It’s summer. School’s Out as Alice Cooper said and I’m riding my bike through the narrow woodland that runs parallel to my street and down the hill to a friend’s house. We don’t have a plan for the late afternoon, just the usual hijinks; a clandestine look at his older brother’s collection of ‘special interest’ magazines, a sneaky cigarette (him, not me – that came later in a futile attempt to win a girlfriend back), and the ominous contents of a VHS cassette in a black, unmarked box.

His parents are out at work, so in the absence of female company – a curious phenomenon that lasts way beyond the summer, and the next – we hang out in his back garden, trying to outdo each other with misplaced, testosterone-fuelled derring-do, until he nearly breaks a leg in an ill-advised jump off the garage roof and we repair to the living room and that VHS tape.

He casually, but pointedly, mentions that the cassette contains a horror film featuring a character called Jason Vorhees. I snort derisively, “His name’s Jason? Put it on. How scary can a character called Jason be?” Secretly, I’m crapping myself already.

About 90 minutes later, I’m leaving his house in a state of disturbed bewilderment. I’ve just watched something called Friday the 13th Part Five: A New Beginning and Jason was called Roy. What?! I push the bike up the hill and turn into the woods, noticing that it’s grown a little darker out. I cycle into the woods, taking care to keep a line of sight to the houses on my road, but they begin to fade as the light dims further. I can’t help but recall the events of the film. Over and over. The blood and the screaming, the relentless killing machine called Roy, and the teenage girls in varying states of undress (that part wasn’t so bad).

I reach a part of the woods that’s hilly on both sides and my pace quickens as I cycle through the path that bisects it. Above me a canopy of tree branches renders daylight at a premium and for the first time I’m genuinely scared. Not in a, I hope I don’t see a ghost kind of way, but a tangible, gripping terror of something primed to attack me, machete raised high. I’m cycling as quickly as my legs will go, I’m out of breath but not giving up, I’m getting out of this wood if it kills me, but I really hope it doesn’t. I can see light ahead; warm, welcoming, safe and not populated by a lunatic in a ski mask, and I race towards it. This is the moment when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, I can feel it. I’m not going to get out of here. I want to look behind me, but I know if I do that’s the moment the killer will strike. The end of the woods are closer now. I can make it. I can definitely…

The bike collapses under me and I fall, crashing to the ground. The momentum has me rolling like Neymar but fortunately a huge tree gives me the red card. I sit, dazed for a moment, then remember my predicament and scramble to my feet, dragging my bike with its freshly buckled wheel and finally reaching light, the sun’s rays enveloping me protectively. I’m safe.

Later that night I lie in bed, with images from the film spilling into my mind’s eye. They’re disturbing and terrifying. I have no interest in watching Jason (or Roy) ever again. The images take weeks to fade. And I’m scared of them, vivid and blood red. I vow never to watch another horror film. It was a shit summer.

Friday the 13th: A New Chapter artwork by Nathan Thomas Milliner
Artwork by Nathan Thomas Milliner

And then something strange happened. A couple of years later a tape of Sean Cunningham’s original finds its way into my house. I don’t know how it got there. Call it kismet, or video rental, but for some reason I’m drawn to it. I don’t want to watch it at all, but I can’t not watch it. I sneak the box up to my room and, keeping the television volume low, I push the tape into my VHS player and press play.

Another 90 minutes of slasher terror is nearly over. It’s been another shocking and frightening experience, but I feel strangely exuberant as Alice Hardy finally vanquishes the killer and sits safely aboard a canoe on a peaceful lake. I’d geared myself up for a Jason-fuelled festival of gore but where was Jason? Bloody part-timer. Honestly, if I didn’t know better I’d……holy fuckballs, I was not ready for that! The film finishes on a freeze frame of a monster grabbing at Alice. Is that Jason’s face?! I needed to know more. Immediately.

And so it began. I made my way through the rest of the franchise, finally got to see Jason in proper action, and revelled in every schlocky moment. Until I reached Part Five again. Something about that movie still unnerved me. I was still haunted by that early evening cycle through the woods. Was it shame for probably looking a bit like Junior as I peddled frantically, Ma? No, it was definitely just the woods. Whatever, I still felt a pang of nerves when I thought about watching it. By now, of course, I’d watched the first four and it wouldn’t do at all to skip the fifth instalment (even though I’d seen it – albeit, gripped by fear). No, I needed to do things properly or my nerdy, OCD inner-self would never forgive me.

Sourcing a copy proved to be serendipitous. Renting horror movies from the video shop was a hit-and-miss affair at best. Sometimes I’d get lucky and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid when I attempted to rent certificate 18 fare, other times I’d be laughed out of the shop. This time, however, a chance meeting with my old friend, who I’d not seen in several months, secured me the very same copy I’d originally watched. It was time to exorcise the demon (not that Demon, he’s awesome!).

Miguel Nunez as Demon in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

I’ve never felt the same way as certain naysayers about the big reveal at the end of the film. I don’t feel cheated at all that the killer is not Jason (as I already mentioned, I wasn’t even convinced he existed for a while!). The way I look at it is that the filmmakers were trying to breath new life into the franchise and trying something different – this became something of a running theme as the surroundings of Camp Crystal Lake became too constricting and eventually even Earth (One) was seemingly suffocating the franchise.

Whether you believe it works or not is entirely dependent upon your point-of-view, but the truth is A New Beginning isn’t even that much of a flight of fancy, bearing in mind the original film is also an almost Jason-free affair. In fact, if there is a negative, it’s that the film perhaps borrows too much from the original. Roy’s motive is almost a carbon copy of Mrs. Vorhees, wreaking vengeance upon all those he deems responsible for the death of his son, whether they were directly involved or not. Funny, then, that the film was made under the working title Repetition.

There’s also an interesting parallel with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors an a story revolving around troubled kids. The main difference being that A New Beginning never really attempts to dig below the surface of the kids’ problems, being more concerned with enterprising ways of offing them. This is standard operating procedure for the Friday the 13th series, though, so in the words of another slasher franchise character, “check your conscience at the door, sweetie.” Thanks, Gail. Nice streaks.

Roy Burns even showed Jason a thing or two about body count, racking up a series high (at the time) 22 deaths, including Roy’s own demise. This was a sequel in which the shackles were well and truly off: no wonder I was bloody terrified first time around! Reviews were uniformly mixed, with the usual anti-slasher/horror snobbery, but the best I found included the following quote:

‘Same screaming, same endless chases, same breasts, same blood, same axe, same lack of explanation, same ending primed for another sequel.’

Yep, those are the bits I like too.

It’s not the best in the series. It’s not even in the top three, but I have a soft spot for it simply because it was my slasher genre gateway drug. Looking back on it now, I still remember that first time I watched the scene in which Vic takes an axe to Joey and his chocolate dribble, wondering whether I should make my excuses and leave. How on earth I became a horror fan after that is anyone’s guess, considering my inauspicious start, but if I was to try and nail the moment when the journey began, it was probably with Vic’s anger management hijinks. Funny how this stuff happens. It has reminded me, though, that I’m still to pick up the Crystal Lake Memories book, so I’m going to mention it to the wife. Time for my best Demon impression – she won’t be able to resist.

“Ooo ooo, baby, ooo baby….”

Nope. Didn’t work.

*Just before you get all ‘but Jason does appear in A New Beginning. You’re not a true fan!’ I’m well aware of this, but the first time I watched the film I didn’t recall him at all. True fact.

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