An alumni of both Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Charles Band’s Empire, special make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler first entered the movie industry in the late 1970s and would soon attract a following for his work on Forbidden World and Deathstalker. But arguably his most successful era came a few years later when he provided the memorable effects for several of Band’s most popular features, including Ghoulies and Re-Animator.
Turning to filmmaking, Buechler made his directorial debut The Dungeonmaster, in which he would shoot the segment Demons of the Dead. 1986 saw the release of his long-cherished project Troll, a low budget fantasy movie that would attract the attention Paramount, who would subsequently hire him to direct Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood two years later. It would be Buechler’s influence on the project that would result in Kane Hodder taking on the role of Jason Voorhees, a character he would eventually portray a total of four times.
John Carl Buechler recalls his work on Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.
What was it about your previous work that convinced Frank Mancuso, Jr. that you were the right choice to direct Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood? Was there ever any discussion about carrying the story on from the end of Part VI or making Freddy vs. Jason instead, as Paramount at that time were eager to make the movie?
Frank had seen Troll and liked it very much. He also knew of my effects background and I was told that he wanted to upgrade the franchise as he was competing with the Nightmare films and they were hugely effects driven. Freddy vs. Jason was discussed but, at the time, neither Paramount or New Line could figure out how to go to bed with each other. The only discussion regarding carrying on the story from Part VI actually came from me. We knew we HAD to recap the end of the previous Jason adventure and show how he ended up at the bottom of the lake, and that became our starting point.
Were you happy with the script for The New Blood and were you dubious about introducing supernatural elements into the Friday the 13th formula?
There were all the usual concerns with the material. The script went through SEVERAL rewrites. I really wanted a more action-oriented horror film with more character driven elements. I very much approved of the supernatural aspect and wanted to go even farther with it. To me, the whole thing about what makes Jason scary is his ambiguity. Not understanding what makes him tick, why he is the way he is, and how he gets around so fast, with always just the right killing instrument, are things that make you wonder, and will keep you guessing. The supernatural element would be another terrific element to keep the viewers on edge.
You were the first director of the series with a background in special effects, do you think this helped in their decision to hire you and did you always intend to take the series in a more action-orientated direction?
Again, as I said, I know Frank liked my background in effects. In many ways, the film is one huge special effect, as the budget was so low, we created the illusion of a much bigger picture. I know that after Part VII set a new ‘production value benchmark,’ the budgets on ALL preceding movies in the series skyrocketed, just to match the quality.
How instrumental were you in the casting of Kane Hodder and how do you think his performance compared with the previous actors? Do you think Freddy vs. Jason suffered from his absence? Was CJ Graham from Part VI ever considered again for the role?
I insisted on Kane in the role of Jason. Frank didn’t like him at first. He complained that he wasn’t physically big enough. I explained that I wanted to create a whole new look for Jason; a torn up living dead ghost that inhabited a decomposing body. The make-up effects would ‘bulk him up’ a bit, and they would also allow for CHUNKS to be missing from his rotting frame. I had worked with Kane a few years previously on Renny Harland’s first move in the USA, called Prison. And Kane proved to be an exceptional talent. A great stuntman, actor, and mime. In order to get Frank to approve of him, I had to shoot a special screen test of Kane as Jason in a test make-up. We did the test, Franks saw it, and he knew what I was going for. And the rest, I guess, is history.
How did you feel about the telekinetic subplot and were there ever talks about continuing Tina’s story with Part VIII?
I liked the Tina story very much. I feel that the overall series had suffered from a total lack of story and depth of character. I felt it had to be improved upon. Remember, this was Part VII and we needed to do something to keep it interesting. I believe that they toyed with the idea of bringing both the Tina character, and myself as director, back for the next one, or at least this is what I was told. I also was told that the associate producer on the film had it in for me because we had our creative differences regarding my approach. She thought that my style was too ‘over the top’ and since she was a company exec with major influence, she was NOT going to let this happen.
Looking back on the movie almost twenty years later, do you think it sits well amongst the other entries in the series and how well do you feel it has aged?
It is and will always be remembered as a classic horror film series. Not unlike Frankenstein, Wolf Man and Dracula. They have introduced unique archetypes into the lexicon of cinema history. Sure, the series will be its quirky moments for new audiences, but that is to be expected. These pictures are a reflection of the period in which they were made. People will watch them for that reason as well. Any time you make more than three pictures, its not just a series, it’s a franchise.