Friday, May 13, 2016

"Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood" released 1988

Amazing!  Splendiferous!  Outstanding!  Stupendous!  Totally Awesome!  Rad!  Gnarly, dude!  Like, fer sure, fer sure!  This movie was better than all the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Star Trek AND Rocky movies put together!  Why this movie did not sweep the 61st Academy Awards on March 29, 1989 at the Shrine Civic Auditorium will forever be one of those unsolved mysteries of the century.  It pulled ideas and emulated styles of so many other Oscar-winning movies, that it should have been mentioned in AFI’s Top 100 Movies of all Time, at least. 

The first and one of the biggest tragedies to receive this cold shoulder would be Kane Hodder, the leading man in the role of Jason Vorhees.  Mr. Hodder’s ability to portray such a tortured soul, eternally tormented by his inner demons, without the benefit of even a single line in the entire script, puts him in a class all by himself.  The fact that multi-talented Mr. Hodder pulled double-duty as the stunt coordinator was virtually ignored by the Academy. 

Next we have Lar Park Lincoln, as the troubled yet psychokinetic femme fatale, duped into what was to be a fun-loving weekend to Crystal Lake, the scene of more murders than New York City sees in a total of ten years (somehow this easily overlooked fact has been forgotten and left off of the travel brochure).  The role of Tina Shepard was undoubtedly ‘stepping out of the box’ since very few previous movies have tackled such a prickly issue as teenage girls with lethal telekinesis.  One notable actress to portray such a character is Sissy Spacek in the 1976 thriller “Carrie” for which Miss Spacek was nominated for a Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar and won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress in 1977.  It was this same Academy that snubbed Lar Park Lincoln for virtually the saem cutting edge role, even though Lincoln’s Shepard had more demons to face than just some rambunctious high school students and a bucket of blood.  Tina Shepard came face-to-face with one of moviedom’s most notorious serial killers with a host of deadly accoutrements.  Here we saw a young lady blossom into womanhood as a real-life Jean Grey, using her abilities for the good of mankind.  Sadly, it is just possible that this high-profile snub is the reason Ms. Lincoln’s movie career has ended, leaving her to waste her talents on the small screen, starting in forgettable series such as “Freddy’s Nightmares” and night-time soaps like “Knot’s Landing”.

Also being rudely shut out is Susan Blu, in the supporting role as Tina’s mother, Amanda.  Ms. Blu took her character in another direction than Piper Laurie’s Margaret White in “Carrie”.  Amanda Shepard was a caring and protective parent, in fear for her daughter’s well-being.  This more affectionate and touching role was far more Oscar-worthy than the screeching, violent Margaret White, yet it earned Ms. Laurie an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  But the damage to Ms. Blu’s career has been more extensive than Lincoln’s, being relegated to providing voices on many animated series such as “Godzilla: The Series”, “The Tick”, and “Beast Wars: Transformers”. 

Despite these outstanding performances, the only nomination was Jennifer Banko, for the Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a Horror or Mystery Motion Picture in 1989.  Not a bad job for someone who is on the screen for less than 3 minutes.  It was a coincidence and accidental that Ms. Banko appeared exactly as Heather O’Rourke’s Carole Ann Freeling in “Poltergeist” who was nominated for the very same award in 1983!  “Poltergeist” garnered 3 Academy Award nominations and won Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films USA for Best Horror film in 1983. 

The reason that Friday the 13th, Part VII: New Blood didn’t win any acting awards in 1989 cannot be because of the actors and actress, since their performances were stellar.  In brief, there was Terry Kiser as the seemingly caring but actually devious Dr. Crews, who’s darker side matches that of Jason’s, and his bedside manner as well; Susan Jennifer Sullivan (no, not THAT Susan Sullivan) was Melissa, the poor little rich girl, trying to find love with the beautiful Nick, but the last thing that goes through her mind, before Jason’s axe does, is that money can’t buy happiness; Jeff Bennett as budding screen-fiction writer, but cancelled going head-to-head (literally thanks to a machete and Tina’s psychokinesis) with the villain; and Diana Barrow’s Maddy, the ugly duckling turned beautiful swan turned worm food by Vorhees. 

Besides the impeccable acting, there were technical gems that contributed to this jewel in the crown of thorns of the Friday the 13th series.

Costume designer Jacqueline Johnson captured the quintessential style of the late 1980’s with enough shoulder pads and sweaters (no parachute pants?) to outfit the cast of Ben-Hur, a multiple Oscar winner including Elizabeth Hoffenden for Best Costume Design.  But Johnson’s unique ability to depict the style of that era so completely there is no doubt when you see the movie that it IS the 1980’s.  Her costume designs are to 1988 what James Acheson’s are to 1760’s France (Mr. Acheson won the 1989 Oscar for Best Costume Design). 

The Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylist Jerrie Werkman also worked (no pun intended) up cosmetic miracles.  With so much big hair on the screen (and enough hairspray to set the Montreal Protocol back 10 years), what can one say but “Ah, those were the ‘80’s!  Still Ms. Werkmen magic on Hodder gave Jason a more horrifying face than any Alien we’ve seen on Star Wars (and Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Star Trek, etc.)  Her only gaff was for John Otrin’s appearance in the climatic scene at the pier.  He looked damn good for being fish fodder for the past decade and a half. 

Probably the only area where an Oscar sweep could have been jeopardized is the original score.  Henry Mancini…oops!...Harry Manfredini (obvious mistake, anyone could have made it) composed the music for previous Friday the 13th movies, so in the “If-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” vein, Fred Mollin’s score is “recycled music” [source:] with some original music composed by Mollin.  The good ol’ (tired) “Jason’s Theme” has been updated and remixed but the Academy apparently was not impressed. 

Breaking away from the “We’ve-seen-THAT-before” mold are writers Daryl Haney (canned by uncredited executive producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.) and ghost writer Manuel Fidello.  This literary duo pushed the envelope first by creating a character with powers so controversial that they are doubted by some of the world’s top skeptics!  What guts they showed to stand up in the face of such animosity!  They also demonstrated their ability to illustrate the 1980’s as well as the costume designs.  For example, a line of dialogue: 

“So he says ‘Let me see your I.D.’ and I’m like, ‘I left it at home’ and he goes ‘You have to go and get it’, so I said ‘OK’ and I left.” 

Another example: “Happy f**king birthday!”

Where else can we find such riveting dialogue and insightful scripts?

It’s the movie as a whole that we should look at.  Tina and Jason, two different people from different worlds (she from the living, he from the undead) inexplicably drawn to each other yet forever apart, like Romeo and Juliet (it’s a stretch, I know, but bear with me).  The first evidence of their attraction is when a grown Tina tries to raise her dead father from his watery grave (a few minutes before, she said she couldn’t move a book of matches, now she believes she can reanimate the dead?).  Instead of focusing her efforts to the shore where her dad went down, directly beneath her, Tina finds herself probing the waters 50 yards away, to the middle of the lake, where Jason waits to be reawakened.

Their attraction takes a step forward when Tina runs through the (very well-lit) night-darkened forest after Jason, to find him waiting for her in a clearing.  After his attempts to approach her are thwarted by her psychokinesis (apparently he was a bit too aggressive in making the first move), he advances on her in a jealous fit after catching her with pretty-boy Nick.  We know that Jason does not mean her harm, because he even protects her with his body from a long fall into the basement.  Tina is the only known person that has escaped from the big man’s grasp, losing only her sweater.  Either Jason is slipping in his old age, or he has a soft spot for her in his maggot-ridden heart.  Romantic!

In the final scene, Jason proves once again his love for her by not violently dispatching Nick (as he does everyone in every other scene), but simply pushes him out of the way, safely into a boat so he can assert his presence by standing between them, claiming Tina as his own.  But as in Romeo and Juliet, an annoying father interferes, to show that a man’s love and protectiveness for his daughter are stronger than any suitor. 

Special effects team used methods successfully employed by other Oscar-winning movies, only to be passed over by the double-standard Academy.  In 1980, “Alien” won the Academy’s award for visual effects.  One such effect that was ‘borrowed’ by the F13:VII team was the use of a cat to induce a scary moment by jumping out of a cabinet.  In “Alien” however, the cat was introduced at the beginning of the movie and appeared intermittently throughout until the final frame.  In F13:VII, the cat only appears in one short scene, then disappears for the rest of the film (kinda like JoBeth Williams’s character in 1980 Oscar’s Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer).  The kitchen scene where Jason’s victim (whatever his name is) places a flashlight on the counter to illuminate his refrigerator-raiding is reminiscent of Veronica Cartwright’s and Yaphet Kotto’s death scene in “Alien.”  In space no one can hear you scream.  Obviously, no one can hear you scream at Crystal Lake, either.

Cinematographers used creative artistic licenses by incorporating the film crew’s shadows and equipment in many places as background movement to add more of a sense of eeriness and suspense to the movie.  This effective and innovative technique is rarely used in today’s modern age of editing. 

Finally, we must look at the man behind the masterpiece, director John Carl Buechler, whose unique vision by stepping out of the usual rut of the previous six Friday the 13th movies, was so tragically unnoticed by virtually everyone.  By electing to NOT scare his audiences (and risk boring them to death), Buechler instead chose to build the suspense by using lighting (including intermittent oddly-timed lightning strikes off-camera), eerie music, and hand-held camera movements and angles (like Hitchcock) to let us know when Jason is near and ready to strike.  Much more effective than surprising us by having Jason jump through windows, pop out of the lake, or travel 5 miles in an instant.  Buechler eschewed precious-time-wasters like character development.  For example he didn’t bore the audiences by showing how Tina developed her powers (a mistake made by Stephen King…twice).  No, when we see Tina as a young girl, she is fully cognizant of her power and able to use it with deadly accuracy (accuracy which comes and goes, obviously, since she missed the mark with her father by 50 yards, yet wielded small nails as projectiles easily). 

Jason is given the Pepe LePew ability to keep up with his prey.  No matter how fast they run, no matter how slow he walks, he always only ten feet behind them.  Jason also has the Bugs Bunny resourcefulness, since he seems to have a plethora of garden power tools at his disposal (anywhere he goes) and can pull them out of his ass…oops!...thin air (whenever he needs them).  After use, he discards the tool and grabs another one (from somewhere). 

Overall, an incredible movie with only a $3.5 million estimated budget.  With all the evidence pointing to the outstanding aspects of this pinnacle of the Friday the 13th series, yet snubbed by the Academy of Arts and Sciences, it certainly deserves a second look.  Maybe someday it will be included in the AFI’s Top 1,000,000 Movies of all Time!

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