Release Date: August 1, 1986
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Writer: Tom McLoughlin
Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, C.J. Graham
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Welcome to Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” To celebrate the month of October which is of course Halloween season, I will be posting a review each week of a horror film that is one you can watch repeatedly till your heart’s content. I figured I start this special with a familiar movie franchise involving a hockey mask wearing murderer. Of course, I’m talking about Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th film series.
The legacy of Friday the 13th spans eleven films (twelve if you count Freddy vs. Jason), a TV series (by name only), merchandise and a successful online video game until a recent lawsuit pulled the plug on any new content. Jason Voorhees has become an iconic horror figure. If you were to place a Mount Rushmore of Horror Movie icons, he would definitely fill a spot there. While the movies may be repetitive with the same concept of teenagers getting killed at a camping ground by first a woman getting revenge for her son drowning then the son actually being alive to the son be risen from the dead, they are fun to watch in part to the original and innovative kill scenes each movie has to offer. Not only that, but the movie managers to show different renditions of Jason. It’s fun to debate with fans on which was the best Jason of the movie series. Another fun debate is which movie was the best movie in the series. There are quite a few movies in the franchise I adore, but for this review there was one that stood out after analyzing it much deeper, which is the sixth movie, subtitled Jason Lives.
‘Jason Lives’ marks the debut of the undead Jason concept that would be a staple for the rest of the films here on out. The film opens immediately with Tommy Jarvis, the hero of the last two installments driving with a friend to Jason’s gravesite. Tommy, plagued by nightmares that he could return wants to make sure he stays dead. When they get to the gravesite Tommy and his friend start digging and open up Jason’s casket to reveal his maggot infested corpse covered in spider webs. Tommy rips a metal bar from the gate and repeatedly drives it into Jason. Suddenly, a storm arrives and lightning strikes the rod still stuck inside Jason, which causes him to be resurrected. As soon as Jason gets out from his grave, he kills Tommy’s friend and Tommy flees. Tommy heads to the police station to warn about Jason’s return, but the Sherriff is not convinced and puts Tommy in a holding cell. Meanwhile, Jason begins his murdering spree once again as he tracks down counselors at Camp Forest Green (the town was renamed from Crystal Lake to Forest Green in order to erase the horrible history of Jason and his mother……like people are going to forget). With the help of the sheriff’s daughter Megan, Tommy realizes that he is the one responsible for bringing Jason back to life and he is responsible to end the nightmare once and for all.
Tom McLoughlin, writer and director of this film did a great job reviving the Friday the 13th franchise after the dismal performance of Part V : A New Beginning (for many reasons). What better way to revive the franchise than revive the killer of the series (with the exception of the first movie) Jason. Instead of stating to the audience that he is still human, he states that Jason died in The Final Chapter and we’re going to bring him back to life as a real monster. His revival was clever and reasonable. The look of Jason is different for obvious reasons, but he still hangs on to his trademark hockey mask. He provides a plethora of kills ranging from his weapon based kills such as a spear, a harpoon gun and his traditional machete to more physical and creative deaths such as slamming a girl’s face through a wall in the bathroom of an RV to folding up a victim like a lawn chair. Fans won’t be disappointed with the kills this movie has.
The acting is decent with Thom Matthews leading as Tommy Jarvis. If you’re not familiar with Matthews, you may remember him from another iconic cult horror film in the 80s which was The Return of the Living Dead. He played a bumbling employee where he and his boss accidentally release the chemical that brings dead people back to life and eventually turns the both of them into zombies. It was a great comedic performance, however as Tommy Jarvis he is the complete opposite of comedic. He plays Tommy as a man who is constantly tortured by his memories of his encounter with Jason and being the one that ended his existence. When he tries to destroy Jason’s body to make sure he never comes back, a cruel twist of fate happens when he drives that gate bar into him causing it to be a lightning rod when the storm comes. As soon as Jason arises, Tommy is in full panic. He does his best to warn people, but they don’t believe him considering his history and state of mind. It’s only until learning the error of what he did is when he owns up to the mistake and realizes that he brought Jason back into the real world and he is the only one that can send him back to the grave. Matthews’ version of Tommy is definitely the best performance in comparison to John Shephard’s performance in Part V, although I still think Corey Feldman’s portrayal in The Final Chapter is my favorite.
The role of Jason would be portrayed by C.J. Graham, which would be his only movie role (with the exception of his appearance as Jason in the Alice Cooper music video for the main song, which I’ll get to later). From the first kill of punching through a man’s chest to killing a group of paintballers, he portrays Jason as a slow pacing juggernaut who dispatches anyone that stands in his way. On top of that Graham performs all the stunts as Jason in the movie which go to his dedication despite the fact that he was neither an actor nor a stuntman. He also provides a shocking personality to Jason. There is a scene where Jason appears inside a cabin full of young female campers. One of them gets scared, closes her eyes and covers her face with a blanket praying he doesn’t kill her. Jason stands at the side of the bed looking at her with a curious look and doesn’t flinch or give any indication he is going to kill the little girl. It shows a bit of vulnerability and the impression that Jason will not kill someone who is pure or innocent.
The rest of the cast is fodder for Jason. You have you stereotypical counselors and local law enforcement who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a few great scenes with the caretaker of the cemetery and an angry person who was hit with a paintball which provide some comic relief.
This is one of the more stylistic movies in the series. It has a great blend of darkness, comedy and music. Speaking of music, for the first time in the series, Part VI has a soundtrack which features songs from some notable rock artists including a brand new song specifically for the movie by none other than Alice Cooper. The song “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” has become the official theme song to Jason. It’s a true 80s song with a great blend of synths along with Cooper’s commanding vocals. The music video features C.J. Graham as Jason as he breaks through the movie screen while spectators are watching Part VI.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is one of the strongest if not the strongest film in the series and has held up nicely unlike some of the other movies. If you believe there is a better entry in the series than Part VI, I challenge you to prove me wrong!
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
- After becoming a born again Christian, John Shepherd who starred as Tommy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) did not want to reprise the role, and it went to Thom Matthews instead.
- Director Tom McLoughlin took home some props from the film, including Jason’s tombstone – which sits outside his house, made to look like Jason is buried in his yard – and his casket, which sits in his garage. The DVD box set includes a scene in which he shows off these props at his home, and tells of how a city employee refused to enter his yard to read the meter because he thought a body was really buried there.
- The film contains numerous references to other horror films and/or people connected with them. Megan mentions Cunningham Road, a reference to Sean S. Cunningham director of Friday the 13th (1980) and creator of the series, while Tommy mentions a grocery store called Karloff’s, an homage to famous horror actor, Boris Karloff , director John Carpenter of Halloween (1978), while the name Sissy is perhaps a reference to Sissy Spacek who starred in Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976), which is based on a novel by Stephen King. Also, Sissy wears a jacket with the name “Baker” on the back, possibly a reference to Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp (1983).
- The first film in the series to be recorded in Ultra Stereo.
- The original actor to play Jason was fired for being too fat. They recast the part with C.J. Graham, a restaurant manager with no stunt experience but a military background as an Army soldier. That made him perfect to take orders and execute stunts with military precision. Bradley’s paintball scenes were not re-shot meaning he does play Jason for a very brief part of the film, after that point it’s C.J. Graham as the masked killer.
- Ted White stated in interviews that he was offered the opportunity to return to the role of Jason Voorhees, whom he portrayed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) but he turned the role down. White stated that in hindsight, he should have accepted the offer.
- This is the first film in the series in which all teenage roles are played by young adults, none of the actors being teenagers in real life during production.
- The final scene to be shot was the crashing of the RV. Director Tom McLoughlin was terrified during filming, as there could only be one take and the crashing made the scene incredibly dangerous for C.J. Graham.