Since Sean S. Cunningham’s original Friday the 13th raked in nearly $60 million worldwide in 1980 (on a budget of a half-million dollars), producers looked to keep the ensuing slasher franchise profitable. Unsurprisingly for a film series launched in an undisguised effort to springboard off of the astounding success of John Carpenter’s superior slasher film Halloween, the Friday the 13th franchise chased trends, aped what worked elsewhere and essentially eschewed continuity in favor of keeping series antagonist Jason Voorhees’ bloody cinematic rampages lucrative.
And yet, when Barbara Sachs came on board the steadily sinking Friday franchise, the Paramount associate producer brought along some admirably ambitious — if ultimately doomed — ideas. An initial pitch from Sachs would have drawn inevitable Jaws comparisons, with an unscrupulous land developer attempting to hush up Camp Crystal Lake’s infamously gory history to build condos on the cursed site.
Not a terrible idea, but one that would have meant broadening the series mythos, at least in terms of just how much the outside world knows about this hockey-masked mass murderer with, at that point, 50-plus brutal murders under his belt.
After that concept went nowhere, the seventh Friday the 13th installment was pared back to its core components: Jason, machete, horny young holiday-makers with little to no survival instincts. It was a working formula, although one whose potency at the box office had steadily fizzled over the years, leading Paramount Pictures execs still hunting for a fresh ingredient to revitalize their annual return on Jason. Sachs, whose brief producing career would end following this film and its follow-up Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, is reported to have had faith that an infusion of creative talent and outside-the-box thinking could not only make the Friday name a hot commodity again but even overcome the series’ grimy reputation.
In various reports from the film’s preproduction period, it’s said that Sachs actively pursued none other than legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini for what eventually became Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. And if there’s no record of what the La Strada and La Dolce Vita director’s reaction was to the prospect of helming a sixth sequel to a low-rent American slasher series, it remains true that Sachs’ lofty ambitions for the film went sadly unrealized. Sachs also is said to have expressed hope that this would be the first Friday the 13th film to garner an Academy Award of some stripe. Not as outlandish a prospect in this new era of “elevated horror” perhaps, but, in context (and with no implications toward Sachs or any other individual involved in Friday the 13th Part VII’s production), one can only wonder at the quality of late-’80s cocaine.
In the end, it was journeyman horror director John Carl Buechler (Troll, Cellar Dweller), who’d cut his teeth in the B-movie mines of producer Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, who got the gig instead of the estimable Signor Fellini. But Sachs and Paramount still clung to the idea of shaking up the stale slasher formula, eventually turning to screenwriter Daryl Haney’s twist on the traditional “final girl” trope in that Friday the 13th Part VII’s picture-ending showdown would be between the seemingly invincible Jason and a young blonde woman who just so happened to have telekinetic powers. Seizing on the “Jason vs. Carrie” concept (although without, of course, licensing Stephen King’s actual telekinetic heroine), Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood in October 1987 in Alabama.
Even with the addition of a more powerful protagonist in the form of Lar Park Lincoln’s telekinetic and troubled Tina, Friday the 13th Part VII failed to live up to any of the studio’s more original ideas. Apart from Tina, brought to her family’s Crystal Lake cabin by her mom and a shady shrink (Weekend at Bernie’s’ Terry Kiser) to process the long-ago death of her abusive father, there is the requisite gaggle of variously amorous young people, here gathered at a nearby house for a surprise birthday party. Even more than usual for a Friday flick, the characters apart from Tina are utterly faceless and interchangeable, the partiers’ one assigned characteristic (snooty bitch, sci-fi nerd, ugly duckling, bad boy) barely serving to differentiate them in the audience’s minds before they’re offered up as Jason’s latest sacrifices. (The caricatures are so jarringly one-note that viewers are left to marvel how this disparately uninteresting group ever decided they were friends in the first place.)
Watch the Trailer for ‘Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood’
What was intended to be Friday the 13th Part VII’s one original note is the film’s weakest link, as Lincoln’s Tina emerges as a smudged whimper of barely represented trauma. The childhood incident where her father’s drowning death is caused by the emergence of Tina’s emotion-triggered powers, is also a catalyst for Jason’s most recent rebirth, as Tina’s fuzzy intention to bring her dead father back up from the depths of Crystal Lake instead awakens Jason from the chain-draped imprisonment there he suffered at the end of Part VI.
Playing continuity (or, indeed, logic) police with the Friday the 13th series is as pedantic and dull as it is utterly fruitless, but this does raise a few questions. While it’s possible that Tommy Jarvis and Part VI final girl Megan just decided not to tell anyone that they’d left a serial murderer who refused to die chained at the bottom of a (one imagines) popular tourist destination, Tina’s dad is a whole different story. Tina and her mother know exactly where the man drowned, as Tina caused the cabin’s boat dock to collapse right next to the shore, so the implication in Tina’s wish for her father’s return is that nobody ever fished his body out of the lake. Indeed, when Jason is about to finally finish off Tina and nice-guy love interest Nick on the selfsame rebuilt dock a decade or more later, it’s dear-old drowned Dad who finally rises from the water to take the killer back down with him, indicating, once more, that police and rescue work in the Crystal Lake community needs an overhaul.
The result of all this hazy ambition and lazy filmmaking was another disappointment for Paramount, as Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood continued the franchise’s box office slide, pulling in slightly less than Part VI. Still, the film’s $19 million return on its $2.8 million budget only underscored that there was acceptable money to be made by rehashing the Friday formula per fans’ expectations. Still, Part VII ranks on the low end of the franchise even with those fans, with the film’s forgettable characters, workmanlike direction and notable lack of crowd-pleasing onscreen gore effects cited as the major liabilities. Buechler has decried the MPAA’s tightening attitude toward slasher violence concerning the last complaint, noting how the film had to be submitted nine times to the board to avoid an X rating. Only an unearthed and very grainy workprint of the uncensored kill scenes exists, but it’s proof enough that Friday the 13th Part VII’s gore quotient would have been significantly higher. (Notable is the extended sleeping bag kill, where a female camper is hurled against a tree again and again in the original cut, a kill memorable enough to be referenced in 2002’s Jason X.)
On the plus side, the film was the debut of Kane Hodder’s Jason Voorhees, the stuntman and actor’s hulking, heavy-breathing, unhurriedly murderous killer a formidably frightening presence that saw Hodder being brought back for three more Friday films. Jason’s spine-exposed, lake-rotted look is perhaps his most iconic, and if the climactic reveal of Jason’s mask-free face is a touch cartoonish (there’s a Return of the Living Dead zombie vibe in its bulging eyes and snaggle teeth), Hodder’s impressive stunt work is a visceral addition. (Hodder set a then-record for being set ablaze for an entire 40 seconds during the final battle.) All that aside, however, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood ultimately failed to inject much life into the sputtering slasher series.
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