Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) *½
I realize that I was there to witness it first-hand, and indeed that I was actually a part of the whole strange business, but don’t ask me to explain the reaction that greeted the final shot of Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning. It doesn’t make any sense, I know, but fans of the series (and I was one of those by 1985) took great exception to the idea that Tommy Jarvis was going to inherit the mantle of Jason Voorhees in the subsequent sequels that were sure to be made. Nevermind that the Friday the 13th series had always been written in such a way that it mattered not a bit who was doing the carving— a Voorhees, a Jarvis, or just some pissed-off paramedic— and that each movie to date had been almost exactly the same as the one before it (although Parts 3 and 5 had been noticeably dumber than the other three). We didn’t care about any of that. Despite the fact that scarcely a one of us could have told you the name of any actor who had played him, despite the fact that most of us probably weren’t even aware that it hadn’t been the same person all along, it seemed terribly important that Jason Voorhees be the killer in a Friday the 13th movie, and we would accept no substitutes. Perhaps to their credit, perhaps to their blame, the folks at Paramount got wise to that pretty quickly, and I seem to recall the rumors beginning to circulate very early to the effect that the hockey mask would be back on the appropriate head in the next sequel. Had we known how much softer the tone of Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives would be, we might have gotten a little upset, but somehow I don’t think so. Jason was coming back, and that was good enough for us. What fools we were...
So here’s a question for you: We’ve already established, via the unanswerable point that he neither appeared in the last movie nor apparently killed anybody during the six years or so that were supposed to have elapsed between it and the end of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, that Jason really was killed by Tommy Jarvis when the boy got medieval on his ass with a machete at the age of twelve. How, then, do we bring him back? Well, first of all, we’re going to have to pretend we don’t remember that business from the last movie about Jason’s body being cremated. Then, we could have Tommy (now played by Thom Mathews, from The Return of the Living Dead and its first sequel) and his friend, Hawes (Ron Palillo, whom we last saw stinking up the place in Hellgate), sneak into the cemetery where Jason was buried and exhume his corpse— that would be a good start, at least. And we could have Tommy flip out again, and stab Jason’s decaying body through the heart with a wrought-iron fencepost, creating a functional lightning rod by means of which the thunderstorm brewing up above can zap the dead killer with enough electricity to reanimate him Frankenstein-style. Yeah, as a matter of fact, I think that’s exactly what we’ll do. Then Jason can crawl out of the grave, punch his fist straight through Hawes’s torso, and just barely let Tommy slip through his grasp. Now there’s a way to start a movie!
After fleeing from the resurrected Jason, Tommy races over to the police station in the small town of Forest Green— which had once been called Crystal Lake, but had re-christened itself after some highly publicized shenanigans involving a trio of mad killers and four separate murder sprees spread out over a period of some 30 years. Sheriff Michael Garris (Hologram Man’s David Kagen) is less than pleased with Tommy when he comes charging in, babbling some nonsense about Jason Voorhees rising from the grave and killing a friend of his, and Deputy Rick Cologne (Vincent Gustaferro, of Shocker) is even more peeved. The two cops toss Tommy into a cell just as Garris’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke, from Covenant and the “V” TV series), comes in to talk to her old man. There’s one of those awful “meet cute” moments between the two young people, and then Garris sends Megan packing.
Meanwhile, Jason’s unerring radar has led him straight to a couple of pieces of Expendable Meat. The Meat in question takes the form of Daren (Tony Goldwyn, of Kiss the Girls) and Lizabeth (Nancy McLoughton, from Sometimes They Come Back), who are supposed to be the new head counselors at Camp Forest Green, but who are so hopelessly unqualified for the job that they can’t even find the camp. Jason runs both of them through with the fencepost he extracted from his own chest earlier, and goes on about his business. The next morning he finds more prey, this time a pack of company executives engaged in a “character-building” paintball tournament. Jason kills all of them, and helps himself to the various knives and machetes they were carrying.
As for Tommy, he keeps being released from custody, ordered out of town, and then arrested again while trying to get back in. Since the police won’t help him, Tommy figures his next stop should be Camp Forest Green, which (having been built very near the site of the long-defunct Camp Crystal Lake) is likely to be where Jason will turn up eventually. He never quite makes it there, which is all the worse for Sissy (The Terror Within II’s Renee Jones), Paula (Kerry Morgan of Hot Moves), and Cort (Tom Fridley, from Summer Camp Nightmare and Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge), the three kids who will be joining Megan as camp counselors this summer. As such, the only warning they’ll have as to how much danger they’re all in is what little Megan was able to piece together from Tommy’s ramblings when she saw him at the police station the night before. Which, naturally, means that they’re all quite completely fucked.
Cort is the first one to go. On the night after Tommy’s arrival in Forest Green, Cort and his girlfriend, Nikki (Darcy DeMoss, from Reform School Girls and Return to Horror High), surreptitiously borrow her dad’s Winnebago and find a nice parking spot in the middle of the woods. I don’t even need to tell you what happens to them, do I? Then Jason appears at the camp itself and scares a few of the kids while hacking his way through Sissy and Paula. By this time, Garris and his men have begun finding the bodies of Jason’s victims, which they understandably attribute to Tommy— hey, maybe they remember how the last movie ended, too. But Tommy now has an ally in Megan, who likes him a great deal for no apparent reason, and who will spend the rest of the movie helping him dodge or escape from her father and the rest of the police force. She also helps Tommy procure the supplies he needs to effect his plan for the final destruction of Jason. Evidently Tommy’s become something of an occult hobbyist, and in one of his books, he reads that the only way to quiet a restless spirit permanently is to return that spirit’s body to its original resting place. Tommy interprets that to mean that the only way to stop Jason now that he’s undead is to re-drown him in the waters of Crystal Lake, where he went under originally in 1957. (Notice how much harder this makes it to untangle the great Friday the 13th continuity pretzel. It took a lightning bolt through the heart to revive Jason in the pre-credits sequence, implying that he really had been dead the last eight or ten years. Which, in turn, must mean that he didn’t really drown in 1957— otherwise that machete with which Tommy diced him at the end of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter would have had no more lasting effect than the numerous bullets and shotgun shells Jason shrugs off in this movie. So how in the hell can the bottom of Crystal Lake be considered Jason’s original resting place?!) This serves as a good enough excuse to set the climactic battle at Camp Forest Green, while the wonderful job Tommy has done thus far of befriending the local authorities means that there will be plenty of Expendable Meat cops around for Jason to slaughter, making up for the scandalous paucity of camp counselors this time around.
The strangest thing about Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives is that it manages to seem stultifyingly, laboriously formulaic even while making the widest departure yet from the formula that its predecessors did so much to establish. There is no Final Girl in Jason Lives, nor can Tommy be properly considered one of the rare Final Boys for the simple reason that there are at least a few other characters still living when he makes his stand against the killer. For the first time in a Friday the 13th film, there is a meaningful adult presence (in fact, adults outnumber teens among the dead thirteen to five), and— wonder of wonders!— there are even cops on hand throughout most of the running time. Another series first is the presence at the camp of the children who are, after all, its primary reason for existing in the first place. Both of the earlier installments that were set at a summer camp took pains to contrive reasons for limiting its occupancy to just a few teenagers. Jason Lives also marks the point at which the Friday the 13th series took a cue from its upstart rival, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and took the story in a supernatural direction. For that matter, there are even a few minor but still detectable structural differences between this installment and the others, which combine to have a significant effect on the movie’s flow. For example, notice that the ominous thunderstorm and Jason’s unmasking— both traditionally elements of the climax— occur here in the pre-credits sequence, and that all we’ll see of the killer’s face for the rest of the film is an occasional close-up on his baleful right eye. But the biggest change is in the movie’s tone. Irony had already made its appearance in the series with Part V: A New Beginning, and there is even more “humor” in Part VI than there was in its predecessor. (At least a few of the gags almost work this time...) But Jason Lives also breaks with A New Beginning in that it retreats noticeably from the exploitation ethos that had informed the preceding movies to an ever increasing degree. The one really shocking thing about this film is that it is almost totally sexless, and features no nudity whatsoever. The onscreen violence has also been scaled back markedly, probably as a result of Paramount’s unease at having to walk point against the anti-gore backlash that was rapidly gathering strength in the press, in politics, and most of all in public opinion.
And yet none of those changes are enough to stop Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives from feeling like something we’ve already seen at least a thousand times before. The one great strength of the original Friday the 13th was its brutal directness and raw simplicity, but that strength had already turned into a liability by the time Friday the 13th, Part 3 rolled around. The Final Chapter overcame that liability by adding a few new wrinkles, bringing in a more capable cast, and piling on the sleaze, but by 1986, there was simply nothing much new that could be done with this story, short of a really radical reworking of the basic premise. The next four Friday the 13th films (and the forthcoming Freddy vs. Jason, God help us) all at least toyed with exactly such a reworking, but the tinkering around the edges that characterizes Jason Lives doesn’t come close to addressing the problem, and even adds a few of its own. Who, after all, really wants to see a neutered, exploitation-shy slasher movie?