Franchise Friday - Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
Friday the 13th Part 6 brings us the final chapter of the Tommy Jarvis trilogy and, in a new twist for the series, an entry that eschews many of the tropes that it had been known for: no rules, a real danger to innocents (the first entry we actually see child campers!) and a self-awareness that would predate Scream by 10 years. As usual, before we get into the discussion, let’s see if we can rewrite the back of the VHS box:
In an attempt to seek closure, Tommy Jarvis has actually made the worst mistake possible and revives his nemesis: Jason Voorhees! Risen from the dead, a zombified Jason is now a force of total evil, looking to kill anyone that gets in his way and dares to trespass at what is now Camp Forest Green. In a town trying desperately to put its bloody past behind them, can Tommy raise the alarm in time to save a new group of counsellors and a bus full of innocent young campers?
Fans were pretty vocal with both their opinions and dollars that Part 5 was as much as a step in the wrong direction as when the Halloween franchise did something similar with its Part 3 and gave Michael Myers the day off. And just like Halloween, the producers behind this series made damn sure that Jason returned for Part 6. This ends up giving us the more supernatural slant to the series antagonist, squarely making him a member of the undead and, quite possibly, one of the dumbest decisions ever made by a horror protagonist. Certainly I get the mental trauma driving Jarvis and the desperate need for closure, especially after the events of Part 5, and if I’m being completely honest, heck, even the initial plan seems okay: go to the cemetery, dig up the corpse and burn it. But when confronted with the rotted body of Jason, Tommy loses it, grabs a loose metal rod and begins to impale the remains.
Did I mention the developing thunderstorm? That turns out to be kind of a big deal.
And yes, while I maintain this is one of the dumbest decisions in horror movie history, one has to admit that it’s also a fairly good callback to the 1931 Universal adaptation of Frankenstein as lighting strikes the metal rod, resurrecting the main man himself.
This ends up a great place to segueing into the fact that not only is this film aware that it is the sixth in the series and needs to not only get back on track after Part 5 and up the stakes (which we’ll get to in a bit), but it’s also aware of what’s going on in horror films in general around it. One of the first victims even mentions “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that when you see a guy in a mask in the woods, if you keep going that way, you’re not going to make it to the end”…or something to that effect. Additionally, there’s the aforementioned nod to Frankenstein, somewhat self-referential music provided by Alice Cooper (in a move parallel to what Maximum Overdrive would also do that year, having music provided exclusively by metal band AC/DC) and a not even remotely veiled reference to the direct competition – a little girl named Nancy having bad dreams about a monster with claws…sound familiar? Another wink and nod is to the growing trend of ‘splatstick’ horror, where gore is used to comedic effect most notably pioneered by Sam Raimi, helps to explain the presence of the executive paintball scene…although if I put my critic’s hat on, the scene is ultimately useless and the movie might have been improved by omitting it. This is especially true since, as usual, the MPAA was having none of it when it comes to the film’s gore and the centerpiece to this scene, a triple decapitation with a machete, was ultimately cut from the film to avoid the dreaded X rating. Lastly, and most obviously, are some of the names used. The town next door is named Carpenter. The last name of the sheriff and his daughter is Garris, another famed horror director.
This next bit can be interpreted as a nod to another competing franchise, the already mentioned Halloween, or it can fit into the first point I brought up in the introduction: no rules. It’s always been easy to spot who’s going to survive a Friday film: they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they don’t use drugs and they don’t have sex. Now, to be fair, yes, those that cross these lines do indeed meet their cruel demise but ultimately, if you’re in the vicinity of Crystal Lake, now Forest Green, you’re meat. Jason here borrows more than a little from Michael Myers no longer an enforcer of 80’s morality but simply as a malevolent force killing anything in his path. At one point, this is made extremely clear when it seriously looks like Jason is about to kill poor little Nancy. And with that…
Yes, it’s time to up the stakes. In a movie franchise known for having its killings take place in and around summer camps, the only people who have been in danger up to this point have been teenagers or adults. None of them have been camp attendees, but instead have either been owners or counsellors…essentially both people who have the potential to fight back and win and people who can commit the deeds that will draw Jason’s attention. Now, we’ve got campers…little kids that not only have no realistic way of fighting back but also can’t at least have the fun that earns them a death sentence. Here, we’re dealing with pure innocents. This does manage to give the film a little bit of an edge. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, when Jason notices little Nancy, the audience is forced into that uncomfortable position where they HAVE to ask themselves ‘Is he gonna do it? Is he really going to kill a little kid???’ Dissecting this further, we have to turn our attention to the matter of Jason’s resurrection from the first scene. In the prior films (save for 5 of course), it’s generally assumed that Jason is in some way human, albeit deformed. Okay, you could easily be led to believe that Jason at the end of part 1 is some sort of zombie…if we assume that the final stinger was an actual event and not just a dream. Part 2 plays it straight, that he’s human while 3 gets a little fuzzy on the matter. But 4 brings it back to that direction because they kill him. But as we see decaying flesh and heaps of maggots pull themselves together to form Jason’s reanimated body, it’s very clear he’s no longer human and his behavior makes it very clear that whatever minute vestiges of humanity he had left are also very much things of the past. This Jason is now like Michael Myers before him, an inhuman, unstoppable force of evil bent on killing anything in his path.
On that note, while the general cast is serviceable, I did want to give special recognition to C. J. Graham for his turn behind the hockey mask. He’s very successful in giving Jason that vibe of unrelenting killing machine, both in motion and when he’s standing still. While most fans of the series give the nod to Kane Hodder and how he made the role his own over 4 films, C. J.’s performance is very much the prototype for that and really needs to be considered in the top tier of Jason performers, if for no reason than, again, the aforementioned Nancy scene. The way he plays that, he gives the audience no clue as to Jason’s next move: will he just leave her alone or will he brutally kill the little girl. The fact that he moves in and lowers down to her level and then just stops to consider…it’s really kind of chilling.
As Part 6 closes, we wrap up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy, not because Tommy meets his end, but ultimately the films simply jettisoned the character, which, personally, is a shame. Just as Michael Myers is better with Laurie and Freddy Kruger is at his best facing off against Nancy, I’ve enjoyed the arch-ness of the tangles between Tommy and Jason. Alas. So while Part 6 doesn’t really give him any send off, it is a solid entry, perhaps a superlative one. It’s not flawless, to be sure, as I mentioned I think the paintball scene could’ve gone and been replaced by something else. And if you’ve done your homework on the film, you know there are a lot of ‘what if’s associated with the film as well: what if the MPAA had not been jerks and left the gore in? What if we’d been introduced to Jason’s father, as had been originally written in the script? Still, what we’re left with is a lot of the same that we’ve come to expect, but definitely some new life too…and McLoughlin’s direction fuses the two into a great blend. This entry is definitely worth repeat viewings, if for no other reason than to see if you can spot all the easter eggs, but mainly, because it’s just that damn good.
TLDR: The paintball scene keeps this from being perfect, but given a new ferocity, higher stakes and just a dash of self-awareness a decade before it’d be cool to do so, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, proves exactly that – there still plenty of life in this franchise! That merits a Happy Cat!