Whilst a constant criticism levelled at the slasher genre is its repetition and recycled ideas, it seems that those that attempt to divert away from the standard formula are often greeted with hostility. The makers of the Friday the 13th franchise discovered this when the box office returns for their fourth entry, dubiously titled The Final Chapter, rolled in and they decided to continue with the series, despite promises of an absolute conclusion. Their antagonist, Jason Voorhees, had supposedly died at the end of the previous two instalments but the climax of part four had been definitive, he had finally been laid to rest for good. But a gross of almost $33m had convinced executives at Paramount to soldier on and somehow resurrect not only the central character but also one of their most profitable franchises to date.
The task of finding a plausible way to bring Jason back fell to Danny Steinmann, a former adult filmmaker who had been responsible for several X-rated efforts in the seventies under the pseudonym Danny Stone. His previous effort had been an underrated exploitation flick starring Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley entitled Savage Streets, which combined elements of punk, drama, rape/revenge and slasher, providing series producer Frank Mancuso Jr. with a possible director to suggest to the studio. Initially intending on continuing on from the events of The Final Chapter, in which twelve year old hero Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) had been taken to hospital after brutally murdering Jason, only for the final shot of the movie to hint that the evil had been passed onto the young boy (in much the same manner that Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers would later employ), but when Feldman proved too preoccupied with the Steven Spielberg-produced fantasy The Goonies to commit to a central role, the decision was made to set the story years later so the producers could recast the part.
Tommy (John Shepherd) is still haunted by violent images of Jason (Tom Morga) rising from the grave to exact revenge against him. Now eighteen, he has spent the last six years in various institutions and foster homes before being sent out to Pinehurst, a halfway house for troubled teens and the socially inept. There he finds a selection of equally troubled youths, under the care of the well-meaning Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman). But soon after his arrival one of the residents, the psychotic Vic (Mark Venturini), brutally slaughters the childlike Joey (Dominick Brascia) and is subsequently arrested. That evening, two local punks are dispatched by an unseen assailant along with Pinehurst’s ambulance driver, Billy (Bob DeSimone) and his girlfriend (Rebecca Wood-Sharkey).
The promiscuous behaviour of two of the residents, Eddie (John Robert Dixon) and Tina (Debisue Voorhees), attracts the unwanted attention of Ethel Hubbard (Carol Locatell) and her imposing but mentally challenged son, Junior (Ron Sloan), who take exception to the ‘looney bin’ so close to their farm. It isn’t long before Eddie and Tina fall victim to the maniac (Eddie has his skull crushed whilst Tina has her eyes gauged out with garden shears), soon followed by both Ethel and her offspring. Meanwhile, back at Pinehurst, Tommy has been having difficult settling into his new home but begrudgingly makes friends with Reggie (Shavar Ross), a young kid whose grandfather (Vernon Washington) works as the cook.
As the body count increases the authorities are bewildered, with the mayor (Ric Mancini) pushing for results. Sheriff Tucker (Marco St. John) has his own theories – that Jason is still alive and killing – but the mayor is unimpressed and threatens to replace him. More victims follow, including residents the New Romantic Violent (Tiffany Helm), best friends Robin (Juliette Cummins) and Jake (Jerry Pavlon) and even Reggie’s grandfather and brother Demon (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), who has come to town to see him. All the while, Tommy has been seeing images of Jason but it isn’t long before they once again come face to face, although this time he is less effective and almost killed before Pam and Reggie save him. The killer is eventually revealed to be Roy (Dick Wieand), an ambulance driver who also happens to be Joey’s father. Enraged by seeing his estranged son hacked to pieces, he had adopted the visage of Jason and had taken revenge on the community.
Before focusing on the main criticism that is most often directed at Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, there is much to enjoy here for slasher fans. Despite the MPAA insisting on an astonishing eight cuts before granting the movie a theatrical release, this is perhaps the most sadistic and sleazy entry in the franchise. Steinmann was well aware what the fans wanted – sex and gore – and he filled his screenplay with both. The original version of Eddie and Tina’s death was to have been far more graphic (and Tina would have been naked for far longer), whilst Violet’s death would have resulted from a machete to the groin instead of the standard knife in the stomach kill the movie was blessed with. Whilst Shepherd lacks the charisma of both Feldman and Thom Matthews (who would play the role in the next instalment), he still delivers an intense performance and Kinnaman proves to be one of the most impressive final girls of the franchise. It is understandable why some fans may have felt cheated by the twist ending (much like they would do the following year with April Fool’s Day) but for others this was an interesting addition, although the bizarre cameos from Roy earlier in the film seem to give too much away. Steinmann proved to be a talented and graphic filmmaker who would sadly slip into obscurity shortly after making this feature. Whilst by no means the best of the series, fans should re-evaluate A New Beginning, as it deserves more respect than most are prepared to offer it.