Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives (1986)
Directed by: Tom McLoughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, Alan Blumenfeld, Matthew Faison, Ann Ryerson, Tony Goldwyn, Nancy McLoughlin, Ron Palillo, C.J. Graham , Vincent Guastaferro, Michael Swan
(out of 4)
The negative reaction by audiences to Friday the 13th: A New Beginning made an impression on Paramount. The message was clear: only Jason Voorhees would be accepted as the hockey masked killer. (I had my own negative reaction to Part 5 but it had nothing to do with the killer’s identity.) So, it’s remarkable that writer/director Tom McLoughlin would make Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives a “return to formula”, since the previous film never really strayed. The formula being, naturally, a masked killer taking out cardboard-cutout victims. The only recognizable differences between Part VI and the previous entries in the never-ending slasher franchise is that McLoughlin goes halfway towards being meta and self-referential. Here’s a slasher movie that knows it’s a slasher movie, with characters who know they are in a slasher movie but are still too stupid to survive. Wes Craven would do this kind of thing better with New Nightmare and Scream – in those films, a certain respect for the material underlies their premise. In Friday the 13th Part 6, it feels more like disdain for the material. In the middle of the movie, the drunken cemetery groundskeeper asks “Why did they have to go dig up Jason?” and then breaks the fourth wall, saying “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.” Perhaps it’s warranted, but here’s a director who clearly feels superior to his audience.
The film’s best scene comes pre-credits, as a still disturbed Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Mathews) brings along his friend Horshack – er, Ron Palillo – to dig up Jason’s grave, just to make sure he is really dead.* Obviously, Tommy hasn’t completely recovered from the events of the previous films, as he grabs a neaby iron fence post and repeatedly jabs Jason’s corpse with it. Then he throws Jason’s hockey mask (that he conveniently brought along) into the coffin. But Tommy came completely unprepared for the Frankenstein effect, so a bolt of lightning comes from the sky (2 bolts, actually, for good measure) and before you know it, Jason (now played by C.J. Graham) is resurrected in all his maggot-covered glory. Before Tommy can properly burn Jason up, the rainstorm hits and poor Horshack becomes the film’s first victim in what is probably the only worthwhile gore effect of the movie. As Jason grabs his mask, the camera zooms in on his eye, and inside the iris you see Jason’s figure walking into frame, then slashing at the camera in a parody of the opening gun-barrel sequence from the James Bond movies. Post-credits, Tommy does the right thing for once – he goes straight to the cops, but Sheriff Garris (David Kagen) doesn’t believe a word he says (and why would he?), so he throws Tommy in jail. In the meantime, Jason is back walking through the woods of Crystal Lake (now called Forest Green so people can get on with their lives, I suppose), looking for victims.
Whereas previously he may have just been a crazy mutated superman in the wild, Jason is now a supernatural zombie, like a good classic horror monster. The look of Part 6, with a muted palette, use of fog, lightening storms, etc. seems a throwback to the Universal horror and Hammer horror of old, and the movie as a whole seems glossier. What McLoughlin seems to forget, though, is that this is supposed to be low-budget exploitation. The lack of grain and amped up score by Harry Manfredini takes away from that, as does the silly humor (a kid asks another: What did you want to be when you grew up?) Not to mention the fact that this is the most “family-friendly” Jason installment, if I can put it that way – there’s no nudity (in the film’s only sex scene, the couple are obviously clothed and don’t even try to make it look realistic) and the gore is almost non-existent (in the film’s defense, the Reagan-era MPAA had a stick up their ass). There’s also the curious decision to throw in a love story subplot between Tommy and the sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) and even a car chase with the cops. In the meantime, Jason Lives bends over backwards to show us how self-aware it is: a group of executives out on a paintball excursion are wearing headbands labeled “DEAD” on them when they cross paths with Jason; Tommy waits for Megan at “Karloff’s General Store”; a kid camper falls asleep reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
The film’s attempts at being meta work best when they are subtle – the occasional shots of a hamster running on his wheel makes a good metaphor for the Friday the 13th series as a whole – a well-oiled machine that never seems to quit. Everything is still by-the-numbers, though; just like in previous sequels, we barely get time to know any of the meatbags before they are quickly dispatched by Jason. His ability to instantly transport himself ahead of his victims is even more apparent – victims run away at a fast pace while Jason merely walks quickly, yet he still catches them. The few camp counselors present are ultimately forgettable, and nothing much is done with the decision to bring young children into the camp. Right away, you can predict with certainty that none of them will be harmed – hey, Jason is a bad dude but he ain’t evil, know what I’m saying? No – Jason is the hero/villain of this film, the main character. While I’m sure that pleases a lot of fans, it doesn’t really do much for me – as a zombie he’s just not terribly interesting – his history with his mother just about forgotten and any possible subtext involving him as a metaphor for something (unsafe sex, teen apathy, Armageddon) has also been discarded. There are two kill scenes, however, that could possibly be commentary on modern living and that lack of survival skills that comes with it. Jason takes out a yuppie couple in a volkswagen – the woman pulls out her credit cards, thinking Jason just wants to rob them. The paintball scenes prove that for all the comparisons between the business world and war, these poor dopes just don’t have what it takes to survive a force of nature. As for the heroes, I’ll just say that the saucy, anti-authoritarian character played by Cooke does her best to overcome Mathews’ wooden acting (he was much better suited for the Return of the Living Dead movies). Jason Lives has its moments but they aren’t quite enough for a film that has given up any sort of edge left for the sake of mildly-amusing comedy. For a Friday the 13th flick, it has no boobs, little blood, and little bite.
- Bill Gordon
* I have no problem with continuity from Part 5. In that movie, the mayor said that Jason’s body was cremated, but his associate clearly has his doubts: “You know that for sure, mayor? Were you there? You see him cremated?”