“What do we do after we kill the bad guy?” Many slasher movies with an embarrassing amount of sequels face this dilemma. Some are smart. In Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger only exists in the dream world, so he can be brought back as many times as deemed necessary. How about Child’s Play? Chucky is an evil soul inhabiting a doll. As long as you can produce a new doll, you can produce a new Chucky movie. Scream defies the issue by finding a new killer to don the mask with every sequel.
Sometimes the approach is as simple as “just ignore it.” Leatherface is blown up at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Did they explain it in Part 3? Nah. What about Victor Crowley being beaten to a bloody pulp at the end of Hatchet II? Not a problem, he’s fine. This same technique was used, or should I say “abused” in the Halloween franchise. Though they later explained this in Part 6 when Michael Myer’s immortality was revealed to be the result of evil Druid magic.
This leads to the dumbest way to keep a franchise going, “Magic.” Halloween committed this sin in 1995 but nine years prior a little black magic transpired in the small town of Crystal Lake or should I say, “Forest Green”—more on that in a bit—and the Friday the 13th franchise was never the same. But was this dumb change for the better?
Hell yes. I can’t believe I’m saying this but “Jason Lives is my favorite Friday the 13th movie.” “How could this be?” What better place to start than the beginning? The film opens with the coolest name for a production company ever: “A Terror Inc Production.” They know what you want. After this, we open on a moody cemetery. It feels like a throwback to Tommy’s dream sequence in Part V but this time it’s real! An adult Tommy Jarvis (played by Thom Matthews) and his friend Hawes (Ron Palilo) drive to the Crystal Lake cemetery to find out if Jason is finally dead. “What’s the occasion?” I have no idea. There doesn’t seem to be any impetus for Tommy to visit Jason’s grave. Maybe he was recently released from the loony bin and decided it was finally time to catch up with his ‘ol buddy Jason.
Tommy unearths Jason’s grave and discovers a rotting corpse infested with maggots. He’s dead alright. This isn’t enough for Tommy, so he rips a metal post from a fence and stabs Jason’s corpse repeatedly. Again, this is a nice throwback to the first time Tommy killed Jason. They even play the original audio of Corey Feldman saying “Die! Die” as if it’s playing in Tommy’s head. After stabbing Jason fifty times Tommy throws Jason’s hockey mask into the grave and walks away, but uh oh! Lightning strikes the metal post in Jason’s chest and he’s revitalized a la FRANKENJASON!
Reunited with his mask and reinvigorated by the almighty power of Zeus, Jason rises from the grave and towers over a petrified Tommy. Sure, Jason has had his scary moments before but never has he felt so intimating. He just stands there waiting for Tommy to make the first move. It’s scary because Jason knows no matter what Tommy does, Tommy will lose. Jason can take as much time as he needs. Ignoring this fact, Hawes attempts to hit Jason with a shovel only to have Jason turn around and punch him clean through the chest. Tommy runs away and the greatest title card in cinematic history happens:
I imagine more than a few viewers see this and lament how far the franchise has fallen. I, on the other hand, applaud the new direction. Humor is what Friday the 13th has always lacked. Humor was the reason Paramount producer Frank Mancuso Jr. hired writer/director Tom McLoughlin. A man Wikipedia describes as “an American screenwriter, film/television director, and former mime.” McLoughlin not only desired to make the franchise funny, he made the film a throwback to Universal Monster movies. As a fan of old school horror, I love this direction. Jason is far more effective as a lumbering Frankenstein zombie than a Deliverance-style psychopath.
Tommy tries to warn the Sheriff (David Kagen) that Jason has returned from the grave but they refuse to listen and lock him up. It’s also at this point we learn the town has changed its name from Crystal Lake to “Forest Green.” “What, like rebranding? It’s not like people are going to forget what happened.” In the grand scheme of things this detail doesn’t matter, I just don’t get it. We meet the sheriff’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), dropping by the station who is apparently a counselor at a NEW CAMP in Crystal Lake. “When are these people going to get the message?”
The story to Jason Lives isn’t special, but that’s fine because this film doesn’t dwell on the story. Most of the film focuses on Jason killing people and it’s great. Too often the kills in these films are spread out and the Jason appearances sparse. Finally, we get a film where Jason is in almost every other scene killing someone in comical fashion. He’s more or less the main character and it totally works.
My favorite scene in the film is when a pair of counselors are driving through Crystal Lake… I mean, Forest Green to find Jason standing in the middle of the road. The guy thinks he can convince him to move which the girl responds “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.” Wow, that’s actually funny. This is the kind of self-referential humor that made Scream a classic. Yet this film came out ten years before. What’s impressive is after this comical exchange, Jason stabs a tire through the hood and the mood shifts to scary. Horror and comedy are a difficult balance but this film has it in spades. Or should I say “blades?” No, spades sound better.
I also appreciate that we for the first time see a camp functioning. Many times I’ve asked the question “When are the campers going to show up?” And this time they do. It’s not like I really wanted to see Jason kills kids, I just found it odd there were never any campers in a movie franchise about a summer camp.
The only downside I can think of is the last half of the film feels less inspired. It’s your typical slasher game of cat with machete and mouse. In the end, Jason and Tommy do battle in the same lake where Jason “died” as a kid. Jason ends up chained to the bottom of the lake and Megan attacks him with a boat motor and saves Tommy. The closing shot is Jason’s body floating at the bottom of the lake only to have him open one eye. Cue the film’s theme song “He’s Back (the Man Behind the Mask)” by Alice Cooper and there you have it.
Stay tuned for next week when I’ll be watching Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Though I have a feeling it will look a lot of the same blood.
Of course, you can’t have a cheesy theme song with an even cheesier music video.