It’s been a while Cult Fans, but we’re back to add another forgotten or unloved movie to our Cultish Club. This time we invited Jae Prowse of Horrified – the internet’s newest and most exciting web magazine dedicated to British Horror – to choose a new inductee to the club and he picked one of the many (many) instalments of a classic horror series, a sequel which, when folk rank all the Friday the 13th films in order, doesn’t usually get within slashing distance of the top slot…
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and Me
It’s summer. School’s Out as Alice Cooper once said and I’m riding my bike through the narrow woodland that runs parallel to my street and down the hill to a friend’s house. We don’t have a plan for the late afternoon, just the usual hijinks; a clandestine look at his older brother’s collection of ‘special interest’ magazines, a sneaky cigarette (him, not me – that came later in a futile attempt to win a girlfriend back), and the ominous contents of a VHS cassette in a black, unmarked box.
His parents are at work, so in the absence of any female company – a curious phenomenon that lasts way beyond the summer, and the next – we hang out in his back garden, trying to outdo each other with misplaced, testosterone-fuelled derring-do until he nearly breaks a leg in an ill-advised jump off the garage roof and we repair to the living room and that VHS tape.
He casually, but pointedly, mentions that the cassette contains a horror film featuring a character called Jason Voorhees. I snort derisively, “His name’s Jason? Put it on. How scary can a character called Jason be?” Secretly, I’m crapping myself already.
About 90 minutes later, I’m leaving his house in a state of disturbed bewilderment. I’ve just watched something called Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, a cavalcade of gore and bloodletting, the likes of which I have never before borne witness to. And Jason was called Roy.
I push my bike up the hill and turn into the woods, noticing that it’s grown a little darker out, and cycle into the woods, taking care to keep a line of sight to the houses on my road. The brickwork patterns and rooftops begin to fade as the light dims further and I can’t help but recall the events of the film. Over and over. The blood, the screaming, the relentless killing machine called Roy, and the teenage girls in varying stages of undress (though, to be clear, that part wasn’t so upsetting).
I reach a part of the woods that’s hilly on both sides and my pace quickens as I cycle through the path that bisects it. Above me, a canopy of tree branches renders daylight at a premium and for the first time, I’m genuinely scared. Not in a “I hope I don’t see a ghost” kind of way, but a tangible, gripping terror of something primed to attack me, machete raised high. I’m cycling as quickly as my legs will go, I’m out of breath but not giving up, I’m getting out of this wood if it kills me, but I really hope it doesn’t. I can see light ahead; warm, welcoming, safe and not populated by a lunatic in a ski mask, and I race towards it. This is the moment when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, I can feel it. I’m not going to get out of here. I want to look behind me, but I know if I do that’s the exact moment the killer will strike. The end of the woods is closer now. I can make it. I can definitely…
The bike collapses under me and I fall, crashing to the ground. The momentum has me rolling like Diego Maradona (this was the 80s) but fortunately, a huge tree gives me the red card. I sit, dazed for a moment, then remember my predicament and scramble to my feet, dragging my bike with its freshly buckled wheel and finally reaching the light, the sun’s rays enveloping me protectively. I’m safe.
Later that night I lie in bed with images from the film spilling into my mind’s eye. They’re disturbing and terrifying. I have no interest in watching Jason (or Roy) ever again. The images take weeks to fade but I remain scared of them, these blurred visions in red. I vow never to watch another horror film. It was a shit summer.
And then something strange happened. A couple of years later a tape of Sean S Cunningham’s 1980 original finds its way into my house. I don’t know how it got there. Call it kismet, or video rental, but for some reason, I’m drawn to it. I don’t want to watch it at all, but I can’t not watch it. I sneak the box up to my room and, keeping the television volume low, I push the tape into my VHS player and press play.
Another 90 minutes of slasher terror is nearly over. It’s been a second shocking and frightening experience, but I feel strangely exuberant as Alice Hardy finally vanquishes the killer and sits safely aboard a canoe on a peaceful lake. I’d geared myself up for a Jason-fuelled festival of gore but where was Jason? Bloody part-timer. Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he didn’t actually exi……what in actual fuck! I was not ready for that. The film finishes on a freeze-frame of a…what is it? A monster? Whatever it is, it’s grabbing at Alice. Is that Jason’s face?! I needed to know more. Immediately.
And so, it began. I made my way through the rest of the franchise, finally got to see Jason in proper action, and revelled in every schlocky moment. Until I reached A New Beginning again. Something about that movie still unnerved me. I was still haunted by that early evening cycle through the woods. Was it shame for probably looking a bit like Junior as I peddled frantically, drooling in fear? No, it was definitely just the woods. Whatever, I still felt a pang of nerves when I thought about watching it. By now, of course, I’d watched the first four and it wouldn’t do at all to skip the fifth instalment. No, I needed to do things properly or my nerdy, OCD inner self would never forgive me.
Sourcing a copy proved to be serendipitous. Renting horror movies from the video shop was a hit-and-miss affair at best. Sometimes I’d get lucky and the chap behind the counter wouldn’t bat an eyelid when I attempted to rent 18 certificate fayre, other times I’d be laughed out of the shop. This time, however, a chance meeting with my old friend, who I’d not seen in several months, secured me the very same copy I’d originally watched. It was time to exorcise the demon (not that Demon, he’s awesome!).
I’ve never felt the same way as certain naysayers about the big reveal at the end of the film. I don’t feel cheated at all that the killer is not Jason (as I already mentioned, I wasn’t even convinced he existed for a while!). The way I look at it is that the filmmakers were trying to breathe new life into the franchise by doing something a little different – this became something of a running theme as the surroundings of Camp Crystal Lake became too constricting and, eventually, even Earth was seemingly suffocating the franchise.
Whether you believe it works or not is entirely dependent upon your point-of-view, but the truth is Friday the 13th: A New Beginning isn’t even that much of a flight of fancy, bearing in mind the original film is also an almost Jason-free affair. In fact, if there is a negative, it’s that the film perhaps borrows too much from the original. Roy’s motive is almost a carbon copy of Mrs Voorhees, wreaking vengeance upon all those he deems responsible for the death of his son, whether they were directly involved or not. Funny, then, that the film was made under the working title Repetition.
There’s also an interesting parallel with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors and its central story revolving around troubled kids. The main difference being that Friday the 13th: A New Beginning never really attempts to dig below the surface of the kids’ problems; being more concerned with enterprising ways of offing them. Standard operating procedure for the Friday the 13th series.
Roy Burns even showed Jason a thing or two about body count, racking up a series-high (at the time) 22 deaths, including Roy’s own demise. This was a sequel with the shackles well and truly off: no wonder I was so bloody terrified first time around! Reviews were uniformly mixed, with the usual anti-slasher/horror snobbery, but the best I found included the following quote:
Same screaming, same endless chases, same breasts, same blood, same axe, same lack of explanation, same ending primed for another sequel.1
Yep, those are the bits I like too.
It’s not the best in the series. It’s not even in the top three, but I have a soft spot for it simply because it was my slasher genre gateway drug. Looking back on it now, I remember with unerring clarity that first time I watched Vic take an axe to Joey and his chocolate dribble, wondering whether I should make my excuses and leave. How on earth I became a horror fan after that is anyone’s guess – considering my inauspicious start – but if I was to try and nail exactly when the journey began, it was probably at the very moment Vic’s anger management failed. Funny how this stuff happens.
*Just before you get all ‘but Jason does appear in A New Beginning. You’re not a true fan!’ I’m well aware of this, but the first time I watched the film I didn’t recall him at all. True fact.
Join us again as we delve into more films you’d forgotten or didn’t even know existed, but which rightfully deserve their induction into the Cultish Club!
Next time we’ll be looking at a film suggested to us by reader Nick Paticchio – The Beast of War (1988).