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FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)
“What if he did come back here, looking for the camp counselor that caused him to drown as a boy? Searching for the one who decapitated his vengeful mother? And you do know what today’s date is – don’t you…?”
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, C.J. Graham, David Kagen, Kerry Noonan, Renée Jones, Tom Fridley, Darcy DeMoss, Vincent Guastaferro, Tony Goldwyn, Nancy McLoughlin, Bob Larkin, Courtney Vickery, Ron Palillo
Screenplay: Tom McLoughlin
Synopsis: During a wild thunderstorm, Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) drive towards the cemetery that holds the body of Jason Voorhees (C.J. Graham). Still traumatised by the events of his childhood, Tommy intends to exhume and utterly destroy all that is left of Jason, thereby putting an end to the nightmares and hallucinations that still plague him. Finding Jason’s grave, Tommy and the reluctant Allen open it – and the coffin. Inside lies a maggot-riddled corpse. Staring down at it, Tommy relives his childhood encounter with Jason – and then snaps, tearing a spike-topped iron fence-post free and driving it again and again into the body. At length calming down, Tommy wearily tosses Jason’s hockey mask, which has been in his possession since that terrible night, into the grave, and turns to collect his can of gasoline. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning violently strikes the fence-post, which is still embedded in Jason’s body. His eyes open…. Not noticing, Tommy approaches to remove the post. Two hands reach up to grab him. Tommy desperately struggles free – only to see the undead killer rise from the grave. Tommy succeeds in dousing Jason with gasoline, but before he can strike a match it starts to rain. As Tommy stands helplessly before Jason’s advance, Allen attacks from behind with a shovel. Jason turns – and slams his arm through Allen’s body, which falls into the open grave; the coffin lid drops down on it. Tommy bolts for his truck and speeds away as Jason picks up the fence-post and carefully re-dons his hockey-mask…. Tommy bursts into the Forest Green County Sheriff’s Department, startling Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) who sits dozing at his desk. Tommy pours out his incredible story, and for his trouble lands in a jail cell. Garris tells him angrily that the people of Forest Green – formally known as Crystal Lake – do not want to be reminded of what happened there all those years ago. Meanwhile, on their way to Camp Forest Green, the two head counsellors have managed to get themselves lost. As Darren (Tony Goldwyn) tries to read a map, Lizabeth (Nancy McLoughlin) suddenly brakes: a masked figure stands before them in the road. They try to scare the figure away by driving at it. This failing, Darren produces a gun and, over Lizabeth’s protests, gets out of the car. His warnings ignored, Darren fires. Unperturbed, Jason impales him with the fence-post, then turns his attention to Lizabeth…. The next morning, Tommy wakes to find the sheriff’s office invaded by a group of young people, among them Garris’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), and Lizabeth’s sister, Paula (Kerry Noonan), who have come to report the non-appearance of two of their number. Tommy shouts out a warning about Jason, angering the sheriff but attracting the attention of Megan. Later, ignoring her friends’ teasing over her interest in Tommy, Megan ponders whether Jason could really be more than a legend. Meanwhile, out in the woods surrounding the camp, the executives of an insurance company are beginning to wish they’d picked some other time and place to play paintball….
Comments: My references to Friday The 13th: A New Beginning in my review of April Fool’s Day reminded me that – ulp! – it had been more than a year since I dealt with that particular cinematic masterpiece, and that consequently – double ulp! – it was high time that I tackled Jason Lives. Actually – I went into this task more curious than apprehensive, since of all the series this is the one that is most often spoken kindly of….which is either an encouraging sign or a major warning flare, depending upon how you interpret it. Coming as it does on the heels of the moronic A New Beginning, Jason Lives is a breath of fresh air; so much so, that it is initially possible to overlook not just how different it is from the previous installments of the series, but the implications of those differences.
Last week I called April Fool’s Day a polite slasher film. Jason Lives, for all that it is a Friday The 13th film, for all that it stars an officially undead Jason Voorhees, is really not much better. The film was rated ‘R’ here (a much more restrictive rating than the American ‘R’), which is patently absurd: the thing is at worst a hard ‘M’. As usual, the film-makers shot plenty of explicit violence for Jason Lives; also as usual, precious little of it made it past the MPAA. Blood and body parts abound, but that’s all. While you can blame the censors for that, you can’t blame them for the lightish tone of what does remain. I’m usually fairly wimpy when it comes to screen violence, but there isn’t a single moment in Jason Lives that makes me flinch or look away. This is not merely because of the actual content, or lack thereof, but because a considerable portion of the violence is played for laughs. Jason Lives is famous – notorious? – for its degree of intentional humour. While it is this that endears the film to many viewers, to my mind it is at this point that the series jumps the shark. Don’t get me wrong: in and of itself, I think the humour works fairly well. I grin pretty much everywhere I was intended to grin, while the joke embedded in the opening credits always gets a laugh out of me. But this is a slasher film, people! – and if the yucks are what we remember, rather than the kills, then the genre is in deep trouble. Equally unnerving is the fact that Jason Lives is the first entry of the franchise to feature no nudity whatsoever: no showers, no skinny-dipping, no sex in the woods. There is a sex scene, but it is pointless, annoying – and clothed. Even April Fool’s Day had the---well, grace isn’t exactly the right word, I guess, but you know what I mean---the grace to tease its audience with the possibility of boobs. I suppose if we wanted to put a positive spin on this, we could say that at least this film finally discards the old “have sex and die” mentality (although those that do, do); but in truth, Jason Lives barely even qualifies as exploitation.
It is a revealing exercise to make comparisons between Jason Lives and its predecessors, and the Nightmare On Elm Street sequels and the original film. Produced almost contemporaneously, both series suffer from an increasing disinclination on the part of their makers to keep their material dark and disturbing – or perhaps to take on an increasingly disapproving society. That isn’t just a storm during the opening scene of Jason Lives: it’s the wind of change. As the 1980s wore on, truly violent, truly confronting films became rara aves. Jokey genre films flourished instead; films that reassured people that, hey, nothing bad is really going to happen. It was, in fact, the era of the kinder, gentler horror film.
Apart from anything else, Jason Lives is the point at which Jason Voorhees begins to resemble Godzilla. Now, before you kaiju fans out there leap up and beat me to death – or before I do it to myself – let me explain what I mean. It is from Jason Lives that the viewer has to stop and decide which time-line, which particular version of Jason’s history, we are being asked to accept this time around. First off, Jason Lives simply pretends that A New Beginning never happened. Well, I can’t blame it for that. I often try to pretend that too. This selective blindness means that this Tommy Jarvis isn’t that Tommy Jarvis; and that, much more importantly, Jason Voorhees was never cremated – as is unambiguously declared in the previous film. Secondly, we here have Tommy insisting that the undead Jason can only be defeated by being returned to his “original resting place”, the bottom of Crystal Lake. This, of course, argues that Jason did in fact drown as a child, rather than, say, surviving and living on in the woods, as is suggested if never stated in F13:2; and this in turn means that Jason was already undead when Tommy “killed” him in F13:4 – and that the infamous machete pounding shouldn’t have done a darn thing to him – certainly not left him quietly mouldering in the grave for ten or fifteen years.
If we ever needed proof that the viewers of these films think about them far more than their makers, this, I think, is it.
Still – I guess this would explain why Jason was able to shrug off those machete and axe blows dealt to him by Ginny and Chrissie; although on the other hand, it means that opening up ol’ Jason’s grave is probably A Very Bad Idea.
But that’s what we find Tommy Jarvis about to do when Jason Lives begins: our third incarnation of Tommy, which is pretty impressive considering that Jason himself is only up to his fourth, or fifth. Plagued by hallucinations of Jason, just like Bizarro-World Tommy, Real-World Tommy is intent upon (i) digging up Jason to see for himself that he’s dead; and (ii) burning what’s left of the body. In this mission, Tommy is accompanied by Allen Hawes, an acquaintance from his time in “the institution”, who is played by Ron Palillo.
Reacting to that piece of casting does nothing but reveal your age; so I won’t.
Entering the “Eternal Peace Cemetery” – which is decidedly not the ratty and run-down stretch of ground in which Pamela Voorhees’s remains were discovered in F13:3 – Tommy and Allen dig up Jason’s grave. Tommy pries open the coffin lid, revealing a maggot-covered corpse. As Tommy stares down, mentally re-living his bloody encounter with Jason way back when (I wonder if Corey Feldman and Kimberley Beck get voice residuals for this?), I can only marvel at the slack-arse breed of maggot that inhabits this cemetery, unable to polish off a corpse with a decade to do it in. Hell, they haven’t even – as we shall shortly discover – eaten its eyes. Tommy then does what he does best: he goes berko, grabbing a spikey pole from the fence and reprising the Jarvis Jive. When he finally tires of that, Tommy climbs out of the grave and---wait, did I mention that Tommy has had Jason’s hockey-mask in his possession all these years? I didn’t? Well, he has; because it wasn’t, like, evidence, or anything. Tommy now tosses the mask into the grave and goes to get his can of gasoline. Jason Lives does make various attempts to invert the usual slasher formula (apart from just leaving out the good stuff), and one of the things it does is to have the obligatory thunderstorm at the beginning of the film; which allows the spikey metal pole still embedded in Jason’s chest to attract a couple of violent bolts of lightning. Seconds later, undead Jason opens his eyes.
It’s just that easy!
Tommy, for reasons best known to himself, decides that he has to pull the melted metal pole back out of Jason. So he hops back into the grave, puts his gloves on, tugs the pole out, takes his sweet time in taking his gloves off again, hops out of the grave – and then gets grabbed. Tommy fights himself free and douses his undead adversary with the gasoline, but as he tries to strike a match….it starts to rain.
The sight of Our Hero, his face a living study in the expression, “Oh, shit!”, helplessly striking soggy match after soggy match from one of those stupid little cardboard matchbooks as Jason advances on him, is one of this film’s genuine Oh, my heart! moments.
Foolishly, however, Allen Hawes chooses to intervene, attacking Jason from behind with a shovel. In response, Jason slams his arm through Allen’s torso, ripping out (I think) his heart. Allen’s dead body tumbles down into the open grave and lands in the coffin, the lid of which drops. Tommy then commits his first and only reasonable act, and beats feet. Incredibly, his truck starts the first time (actually, the soundtrack suggests he left the engine running, which is just a little too sensible), and Tommy makes his escape. Meanwhile, Jason reclaims and carefully dons his mask, picks up the discarded fence-post – and turns dramatically towards the camera.
The name’s Voorhees. Jason Voorhees.
Tommy then does something else you never see in a film of this kind: he goes to the police. Of course, given the reception he gets, you kind of understand why people don’t generally bother. In this scene, we learn that the township of Crystal Lake has made an unavailing attempt to shake its grisly past by changing its name to “Forest Green”. We also learn that all those years in therapy have really done wonders for Tommy. You could hardly consider him even bothered any more by the events of his own past, given this classic exchange of dialogue:
Sheriff Garris: “Aren’t you the kid whose mother and friends were killed by that maniac?”
Tommy Jarvis: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Hmm…. Actually, come to think of it, isn’t it a bit odd that the sheriff knows that Tommy’s mother was killed by Jason, but doesn’t know that Jason was killed by Tommy? Anyway, Tommy gives a ranting account of the events in the cemetery, then tries to grab a shotgun (which he of all people ought to know will be no use) and, one thing leading to another, ends up in a cell.
Allrighty. Time for Jason to do what he does best: kill a bunch of people he’s never seen before for no reason. His first two victims are – hoo, nelly! – the prospective head counsellors of “Camp Forest Green”. Man, oh, man: the people in this region just beg for it, don’t they? And can you believe, not just that they keep building camps here, but that parents actually send their kids!? Anyway, tootling along in a VW Beetle (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Ginny’s car from F13:2), Darren and Lizabeth suddenly find the road blocked by an ominous figure in a mask in front, and by a deep muddy ditch that definitely wasn’t there a moment ago when they drove over that stretch of road behind. Jason makes good use of that fence-post (giving us a lunge-at-the-camera moment better than anything in F13:3), and the scene ends on a mysteriously protracted shot of Lizabeth’s American Express card floating in muddy water. Perhaps it should be interpreted in light of the fact that Lizabeth is played by Mrs Tom McLoughlin….
Cut to Tommy jerking awake in his jail cell the following morning (just as he kept “coming to” in F13:5; careful, people), to find the sheriff’s office invaded by four more counselors who have come to report the non-appearance of Darren and Lizabeth. (We get the old “horror movie homage” routine here, with a reference to “Cunningham Road” and a town called “Carpenter”. Later on we will encounter “Karloff’s General Store” which, frankly, guys, is pushing your luck a little too far.) One of them is Megan Garris, the sheriff’s daughter, who would be this film’s Final Girl, if in fact it had a Final Girl. It doesn’t, which is another of its attempts to buck the system; but unfortunately Megan turns out to be something much more annoying. From his cell, Tommy yells out his ideas about where Darren and Lizabeth might be – and Megan instantly and completely inexplicably develops an intense attraction towards him. (Honestly, this whole thing would have worked much better if Megan had just been trying to piss off her father by faking an interest in Tommy.) The sheriff chases Megan and her friends – who react to her fascination with Tommy with lots of Fox-ish WHOOOOO-ing, thus ensuring that we can’t wait for them to die – out of the office. The sheriff then announces his intention of escorting Tommy out of his jurisdiction. Meanwhile, at the cemetery, we are introduced to this film’s Crazy Ralph stand-in, Martin the caretaker (who puts me rather in mind of the old dude whose precious antique cans Marge Simpson blasted to oblivion). Muttering and grumbling, Martin starts to fill in Jason’s grave, pausing only to direct a stern look directly at the camera and observe, “Some folks have got a strange idea of entertainment!”
Oh, yeah? Well, you’re the one who chooses to pass your life swilling cheap hooch in a cemetery; so @#$% you, Martin.
At the camp, Megan ponders the “legend” of Jason Voorhees – although how someone who’s been lying in the Eternal Peace Cemetery for the past ten years can possibly be “just a legend” remains unexplained. (Bad writing here. I think the suggestion is that the living-on-the-lakebed Jason is the “legend”, while the living-in-the-woods Jason is the “real” one; but once again, I’m putting much more effort into this than Tom McLoughlin did.) Then we do get a milestone moment in the Friday The 13th franchise, as a bus pulls up and disgorges a load of actual campers. Yike!
Time for some more pointless deaths! This time we meet a quintet of paintball contestants. Three of them are two defeated males and a triumphant female, who get what should have been the film’s most spectacular set-piece, a triple decapitation, but which in the most commonly available version of Jason Lives is barely in the film at all. Prior to this we meet another defeated and disgruntled male, who mutters about how women should stay in the kitchen (given her druthers at this point, Annette would probably agree) and who takes out his humiliation on the surrounding undergrowth by slashing at it with, yes, you guessed it! – a machete! Enter Jason, who promptly relieves Burt of that machete – and his arm – and proceeds to put it to good use. The machete, that is, not the arm. Our final piece of meat---I mean, character, is an annoying little nerd called Roy who is the closest thing this film has to an Odious Comic Relief, and who has the temerity to fire his paintball gun at Jason. Words are hardly adequate to convey the air of mingled indignation and disdain with which Jason reacts to this affront – yet astonishingly, the committer of it is allowed to die off-camera. Various portions of him will, however, turn up in due course.
Meanwhile, as he is being escorted out of town, Tommy takes one more detour through the cemetery in an attempt to prove his story, only to find that Martin has been very busy indeed. The irate sheriff hauls Tommy’s butt to the county line. We then waste some time at the camp, including suffering through a piece of “Indian lore” from token male counsellor Cort that I wouldn’t pain either you or myself by transcribing. We can only console ourselves with the thought that Cort will certainly die. Then – oh, boy! – it’s time for more pointless killings, first of Martin (actually, thank you for that one, Jason!), then of a couple who have just that moment become engaged – because nothing says “romance” like the surrounds of Camp Crys---that is, Camp Forest Green. Some unapologetic camp-related time-wasting follows: shots of the kids curled up asleep, clutching their stuffed toys, their pictures of their families, or their copies of Jean-Paul Satre’s “No Exit”, as the case may be. (Good heavens! I do believe it’s me!) Counsellors Paula and Sissy’s card-game is – eventually – interrupted by screams from one of the cabins. These emanate from disgustingly cute little Nancy, who insists that there are “monsters” about. Paula and Sissy do their best to comfort her, and during this scene you cannot help but notice that, good lord, Kerry Noonan has incredibly creepy eyes! Meg Foster-type eyes, if you know what I mean, only much, much more so. Brr! The pain continues with the entirely untitillating sex scene [sic.] between Cort and his girlfriend, who like 87% of all sexually active female movie characters of the eighties is called Nikki. This sequence drags on endlessly in that way that you just know is intended to make you pray for hideous bloody deaths. When they do come, though, bloody they ain’t. Nikki gets her face shoved almost through the bathroom wall of her stepfather’s Winnebago, in which all this plays out; Cort gets a knife through the head. Oh, well. At least they’re dead.
Evidence of Jason’s handiwork finally begins to surface. Here we get an incredibly confusing exchange of dialogue. Deputy Rick describes the bodies by saying that someone is using “Jason’s old M.O.” The sheriff interprets this as Tommy wanting people “to believe that Jason has returned”. “I thought Jason was just a legend?” observes Megan snottily. “That’s right – only Tommy wants to prove that the legend is true,” insists her father, who earlier inquired of Tommy Jarvis whether he wasn’t the one “whose mother and friends were killed by that maniac”. The hell - ? Tommy, as it happens, has been book shopping, picking up copies of “10 Years Among The Dead”, “The Dead Are Alive”, and “A Manual Of Occultism”. We can only assume that the book chain at which Jennifer Tilly got her copy of “Voodoo For Dummies” has a branch nearby. Having digested the volumes’ contents, Tommy then rings – the sheriff’s office!? Megan, there alone, answers. “Oh, hi!” she says cheerily to the guy her father is out hunting for mass murder. Tommy blathers on about his belief that Jason will return to the camp and his plan for dealing with him, until Megan gets his whereabouts out of him (“Karloff’s General….something.”) and insists on picking him up.
And then it’s time to off another counselor! Sissy gets it here, being yanked through a window so abruptly, she leaves her cute little bunny-feet slippers behind. She then gets her head ripped off. Discreetly. Off-camera. Sigh. One of those incredibly rare moments in which we actually see a body being moved follows, as Jason helpfully carts the lower portion of Sissy past the windows of the girls’ cabin, just to give little Miss I-Told-You-There-Were-Monsters! a good eyeful. Megan and Tommy, meanwhile, are speeding to the camp in her car. Encountering a roadblock, Megan shoves Tommy’s head down into her lap – to hide him – and makes a run for it. This is about the only truly sleazy moment of the film, as we get a couple of POV shots of Tommy’s scenic surrounds. As if he could be looking anywhere else. Megan evades the first roadblock, only to run right into her father’s outside the camp – and so Tommy ends up back in custody. At the camp, we get a false scare as a bloody machete looms close to Paula – only to be revealed in the custody of Little Miss ITYTWM who “found it outside”. Paula decides that this is “a joke”, courtesy of Cort or Sissy, and lugs Nancy back to bed.
There is a brief interlude at the sheriff’s office, during which Cort and Nikki’s murders are reported, and Megan throws a spanner into her father’s works by insisting that she was with Tommy at the pertinent time; and then it’s Paula’s turn to cop it. This dragged-out sequence starts with Paula advising Nancy to use prayer to ward off monsters, but failing to employ the same technique herself, with the result that her cabin ends up entirely redecorated. Who would have thought the young girl to have had so much blood in her? Back at the sheriff’s, Deputy Rick squashes a bug. Ewwww!! Look, I don’t mind human guts being waved at the camera, but that I find offensive! Megan and Tommy put their heads together, and come up with a plan for outsmarting Deputy Rick. No offence to our protagonists, but I rather suspect that a pair of retarded baboons could outsmart Deputy Rick. Leaving him incarcerated in his own jail, the two head for the camp. There, Jason has invaded the girls’ cabin for no readily apparent reason, giving Nancy the opportunity to put Paula’s advice to the test. Surprise – it works; and finding her nightmare banished from obvious sight, Nancy goes on to prove she’s got more guts than I have by – ulp! – checking under her bed….
(The use of the kids in Jason Lives is aggravatingly toothless, a classic American “pretend to endanger them but don’t really” subplot. We know they’re in no real danger from the moment we meet the two smart-mouth wise-cracking boys in their midst. The problem I have with this, apart from the obvious, is that with a little effort they could have really done something with this scenario – since Jason would certainly identify with the kids…. Oh, well.)
We learn that Jason’s departure from the cabin was prompted by the arrival of the sheriff and a few of his men. (One of the more unusual aspects of this film is the number of actual adults it features. Not that they fare any better than their juniors.) Garris goes to break various bad tidings to the remaining counselors, only to find that he’s a little bit late. Jason starts picking off the deputies. One gets a spike through the forehead down by the lake; another – after a false scare involving the ubiquitous Nancy – gets his head crushed. Garris finds himself with the whole swarm of kids on his hands, and after encouraging them to hide themselves under their beds, grabs his shotgun and ventures out to discover that---well, that Tommy isn’t quite so much of a whack-job as he thought. A thorough man, Garris spends about ten minutes proving to himself that Jason is impervious to bullets. He then runs away. Meanwhile, Megan and Tommy have arrived, and Megan gets herself a good look at the main cabin’s new internal décor. She pays a brief visit to the kids’ cabin, assuring them most unconvincingly that everything’s just fine, then tries to call for help on the radio in one of the police cars – only to find Sissy’s head occupying the front seat. Megan’s hysterical screaming reaches the ears of the kids, leading to the moment that almost redeems the two smart-mouths, one of whom turns to the other and inquires in a resigned voice, “So – what were you going to be when you grew up?” Megan’s screaming also reaches Jason, who turns in her direction, leading her father to make an attack on him and – wouldn’t you know it? – to do all those sensible things that no-one ever thought to do when Jason was mortal (you know – assuming): slamming him with a chunk of wood, pounding his skull with a rock. All to no avail, of course; and Sheriff Garris gets what should have been the film’s other fondly remembered set-piece, as he is disposed of by being bent in half backwards. Owie!
Tommy, all this while, has been messing around in a boat, locking chains around a honking big rock. Setting out, he orders Megan to go to the kids’ cabin. At that moment, as it happens, and again for no readily apparent reason, Jason bursts into that cabin – smashing through the door instead of just opening it, as he did on his previous visit. Turnabout being fair play, the kids’ hysterical screaming reaches Megan’s ears, and she immediately sets off in that direction, leaving Tommy yelling, “Megan, NO!!” Jeez, make up your mind, you whack-job. Jason then comes smashing out of the cabin – through a window, the door having been previously demolished – and puts the old head squeeze on Megan, until Tommy’s bellowing prompts him to let her go. “I’m the one you want!” Tommy howls, adding – get this – “Maggot-head!” Ooooh – them’s fighting words, Jarvis! Jason strides towards the lake – into it – under it – back home, in fact. Oops! Didn’t think of that, did you, Tommy? Naturally, at length we get the traditional Voorhees family lunge from under the water, and a wholly uninspiring tussle follows between Jason and our, uh, Final Boy. At length Tommy succeeds in looping the chain around Jason, who is dragged down by the sinking rock. However, the lake – and just look at that sparkly clean water! – is not quite deep enough, and Jason is able to get hold of Tommy’s ankle….
The sight of Tommy’s drifting body has Megan plunging into the water in an effort to save his life; so her ankles are soon under attack. However – we’ll be generous, and say it’s due to the “magic” qualities of Crystal Lake – the undead killing machine who has been crushing heads and bending bodies all through this film is suddenly not strong enough to drag a girl underwater. Megan grabs the remains of Tommy’s boat and manages to start the outboard motor. Then – and don’t ask me how – she further contrives to manoeuvre the propeller until it is taking bloody chunks out of Jason’s head – without disturbing the hockey-mask, naturally. Megan hauls Tommy out of the water and revives him; and we end with the two of them clutching at each other and gazing out fearfully at the waters of the lake, beneath the surface of which Jason drifts gently in the grip of his chains. There we leave him, people, and there we will no doubt find him again in the future.
That is, next year.
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