TGIF13 – Day Six: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

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Don’t worry – there will be no killer paramedics here. In the aftermath of the disappointing reaction to Part V: A New Beginning, series producers were faced with finding a way to bring back the fan’s favorite masked killer, Jason, for real. The only problem? He had been quite emphatically killed back in Part IV: The Final Chapter. Their solution would not only give us a very different kind of Friday film, it would also drastically change the direction of the original series, for good. How so? Read on to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

FRIDAY THE 13TH – PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)

Written & Directed by: Tom McLoughlin

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THE PLOT

In one of the biggest bone-head moves of all time, Tommy Jarvis decides he won’t find peace until he digs up Jason’s grave and destroys the body. But, wouldn’t you know it, a freak lightning strike instead revives Jason! Who would have seen that coming? Well, I guess anyway who read the title of the movie, but still…

Anyway, an undead and stronger-than-ever Jason is now on the loose in Crystal Lake (actually now renamed “Forest Green,” in an attempt to put their blood-soaked past behind them), and it’s once again up to Tommy to stop the masked murderer – a task complicated by the fact that the sheriff not only doesn’t believe his story, but thinks Tommy is the killer.

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MY THOUGHTS:

Despite its many faults, Friday the 13th: Part V was financially successful enough to justify another sequel. Even still, the general audience apathy toward it was enough to convince the producers that they needed to make a change. The climax of Part V had – for the second film in a row – insinuated a now insane Tommy Jarvis would take over the role of villain. It might have worked, if it had happened in Part V. Instead, the lame reveal of Roy as the Jason impersonator had left a bad taste in fans’ mouths, and in response the producers decided there was one definite way they could get the audience back on their side. It wouldn’t be easy, though, since it would mean literally raising the dead.

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It’s easy nowadays to forget how much of a radical re-invention this film was, seeing as how we are now so used to the fantasy-infused entries that followed, but at the time the decision to resurrect Jason was a pretty bold move. Part VI would effectively wave goodbye to any semblance of reality-based horror the previous films had enjoyed. And while the producers were probably somewhat emboldened by the massive success of the supernatural-based Nightmare on Elm Street movies, it was still a gamble to ask fans of this series to accept a completely new direction six films in. It was a big risk, and one that could have failed miserably.

Instead, Friday the 13th: Part VI is, in my opinion, the most imaginatively satisfying film of the entire series. That it is a much better movie than the previous entry is no surprise. How could it not be? But it is also, in many ways, a striking improvement over all of the previous films.

Most of the credit must go to writer/director Tom McLoughlin, who did a great job in both departments. Having basically been given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted (as long as he brought back Jason, of course), McLoughlin knew he wanted to make a very different kind of Friday film than had ever been seen before. On the directing front, he chose to go after a sort of gothic, classic-monster-movie feel (more than appropriate, given the Frankenstein-inspired resurrection he came up with for Jason). To be sure, McLoughlin’s use of mood-lighting and fog helps make Part VI a lot more visually interesting than any of the other movies. Jason and Tommy’s final battle, in particular – set on a burning Crystal Lake – is one of the coolest set-pieces in series history.

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But it was McLoughin’s writing that really elevated the piece. By this point, the Friday formula was clearly set – lone killer stalks and dispatches teens in the woods. McLoughlin wasn’t about to mess with that blueprint, but he also saw no reason why it couldn’t be tweaked a little. Rather than just another easy carbon-copy, McLoughlin decided to make everything bigger, adding in a new emphasis on stunts and action. I mean, c’mon, who ever expected to see a car chase in a Friday the 13th movie? Well, look no further than Part VI. Sure, it’s not the most impressive car chase you’ll ever see…but it’s still a car chase. That counts, man.

McLoughlin’s biggest contribution, though, was his addition of humor to the Friday the 13th world. That’s not to say there was no comedy in the previous movies, but it usually came in the form of goofy characters or cheap jokes – and, quite frankly, most of it failed at being truly funny. McLoughlin wisely understood that by the time you get to the sixth film in a series like this – and especially when you’re actually bringing the lead villain back from the dead – the time for taking it too seriously is over.

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McLoughlin’s script added a self-aware, satirical edge to the proceedings. For the first time ever, a Friday film was not only seeming to freely and unabashedly acknowledge what it was, but it was even gleefully poking fun at itself. And so we have Jason smashing a victim’s face into a smiley-logo carved into a tree, future victims actually walking around the forest wearing headbands that say “DEAD,” and even a moment in which a character encounters Jason and says “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.”

In a way, this kind of humor was definitely ahead of its time, and probably didn’t go over all that well with some fans. But in today’s post-Scream world (not to mention having since watched the Friday series grow even more preposterous), it’s a lot easier to appreciate. The fact is, from the absurdly over-the-top nature of some of Jason’s kills, to the somewhat stylized witty dialog, Friday the 13th: Part VI is genuinely funny (and intentionally so, unlike the unintentional humor of some of the previous films), and it only slightly sacrifices the more typical horror moments the series was known for. And since, let’s face it, these movies were never that scary, it’s really not that big of a deal. I mean, c’mon, how can you not love a moment like the obviously James Bond-inspired opening titles, which tells you right off the bat this movie is just trying to have fun?

Along for the fun, meanwhile, is a pretty decent cast. McLoughlin’s script allowed the characters to be a little more interesting than was the norm for the series, and the actors he chose certainly did their part to help. On the recognizable front, actor/director Tony Goldwyn makes his film debut as one of zombie-Jason’s early victims. And Jason’s first victim is none other than Ron Palillo! Forget what I said about car chases…did you ever think you’d get to see Jason kill Horshack??

In terms of the main characters, I really like David Kagen as the disbelieving Sheriff Garris. He does a great job selling his frustration and disbelief over Tommy’s story, all without ever slipping into the same stereotypical version of this character that we’ve seen in dozens of horror movies before. He could have just been an obstacle for Tommy, put into the narrative for us to hate, but we actually kind of get where he’s coming from.

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Meanwhile, Jennifer Cooke brings a very charming energy to the role of Megan, the Sheriff’s daughter. Even though she never really gets to fight Jason herself, as did many of the series’ main heroines before her, her willingness to believe and assist Tommy, despite her father’s disapproval, still makes her a likable, memorable character. It also doesn’t hurt that she is, in my personal opinion, the cutest heroine in Friday history.

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Of course, the most important role in the movie is Tommy Jarvis, who by this point was a very established character in the Friday mythology. Part V‘s John Shepherd was originally offered the role, but when an agreement could not be made, a new actor was needed, and McLoughlin turned to Thom Matthews. Now, maybe it’s just my total fanboy attitude regarding Return of the Living Dead (not to mention Return of the Living Dead Part 2 – I am apparently in a small minority of folks who enjoy that movie), but I really like Thom Matthews, and have always thought he should have been a bigger star. He has a goofy, amiable persona, and it shows here. Matthews is a much more assured, charismatic Tommy than was the case in Part V, and while part of that certainly has to do with the writing, Matthews still does a great job making the character his own. It’s too bad this would be the last series appearance of Jarvis…I wouldn’t have minded watching Matthews continue to battle Jason in subsequent installments.

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Speaking of Jason, this time around he is played by C.J. Graham, a former Marine with no acting experience or stunt training, who only got the role after the stuntman originally hired for the part had to be replaced. There are those who say there is nothing to playing Jason, and then there are those who feel it’s actually very important who is behind the mask and make-up. I’ve always been somewhere in the middle, but I will say Graham seemed a pretty effective Jason to me. Needless to say, this movie established a new version of Jason – now officially a zombie, the character would, from here on out, be more of an unstoppable boogeyman type. One of the mandates McLoughlin was given for the movie was that – while he could make it as funny as he wanted – he shouldn’t ever make fun of Jason. It was a good decision, and it works. Even when Jason is in funny scenes, he is never the subject of ridicule, and his intimidating presence keeps him scary.

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Another area in which I feel I should give credit is the decision to actually have kids at the camp for once! Even though this has always been a series about a summer camp, this is the first (and to date, only) entry that actually has Jason stalking a camp that is truly in full swing. Not only do the kids get some genuinely funny lines (“what were you gonna be when you grew up?”), but just their very presence adds to the tension. We know from Part IV that Jason will go after a child, so putting so many potential young victims in his vicinity keeps us a little more on edge.

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Of course, for all the compliments I have for this film, it is still a Friday the 13th movie and so, as you might expect, it’s not completely perfect. Characters still often act in annoying ways (for instance, it’s even kind of tough to get behind Tommy, at first – considering his actions directly lead to Jason’s resurrection). And Harry Manfredini’s music, more so than in any of the previous films, can feel a little overly cheesy at times.

Overall, though, Jason Lives is an especially impressive entry – not only a return to form following the dreadful Part V, but also the most purely enjoyable film the series had delivered up to that point. The risk paid off. Unfortunately, McLoughlin would not return to the series (even though he was one of the first directors involved in discussions about a possible Freddy vs. Jason film), but his sole contribution remains an important one. His sense of humor and unique approach to the material helped craft a Friday film different from the others in all the right ways. The question now was, could this new direction continue to deliver, or would the series soon be forced to undergo another drastic facelift?

BODY COUNT: 18

In keeping with his self-aware take, McLoughlin originally planned (and shot) a total of thirteen deaths, but was forced to add more after initial test screenings suggested there wasn’t enough mayhem to satisfy the by-then spoiled genre fans. Even with the added deaths, some fans may still be upset that Part VI‘s kills rely more on imaginative fantasy, and less on hardcore gore. Then again, even with the downplayed gore, this one is still a veritable bloodbath compared to the MPAA-forced over-sanitization of Part V.

BEST KILL:

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In any other movie, the moment where a girl’s head is rammed into the wall of an RV bathroom so hard that it leaves an imprint of her face would no doubt be the best kill. But Jason outdoes himself this time, by literally folding the Sheriff in half! Jason would later repeat that particular trick with the aid of a folding bed in Freddy vs. Jason, but watching him do so here without the assist of any furniture is quite the sight.

BOOB COUNT: 0

Yep, you read that right. Part VI, in addition to its other changes, was also the first Friday film not to feature any nudity or drug use. “And it’s still one of your favorites, Trevor?” Well, what can I say? It’s a testament to how good this movie is that I’m able to overlook this little oddity. Even though, believe me, I certainly wouldn’t have been opposed to Jennifer Cooke showing a little skin.

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OK, OK….I take it back. Geez.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

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The crazy old coot duties this time fall to Martin, the caretaker of the cemetery where Jason is buried (for awhile). Not only does Martin fulfill the crazy quota by actually talking to his bottles of booze, but he even gets to join in on the movie’s self-referential fun, at one point looking directly at the audience and asking “why would anyone want to dig up Jason? Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.”

NITPICK PATROL:

Only a few tiny nitpicks here, but it would be negligent not to point them out.

Let’s start by talking about Jason’s mask in this film. Obviously, Jason wasn’t buried in his mask – he only gets it back in this movie because Tommy brings it with him when he goes to destroy Jason’s body (because, um…shit, you got me). It’s obviously supposed to be the same mask Jason wore in Part 3 and Part IV, as evidenced by the large gash in the top from the axe to the head he took in the third film. And yet, it seems the people who made the mask for this film didn’t really do their homework, because they forgot to include the two red triangles on each cheek.

OK, maybe it’s overly anal to complain about something like that. So, instead, let me ask this – how the hell does Tommy even have the mask in the first place? Are we supposed to believe that the police actually let him keep the mask of the man he killed in self-defense…especially given his fragile mental state afterwards? I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that Tommy would have had a little easier of a time getting over the whole thing if he wasn’t keeping souvenirs from the experience stashed in his drawer.

Now, let’s jump ahead to the big climax of the film – Tommy and Jason’s final fight in Crystal Lake. As I’ve already said, this is a great looking sequence…but there are a couple questionable elements. For one thing, this has got to be the clearest lake in the world. I realize the underwater scenes were filmed in a water tank (some of them, in fact, were even filmed in the swimming pool of McLoughlin’s father), but you’d think they still could have taken some care to dirty up the water a little. Or are they suggesting that Crystal Lake is actually full of chlorine? Also, if Tommy’s big plan is to chain Jason to the bottom of the lake, maybe he should have picked a spot that’s a little deeper than the eight or so feet this area appears to be. Just a thought.

FINAL SCORE: 4 out of 4 Hockey Masks

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About Trevor Snyder

Give me zombies or give me death. Wait...that doesn't make sense.

Posted on November 9, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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