December 6, 2013

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

Despite the number one opening weekend, A New Beginning failed to get anywhere near the box office success of its two immediate predecessors. The poor reaction to the different direction the series took led the studio to rethink its plans for the franchise. Rather let the cash cow fade away (the modest budgets and solid rental market seemed to always ensure decent profit), Paramount went back to the drawing board and a little over a year later delivered Jason Lives to the theaters. Apparently the fan base had already started to slip over th apparent bad taste left by A New Beginning. This was the first of the series not to open at number 1 (it was second behind the third weekend of Aliens).

This time the creative reins were handed to Tom McLoughlin. The movie is a definite continuation from the prior entries, but it is also a refresher, a back to basics, if you will. He brought back Jason and he brought back the camp setting. While it is not all set at the camp, it does feature the first appearance of a camp setting since the second film. It is a rather welcome return. There is something about this film that feels fresher than the last. Although I liked A New Beginning and its brutality and attempts at psychology, there is something about what McLoughlin brought that was familiar, fun, and just better. He makes Jason Lives a Friday movie that just feels... right.

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI features the return of the number to the title, not seen since Part 3, albeit in Roman numeral form. This is also the first of the sequels to change the title format, putting Jason Lives first. Perhaps as a way to ensure fans that everyone's favorite masked killer was indeed back up to his old ways. To continue the firsts, this is the first movie not to have a pre-credit sequence that goes back to the film before it (or at least a character, A New Beginning was not a recap but featured Corey Feldman's reprising his role of Tommy Jarvis).

As Jason Lives begins, we are reintroduced to Tommy (now played by Thom Matthews from Return of the Living Dead, joining Miguel Nunez as Return cast members who went on to appear in a Friday movie). He and a friend have left the psychiatric facility where they were receiving treatment (presumably, unsure if they were let out, seemed like they should still be there). Tommy wants to rid himself of his demons. He seems to have beaten the fear of becoming Jason sensed during A New Beginning, but is still haunted by the specter. In an attempt to essentially treat himself, he has decided to visit Jason's grave and cremate the remains.

While this is one of the best openings of all the films, it did make me wonder why it was that Jason even got a marked grave It seems he would be the kind of guy whose grave location would be kept a secret, or he would have been cremated right from the start. Of course, that could also be asked about Pamela Voorhees grave, seen along some random road, not even in a cemetery, in The Final Chapter. I guess it doesn't really matter, if logic was truly used, most of these movies would be really short or just not exist.

Anyway, this outing sees another new twist in the Jason mythos. While in the first 4 (well 3, and presumed dead in one) Jason is a real, living person, albeit awfully resilient, he has a different nature here. In Tommy's time at the grave, a rain storm (of course) kicks up and in the midst of his perforating Jason's dead body, lightning strikes, this reanimating Jason. Now he is a mindless, killing, zombie thing. This is also a great return of the mask, he puts it on, picks up a spear and snaps to the attention towards the camera (this is followed by the inexplicable James Bond title reveal).

Tommy hightails it out of there and right to the police. Of course, the sheriff knows exactly who Tommy is, and while he is sympathetic to what happened to his family, wants nothing to do with his craziness. Of course, when Tommy comes in acting all nuts about Jason being back, it is not exactly easy to believe The Sheriff's reaction may seem a bit extreme, but it is certainly understandable.

I did mention that there was a camp in this one, right? There is and in the history of poorly run camps, this is one for the books. The only people there are the young counselors, there is no proper adult supervision (of course, Jason did have a little bit to do with with why they never arrived). These “counselors” look like they could use a pass through Paul's counselor camp in Part 2. Anyway, while Jason is picking them off, they do what they can to keep the kids safe.

Just like all the other movies, this one can be blamed of being the same stalk and slash format as the others. And why not? It clearly works. The thing about this is the execution. The express purpose of this movie seems to try and get Jason back on top and it is rather fun. There are jump scares, some nice kill scenes, a solid performance by CJ Graham as Jason, and a nice conclusion to the Tommy Jarvis trilogy.

This is a fantastic bookend to the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. What started with a brutal, no holds barred conclusion to the franchise (well, not really) that saw the presumed death of the big bad guy, ends with a no holds barred return to form with a Jason back doing what he does best. This brings Tommy some closure, and considering how it ends, puts Jason back where he belongs (referencing the original film), and gives us fans what we wanted after the tease of the middle Jarvis film.

Jason Lives features some nice kills and a decent level of tension, helped by the presence of and our familiarity with Tommy Jarvis (a great character), but it is also a touch light hearted and is one of the earliest horror films I can think of that does not exist in horror-free bubble (well before Scream exploited that to such great effect). There is an early scene where a character says she has seen enough horror movies to know that weirdos in masks are never friendly. There is also a mention of Dirty Harry by a character. It is nice to see a movie recognize that their world likely has movies too. On a different note the movie has references to Boris Karloff, Sean Cunningham (director of the original Friday), and John Carpenter (Halloween).

This is a fun movie and another good entry in the franchise. The more I watch these, the more I realize how much I enjoy them. There is a reason why some characters become memorable icons. Plus, I just like the look of the hockey mask and Jason's relentless nature. Now more relentless than ever, losing ever more of the remaining shreds of his humanity as he is becoming more the embodiment of impending death, Don't get in his way.


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