Every month, we at The Spool select a filmmaker to explore in greater depth — their themes, their deeper concerns, how their works chart the history of cinema and the filmmaker’s own biography. 40 years after Camp Crystal Lake appeared on the silver screen, we look back at Friday the 13th and how the perennial slasher series mutated across the years. Read the rest of our Friday coverage here.
In 1979, a down-on-his-luck producer figured that if he didn’t have a new movie to make, he would simply will it into being. Sean S. Cunningham bought a full-page ad in Variety to state that in the summer of 1980, “the most terrifying movie ever made” would hit theaters. All he had was the title, but Victor Miller had a screenplay ready to go called A Long Night at Camp Blood that seemed to fit the bill. It was a backwoods Giallo where the killer swaps black gloves for hiking boots. Think Agatha Christie as sung by Bruce Springsteen. The movie was Friday the 13th, and the horror history of the ’80s is written in its blood.
But things change.
In the 1980s, Paramount Pictures was on a roll. Over the next six years, the Friday the 13th franchise had delivered consistent, if not world-shattering, profits on relatively small investments when compared to the blockbusters made for Paramount with stars like Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise.
The Friday films had a formula, but one that could transform with the times. Whether it was banking on the fad of 3D, capping off Jason’s reign of terror, attempting to hand the mantle off to another slasher, or rebooting Jason as Frankenstein and Godzilla combined, the Fridays could always mutate with the tastes of the audience.
The summer of 1986 changed the game, however. Horror crossed over. Aliens, The Fly, The Hitcher… the genre became both meaner and more mainstream. They got Oscar noms! Frank Mancuso Jr., the Paramount’s exec who had guided the Friday franchise to continued success, had a minor stumble with Jason Lives that summer. The sixth film in the series came up short against truly frightful competition, and it didn’t matter that it was the slickest entry to date. Profitable at a $19 million dollar gross against a $3 million budget, Jason Lives signaled that Mr. Voorhees might not have long to live at all.
Usually, Friday films came out one year after the other, but the franchise hit the brakes in 1987 when February’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors became a smash hit, nearly outgrossing the two previous entries combined. Freddy was horror’s new king. He could talk. He could jazz up your Dokken music video. Freddy had a 1-900 number. How does a silent backwoods mutant with a machete compete with that?
The Friday films had a formula, but one that could transform with the times.
Enter producer Barbara Sachs. She’d been working on Friday the 13th: The Series for some time when she was tapped by Mancuso Jr. to guide Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood into theaters. Several routes were explored, including the first stabs at bringing two horror titans together for a Freddy vs. Jason flick, and if you believe the rumors, Sachs reached out to Fredrico Fellini as a possible director. Imagine the possibilities.
The New Blood screenwriter Daryl Haney pitched an idea to producers that seemed to have legs though. If negotiations for Freddy were simply too fraught, perhaps another horror icon could fit the bill? Carrie. Well, not Stephen King’s Carrie. They didn’t have those rights… but a girl with telekinetic powers? Could be cool. Someone who could be a final girl AND stand toe-to-toe with the Neanderthal of northern New Jersey.
Special EFX make-up specialist John Carl Buechler was brought on board to direct The New Blood with the expectation that he bring back gore to the core of the franchise. Buechler also had a killer design for Jason, who at the end of the previous entry, had been chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake.
Buechler and his EFX team crafted a Jason who bore the damage of every hack, slash, and outboard motor grind. His Jason Voorhees is a walking skeleton wrapped in green pot roast and a deathly, exposed sneer. Combine that with the introduction of fan-favorite Kane Hodder in the role, who adds some much-needed menace to Mr. Voorhees, and it’s the best Jason look of the entire franchise.
Hodder also tends to breathe quite heavily when onscreen, like Jason is always cooling down from a 10k run. Little odd for a corpse to be out of breath, but it’s Hodder’s signature.
The next shift in the Friday formula for The New Blood is something that both helps and hurts the franchise going forward. The script adds some John Hughes-esque drama to the proceedings. For the first time, a designated Mean Girl (Melissa, played with a patrician sneer by the late Susan Jennifer Sullivan) is set as an antagonist to our fragile Carrie-but-not, Lar Park Lincoln. Melissa has set her sights on bedding the hunky lower-class lunk from Pittsburg, Nick. He’s a tall glass of water-ice, played by Days of Our Lives vet Nick Spirtas with all the verve of someone waiting for lunch to be called. Nick only has eyes for a girl who can move stuff with her mind.
Also, there are more than a dozen extra characters, mostly gathered under the guise of a surprise birthday party for a guest who never arrives because Jason Voorhees nails him to a tree with a tent spike. The New Blood has a real collection of truly terrible people, including one of the worst of the franchise, Eddie – a Sci-Fi geek born without a single redeeming quality. At one point, he’s co-opted into a regretful tryst with Melissa where he appears to hump her shin for an extended period of time. Eddie truly does not get it.
As The New Blood begins, Lincoln’s Tina is brought back to Crystal Lake, the place she left after knocking off her abusive dad with a telekinetic torpedo years before. This is done at the behest of Dr. “Bad News” Crews, played by Terry Kiser as a psychiatric phony laced with sleazy malice.
Frankly, I’ve never understood Dr. Crews’ plan. How does proving that Tina has telekinetic powers create economic opportunity for him? What is his business model? We never get to find out as once Jason is raised from the lake by Tina in a fit of remorse over her dead, drunk, and train-loving dad whose drowned body no one ever recovered. On our podcast, Kill By Kill, we joked in our episode on The New Blood that the Crystal Lake PD believe that anything under the water is simply someone else’s jurisdiction.
Hodder uses every stuntman trick in his book to make Jason’s comeuppance as punchy and painful as possible.
Once Jason is on the hunt, he mows through the party-goers in quick succession – just not with the gore-driven swagger Buechler intended. The MPAA demanded severe cuts and it shows. The third act is really when the film sings, as Hodder uses every stuntman trick in his book to make Jason’s comeuppance as punchy and painful as possible.
From falls to fire walks (and a massive explosion in the finale), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood really does swing for the fences even if many fans consider that swing a miss. Well, until Jason “took” Manhattan. But that’s a flood of toxic waste for someone else to tell you about.
Taking in over $8 in its first weekend, The New Blood continued the working-class tradition of Friday the 13th with the same energy the franchise was born with: a wild stab in the dark. Jason still had blood pumping in his veins after all.