end when the writers/director realized they needed something that could lead into a sequel…and, well, it just doesn’t work. It feels forced and, thankfully, it’s a thread that Part 6 doesn’t really follow up on.

Whether intentional or not, the inclusion of the hillbilly Hubbard family, mainly for comic relief, could have been better utilized as a very real potential suspect(s) as well. The son is…um…overlarge, not terribly bright and definitely has mommy issues. And even though she’s played up a little too cartoonishly, the mom here, Ethel, does have some familiar parallels to Pamela Voorhees from Part 1. While I totally understand their roles in the scheme of things, truth be told this film could have been much better and these two would have made great red herrings should the film had treated them more seriously. Still, in a slapstick-y way I can’t help but admit that they’re a little entertaining…and a bit of a callback to 1980’s horror film Mother’s Day.

As for “Jason’s” true identity, well, clues are sparse and sure, when it’s revealed, it makes sense but at the same time it’s all a little too ‘Scooby-Doo’ for my liking. Granted, I knew who it was from the start…because how exactly do you avoid spoilers for a movie that’s 35+ years old? Still, I won’t give anything away here, just in case. I will say that it certainly holds with the theme that the series got started under, a parent seeking revenge because a child was not properly supervised.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out before signing off. First, the kills are fine…but 5 films in I’m starting to get a little numb from them. In all fairness though, this isn’t the film’s nor the franchise’s fault. Again, the battles between each Friday movie and the MPAA are legendary and while yes, it’s easy to see why they were cut out of pretty much ever single on-air broadcast, let’s face it, by today’s standards, they’re pretty tame. (Although this issue with the MPAA persists to this day…just listen to Adam Green’s stories surrounding the Hatchet films…which we hope to get to someday.) Within the context of the film series, however, we can safely say that the Jason copycat certainly did his homework and the kills here are on par with everything in the series up to this point. Second, we can finally tell that home video finally went mainstream during the production of this film, as there is no 5 minute recap of all the previous parts here. Sure, one could make the argument that if you’re gonna call something “A New Beginning” that maybe you don’t tip your hat to the past but come on…Part 5 was released in 1985, just as prices of VCRs were beginning to lower and helping the availability become more widespread.

While some fans paint this entry as one of the weaker of the series, mainly due to the proper Jason’s absence, honestly I really like this film for what it tries to accomplish. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of Tommy’s trilogy here, where he’s tempted by the dark side and for the most part stays true…although his PTSD is a very real thing. With the emphasis on mental health these days, I can’t help but wonder if this film might just find a wider audience or at the very least be revisited and better appreciated for what it tries to do. Now, sure, it didn’t stick the landing at all, but a little revising in the sequel fixes that right up. In fact, I’m getting ahead of myself, but Part 5 here should make Tommy’s journey the opposite of what happens to little Jamie at the end of Halloween 4…thus also having the revisions of Part 6 and Halloween 5 take opposite directions as well (Part 6’s worked, Halloween 5…not so much). There are plenty of flaws to this movie, but no Friday up to this point has been perfect…and besides, that’s not really what you’re here for anyway. You’re here for blood, breasts and beasts, and this movie’s got ‘em…along with some interesting ideas to play around with. Like I’ve already said, this one is worth re-evaluating but so far, this sticks out as one of the better entries of the series. Definitely check it out.

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