Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI

Yesterday was Friday the 13th and, even though I tried, I failed to finish my new Friday the 13th review on time.  But hey, I like to think it's always Friday the 13th somewhere...

-Check out previous Fridays:
Original Flavor
Part 2
The Final One!
JK, here's A New Beginning
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) is, as the title implies, the one where Jason comes back.  His absence from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) was not appreciated by fans (and critics, as usual, hated the film), so the producers decided to course correct, bringing Jason back and making him near indestructible, just for fun.

Fun is the key word with Jason Lives, as this is considered the "fun" Friday of the series.  The humor is of the meta variety, with plenty of winks and nods to the audience, and this gives the movie a lighter tone, which pairs nicely against Jason racking up an absurd body count (18, the largest for a Friday up to this point).
The movie opens with Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Mathews) speeding down the highway with his friend Hawes (Ron Palillo, Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter) on their way to destroy Jason's body.  It seems Tommy is still having nightmare visions of Jason (as established in Part V), so he feels the only way to free himself from torture is to dig up Jason's body and burn it.

Once they are at the cemetery and start digging (in a scene that is reminiscent of Tommy's dream from the opening of Part V), Tommy and Hawes unearth Jason's coffin and find him rotting inside.

Having some sort of anger flashback, Tommy flips out and grabs a metal fence pole and stabs Jason through the chest.  Tommy calms down but his relief is only temporary, as a pair of lightning bolts strike the metal pole and reanimate Jason's maggot-ridden corpse.
Jason's first order of business?  Kill Hawes by punching his heart out.
Tommy speeds off in his truck and heads directly to Crystal Lake, which is now called Forest Green, to warn the sheriff about Jason.  Of course Sheriff Garris (David Kagen) thinks Tommy is crazy and promptly locks him up for attempting to steal a gun.
Meanwhile, Jason finds his next two victims, Lizbeth (Nancy McLoughlin, the director's wife) and Darren (Tony Goldwyn), a couple lost on some backwoods road in their VW bug.  When they see Jason standing in the road, Lizbeth quips "I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly."  This sort of self-referential humor is the hallmark of Jason Lives, commenting on the absurdity of slasher movies and of the Friday movies in particular.

The next bit of humor comes just a few short minutes later when, right before Jason impales and drowns Lizbeth in a puddle, she offers him her wallet and money.  He doesn't take it and there's a close-up of her American Express card floating away from her lifeless hand, a "never leave home without it" heckle-ready moment if there ever was one.

The next morning, the sheriff's daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) shows up at the station with few of her friends, looking for Darren and Lizbeth.  They're all working together at a newly opened summer camp for kids that is (of course) at the old location of Camp Crystal Lake.

Tommy warns them that something bad might have happened to them and Megan takes this as an invitation to flirt her ass off with Tommy (who is behinds bars, mind you.  Makes you wonder how often Megan gets all flirty with the prisoners..).
From this point on, Jason slaughters his way through everybody, the counselors, some paintball players, the cemetery caretaker, a handful of police officers, and a bunch of other random people, while Tommy, with the help of Megan, tries to put a stop to Jason once and for all by using a giant chain tied to a large rock.
That seems ridiculous out of context, but Tommy's idea is that maybe he can lure Jason to Crystal Lake, his original resting place, with the intent of wrapping the chain around his neck and drowning/defeating/trapping him under the water.  It works, but as we find out in the subsequent sequels, this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Jason Lives is one of my favorite of the Friday movies (it's third or fourth on the list), as it's a fun and fast paced film with plenty of kills and jokes and a couple action scenes thrown in for good measure.  Amongst fans, it is generally well regarded and it even garnered a few positive reviews from critics.  Financially however the movie failed to gross $20 million at the box office and it didn't even nab the number one spot on it's opening weekend (Aliens was on it's third week and was killing it), making Jason Lives the first Friday film to not accomplish either of those things.

This decline for the Friday series was due to a few reasons:
1).  There was a lot of competition at the box office that summer and Jason Lives couldn't survive against Aliens, The Fly, Karate Kid II, Stand By Me, and Top Gun.
2).  Audience fatigue had set in regarding slasher movies and by 1986 the genre was basically dead, even if the kids were still going to see. . .
3).  Freddy Kruger.  By 1986, two Nightmare on Elm Street movies had been released and Freddy's ascension in popularity parallels with the decline in Jason's.

Not that any of that could deter a large, unstoppable zombie mass murderer from stalking, slashing, and wrecking his way through two more movies before the 1980s were done (and four more after that!).  Jason was back and he wasn't going anywhere (except New York. . .and hell. . .and outer space. .).

Random Notes:

It isn't made clear how much time has passed since Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which takes place in 1992 according to the series timeline, but it must be less than five years, since the next film in the series takes place in 1997.  Enough time has passed since Jason died in The Final Chapter (back in 1984) that Crystal Lake has changed their name to Forest Green and, interestingly, Megan and her friends refer to Jason as a legend and not something that really happened.  Since they would've been children back in 1984, I guess it is possible that they could've been raised to believe that Jason was only an urban legend as the townsfolk suppressed the true history of the town...  Believe me, I've put too much thought into this, I'm just going to move on..

In a strange way, this movie shares similarities to the classic Universal monster movies, specifically the Frankenstein films.  Jason is reanimated by bolts of lightning, a dead creature brought to life, and he gains extraordinary strength and becomes virtually unstoppable.  Tommy takes on the role of the creator and feels responsible for Jason's destruction, a task he sees to personally.  On the technical side, the lighting and the use of fog during the night forest scenes adds to the gothic atmosphere.

After Jason's resurrection the opening credits start and, instead of having an exploding title screen like they have in the previous few movies (which I always think are great), there is a parody of the James Bond opening with a tiny Jason slashing from within his own eyeball.  This establishes the goofier tone of Jason Lives.
Another goofy moment:  when the caretaker looks directly at the camera and says "some folks have a strange idea of entertainment."

The special effects in the film are adequate but they aren't exactly spectacular.  Many scenes are the obvious victim of the censors demanding they be trimmed.  The two best kills in the movie, the triple decapitation of the paintball players and the death of Sheriff Garris, both work fairly well as they are in the movie, but they work even better when you see what was cut out (the deleted material is available on the most recent DVD and Blu-ray collections and can also be seen here).
Fun Fact:  This is the only Friday movie to have no nudity!  There is a sex scene but Cort (Tom Fridley) and Nikki (Darcy DeMoss) both leave their clothes on.
They do it in a camper van and after getting spooked when the power goes out, they peel out of there which is cool because it totally leads to some SQUEALING TIRES ON DIRT!

Also, it leads to one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when Jason, having snuck onto the camper, kills both Nikki (face smash through the side of the van) and Cort (head stab), which causes the camper to flip over and crash spectacularly.  Then, in what is one of the best shots in the movie, Jason crawls out of the wreckage and looks completely unfazed.
Another thing I love in this movie:  there are actual little kids at the summer camp.  For a small portion of the movie, the kids are actually in danger, but honestly they aren't in danger enough for my tastes.  Hell, the kids aren't even really in the movie that much at all, especially the boys, as young Nancy, who sees Jason a couple times, is pretty much the main kid in the movie.

Also, what kind of summer camp is being run here?  There is apparently a staff of six counselors, and only four of them show up ('cause two were murdered) before two of them take off (Cort to have sex, Megan to help out Tommy), leaving only Sissy (Renee Jones) and Paula (Kerry Noonan) to look after the kids.  Is there no additional staff at this summer camp?  Who's making meals for all these children?  The conditions of this Forest Green Summer Camp are suspect at best.
Classic Friday move: Jason smashes through a door:
Oh!  Another thing I love!  During the climax, Tommy taunts Jason when he's luring him out to the lake!  He calls Jason a "meathead," "chickenshit," "asshole," and a "pussy."  It's so great!
Tommy is played by Thom Mathews, who had just scored a horror hit with Return of the Living Dead (1985).  He's maybe the best of all the Tommys.  This movie is definitely his story and since he's the one who has the final confrontation with Jason, this slasher movie lacks a true final girl character.

Megan is the closest thing we have, and even though she does give Jason a bit of motorboat propellor to the face, she never has a one-on-one throwdown with Jason and her main function in the movie really seems to be helping Tommy out.

Jennifer Cooke was also on the sci-fi TV series V and she quit acting not long after Jason Lives.  Her husband is one of the founders of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company and she is now involved in the tea business.
David Kagen is considered one of the best and most sought after acting coaches in Hollywood and owns and operates the David Kagen School of Film Acting.  So he knows what he's doing playing Sheriff Garris, who could just be a generic small town cop character, but Kagen gives him plenty of levels and some interior life.  Plus, he basically becomes the secondary protagonist towards the end of the movie, taking Jason on himself, and making a good go at it, before getting folded in half.  I wonder how often that comes up with his acting students?

Renée Jones would go on to star in over 1,000 episodes of Days of our Lives as Lexie Carver.  That doesn't mean anything to me, but maybe it does to you.

Tony Goldwyn can currently be seen on your wife or girlfriend's favorite TV show Scandal.  He plays the president.

Director Tom McLoughlin also wrote the screenplay for Jason Lives.  One of his original ideas was to introduce Jason's father, Elias, late in the movie, implying that he knows he's been resurrected and that he's looking for Jason.  This idea would be incorporated into the novelization of Part VI.  McLoughlin got the gig on Friday because of his work on One Dark Night (1982) with Meg Tilly and after Friday he would direct Date with an Angel (1987) with Phoebe Cates and Sometimes They Come Back (1991) with Tim Matheson and Brooke Adams.
The original score is once again provided by Harry Manfredini with additional songs provided by Alice Cooper.  "Teenage Frankenstein" and "Hard Rock Summer" appear, but the single and closing credits track is "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)," which even had a music video:

Final Thoughts:  Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI is the last really good Friday movie.  After this we get six more films, the total of which don't really stack up against the first six, even if parts of them are intermittently fun.  2015 has a third Friday the 13th this year (in November), so when that rolls around we'll check out The New Blood.  I'll try to have that review done on time.  See you then.

"So...what were you gonna be when you grew up?"

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