When we last left Jason Voorhees, our psychopathic protagonist was chained beneath the murk of Crystal Lake, primed and ready for the opportunity to slash anyone daft enough to spend a summer of debauchery at the camp. This time around, it's not a stray lightning bold that provides an excuse to bring Jason back for another sequel, but the painful memories of a sad little girl. Young Tina Shepard darted outside when her abusive father raised his hand yet again to his wife, deciding that the most prudent course of action would be to snag a boat and head off to the middle of the lake. Daddy pleaded with her to return to his loving, wife-beating arms, to which Tina responded by telekinetically tearing the dock to shreds. Tina didn't mean to drown her father, but her emotions and mighty mental abilities got the best of her.
Flash forward an unspecified number of years. Tina's a psychological wreck, and Dr. Crews (Bernie of Weekend at... fame) believes he has the solution. He brings Tina and her mother back to Camp Crystal Lake, correctly assuming that the environment would inspire some powerful emotions in the young lass. Tina, having recently completed the awe-inspiring task of moving a matchbook a distance of several inches, naturally decides to take the next logical step: bringing her father back to life and pulling his reanimated body from the depths of the lake. She misfires, yanking Jason from his extended slumber and signing the death warrant for everyone in the general vicinity. Tina and company aren't alone at the camp, joined in the cabin next door by the sorts of promiscious, drugged-out twentysomethings that so frequently send Jason into a murderous rampage. It's up to Tina and her newfound hunk o' manmeat Nick (Kevin Spiritas) to minimize the body count as best they can and put Jason on ice until Paramount deems it necessary to tack another Roman numeral onto the title.
"They're castrating my film, inch by inch."
So says John Carl Buechler, the special effects veteran who helmed Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. All of the Friday films up to that point had suffered the wrath of the MPAA in the quest for an R-rating, but none were gutted in quite the same way as this entry in the series. The cuts, even for those who aren't at all aware of the movie's history, are impossible to miss. The murders are relatively bloodless, and gore is kept to as bare a minimum as possible. In what is often referred to as one of the best kills in the entire series, Jason's over-the-top, merciless, repeated beating of a sleeping bag against a tree is reduced to a single swat. An assault with what looks like a cross between a weed whacker and a chainsaw left one green cameraman's Crossan'wich splattered across the ground during filming, but the attack was reduced to a tiny cut on a man's torso that lasts for what couldn't be more than a second and a half. The list goes on and on...
In my mind, at least, slasher movies are like Godzilla flicks. I pony up the cash to see Tokyo get trashed yet again and to see the King of All Monsters duke it out with a guy in a three-headed rubber suit. Sure, I have to slowly wade through a sargasso of bad dialogue and dull characters to get there, but Godzilla's fifteen minutes on-screen make it all seem worthwhile. Slashers really aren't any different, except the payoff comes in the form of machetes slicing through the chests of nubile young teenagers instead of a guy swathed in rubber swiping at a hastily constructed replica of an office building. The phrase "blink and you'll miss it" often gets tossed around pretty loosely, but it's not much of an exaggeration in the case of Friday the 13th Part VII. The camera cuts away instantly whenever there's any remote possibility that whatever weapon Jason's wielding might actually connect. Buechler had to be aware that at least some of the ambitious, exceedingly gory effects wouldn't make it past the scissors of the ratings board, but the skittishness of the kills seems to be evidence enough that he didn't anticipate a gutting on this level. The cuts are so awkward and inept that it genuinely feels like I'm watching a movie on basic cable, not a DVD release of an R-rated slasher.
Rabid fans of the series wanted to deliver the message to Paramount that they weren't interested in the butchered R-rated version, and petitions and letter writing campaigns were underway many months in advance. Those holding out hope that Part VII would be treated any differently than the other entries in the series will be disappointed to learn that the only version being released on DVD once again has that serifed "R" emblazoned on the cover. Paramount has stated that they plan to evaluate the possibility of unrated re-releases once they've finished up the theatrical versions. If this happens at all, it more than likely won't come any earlier than this time next year, and even that's being optimistic.
Lengthy rants about the editing of its content aside, I don't have much to say about the movie itself. The telekinetic angle is certainly from left field, though it's not nearly as significant a part of the plot as the trailers and TV spots made it out to be. The rest is pretty standard fare -- screw, stalk, kill...wash, rinse, repeat. With all of the kills watered down, all that's left to make this stand apart from the other six Fridays are Tina's mental assaults, and they really don't come into play to any great extent until the movie's almost over. It's also worth a note that Kane Hodder, the stuntman/actor who is and probably forever will be the man most associated with the role, made his debut as Jason in Part VII.
Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is average, though the bar has risen so high over the past couple of years that referring to a DVD as "average" is hardly an insult. Film grain is apparent throughout, and though its exaggerated presence in flashbacks is presumably intention, I'd wager a guess that its increased appearances in many dimly lit interiors (such as Stoner Gal stumbling around the cabin after Jason cuts the power) is not. There is a fairly steady stream of tiny specks, though I didn't find them distracting to any great extent. The level of detail remains respectable throughout, and blacks are sufficiently dark and inky. The end result is nothing particularly remarkable and not really up to the astonishingly high level that Paramount generally sets for their releases, but it's more or less what I went in expecting.
Audio: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood sports a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, the only of the Paramount-era movies with that distinction. Subwoofer activity is largely limited to the score, though the scattered rumbling of thunder and an explosive attempt to stop Jason in his tracks also take advantage of the expanded low-end capabilities of a six-channel mix. However, the same can't be said for the largely idle rears. The audio is crisp and clear throughout, and dialogue remains entirely discernable for the duration. This is a decent, if unexceptional, mix and in line with the great majority of catalog titles given the 5.1 treatment. Also on-board are a French dub, an English stereo track, and English subtitles.
Supplements: Nothing. I don't mean "nothing" in the sense of there just being a theatrical trailer or warmed-over cast/crew bios. Literally, there is nothing on this disc beyond the movie, subtitles, and static menus.
Conclusion: There's nothing about this DVD -- in terms of the severely edited movie, its presentation, or the non-existent extras -- that warrant the $17-$20 asking price at most retailers. A couple of boobs and profanity aside, there's not much to miss by sticking with the version that airs every couple of weeks on USA. I'd hold off for a rental, a considerable drop in MSRP, or an uncut version that will hopefully hit stores sooner rather than later. Don't hold your breath on that last one, though. Rent It.