After the mess that was Part V: A New Beginning, it’s a surprise that Paramount would’ve okayed a sixth film, except for one thing. Well, make that 22 million things. With a budget of just $2.2 million, the fifth movie earned back ten times the cost. The movie may have been a financial hit but it still met with a lukewarm reception at best. Critics, naturally, hated it. This was nothing new. However, the fans didn’t like it either, and that was a problem. With this in mind, Paramount and producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. decided to abandon the set-up at the end of the fifth movie, where it looked as though Tommy Jarvis would become the next killer of the series (which is what the fourth movie did, as well). As such, the decision was made to bring Jason back. They hired Tom McLoughlin to write and direct the movie.
Unlike my experiences with the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I don’t have clear memories of the first time I saw most of these movies. I’m pretty sure I was between 12 and 15 and they were all showing on Cinemax. They never captured my interest as much as the Nightmares did, so watching these now is like watching them for the first time, only with odd flashbacks. So I can honestly say that Jason Lives surprised me.
I’m surprised, but happy, to say that the acting is pretty good. Now don’t get me wrong, no one was going to win any Oscars from this movie, but the actors were definitely better in this installment than in the previous few. Thom Mathews as the new Tommy Jarvis is pretty good. He’s much more charismatic than John Shepherd was in the role in the previous movie. Jennifer Crooke as Meghan is also pretty good, although straining at times. David Kagen as Sheriff Mike Garris also does a great job. And this movie features Future Serious Actor Tony Goldwyn, just four years before his memorable appearance with Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg, and Demi Moore Ghost (he can now be seen as the President of the United States in the TV series Scandal). This movie may have the best cast since the first movie.
The humor is a welcome change from what’s come before. This movie is actually funny in spots. Not that the Friday the 13th movies ever shied away from humor, but it was usually camp that was employed. McLoughlin’s script is actually pretty funny. This isn’t a comedy, not in the true sense of the word, but it’s got elements that would later be employed (more successfully) by Wes Craven’s Kevin Williamson’s-scripted Scream films.
There’s actual tension in this movie. Not much of it, but it’s there. Jason (C.J. Graham) has stopped running yet still manages to be unsettling. There’s a scene when someone catches him killing another person. He stops and looks at the voyeur. The shot is done so that we’ve become the voyeur so Jason has caught us. It’s a little thing, but it helps. So when Jason turns and begins walking quickly toward us, the reaction is purely, Oh, shit! Run! There are other scenes where this horror movie comes close to living up to the genre’s name, which is a welcome relief from the previous movies.
There’s an actual, true supernatural element to the movie. Prior to this, Jason gets his ass handed to him over and over again but is supposed to be some sort of man with a lot of strength. This movie opens up with Tommy Jarvis and a friend from the mental hospital (played by none other than Horshack himself, the late Ron Palillo) going to find Jason’s grave (skipping over the previous movie’s assertion that Jason was cremated) because Tommy doesn’t believe Jason’s really dead. They dig him up and upon seeing Jason’s decaying, worm- and maggot-ridden corpse, Tommy freaks out and grabs a piece of the wrought iron fence–which looks like a spear–and begins pounding it into Jason, screaming. Finally, back to his senses, he climbs out of the grave to get the gasoline to finally, truly cremate him. Lightning strikes the spear and brings Jason back to life. Jason is essentially a zombie from here on. It opens up a whole world of possible fun and actually gives the previous movies some help. Now Jason really did die as a child, but came back after his mother was killed. And that’s why no one is ever able to kill him, except Tommy in the fourth movie.
There’s thought that actually goes into this movie. If Tommy wasn’t obsessed with the idea of Jason not being dead, he wouldn’t have brought him back to life (even accidentally). I like that Tommy is the one who “killed” Jason before accidentally bringing him back. Also, the common thing is to have the main heroine of the movie be the sweet, innocent one. Not so in this movie. Meghan is the wild child who would normally be killed fairly early on in this kind of movie. The girl who is most like the typical heroine in these movies is the last of the camp counselors to die. There’s surprisingly very little in terms of plot holes in this particular story (though in the overall scheme of the franchise, there are plenty).
The ending is a little weak. Tommy puts Jason underwater with a chain around a rock and Meghan goes at him with the motor of a motorboat and he dies. Or does he? When the camera goes in for an extreme close-up of Jason’s eye, it’s no real surprise.
The sheriff’s deputy is played badly. He’s the typical horror movie cop and the rest of the material is beneath this.
Saturday the 14th
This movie surprised me. I liked it. More than I should’ve, probably. McLoughlin understands the material and does his best to make it fresh and it works. I don’t know if I saw the whole thing as a kid (I remember the opening in the graveyard from back then) but if I did, I certainly didn’t get the humor. Or maybe I thought it was lame. I don’t know, but I found myself quite entertained by Jason Lives. I daresay, it may be my favorite of the series. At least so far.
The movie made less than the previous movie at around $19.5 million, but still earned back a lot (its budget was $3 million). By now, though, Jason wasn’t the only monster on the block. Freddy Krueger slay his way through two movies with a third on the way in early 1987. And around schoolyards and school hallways, the inevitable question arose: Who would win in a fight…?