Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, June 18, 2009
      ( 6/18/2009 07:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LOOKS LIKE WE GOT US A MANIAC ON THE LOOSE, HUH, SHERIFF?" That the producers of Friday the 13th -- Part V had the audacity to subtitle this entry A New Beginning says a lot about the perceived gullibility of the slasher film audience. For instead of being a "new beginning" in the way that John Carpenter's Halloween: Season of the Witch attempted something different with his title franchise, director Danny Steinman's Friday basically returned to the central plot of the very first 'un. In both flicks, the mad killer proves to be the parent of a kid who's died due to their guardians' negligence. In the first Friday, young Jason "drowned" in Crystal Lake when a pair of horny summer camp counselors weren't paying attention to the boy; in Part Five, it's the death of a fat mental health patient at the hands of a rageaholic fellow camper that sparks the body pileup.

Both victim and killer are summering at Crystal Lake courtesy of the Unger Institute of Mental Health, though why the two teens got transferred from a locked institution to a camp that only appears to have two working counselors with a decidedly lax attitude toward letting their clients handle axes isn't explained. All we know for sure is that the camp is sparsely populated by a group of unstable teens who no one will particularly miss after they've been cut down.

Our entry to Camp Pinehurst and its population of ever ready slasher victims is via Tommy Jarvis, who we last saw in The Final Chapter as a bespectacled Corey Feldman, though he's sprouted over the space of a year into a muscular teen played by John Shepherd. Tommy, we'll remember, "killed" Jason at the end of the previous film -- and has since spent his days institutionalized as a reward for this "brutal" act of self-defense. To establish that this rapidly aged figure is indeed Tommy, Shepherd wears a pair of wire-rim glasses at the outset, though he quickly discards 'em without so much as a blink.

Tommy, subject to his own fits of rage and PTSD flashbacks, has come to Camp Pinehurst because -- well, we're not really told why either, though we learn that he's been fed tons of psychotropics during his institutional vacay. First thing he does when he unpacks at camp is pull a pocket knife out of his pants, and we know he'll get to use that blade later in the movie because no one thinks to inventory what the new kid brought with him. Later, we see him gazing at a photo of his sister, who also survived the previous Friday, though the movie doesn't bother to tell what's happened to her.

Our traumatized hero keeps seeing flashes of a menacing Jason even though we're told that the big galoot is decidedly demised -- and cremated to boot. So the movie's big non-mystery once the actual killings commence becomes, "Is Tommy crazy or is somebody impersonating the legendary killer?" The answer to both questions proves to be yes, of course.

Director Steinman, who also co-wrote the flick, increases the movie's body count for the first time beyond the titular thirteen, though he retreats from the previous outing's Savini-esque explicitness by keeping the actual moments of impact off-camera. The director makes up for this by upping the actress nudity screen time considerably, most noticeably in a scene where one busty victim lolls around nekkid in the woods, waiting for her doomed boyfriend to return. The girl gets it in the eyes with a pair of lopping sheers, a tweak at all the teenaged voyeurs in the audience, perhaps.

While the bulk of the flick's victims are Tommy's fellow campers, our killer also finds time to take out a white trash Mama and her motorcycle moose of son -- characters so broadly drawn as to make Randy Quaid in Independence Day look subdued -- plus a jheri-curled black dude who gets it in a rickety tin outhouse. The latter is the older bro of Reggie the Reckless (Shavar Ross), a talkative black kid staying at the camp with his cook grandpa. Reggie is one of the few to make it to the movie's showdown, though unlike that wimp Tommy we don't get the sense at the end that he's been damaged forever by the experience.

As with all the previous Fridays, the movie winds on an extended dream sequence, this time making it a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-possible-dream. The faux Jason's been disposed of, so the movie concludes by hinting that Tommy will be taking over the slash work next time. That doesn't happen, of course, since the Big J returns from the cremated ashes in VI, so the image of Tommy donning that hockey mask at the movie's end proves to be just one more cheat. Par for the course with these flicks, of course.

Paramount's "deluxe" reissue contains many of the same types of features that have graced previous entries, though, unike the Final Chapter DVD, there isn't any found footage of the initially more graphic killings for our edification. For all its considerable flaws as movie, Part Five looks pretty spiffy: the woods surrounding Crystal Lake have never appeared more inviting. I remember seeing a Siskel and Ebert show from around this time where the killjoy critics complained about the fact that strides in moviemaking technology made even the lowliest exploitation fodder look good onscreen. I'm not unsympathetic to this idea since I continue to hold that the much less slickly mounted first film remains the peak of this overextended horror series. But if you're tired of the faux handheld video look favored by too many horror pics these days, the old-fashioned approach is almost a visual relief.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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