Friday the 13th Part VI - Jason Lives (1986)

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renee Jones, Kerry Noonan, Tom Fridley, C.J. Graham, Darcy DeMoss

The man behind the mask is indeed back. “Part V” saw Jason Voorhees riding the bench in favor of Roy, the psychotic paramedic. Well, fans didn’t take too well to that, so Paramount, not wanting to lose money on a horror franchise they weren’t terribly proud of in the first place, saw only one option: revive the monster thought to be dead since “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.” This was the mandate they gave to director Tom McLoughlin. They pretty much gave him carte blanche to do anything else he wanted. Easily the most creative director the series ever had, McLoughlin turned to his love of 1930’s Universal horror, as well as his penchant for writing comedy, to breathe new life into both the series and its iconic villain. What McLoughlin produced can easily be seen as one of the strongest entries in the “Friday the 13th” franchise.

The movie begins on a stormy evening, where two refugees from a mental hospital are headed for the cemetery to dig up Jason Voorhees (C.J. Graham)’s body and destroy it. The man behind the wheel is Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews), still haunted by his encounter with Jason in “The Final Chapter.” His nervous cohort, Hawes (Ron Palillo of TV’s “Welcome Back, Kotter”), doesn’t quite understand where the closure is to come from in this little venture… that is until his eye catches the gas can. Tommy screws it up, of course, first choosing a rainy night to carry out his foolhardy plan, and then by freaking out and repeatedly stabbing Jason’s worm-infested corpse with a metal fence post. Like a scene out of 1931’s “Frankenstein,” two bolts of lightning strike the fence post and miraculously resurrect Jason. Hawes doesn’t think his heart can take much more of this. That’s fine, because Jason is more than willing to relieve him of that particular organ. As Tommy drives away to the police station for help, Jason retrieves his famous hockey mask. On the main title card, Jason walks in like James Bond and slashes at the screen. Cool stuff.

Once at the sheriff’s station, Tommy nearly gets his head blown off when he dramatically bursts in with warnings about Jason. Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) is both hot-tempered and overprotective of both his town and his daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), but not without good reason. As much as Tommy is trying to do to warn everyone about Jason, Sheriff Garris is equally adamant about keeping the serial killer buried in the past as nothing more than a legend. Megan and five of her friends are about to re-open the camp for the weekend, making this the first and only time in series history that Camp Crystal Lake has children running around. Yet, Crystal Lake isn’t even Crystal Lake anymore. Now it’s called Forest Green. Not that this will make any difference to Jason, who is even more dangerous now than ever before.

In fact, two of Megan’s friends have already been done in by Jason, one of whom tries to offer him money in exchange for her life. As if Jason would know what to do with money if he had it. Hilariously, upon her death, the woman’s American Express card floats away in the mud (“Don’t leave home without it!”). So now only Megan, Sissy (Renee Jones), Paula (Kerry Noonan) and Cort (Tom Fridley) remain to chaperone the kids. If actor Tom Fridley bears a resemblance to John Travolta, that’s because Travolta is his uncle. Megan only stays at the camp for a brief amount of time, since she spends the majority of her time wherever Tommy is going to be, having grown attracted to him. Her father recognizes this, which gives him all the more reason to want this punk kid out of his jurisdiction. Tommy’s a bit more persistent than that, trying to make it to Jason’s grave before the police can nab him again. Instead, he’s forced to the outskirts of town, where he calls Megan from a general store owned by some guy named Karloff (yet another of the director’s in-joke references), where she drives out to meet him. After a lengthy car chase, a road block set up by Megan’s father stops them in their tracks. In the meantime, Jason has killed many more people, including all the counselors at the camp. Sheriff Garris blames Tommy, of course.

Megan helps break Tommy out of jail and they speed over to the camp, where Jason is currently dispatching the police unit sent to check things out. Sheriff Garris hears his daughter’s cries for help and, in a last ditch act of heroism, sacrifices himself to try and stop Jason, to no avail. Jason keeps on coming, until Tommy convinces him to follow him into the lake, where Tommy wraps a weighted chain around Jason’s neck. Both are dragged under, and it is up to Megan to swim out to save Tommy’s life as an immobilized Jason remains trapped in a watery grave.

The last truly great “Friday the 13th” sequel, “Jason Lives” is entertaining from start to finish. Unlike any of the movies that preceded it, “Part VI” is successful because of the risks that it took. Tom McLoughlin’s decision to shift the tone of the series into horror-comedy was a welcome change this time around. Consider the scene where the cemetery’s groundskeeper turns toward the camera and declares, in regards to the unearthing of Jason Voorhees, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment!” The series was definitely breaking new ground with that one. It’s not my absolute favorite in the franchise (that is and will always be the original), but it’s in the top four. In my review of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” I stated that I was glad that the decision was made to continue on from that point. In the case of “Jason Lives,” I wish the series had been allowed to go out on the high note that this movie provides. The fact that the remaining sequels are all bottom feeders does nothing to diminish the accomplishments of “Part VI,” but it’s all downhill from here. As good a reason as any for me to save something for the next 13th day of a month that falls on a Friday (this November).


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