Shemps, Tommy Jarvis, & the Modern Prometheus!

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Welcome back! I was just about to start talking about the headscratcher that was Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Hope your nails are trimmed.

For all intents and purposes, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was meant to be the last movie in the series. After all, Jason took a pretty good machete whack to the temple in the third act. Then bald little Tommy Jarvis thought he’d hack away at Jason while he was down until nothing was left but a pile of Hamburger Helper. I mean, it wasn’t subtitled The Final Chapter for no reason. This was it, people! But director Joe Zito, being the good sport that he was, left the film open-ended: as the final bit of music starts to swell, the camera pans in on an emotional Tommy Jarvis hugging his sister Trish – they’re the only survivors. Suddenly, boom, Tommy’s face goes slack and his eyes blast open, and he stares, dead-eyed, into the camera. Into our souls. Does this mean Tommy Jarvis would spiritually inherit the unstoppable urge to kill from Jason Voorhees, the man he’d just murdered?

tommy

Kinda. Not really, though.

See, producers and writers of A New Beginning were convinced that Jason was actually dead, they just needed an idea of where to take the series from there. Certainly, bringing Jason back from the dead was too ludicrous of an idea to even consider. Zombie Jason? That’s just crazy. Perhaps they hadn’t thought about the fact that Jason had apparently drowned as a child and was therefore already…

Anyway, they didn’t think Jason could come back. To be fair, Friday the 13th Part 2, Friday the 13th Part 3, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter are all supposed to take place over the same weekend, if you follow the timeline correctly. So there wasn’t anything necessarily other-wordly about Jason at this point. He was just a killer who took some massive abuse during the course of one week, and was finally stopped by Tommy Jarvis.

It’s important to note that at this point, the ‘undead killer’ trope hadn’t become a thing yet. It was 1985: Michael Myers was officially dead in a hospital fire; Leatherface was still a year away from a sequel – as far as anyone knew, he was still dancing and spinning out on some desolate Texas road; Freddy had just made his debut the year before, and his sequel wouldn’t be released until 8 months after A New Beginning. There was no Chucky. No Jigsaw. No Candyman. So in 1985 dead was dead. And Jason? He was dead.

But instead of following the Tommy Jarvis-as-Jason storyline, they decided to do two things:

  • first, revisit that mental hospital script they rejected for Friday the 13th Part 3. Fine, solid idea.
  • The second thing they did, however, left fans with a bad taste in their mouths and caused some of the lowest ticket sales in the series at that point.

So what did they do that was so offensive? They used a fake Jason. Like how The Three Stooges used a fake Shemp to fill in for some of the scenes after the real Shemp died. Not cool, Paramount.

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch doesn’t feature Michael Myers, but at least they didn’t have some guy walking around in a white William Shatner mask, only to pull it off in the final act and go, “Ha! I’m not Michael Myers!” – which is exactly what happened in A New Beginning. So you can understand fans feeling a little cheated.

The opening to Halloween: Resurrection (that’s “Part 8” for those keepin’ track) did try a similar stunt: Jamie Lee Curtis thinks she decapitates Michael Myers at the end of the previous film (effectively permanently ending the series), but wait a second! Turns out the real Michael Myers had crushed some poor schmuck’s voicebox and slapped that familiar mask on him instead. So Jamie Lee just ended up killing some random dude. It was an utterly implausible move, even for a series where the bad guy had been shot, stabbed, burned, buried, and somehow still kept coming back for more. I mean, we the audience can only suspend our disbelief so much.

Even A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge hopped on the ‘surrogate killer’ train, almost immediately – with young protagonist Jesse committing all of the murders, with Freddy only occasionally popping up towards the end of the film.

Hell, now that I’m thinking about it, three of the Friday the 13th films don’t feature Jason as the primary killer: the original, this one, and Jason Goes to Hell! What the hell is going on?!

What A New Beginning lacked in a Jason it made up for in sex and violence. The late director Danny Steinmann had gotten his start in porno; apparently the sex and nudity in A New Beginning had to be toned down — but the censors saying your horror film has too much nudity, it’s like telling Willy Wonka his factory has too much chocolate.  And a new precedent had been handed down to Steinmann: there must be a kill every 8 minutes. And it shows. There are random characters popping up out of nowhere, only to be killed off in the same exact scene they first appear. Like two greasers, one of who is dressed like Marlon Brando from The Wild One:

greasers

There’s a lot wrong with the flick – it feels the most unsure of itself and definitely felt like the first time the studio and money providers had interfered too much. But I suppose they did the best the could with the script that had. Who knows, man.

Mark Venturini and Miguel A. Núñez, Jr. appear briefly in the film (Núñez, Jr. has one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror film; a scene I quote – or sing, rather – still today.) Núñez, Jr. and Venturini would appear together later the same year in the immortal Return of the Living Dead, alongside Thom Matthews who would go on to play Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th: Jason Lives. Hey, speaking of!

So the fans weren’t having the fake Jason thing. And the film ended on a similar note as the previous one – Tommy Jarvis could still potentially turn into a Jasonesque killer with the next sequel.

toms

But thankfully, Paramount came to their sense and told Jason Lives director Tom McLoughlin, “Bring back Jason.” Jason Lives would be the first time in the series where Jason was accepted to be a fully resurrected dead guy (aka “zombie”.)

The Halloween series had to change its course due to a similar fan backlash. Viewers flocked to the theater for Halloween III and left asking, “Hey, where was Michael?” And so, with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Michael…well, he returned. And he’s been the focal point since.

McLoughlin, in my opinion, was a good choice to revitalize the Friday series. And even though this film was the first one that didn’t break the $20M mark, I still feel his approach brought a freshness and a self-awareness to the series, something it desperately needed.  In fact, Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream) not only admitted Jason Lives was a huge influence on Scream and its style of referential horror humor, but McLoughlin was initially offered to direct the film (Wes Craven would eventually take the position.)

One of the many references the film makes is comparing Jason to the story of “Frankenstein”.

  • Jason is brought to life via lightning rod/electricity (as was Frankenstein’s monster)
  • This was the first (and only) Friday the 13th film to feature children at the camp (and we know how the monster treats little kids [especially little girls who play by the lake])
  • Tommy Jarvis initially tries to burn Jason’s corpse at the start of the film, and again at the end of the film (Frankenstein’s monster hates fire)
  • There is a gas station in the film named “Karloff’s”

There are plenty of other in-jokes and references, and they only add to the film. And A New Beginning may have had its Shemp, but Jason Lives has a triple decapitation that would make Moe Howard proud.

But as mentioned above, despite being an intelligent, fun, revitalizing entry in the series (and actually enjoyed by the critics) the film failed to make an impact on audiences, as is usually the case with films that are ahead of their time (just look at April Fool’s Day.)

McLoughlin was forced to leave the film open-ended, just in case Paramount wanted to bring Jason back for another one. And they would. And they did.

Join me for tomorrow’s article, “Psycho vs. Psychic, Kane Hodder, & Jason at Sea”, which covers both Friday the 13th VII: A New Blood and Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan!

4 thoughts on “Shemps, Tommy Jarvis, & the Modern Prometheus!”

  1. Reading this it has occurred me that the Jason impostor answers the “why” behind the off-brand hockey mask on the poster. Perhaps a subtle spoiler from the designer.

    The Scooby-Doo unmasking trope never really satisfies. Hell, I wasn’t much of a fan of it on Scooby-Doo. I bet most folks would have preferred and actual Spooky Space Kook over Henry Bascomb in disguise.

    Thanks for reminding me about April Fool’s Day. I remember loving that when it came out and feel it’s time I revisit it.

    Also, I may be the only person who actually likes Freddy’s Revenge

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Something about the “Friday” series just feels like home to me. Even the worst ones I’ll give a break. I can’t say the same for any other horror franchise.

      Also, perhaps you’re right on the box cover design. Although an alternate poster design was created and does exist (Google it), where Tommy is the main focus. Not sure if it was an American poster or not.

      April Fool’s Day is suuuper ahead of its time. Plus it has a great cast! Love that flick.

      As for Freddy’s Revenge – I’m okay with it. I actually think that’s another one a little ahead of its time. It might be the goofiest of the series, and that’s saying something.

      Like

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