Carrie clones, meddling executives and creative castrations. Welcome to the fascinating world of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
The New Blood is a mutilation of a movie. Not because of Jason himself, but because of the Motion Picture Association of America, who hacked away the majority of the gore and set about castrating the franchise forever. This was 1988, a year when the MPAA were taking a hard line on horror movie censorship, insisting on nine different edits in order for the film to avoid the dreaded X rating. Some of the blame has to rest with distributor Paramount Pictures ― particularly executive producer Barbara Sachs, who caused nothing but problems for director John Carl Buechler during her time on set. Sachs had no interest in horror and felt that the Friday the 13th series was beneath her, pushing for the seventh instalment to be more respectable than previous entries. So far detached was Sachs that her initial pitch didn’t even include any teenagers. Instead it was something of a riff on Jaws, the story of a land developer who attempts to cover up previous massacres in order to profit from a condo development on Crystal Lake. According to screenwriter Daryl Haney, “She wanted it to be unlike any other Friday the 13th movie. She wanted it to win an Academy Award.” Legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini was even considered to direct. Clearly, this wasn’t going to be easy.
Ultimately, the job went to Buechler, whose initial reaction when approached was something along the lines of, “Why? Didn’t you just make six of them?” Buechler was a special effects artist who had perfected his craft working for Charles Band’s now defunct, low-budget production company Empire Pictures, collaborating with cult filmmaker Stuart Gordon on gore-heavy horror flicks From Beyond and Re-Animator. He had also directed a few notable films of his own, Troll (1986) and Cellar Dweller (1988) becoming huge cult hits with horror fans. Despite his reservations, Buechler seemed like the perfect man for the job, and he put his heart and soul into the project, envisaging The New Blood as a stunt movie with plenty of grisly deaths and over the top action. Buechler, who passed away in March 2019, was loved by cast and crew members for his outward joviality and approachable manner, something he always maintained against outside pressures, but the tension between he and Sachs would only grow. In the end, it was a case of what could have been.
Interestingly, there almost wasn’t a Part VII. Due to Part IV’s ‘Final Chapter’ declaration, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning would introduce an impostor killer in comical purveyor of vengeance Roy Burns, and though Jason Lives revived the Voorhees character in pretty spectacular fashion, the damage had been done ― Jason was becoming old news as a truly mainstream attraction. With box office returns levelling off at about $20,000,000 dollars, Paramount’s most infamous creation was in need of a creative boost. The company would first approach rivals New Line Cinema with the idea of a Freddy vs Jason crossover. The prospect of such a battle was music to the ears of eager horror fans, but the two were unable to come to an agreement. This was no skin off Krueger’s nose. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors had just raked in a cool $44,793,222 worldwide, and A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Child, released three months after The New Blood, would fare even better, its worldwide box office gross of $49,369,899 making it the most successful instalment to date. Paramount would have to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Narrator: There’s a legend around here. A killer buried, but not dead. A curse on Crystal Lake, a death curse: Jason Voorhees’ curse. They say he died as a boy, but he keeps coming back. Few have seen him and lived. Some have even tried to stop him. No one can.
The Friday the 13th series had never been shy about using underhanded gimmicks, but this time something special was needed. Having been thwarted in their attempts at producing a character death match between two of horrors biggest icons, screenwriter Daryl Haney suggested a a different kind of opponent, a Carrie clone whose telekinetic powers would go some way to evening the score. Everybody loved the idea, including Sachs, who was still neutral at that stage in the movie’s development. By the time The New Blood came to fruition, Jason had been drowned, hacked, maimed, slashed, electrocuted, and had even had his neck snapped by a motorboat propeller, so a sterner test was required to pique the viewer’s interest. Her persona lifted from a well-established, universally appreciated horror, Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln), would be a character horror fans could instantly relate to, a more formidable foe whose gift promised all kinds of SFX flourishes. As long as Buechler and co didn’t cross too many copyright boundaries, they could have their horror crossover without any legal wrangles or financial disputes. For Friday the 13th fans, there was suddenly a reason to get excited again.
According to Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, The New Blood takes place at least a decade after Jason was drowned by former franchise mainstay Tommy Jarvis, which would make it close to the millennium, but believe me, this film is about as 1988 as it gets. The movie begins with a flashback sequence that sees a young Tina accidentally drown her abusive father during a fury-fuelled bout of telekinesis, an act that lands her a stint in a psychiatric hospital. Flash forward a decade and Tina has finally been released under the watchful eye of Dr Crews, a medical professional who feels that Camp Crystal Lake ― the place where her father and so many girls her age have met their maker ― is the most suitable place for her recovery, putting Tina through a series of gruelling tests designed to enable her to control her powers. Crews (Terry Kiser) is the movie’s true heel, a duplicitous jackal whose only concern is advancing science and making a name for himself at his patient’s expense. You may remember Kiser as the titular Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s, a film in which he delivered a mesmerising physical performance as a corpse masquerading as someone alive, and he is easily the best actor in The New Blood. Buechler was lucky to have him.
The doctor-patient axis is a refreshing digression, but this is still a Friday the 13th movie, and certain elements are essential if fans of the franchise are to leave theatres feeling fulfilled. Lucky then, that a random group of teenagers are staying in a nearby cabin for the usual fun and frolics, and when an impromptu bout of telekinesis brings Jason back from the dead, yet another cast of one-dimensional stereotypes are but a slaying away from franchise immortality. You just can’t keep the dead man down. Many wish Jason had stayed dead and buried by this point in the series. While previous instalment Jason Lives was as smart as a whip, introducing the meta-tinged zombie Jason and a self-aware tone that mirrored the derision of many fans, The New Blood is pure daytime soap opera with none of the anarchic flair, but it’s still irresistibly second-rate at times. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of unleashing Jason Voorhees on the set of a daytime soap opera? It’s a match made in heaven.
Sometimes the film is so soapy you get a jolt every time Jason appears, reminding you that you’re in fact watching a horror movie and not an episode of Sweet Valley High guest starring a masked killer. The characters in Jason Lives were throwaway, but they were in on the joke in a way that was charmingly transparent. In The New Blood we get conventional fodder of bland half-shades, a cast whose deaths mean less than zero ― except for Crews and token bitch Melissa, who is dispatched with such brute force you almost leap out of your seat and cheer when her plainly visible stunt double takes a header into the TV set. You know you’re watching something priceless when stunt doubles are this apparent. The late Susan Jennifer Sullivan is such an overactor you can’t help but love Melissa, who is certainly the pick of the bunch when it comes to the film’s younger cast members. If you’re gonna do melodrama then crank the volume right up. It really is the only way.
There are two main reasons why The New Blood has a quasi-bland soap opera feel. For one thing, the actor who plays hunky love interest Nick (Kevin Spirtas) is gay, meaning that there was very little chemistry between he and Park-Lincoln. In fact, so many members of the cast were gay ― both male and female ― that the entire group lack any kind of sexual spark, which is why many fans have dubbed the movie Frigay the 13th. Such a limp libido certainly hurts the film in terms of emotional investment. Melissa has the hots for Nick and sets about ruining Tina, who by this point has begun having psychic premonitions that foretell each character’s death. Melissa is such a cartoon villain, sneaking behind trees with the angled features of a wicked Disney queen. It’s all so deliciously contrived, though what she sees in Spirtas’ mannequin in a sweater is beyond me. Spirtas isn’t the only dork on display, he’s merely the most handsome. The guys are all dorks. You could replace some of them with cardboard cutouts and no one would tell the difference. It’s just lucky that Jason doesn’t discriminate.
Based on her abilities alone, Tina is one of the stand-out final girls from the Friday the 13th series. At first her powers are nothing to shout home about. When challenged by Crews, Tina cracks pictures, slings TV sets across the room, and even manages to set a box of matches on fire using only her mind ― hardly the kind of abilities to leave Jason quaking in his maggot-ridden boots ― but it gets better; just you wait. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the level of gore on offer, which brings me to the second reason why The New Blood seems rather bland for long spells: those dastardly censors. The movie is right up there with Jason Takes Manhattan as the most heavily censored instalment of the series, which, given the raw footage that still exists, is a damn shame. The New Blood gets a bad rap as the lame duck of the series in some corners, and understandably so, but unspoiled we could have been talking about one of the finest entries in the series for sheer creative splatter.
Melissa: Hey Nick, you still mad at me?
Nick: What was that crap you pulled on Tina?
Melissa: That chick’s crazy. Besides, all is fair in love and war.
Nick: Melissa, I don’t even like you.
Melissa: “Like” has nothing to do with it.
Half the time, Jason comes across as bordeline impotent. His acts of death and destruction are so heavily tampered with, almost none existent, and the fact that Paramount actively destroyed the footage means that we’ll never get to see the movie in the way it was originally intended ― a shame, since Buechler and his crew did an absolute bang-up job with the original death scenes. It’s painful watching the raw footage of those kills, blurry and robbed of post-production magic, when you’ve already witnessed the anaemic theatrical release. There are so many fantastic, grue-filled moments that never saw the light of day that you have to feel for the SFX department, who may as well have taken a sabbatical. The problem is, most of the movie’s budget went on makeup and practical effects, but asides from Jason’s rather impressive, unmasked design, we don’t get to see any of it. All we’re left with is cheap sets and locations which stretch no further than small woodland areas. Even a money shot explosion went horribly wrong, leaving Buechler with only a couple of seconds of footage. Everything that could have gone against the movie did so and then some.
Russell’s death, which was particularly gruesome and delivered with Jason’s trademark bluntness, was so edited for gore they may as well have left it out entirely. Describing the scene, Buechler would lament, “Jason, like a golf pro, swings the axe upwards through the guy’s jaw, splitting his face forward, and a spurt of blood goes straight up. In the movie, unfortunately, you cut away before any connection is made. It’s like telling a joke without the punchline.” Other deaths of note include Ben’s head-squashing, an effect that was originally achieved using cottage cheese and various other gook. In the script, ‘Ben’s head gets squished like a ripe pimple’, and the raw footage gives us exactly that, but the theatrical version is so lame. There is also the heavily edited death of Crews, originally ripped to shreds with a circular saw, and that’s the one that hurts the most. Such a diabolical character, at one point shielding himself with Tina’s mother as Jason attacks, deserved to die in the worst possible way, and all we get is a deflating cutaway. The infamous sleeping bag kill, one that originally saw Jason smash his victim against the tree several times, was cut down to one swing, but I agree with Kane Hodder on that one. This is one of the only instances where such ruthless editing actually worked in the film’s favour, making the kill in question devastatingly blunt in a way that complements both the character and the actor who portrayed him.
There isn’t a kill in The New Blood that hasn’t been disfigured beyond recognition, but it didn’t end there. Not content with condemning Jason’s sixth onslaught to the cutting floor, Paramount, namely Barbara Sachs, caused all kinds of ruptions on set, constantly challenging a director who was well-schooled in horror, sometimes out of sheer pettiness. She didn’t appreciate Jason’s unmasked visage, comparing it to a giant frog, and also disliked the moment when Tina cracks Jason’s mask to reveal his rotting cranium ― one of the best, most visually pleasing images in the entire series. Not wanting to go over her head, Buechler simply kept it in anyway. This was fine with producer Frank Mancuso Jr., who absolutely loved the movie’s finale, but Sachs wasn’t pleased with the way she had been dismissed and really began to turn the screw. One of the most ridiculous moments in The New Blood happens near the end of the movie when Tina’s long-dead father emerges from the lake and drags Jason under with him. Originally, zombie makeup and animatronics presented Tina’s father as a reanimated corpse, which would have made at least a modicum of sense, but Sachs vetoed the moment out of sheer spite. Instead, actor John Otrin emerges in his natural, human form. Are we supposed to believe that Tina’s father held his breath for over a decade just to save his daughter from a threat he had no way of identifying? No wonder fans look upon this instalment with such derision. With so many obstacles, the movie didn’t stand a chance.
One person you have to feel sorry for in this regard is Kane Hodder. Hodder would become famous for being the only person to play Jason on numerous occasions, reprising the role for Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, and his inimitable brand of seek-and-destroy brutality is simply wasted here. Hodder was originally hired for his background as a stuntman and coordinater. Buechler needed someone who was able to work under heavy mounds of latex, but the actor brought so much more to the role, adding various nuances that further humanised Jason, which is why he is widely regarded as the best Jason portrayer. Personally, I prefer the lumbering menace of Richard Brooker (Friday the 13th Part 3) or the sheer animalism of Ted White (The Final Chapter), but there’s no denying Hodder’s importance to this movie. Communicating emotion under so much makeup is no easy feat, but Hodder does a fine job with his series debut, and much of that has to do with The New Blood‘s madcap finale.
Tina Shepard: [seeing Dr. Crews] Bad news Crews.
Say what you will about The New Blood, and there’s certainly a lot to decry, but there’s no denying its priceless telekinetic showdown, one that put Hodder through the wars in a way that he could never have predicted. Beuchler was a staunch admirer of the stuntman’s fearlessness. It amazed him how willingly he allowed the director to set him on fire after a previous accident which left burns on his neck and chest. That ability to just forget about it and move on was something he truly respected, and he wasn’t shy about exploiting it either. Jason has his arse handed to him by Tina’s dime store Carrie White, flinging everything but the kitchen sink his way, including a decapitated head in a plant pot that butts him right between the eyes in what is an utterly priceless moment. If you can’t raise a smile at something so transparently ridiculous you’re beyond help. The moment when Tina buries Jason beneath a house flattened Hodder for real. There were no real precautions taken, no editing tricks to remove him from the shot, the set just tumbles down on him. Go back and watch it. For a moment you’ll think he’s been genuinely flattened to death.
Subjected to fewer cuts overall, the movie’s climactic scenes are truly something to behold, and you have to feel pleased for Beuchler and co. After everything they went through they deserved that much. Is it tense? Hardly. Is it scary? Hell no! It’s not particularly graphic either. It’s simply batshit crazy. It is here where Beuchler puts his stunt philosophy into practice. Jason’s facial design is just fantastic. He looks nothing like the facially disfigured, yet queerly human Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2. Nor does he possess the sub-human menace of Parts 3 or 4. Even the maggot-ridden zombie from Jason Lives has nothing on this crooked-toothed eyesore, a being so ravaged from the strain of decomposition that he’s unrecognisable from any variation of Jason we’ve ever seen, a late-20th century mishmash of those old Universal monsters with the voltage amped up. It’s all very camp, so those of you who prefer their Jason deadly serious may very well go blind, but if you can accept this version for what it is, it’s quite the spectacle, and if nothing else you’re bound to derive some degree of fun from the whole ordeal.
Despite its obvious potential, The New Blood was treated as something of a nonentity following its release. Its box office returns were the lowest in the series, and when Jason Takes Manhattan took another significant dive a year later, Jason would embark on a much-needed hiatus. The downright ludicrous extent of the cuts was a big factor in the character’s drawn-out demise, but after so many instalments Paramount were running low on ideas, and audiences were growing just a little tired of the same old formula. The New Blood did all it could to freshen things conceptually, but even Jason is looking a little worse for wear, like the character himself is in need of a much-deserved rest. By the end of the movie, Jason had been wrestled by trees, electrocuted, drowned in a puddle, struck with all manner of heavy furniture, headbutted by a decapitated victim, crushed by a porch, smashed through a staircase, hung from a ceiling, burnt alive, blown up and shot several times with a pistol. Would this be enough to finally put him away for good? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?