Buechler: Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood (1988)
In many ways, the extraordinary image that concluded Friday the 13th Part 6 – Jason chained to the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake but very much alive – was to be a blueprint for the increasingly extravagant spatial excursions of the remainder of the franchise. Marking the moment at which Jason graduated to a fully supernatural being – a force that might be tethered but never vanquished – it set in train a more fantastic and science-fictional dimension to the Friday the 13th films that would find its logical conclusion in 2002’s Jason X. Key to that new “look” for the franchise was a more operatic, melodramatic and hyper-cinematic sense of spectacle, inspired to some extent by the increasing hegemony of the Elm Street franchise in the late 1980s. While the Elm Street sequel had come out in 1985, it was only in the later years of the decade that it started to feel as if the franchise was really serialising, about the same time that the Friday the 13th films were starting to wane a little with audiences and critics. From Jason Lives on, then, this is a version of Jason that is somewhat remade in the image of Freddy, as well as a version of Camp Crystal Lake that is somewhat remade in the image of Elm Street’s lush dreamscapes.
Of course, it’s not simply the case that the later Friday the 13th films aped the Elm Street franchise, or tried to converge themselves with it. Instead, the possibilities of Elm Street represented the next logical step in the spatial and ideational evolution of the series. By Jason Lives, it had finally become clear that Jason was indestructible or – what amounts to the same thing – that it was growing difficult to stage fight sequences between Jason and his victims that didn’t devolve into a sense of comic and absurd futility. While Jason Lives beautifully mined that for comedy, it was clear that the series had to take a leap of faith if it was to retain the horror component as well, and The New Blood takes that leap by introducing the first extensive supernatural narrative of the franchise so far. Certainly, there was already a supernatural element hanging around the fringes of Jason Lives, which saw Jason awoken by a lightning bolt to the grave, but The New Blood is the first film in which Jason really enjoys a supernatural communion – and a supernatural combat – with his victim.
All that is set in place in The New Blood’s incredible opening scene, in which a little girl flees from her father’s domestic violence to take refuge on the Camp Crystal Lake jetty. As her father stops beating her mother to pursue her, she experiences a telekinetic spasm that leads to him being engulfed by the water and the entire Crystal Lake topography being momentarily, psychically, reconfigured. Fast forward ten or so years – the time lapse doesn’t really fit with the rest of the franchise but makes sense in this film – and Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln) has returned to the lake with her mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and doctor (Terry Kiser) to come to terms with her guilt, as well as the telekinetic abilities that have plagued her ever since. At first, it appears as if the doctor is trying to help her relinquish her supernatural powers, but it gradually becomes clear that this is a nefarious training exercise, not least because the proximity of the lake just enhances Tina’s telekinetic powers and adumbrates them with a series of visions, hallucinations and dream sequences in which she anticipates Jason’s actions before they even happen. In a bravura sequence she tries to summon her father back from the lake, only to find Jason rising instead, at which point he sets off on a rampage that narrows on Tina, her mother, the doctor and the gaggle of teenagers that have rented the house next door.
As that might suggest, the film is suffused with traces of Poltergeist and Firestarter, while there’s a clear link to Elm Street in the way in which Jason becomes equated with the lost suburban father, creating an unusual and uneasy link between Jason and the doctor at key moments as well. As Jason and Tina’s very different powers converge on the lake, Jason becomes a kind of telekinetic object or threshold, which is perhaps why he feels less human than at any moment before or after in the franchise. With his body partly decayed from being underwater, his spine fused with his clothing, his breathing as mute and heavy as if it is taking place through an external lung, he’s presented as part human, part alien, part machine – the chain is still around his neck – which gives him a sci-fi, nu-mental quality that, once again, makes Jason X feel like the logical conclusion of the franchise. Culminating the monster movie atmosphere of Jason Lives, he’s more a swamp thing than a slasher, albeit a swamp thing on his way to outer space, and when his mask does come off, we’re presented with the biggest transformation in his physical appearance since Part 2, with almost no residual humanity left in this Universal-styled prosthetic spectacle. While it’s scary for a bit – and certainly startling – it makes you realise that the blankness of the hockey mask works best in the long run, and to its credit the film tends to focus on the spectacle of Jason’s body more than his face, as he strides through the woods with a new militaristic sense of purpose and phallic sense of focus.
It feels right, then, that one of the teenage victims is a sci-fi geek who continues rehearsing his story ideas right up until Jason gets him – the best is his pitch for a “star-mummy” – just as this is also the first film in which the spectacle and burden of prosthetics shifts decisively from the kill shots to Jason’s body, which almost recalls the visions and nightmares of H.R. Giger. More like Freddy Krueger than the Jason of the first few films, his mask – and face – feels less and less relevant, although the few flamboyant kill shots that do occur tend to revolve around moments of really brutal facial violence, as if he were trying to physically forestall the telekinetic powers that turn out to be his – temporary – downfall. In fact, it is precisely those moments of telekinetic combat that end up embodying Jason so emphatically – or at least outdoing his own disembodiment – turning his visibility into as much of a spectacle as his invisibility. The result is one of the most terrifying experiences in the franchise, since while we may see more of Jason and less of the gore, the psychic element also creates more room to breathe, creating a rich hypnagogic atmosphere that enables some of the most breathtaking extended suspense sequences since the first couple of films.
By restoring that looming, uncanny sense of space – and the franchise’s aptitude with still, quiet moments – this supernatural element turns The New Blood into a perfect swansong for Camp Crystal Lake before the more urban focus of Jason Takes Manhattan. As the last film that really feels set at the original campsite, the lake is more front and centre than any instalment since Part 4, just as Jason feels as if he has never left it, or as if his inextricability from it has never been more pronounced, allowing the franchise to come full circle and return to his original drowning in an extraordinarily poetic way.
It feels right, then, that this particular version of the lake is also one of the most spatially innovative in the series, with the body of water appearing like a mild pond from the surface, but exhibiting depths that are more cosmic and amorphous than ever. Extending vertically rather than horizontally, it positions the action between two very different kinds of spaces. On the one hand, there is the camp site, which is the most constricted space in the franchise so far, so close to a sound stage that it could almost be captured in its entirety in a single shot; on the other hand, there is the bottom of the lake, which is offered up as a cold, endless, amorphous world that seems utterly incommensurate with what is taking place on the surface. In its alternation between these claustrophobic and agoraphobic vistas, The New Blood indeed often feels like Jason X in filigree, in a vision of Camp Crystal Lake as a portal to the universe that represents the most extravagant spatial evolution of the franchise since Part 2.
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