Written and Directed by: Tom McLoughlin
Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagan, and C.J. Graham
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Shitheads couldn't even stick him back in right. Why'd they have to go and dig up Jason?"
After Jason imposter Roy Burns tore up the screen in Friday the 13th Part V, fans of the series voiced their displeasure and made it clear that they would accept no substitutes when it came to hockey-masked madmen. While I personally find A New Beginning to be one of the more underrated entries in the series, there's no doubt that the Friday the 13th series had become Jason's show by this point. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Paramount resurrected the horror icon in the reassuringly titled Jason Lives, a film that would mark a distinct turning point for the series, as Jason would soon become a sort of anti-hero for the series.
While Jason Lives doesn't outright ignore its predecessor, it doesn't continue the notion that Tommy Jarvis will assume Jason's mantle. Instead, it opens with Tommy freshly removed from the mental institution and hell bent on finally putting Jason to rest. With his buddy Hawes (Ron Palillo of Horshack fame) in tow, Tommy sets out for Eternal Peace Cemetery to make sure Jason stays just where he belongs: in hell. Unfortunately, Tommy ends up losing it a bit when he arrives at Jason's grave and ends up impaling his corpse with a giant metal pike; of course, it also just happens to be a stormy night and said pike is an excellent conductor for electricity and before long, Jason is resurrected Frankenstein-style. Conveniently enough, the newly renamed town of Crystal Lake (now Forest Green) is about to witness yet another re-opening of the infamous "Camp Blood," and only Tommy is aware of the impending carnage.
In my estimation, Jason Lives is the last great solo outing for Jason Voorhees, and it's really the last film to get everything right as a Friday the 13th film. Later entries would rely too heavily on gimmicks (such as taking Jason to Manhattan or outer space) and bizarre choices (like the body hopping in Jason Goes to Hell), but Friday VI simply has Jason in his element doing what he does best: slaughtering nubile and unsuspecting campers in the woods. While every film that followed this one has its merits, this film feels exactly like what a Friday the 13th film should be. Such a statement seems blasphemous in some corners of the Friday the 13th fandom these days, as many see Jason Lives as the entry that moved Jason into campy, comedic territory because the film is not as "dark" as the previous entries. While this really can't be disputed, I don't think it's something that hurts the film, as the film's black humor is a welcome change of pace for the series, and it never degenerates into an all-out cheesefest. Plus, it's not like the series is without its comedic roots; as Brett H. pointed out, the much lauded Final Chapter is essentially a teen sex comedy guest-staring Jason Voorhees. At any rate, Jason Lives strikes a nice balance between its humorous sequences and characters (like the paintballers and Marvin the caretaker) and the brutal, vicious violence perpetrated by Jason. It all adds up to an entertaining romp through Crystal Lake--ahem, Forest Green.
As previously stated, Jason Lives is the first film in the series to make Jason a focal point. Whereas earlier entries kept him off screen and relied on prowler POVs to indicate his presence, Jason is front and center from the pre-credits sequence. Heck, even the credits themselves feature a parody of the James Bond series, as Jason walks into the frame and slashes at the screen, 007-style. And just as audiences flock to theaters to see Bond shoot up copious amounts of bad guys , audiences were now flocking to see Jason kill off teenagers in various fashions, and the film embraces this aspect. This direction culminates when Jason triumphantly stands on top of a wrecked, flaming RV, a shot that cemented his anti-hero status. Again, some fans aren't too happy about this paradigm shift, but it's bound to happen to all slasher icons eventually.
That said, one might expect such a Jason-centered film to have weak cast, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, Jason Lives boasts one of the best casts of any of the Friday the 13th film. Thom Matthews is excellent as the somewhat manic, yet still likeable Tommy Jarvis, and Jennifer Cooke, who plays the sheriff's daughter, Megan, remains my favorite Friday lead girl ever. The rest of the cast is well-rounded as well, as you have the requisite horny guy, Cort, and the sweet, innocent Paula (who meets a seemingly unnecessarily brutal demise). Furthermore, Jason isn't the only antagonist that Tommy has to put up with, as the aforementioned town sheriff, Michael Garris, obviously isn't buying into Tommy's claims that Jason has returned from the grave. Garris, along with his doofus deputy, Rick, attempts to prove that it's Tommy himself perpetrating the murders. Despite this, Garris eventually ends up being quite a likeable character, because, let's face it: can you really expect him to believe that Jason Voorhees is a walking corpse?
Bringing this altogether is Tom McLoughlin's slick, energetic, and confident direction, which still remains among the finest in the series. Jason Lives was easily the most stylish film in the series yet at this point, and the film's photography establishes quite a moody atmosphere, as Forest Green is often drenched in fog and shadows. It's interesting to note that this is the only film in the series so far that's actually set at a fully-operating summer camp, and the presence of children heightens the intensity a bit. It should also be noted that veteran composer Harry Manfredini turns in his best work in the Friday series here, as the film's main musical motif is one of the most memorable in the series.
Of course, the main attraction for a Friday the 13th film are the kills themselves, and Jason Lives does not disappoint in this department, as there's a copious amount of impalements, dismembered limbs, a heart-ripping, and even a triple-decapitation. A lot of the more outlandish kills are made possible by the decision to turn Jason into an undead, superhuman creature, another move that is now lamented by some fans; however, this decision really opened the door for even more creativity with the kills, and Jason Lives takes full advantage. All of these thrilling sequences lead up to one of the better climaxes in the series, which isn't like the full-on chases of the previous films; instead, it's one final showdown between Jason and his nemesis, Tommy, on Crystal Lake itself.
There was a time when Jason Lives was considered to be one of the best entries in the series by most fans; however, as is the trend with an ever-shifting fandom, it seems to have lost favor and is looked upon as the film that changed the series for the worse. I obviously disagree with this standpoint, as I still count it among the top third of the series. The film has been released twice on DVD by Paramount: once as a nearly bare bones individual release (the only special feature is the trailer), and it was also released as part of the "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan" box set along with the other seven Paramount films. The picture and audio for each version is identical, and, just as is the case with the other Friday the 13th DVDs, the presentation is excellent. The transfer is nicely restored, and the Dolby Surround track is nice and immersive, particularly during the film's opening sequence. The box set, of course, has some extras, including a commentary from McLoughlin, a segment during the Crystal Lake Chronicles, which features some retrospectives by the director and C.J. Graham. One can also find some deleted and alternate scenes for the film, including some gorier takes for some deaths. Oh, and McLoughlin also shows off Jason's tombstone from the film, which now resides in his own backyard, which shows the affection McLoughlin still has for the series. I think it would have been interesting if he would have been able to do another film in the series at one point; as my fellow reviewer, Wes R., has recently commented, it seems like McLoughlin really "got" Jason and this series, and it's no surprise that he turned in one of its best entries. Buy it!
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