“Jason belongs in Hell. And I’m gonna see he gets there.”
JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI opens with some lightning, a full moon and fog rolling across Crystal Lake. And as Tommy Jarvis drives by with his institution buddy Hawes (Ron Palillo, SNAKE EATER) they scare away a dog who was in the street munching on some roadkill that I’m pretty sure used to be a rabbit. And you know my theory on that. Rabbits protect us from Jason. With rabbits being treated like this of course Jason is gonna fucking live.
(Note: Hawes is clutching Jason’s mask in his lap, for no reason I can ascertain other than the narrative requiring it to be returned to its original owner. Er, I mean, to its second owner, the one after Shelly but before Tommy. But remember, at the end of A NEW BEGINNING Tommy put the mask on and seemed to have snapped. So I’m glad that he has, for whatever reason, forfeited custody of the thing. As crazed as he is now, he seems to be in a better place.)
This time Tommy has been recast with Thom Mathews (Freddy from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), who frankly is much more appealing than the last version (sorry, John Shepherd – not necessarily your fault). This time he’s convinced if he digs up Jason’s grave and destroys the body he’ll stop having hallucinations about him. Hawes goes along for support even though he says he doesn’t “get the therapy here.”
The grave is a professionally made tombstone this time (here’s someone who researched how much that would’ve cost whoever sprung for it), which I think confirms my suspicion that the Corey Feldman scene from A NEW BEGINNING was a completely fictional dream and not a memory of something Tommy really witnessed. This time he finds the body thoroughly rotted, more worms and webs than man. He hears his young Corey Feldman voice killing Jason as he watches them wriggle around.
Unfortunately Tommy decides to stab Jason (C.J. Graham, HIGHWAY TO HELL) with a piece of a wrought iron fence, and then lightning strikes, ignoring the nearby tall trees and hitting this improvised lightning rod. If you’ve read classic horror fiction like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or Worm On a Hook by some guy then you know that electricity does wonders for the dead, and you won’t be surprised that rotted corpse Jason wakes up and crawls out. Tommy fails to light him on fire because of rain, and Hawes fails to take him out with a shovel because of Jason punching his fist right through his god damn chest and emerging out the back holding his heart! Then he knocks him into the coffin he just evacuated.
This scene, with its atmospheric storm, dramatic camera angles and A+ first kill (of a former Sweathog!), already makes it clear that the filmatists gave way more of a shit this time and tried to make a movie that would be a little more like watching a fun enjoyable movie and a little less like having a piece of sandpaper rubbed in dog shit scraped slowly up and down your cheek for 90 minutes. And then when Tommy flees, Jason dons the mask and turns to the camera dramatically, and it zooms in on his eye for maybe the most audacious title sequence yet. In a perverse parody of James Bond, Jason walks into the pupil in profile, turns and slashes the screen, and blood pours out to form the title. Beautiful!
It does not fade to white though. That’s one tradition broken. Still, we’re in good hands this time.
Tommy runs straight to the Forest Green Sheriff’s Department (Crystal Lake has been rebranded) but Sheriff Garris (David Kagen, HOLOGRAM MAN) thinks it’s “some kind of prank” and locks him up. Then we meet our new group of young people when the sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke, V) comes in with her friends to visit the old man. They hear Tommy’s pleas about Jason and they’ve heard about Camp Blood because they’re counselors, but they think it’s just a legend. It also happens that it’s Jason’s birthday (or at least Friday the 13th, it’s unclear) and also the day this year’s campers are arriving. I do believe this is the first time we’ve seen kids at the camp since the 1957 flashback at the very beginning of the first film.
Megan becomes inexplicably obsessed with Tommy after briefly meeting him in the jail, and keeps talking about him to everybody until she finally gets together with him. The story will alternate between those two teaming up to try to prove the existence of and/or stop Jason from killing people and the other counselors being stalked by Jason at and near the camp, with various interludes where some random people stop by to be horribly murdered. (Maybe there’s still a graph to be followed.)
One such scene is a rare FRIDAY THE 13TH incidence of witty banter. A couple, Lizbeth (Nancy McLoughlin, FUZZBUCKET) and Darren (Tony Goldwyn, GHOST, in his first movie) driving down a muddy forest road at night find their path blocked by Jason. Lizbeth says she’s “Seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.” Darren insists the “weirdo” will move if she drives straight at him, but he doesn’t even flinch. She slams on the brakes and deadpans, “Yeah, that really scared the shit out of him.”
They try two rarely attempted methods of defending themselves from Jason: Darren tries to shoot him (he misses and gets impaled and tossed aside) and Lizbeth offers him money (she drowns in a puddle). As she dies her American Express card floats away in a shot famously held long in hopes someone in the audience would yell “Don’t leave home without it!” (This is soon followed by a scene where a caretaker pissed about Jason’s grave being dug up looks straight into the camera and judgmentally says, “Some folks got a strange idea of entertainment.”)
So yes, JASON LIVES, and he is reborn in a world where you’re allowed to have jokes. I think it all works except for a scene about some people playing paintball in the woods, which takes the movie down a notch with its overly broad acting and wacky military parody scoring. If the scene were played more straight it would’ve been a great moment when one of them tries to stop Jason by shooting him with a paintball. I guess it was worth a try.
At this point in the series they gotta keep the body count up, so there’s a wino, and a yuppie couple who ride a scooter into the woods to drink champagne together. R.I.P. Meanwhile, having actual campers arrive at the camp puts us in the weird position of wondering if they will be willing to kill off little kids in these movies. Or would Jason leave them alone since they’re not smoking joints and stuff? Hard to say. We get to know a few of these little nerds, like a girl named Nancy (Courtney Vickery, ZELLY AND ME) who cries because she imagines she sees a monster, and later actually sees Jason (not to mention finds his bloody machete and brings it inside). There’s a good gag in a montage of the kids sleeping where we see one of them fell asleep reading No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. Later there’s a good one where they’re hiding from Jason under a bed and a kid asks his friend, “So… what were you going to be when you grew up?”
Of course it’s a Camp Crystal Lake tradition that there are some counselors sneaking off somewhere to fuck, so we have the very aggressive Nikki (Darcy DeMoss, HARDBODIES, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE) riding Cort (Tom Fridley, THE KARATE KID, IRON EAGLE, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE) in an RV, demanding he time his orgasm to the end of a ten minute song. I like the gratuitous detail that the RV belongs to her stepfather, who goes by “Horse.”
Cort was a funny character even before the horror began. He has a really ridiculous monologue trying to explain Native American stuff to the kids. In this scene he ends up driving the RV, rocking out to Alice Cooper and saying, “This is great! I’m having such a good time!,” oblivious to the fact that Nikki is being mangled by Jason in the bathroom. Jason smashes her face through the flimsy metal walls and makes an impression like Freddy in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or the poster of THE FRIGHTENERS. Then he stabs Cort, the RV hits something and flips sideways, and Jason immediately pops through the door and stands proudly atop the burning vehicle like he just slayed a dragon. You could argue that the best kill is the RV.
Meanwhile, the sheriff drives Tommy to the edge of town like he’s Rambo in FIRST BLOOD. Too bad FIRST BLOOD didn’t have Teasle’s cute daughter come pick up Rambo in her Trans-Am. There’s some brazen flirtation and sexual tension: Megan sees her dad on the road so she hides Tommy by slamming his head into her lap, and there are a couple close ups of her crotch to show his point-of-view. Then she warns him, “This is gonna be a hairy turn.”
Back at camp, poor Paula (Kerry Noonan, HOT MOVES, “Letterman’s Girlfriend,” THE LATE SHIFT) and Sissy (Renee Jones, THE TERROR WITHIN II) are stuck being the only ones taking care of all the campers. There’s a great, sick joke that Paula thinks somebody’s doin’ it and says, “You guys, try not to wake the kids,” but we know it was the squishy sound of Jason twisting Sissy’s head off. Paula seems like the top final girl candidate until we suddenly see Jason grab her, splatter her blood onto the window, smash her through the window, then pull her back in.
For the first time in the series the cops actually show up at the camp when Jason is there instead of the next day. For what that’s worth. I like the odd touch that the deputy fixes his hair in a car window reflection so the sheriff says, “Come on, handsome.” Handsome ends up shooting Jason point blank five times in the chest, but the only thing that can stop a good guy with a gun is a bad guy who grabs him by the head and squeezes real hard. In kind of a one-upping of HALLOWEEN, the Sheriff keeps shooting Jason seemingly dead, and Jason lays there but then sits up, and then he shoots him again, rinse and repeat. It doesn’t work out for the sheriff.
I like when Megan walks into the cabin and sees every wall, every surface streaked with blood. Impressive. But she still seems calm when she tells the kids in the other cabin, “It’s all right. Everything is gonna be just fine. Okay?” She would seem like a really good counselor if we hadn’t seen her completely abandon all responsibilities of the job for most of the movie.
Anyway, Jason breaks through the door like Kool Aid Man and I sure hope all those kids found good therapists.
Now that Jason is officially a zombie people gotta resort to magical shit to stop him, not just psychology, so we see Tommy flipping through a paperback called A Manual of Occultism to come up with a plan. He’s in a boat and lures Jason to the lake by yelling “Come on, it’s me you want, remember?” and calling him a “maggot head” and a pussy. After some amount of struggle and help from Megan and the boat’s rotor, Tommy successfully executes his genius plan of setting fire to the surface of the lake and sinking Jason by chaining him to a boulder. He believes he has to be return him to where it all started, and an archival shot of the original lake reminds us this really is the spot.
This is the first FRIDAY movie with a rock song on the end credits – “The Man Behind the Mask” by Alice Cooper. Since it has a bunch of synths it starts out sounding kinda like the Part III theme. This pre-dates A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS so Jason actually got into metal before Freddy.
Although I prefer the first four in the series, JASON LIVES is a good save after the miserable NEW BEGINNING. It has a high body count and mean attitude like that one, but the humorous tone makes it fun instead of slimy, and (with the exception of the paintball scene) it doesn’t tip all the way into comedy. It’s still legit horror with some good atmosphere and gore, though maybe less suspense than it could have. It also introduces Zombie Jason, which is often who I think of when I think of Jason even though I don’t watch these later ones nearly as much as the early ones where he’s still (somehow) alive.
Tom McLoughlin, who had done the 1982 horror film ONE DARK NIGHT starring Meg Tilly, and more importantly was a mime so he played the robot S.T.A.R. in THE BLACK HOLE and the mutated bear in some scenes of THE PROPHECY, was the first filmmaker to both write and direct a FRIDAY THE 13TH. A true auteur.
In an April 1991 Fangoria article about directing SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, McLoughlin said of JASON LIVES, “I just looked at the movie again a few nights ago and visually it still seemed to work. It hasn’t necessarily improved with age; it’s still a kill movie. But I had two objectives going into that movie, which were to make Jason out to be this ultimate, indestructible monster and to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. I was never real big on doing a sequel to any film, but when the opportunity presented itself I felt there were some different things I could bring to the series, and I did.”
McLoughlin later directed episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series and Freddy’s Nightmares, plus the aforementioned Stephen King TV movie SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, and created the show She-Wolf of London. He continued to direct TV movies including SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR: THE ALISON GERTZ STORY, MURDER IN GREENWICH, D.C. SNIPER: 23 DAYS OF FEAR and CYBER SEDUCTION: HIS SECRET LIFE through 2010. In 2012 he became lead singer and harmonica player for The Sloths, a reunited garage rock band he’d been associated with as a teenager in the ’60s, who had been rediscovered after a super rare 45 showed up on a compilation. I kinda wish they could’ve done the theme song.