For a franchise as relentlessly overextended as the Friday the 13th series, it was perhaps inevitable that the installment preceding this one, Tom McLoughlin’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), would, in the interest of freshness, fully embrace self-parody, McLoughlin peppering his film with all sorts of self-aware jokes (“I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly,” says one character) and generally achieving a comparably lighthearted tone that took the series as far as one could imagine from its origins as a creepy low-budget shocker in Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 original. Thankfully, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood reverts back, at least in part, to the graver stalk-and-slash atmosphere of earlier entries. Despite its title, though, there’s little “new blood” to be found in John Carl Buechler’s installment—unless, of course, you consider, say, moments like the one in which Jason Voorhees kills a woman in a sleeping bag by smashing it/her on a tree to be the ne plus ultra of creativity.
Let me backtrack a bit here, though, because, despite its generally low reputation, the Friday the 13th films aren’t entirely mindless affairs. Yes, they’re generally vacuums of humanity, mostly content to treat its characters as cannon fodder for a series of increasingly baroque punishments, often after the characters have had sex. But if we take the films on those terms, there are moments throughout the series that achieve the kind of thematic heft that serious critics regularly attribute to, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Think back, for instance, on that apocalyptic dream Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) recalls involving blood-red rain at one point in Friday the 13th (heavy rain falls immediately afterward), a bit of foreshadowing that suggests an attention to ominous detail that later entries would dispense with altogether. Or recall Ginny’s (Amy Steel) clever ruse in Friday the 13th Part 2 in which she pretends to be Jason’s mother in an attempt to try to outsmart Jason, in a moment that’s the closest the series has ever gotten to psychological drama. But the most interesting entry in that regard is Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (ha ha), in which Jason’s reign of bloody terror is subtly and slyly made a projection of Tommy Jarvis’s (Corey Feldman) adolescent curiosity about a world beyond his insular horror-movie obsessions.
The script for The New Blood, by Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello, flirts with this kind of metaphorical heft with the conception of its heroine, Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln), a mentally unstable young woman with telekinetic powers still struggling from guilt feelings over her role in her father’s death. She, her mother (Susan Blu), and her psychiatrist (Terry Kiser) return to their old home in Crystal Lake in the doctor’s professed attempt at forcing her to confront her guilt complex and thus control her paranormal abilities. One night, though, in a desperate attempt to use her powers to bring her father back from the bottom of Crystal Lake, a frustrated Tina instead accidentally reanimates Jason, last seen chained to the bottom of the lake at the end of Part VI, thus setting up this film’s round of homicides. The setup, though, suggests not just the “Jason vs. Carrie” angle that is the film’s usual claim to fame, but the possibility that Jason, in this case, is an analogue for Tina’s anxieties: her guilt run amok. Considering that Tina’s also spent much of her childhood in a mental institution, there are also hints that, somewhat like Tommy Jarvis in The Final Chapter, she’s never experienced the decadent adult world she glimpses in the group of oversexed young adults taking temporary residence next door; in that light, Jason once again becomes the puritanical avenger punishing this batch of ciphers for their various sexual transgressions.
None of this is ever explored to any resonant effect under Buechler’s direction, which generally prizes efficiency over Cunningham’s patient attention to suspense-building detail in the original. The New Blood certainly moves briskly from one violent set piece to the next; as a result of Buechler’s emphasis on narrative momentum, however, the underlying themes, such as they are, never have an opportunity to breathe. With the victims made even more generic than usual this time around, the result is more or less the kind of slasher film the series’s many detractors accuse films in the genre of being as a whole: an empty-headed slaughterfest, with a bit of negligible human interest to offset the nihilism.
One minor point of interest comes in the form of Jason himself—more specifically, the actor playing him. Kane Hodder is considered by fans to be the best Jason of the series. This was stuntman-turned-actor Hodder’s first of four appearances in the role, and, with his formidable hulking physique, he certainly exudes a relentless menace that none of the other actors who played the iconic killer have quite managed; if nothing else, his brutal efficiency matches Buechler’s directorial approach. On the other hand, Hodder never gets a chance to emote behind the mask like Warrington Gillette does in that weirdly affecting moment of confusion in Part 2 when Ginny fools him into believing she’s his dead mother—but, of course, The New Blood has no particular interest in psychology of that sort.
That leaves the gore, of course. But wait…where is the gore in The New Blood? If “sex = death” was one of the major takeaways from Halloween, the logical next step was to ramp up the on-screen gore from the near-bloodlessness of Carpenter’s film to really make the connection explicit: spurting blood as the slasher-genre equivalent of pornography’s ejaculatory money shot. Take away those graphic displays of blood, and in some ways you destroy a Friday the 13th film’s reason for existing. The outcry against the graphic violence in the original Friday the 13th was apparently effective enough that the MPAA cracked down severely on on-screen bloodletting in many of the films in the series since. The New Blood is, along with Part 2, the one that suffered the most severe censorship; to add insult to injury, Paramount’s Deluxe Edition DVD of the film features rough footage of the extra bits of gore forced out of the film, and some of that footage is sweetly perverse (the aforementioned sleeping-bag murder, for instance, was much longer and bloodier, with gratuitous slow-motion to boot). I can’t imagine how Buechler—once a make-up artist for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures—reacted to the cuts, but a Friday the 13th film trimmed down to nearly no on-screen bloodletting is the equivalent of a porn film with all the “naughty” bits elided or cut out entirely. In the end, what’s the point, especially when, in the case of The New Blood, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot in the way of human interest or wit to compensate for the lack of viscera?