Talk to a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise and you’re going to get several different answers on which of the twelve entries is their favorite. Some will point to the original and its simplicity and the mystery of the killer. Some prefer Friday the 13th Part III for its cheesy yet fun 3-D effects, and for giving us Jason Voorhees in a hockey mask for the first time. The two most popular answers you’ll most likely get is the fourth film, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which has the scariest portrayal of Jason, or Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives for trying something different and more meta. Sandwiched in between those two choices is 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. It never gets mentioned for being among the best, though. Instead, most look at it as being the worst by far, even eclipsing the bizarre Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
Why Don’t People Like ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning?’
The reasoning for this strongly held opinion is simple: Jason Voorhees isn’t in it. In the fourth film, we were promised that Jason would die. He does, taking a machete to the head from a young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). Slasher villains never stay dead though, so many only saw the film’s “Final Chapter” title as a gimmick to get people to the theater. Surely Jason would rise from the dead like he’d already done twice before and kill again, especially when A New Beginning came out just a year after The Final Chapter. We do get a killer in a hockey mask throughout the film, but the shocking ending reveals that the man behind it is a copycat killer. Jason Voorhees was still very much dead. The outrage was so great, that the next year fans were back to being given what they wanted. Jason was resurrected and would live on as a slow moving zombie for the next several films.
On one hand, the anger is understandable. Friday the 13th isn’t high art. It’s about one thing: watching Jason kill teens in funny and inventive ways. That’s not an insult. The franchise is still so popular all these decades later for following a simple formula so well. A New Beginning broke that formula. It broke an unspoken promise. Fans felt lied to. It’s similar to the disappointment some felt with last year’s Halloween Ends, where much of the plot centers on a copycat killer wearing The Shape’s mask. Still, Michael Myers is at least there, even if he feels neutered, and his big showdown with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) rushed. The only Jason we get in A New Beginning is in a dream sequence in the opening scene.
‘A New Beginning’ Is Still A Fun Film
A New Beginning might be dismissed as the black sheep of the family, but it shouldn’t be. If you let go of the “Jason’s not in it” argument, there is still a good film waiting underneath. It’s still fun. There’s still gore and great kills. There’s still exciting chase scenes. There’s still the great Harry Manfredini’s intense score. Admittedly, the reveal of the killer doesn’t work at the end, not just because it confirms that it’s not Jason (his build and gait, along with the blue instead of red stripes on the hockey mask, should’ve been the obvious clues), but because who the killer was, a paramedic named Roy, was a very minor character who only briefly appeared. If you weren’t giving the movie your full attention, you may have even missed him. We have no connection with him, so we don’t care. Outside of that, all the ingredients of a good slasher film are here, and maybe even more so, because it gives us a layered hero.
Corey Feldman did not return for A New Beginning as Tommy Jarvis except for the opening dream sequence. The storyline is set several years later, with Tommy now as a very troubled teenager, so a little known TV actor named John Shepherd was cast for his feature film debut. Three people have played Tommy (Thom Mathews played him the next year in Jason Lives), but Shepherd seldom gets his due. He should, for his version of Tommy is the most complex. Before Laurie Strode became the symbol of trauma, there was Tommy Jarvis.
Behind Tommy Jarvis and His Trauma
When we meet him in A New Beginning, years after he killed a madman who murdered his mother along with many others, we find Tommy emotionally destroyed. This isn’t a subplot, where we see him staring off into the distance or drinking and doing drugs while going about a rather normal life. No, Tommy is gone. It’s the focus of the film and gets just as much attention as the madman in a mask wreaking havoc does. He has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals over the years and is now moving into a halfway house with other damaged teens. We’re introduced to a three-dimensional Tommy. He’s quiet, not saying an entire word for a long time. You can see the pain of his past on his face. He is haunted by Jason Voorhees. So much so, that you wonder if he is going to become like him, similar to how Michael’s evil was transferred to Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) in Halloween Ends.
That doubt is put in the viewer’s mind from the end of The Final Chapter, where Tommy, having killed Jason, hugs his sister in the hospital. The film freezes on Tommy’s face over her shoulder. His look is sinister, as if something dark is blooming inside him. A New Beginning explores that further. When Tommy is bullied, he lashes out in a rage with a great show of strength against his tormentor. He’s quiet, he’s brooding, but he can also strike at any moment. He dreams of Jason. He sees him when he’s not there. When the kids in the halfway house start to die, you wonder if it could be him.
That doesn’t mean Tommy is an unlikable protagonist. Far from it. We’re still shown the carefree kid he used to be underneath the trauma, such as a scene when he’s showing off a mask he made to another kid. Tommy was obsessed with making horror masks in The Final Chapter. He’s kind to people who are kind to him. He’s trying to get better. Still, his darkness makes for a mystery that we don’t usually see in slashers. How many horror movies make you question if the hero is really the bad guy? Not many. We don’t want to believe it, so we root for him. He’s been through so much and we want to see him overcome his past.
‘A New Beginning’ Shows Us That Horror Movies Have Consequences
It’s refreshing to be told that what happens after the end credits roll matters. Often we’re shown a hero conquering the scary bad guy in a horror movie, then we see them in their victory pose and we know that they’re going to live happily ever after. A New Beginning shows us the consequences. Imagine, if as a child, your mother was murdered by a serial killer, and then you had to kill that man. That would mess up a person in real life, so it feels authentic to see Tommy go through this. We put ourselves in his place. If he was the killer, heck, we might even understand and still feel sorry for him (which is exactly why he could have never worked as the new Jason). All of this characterization makes A New Beginning deeper than your traditional boobs and blood 80s slasher.
The last act of course shows us that Tommy is not the killer in the mask. He is instead forced to confront his demons. Jason Voorhees might be dead, but as Halloween Ends taught us, evil doesn’t die, it just changes shape. Evil is still alive and wearing a hockey mask in A New Beginning. It’s not the same evil that killed Tommy’s mother, but it’s killed his new friends and it will kill him too if he doesn’t overcome his fear and fight back. We get scenes of inaction, with Tommy paralyzed by fear when he is confronted by the man in the mask. He’s momentarily taken out of action in the climax while the new blonde final girl, Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), does most of the heavy lifting, but when he is most needed, Tommy returns and strikes the villain down with a machete, sending him plummeting to his death from atop a barn loft.
It’s a great arc to see Tommy Jarvis go through so many changes in 90 minutes. It’s almost too many. As so many of these films do, it ends with the hero in the hospital. We see Tommy wake to find his vision of Jason standing in front of him. He uses the newfound strength in his mind to force him away and make him disappear. The evil of the movie has been defeated, and now so has the evil inside of Tommy. Except the film needed one more jolt. It turns out Tommy has kept this killer’s blue striped hockey mask and somehow smuggled it into a drawer by his hospital bed. He takes it out and stares at it. When Pam comes in to visit him, Tommy sneaks up from behind her, now wearing the mask while holding a knife high. And freeze-frame, movie over.
It’s a frustrating ending that goes against everything Tommy has gone through. Thankfully, it’s never addressed again, as Jason Lives finds Tommy a free man, with no mention of ever having killed someone and going to prison, so we’re to assume that we’re meant to forget that it ever happened. That’s good, because outside of those last few seconds, A New Beginning truly is just that, by spicing up the franchise with something a little different. It’s the rare slasher film that’s a character study too.
If you’re seeing it for the first time, finding out that there is no Jason Voorhees can be a big letdown, but if it’s a rewatch and you’re already aware of the gimmick, it becomes a good film. Now you can go in with no expectations and simply enjoy a fun slasher with a well written hero.