For the next five days until Friday, April 13th, I’ll be watching and reviewing the movies in the Friday the 13th franchise from the very first through Jason X (I’m up in the air about including Freddy vs Jason).
I’ll be counting kills, observing the bad behavior that gets teenagers
killed at Camp Crystal Lake, chronicling the ways Jason and the other
killers in the series bite it at the end, and awarding my favorite kill
of the movie. Needless to say this is going to be heavy on the
spoilers, so if you’re some kind of movie virgin who hasn’t yet bathed
in the spring of Jason Voorhees et al, be wary.
Special thanks to Litmus Configuration for the amazing image above!
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
18 (one disheartening punch to the chest, two spearings, one disarming and subsequent tree impalement, a triple decapitation, one broken bottle in the neck, a double machete impalement, one impersonation of The Wall movie poster, one knife to the noggin, one offscreen total dismemberment, one twist and pop off top, one bullseye dart to the forehead, one smooshed skull, one breaking in half)
Best Kill: The sherriff bends over backwards for Jason.
Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll: Being a misogynistic sore loser leads Jason to attempt a team dissembling exercise. Making out in the woods remains verboten. Littering is not acceptable. Sex in an RV can give you worse than AIDS if you’re near Crystal Lake.
The Comeuppance: Chained to a boulder and sunk in Crystal Lake, Jason only quits after getting a boat’s propeller to the face and shoulders.
The Movie: There are not many film franchises that see the very best installment happen in the fifth sequel, yet here’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the hands down very best Friday movie. It’s the one that all other Fridays should be judged against, and they’ll all be found lacking… especially the increasingly terrible ones to follow. Writer/director Tom McLaughlin brought a whole new feeling to the series, giving Jason Lives a tone that dances between self-aware humor and legitimate tension. He also took the time to write dialogue for the characters, which means that if you fast-forward past all the parts where people are still alive and talking you’ll actually be missing stuff.
McLaughlin opens his movie perfectly: Tommy Jarvis is on a road trip back to Crystal Lake (now renamed Forest Green to help everyone forget the murderous past) to finally end his Jason hallucinations by digging up the killer and cremating him. He’s brought beloved Sweathog Arnold Horshack with him, and together they come face to face with the rotten, maggot-infested corpse of Mama Voorhees’ boy. Sadly, Tommy isn’t quite over his rage issues from the last movie, and he attacks the body, sticking a metal pole right in Jason’s chest. And wouldn’t you know that a bolt of lightning hits that pole and reanimates the mass murderer.
Now, a lot of stupid things happen in Friday the 13th movies and I usually scoff at them. But McLaughlin’s actually putting some effort into this film, and he’s a decent director. The end result is that while the idea of a bolt of lightning bringing this maniac back to life is totally ridiculous, you just don’t care because it’s done very well. And in case you start to care, McLaughlin has Jason punch through Horshack’s chest and remove his heart. Oooh, oooh, Mr. Kotter indeed.
The mood is almost perfectly set, and then McLaughlin goes and makes it utterly perfect: we zoom into Jason’s eyeball and all of a sudden his iris is taking up the screen, and Jason walks in from stage right – yes, it’s a Jason Voorhees version of the famous James Bond gun barrel sequence. Jason turns to the camera, swipes his machete, blood pours from the wound in reality and the titles happen. It’s a glorious moment – one part tongue in cheek, one part homage, one part acknowledgment that, like James Bond, Jason Voorhees will keep showing up in movies for decades to come (that confidence was a little premature, I think).
Tommy takes off to warn the authorities. This is also a nice change of pace from the previous five films – the main character starts things off proactively as opposed to discovering a bunch of dead bodies in the final act. The whole dynamic is changed and the formula is upended, which in this kind of movie can feel totally revolutionary. And because McLaughlin’s actually writing a real movie here and not just excuses for teen types to get killed, there’s a subplot or two and characters we actually like. When Tommy finds the sheriff, the lawman thinks the kid is nuts. After a number of run-ins the sheriff starts getting really upset with Tommy, especially as the sheriff’s daughter takes a liking to the ex-Feldman (in this case played by genre vet Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead!). In most other genre movies the sheriff would just be a two dimensional dick, but McLaughlin makes him actually likable, and at the end when he sacrifices his life to stall Jason from killing his daughter (and earns the Kill of the Movie in the process), you actually feel for him. Imagine that, feeling for a character in a slasher movie.
Meanwhile, camp is back in session on Crystal Lake, and in another upset from Friday formula convention, the kids arrive before Jason does. All of a sudden there’s an extra layer to the whole movie – what will the filmmakers do when Jason makes his expected return to the camp to begin killing? Will he go after the kids (maybe. He never really gets a good chance, but I am under the impression that he was going to kill them)?
The only problem McLaughlin runs into is keeping Tommy and Jason apart for most of the film. By the time Jason gets to the camp, the script needs to keep him sort of fucking around and not taking care of business, which leads to an end of the second act drag. It’s a minor quibble, though, especially when taken in context of all the other great things that happen in the film. The kills are fairly inventive – the triple decap of the paintballers is legendary – and most of the characters have memorable moments and a line or two of strong dialogue. It’s like an embarrassment of riches for a Friday viewer, and after spending the last week immersed in the special kind of barely-there filmmaking that makes up the Friday series, Jason Lives was a shock to my system.
Tommy Jarvis is an on and off character – in The Final Chapter Feldman’s pretty strong, but the Tommy in A New Beginning is a big, brooding stiff. Thom Mathews is the best Tommy to date, and I believe the best Friday protagonist of all (the first one of you to mention Lar Park Lincoln gets a fucking kick to the nuts. Even if you’re a girl). Charismatic and likable, Mathews handles Tommy’s two sides – being scared shitless of Jason and being obsessively driven to confront him – wonderfully. He also has an energy that’s native to 80s adventure films, and I think that’s the category Jason Lives really falls under – it’s an adventure film with a slasher at its center. Imagine Explorers with a zombie instead of aliens, and Ethan Hawke gets disembowelled. Go ahead, imagine it. It’s fun.
The A Nightmare on Elm Street films struggled with humor as the series went on – for my money they end up getting too involved in Freddy one-liners and less interested in anything resembling a horror film. Jason Lives walks that line perfectly, mainly by not making Jason silly or the source of humor at all. He may run into characters who are funny – the corporate-speaking paintballers, the camp counselor who tries to buy him off with her AmEx, the grumpy cemetery caretaker – but Jason himself is always a source of menace. Many fans think that Kane Hodder, who starts in the next film, is the best Jason, but for my money that honor goes to former bouncer CJ Graham, whose Jason predicts Robert Patrick’s performance in Terminator 2. He’s removed all humanity from the character, making him a body animated only to kill. I find the force of nature Jason to be the most interesting, and really the scariest – he’s sheer destruction on two legs.
Tommy Jarvis survives the film, but this is his last film to date. I actually would have liked to see him go down with Jason at the end, but I’m dark like that. Jason’s final fate is one of his best, not in the way that the machete slide was so awesome in The Final Chapter, but in that McLaughlin’s essentially being up front that Jason is just stopped for now, not beaten for good. And by drowning Jason in Crystal Lake, McLaughlin kees up the series’ fascination with its own continuity. A continuity that the films keep fucking up – I guess it’s like picking at a scab; the movies can’t ignore it and they just keep making it worse.
This is probably going to be the shortest review in this whole series because the truth is that there isn’t much to say about Jason Lives except that it’s pretty damn good, and not just for a Friday film. The next two films are progressively more terrible, and it’s sad, because the what makes Jason Lives work are not the expensive crane shots or the very good production values – it’s a writer/director who actually gives a shit and isn’t just cashing a paycheck. Little details, like the horror movie shoutouts and homages throughout, prove that McLaughlin’s actually got his heart in this thing and is trying to make a movie that legitimately entertains and doesn’t just hit certain beats that we’ve been programmed to expect.
Of course this wonderful breath of fresh air marked the end of quality Friday the 13ths for Paramount. The next two would be absolute pieces of shit, and then the franchise would move to New Line, who would slowly kill the series.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives scores:
Four Retard Jasons out of four.
Next: Jason vs. Carrie. A movie butchered worse than the victims. Jason gets defeated by a zombie. Devin begins weeping in pain.