Sunday, May 8, 2011

Franchises: Friday the 13th. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

And now we come to my personal favorite Friday the 13th. This is the one that really struck a chord with me when I first saw it and turned me from someone who had a mild curiosity towards the series into a genuine fan. This is one of those movies where I don't understand how anybody could dislike it. It's got all of the ingredients for a fun horror movie: great kills, awesome setpieces, a nice, referential and, at times, self-deprecating sense of humor, and most significantly, for all those who still don't like Part V: A New Beginning, Jason is back with a vengeance here! The reason for resurrecting him was obvious: after the drop off from Part V, Paramount realized that the series' survival counted on his return and while I do wonder how the series would have went if Tommy Jarvis did eventually become the killer (as the ending of Part V was obviously leading to) just out of curiosity, I'm completely happy with the way they did bring Jason back. Since they knew that there was no realistic way to bring him back after he got a machete put all the way through his head in The Final Chapter, they decided to go full over the top with his revival and stick with that notion for the entirety of the film, which is just awesome.

The very opening of the film grabbed me when I first saw it. There's a sudden sting of music and we're shown a montage of creepy, fog-filled woods and bogs, which immediately sets a nice mood. We're then introduced to Tommy Jarvis and his buddy, Hawes (yeah, yeah, I know: Horshack), who are driving to the cemetery where Jason is buried so Tommy can destroy his corpse and hopefully end his inner torment in the process. The scene where they enter the graveyard is right out of an old classic horror film from the 30's: you have the typical creepy headstones and monuments everywhere, as well as a lot of wind and lightning to make it even scarier. When they find Jason's grave, there's a great moment where the lightning flashes, illuminating the headstone, as Tommy stares at it. Of course, they dig up the coffin and Tommy opens it. (The coffin is full of cobwebs, another holdover from those good old 30's movies.) That's when we see Jason's rotten, maggot covered corpse and Tommy, as a result, remembers back to when he killed Jason as a kid, with us hearing the audio of Tommy yelling, "Die!" from The Final Chapter. It's a very haunting moment. Overcome with the pain that Jason has caused him, Tommy grabs a loose metal fence post and furiously stabs the corpse with it, sticking it into the torso. Here's where things get awesome. Just as Tommy and Hawes are getting ready to burn the corpse, lightning strikes the metal rod, sending electricity surging through the body. After another lightning strike, Jason's eye opens. (The music that Harry Manfredini composed for this scene is so badass.) Tommy then goes to pull out the rod, unaware that Jason is watching him with a very evil look in his eye and when he removes it and gets out of the grave, Jason attacks. When he corners Tommy after climbing out himself, Hawes comes up behind him and smashes a shovel across the back of his head. Of course, it does nothing, and that's when Jason turns around and makes his first brutal kill. Tommy runs off, while Jason puts on the hockey mask that Tommy brought (why did he bring that anyway?), grabs the pole, and turns around. We get three sharp push-ins on Jason's eye and when the screen goes to black, Jason steps out, slashes the screen, blood gushes out, and reveals the title Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. We then get some more awesome music as the credits play. First time I saw this, I was like, "Hell yeah! That's how you start a movie!"

After that, the story is that Jason, naturally, begins a killing rampage as he heads back to Crystal Lake, which has now been renamed Forest Green in order to get rid of all the bad publicity surrounding its former name. Tommy, meanwhile, tries to warn the local sheriff, who doesn't believe him and decides to lock him up instead, believing that he's insane. Thus begins a subplot where Tommy tries to make his way to the camp to stop Jason but with the sheriff now after him, thinking that he's the one who's killing people, while Jason hacks his way through the newest bunch of counselors at the camp as well as threatens the children there too.

The director of this film has to be the most talented to ever take on a Friday the 13th movie: Tom McLoughlin. He also wrote the film and the studio apparently gave him free reign, which allowed him to make it a very smart, self-aware, fun horror flick. For one thing, it has a campy sense of humor that the other movies didn't have. All the characters, even the little kids at the camp, have some funny lines. My favorite is when the kids are told to hide under their beds and one kid says to another, "I think we're dead meat." Later when they hear the lead girl, Megan, screaming outside, the same kid says to the other, "Real dead meat," to which the other kid responds, "So, what were you going to be when you grew up?" I always get a kick out of that line and the weird expression the other kid gives him upon hearing it. Another nice one is when Tommy is arrested at the cemetery and he's yelling at the old caretaker to dig up Jason's grave. The man says, "Dig him up? Does he think I'm a farthead?" It then immediately cuts to a bunch of kids yelling, "Yeah!" It couldn't be more perfect. In addition to the humor, McLoughlin's love of horror movies comes through in the form of little tributes that he puts into the script. Jason being brought back to life by lightning is a clear nod to Frankenstein, and there's also a market that's named Karloff; there's a nearby town named Carpenter (a reference to John Carpenter), a road called Cunningham Road (Sean Cunningham), and at one point, a little girl at the camp named Nancy has a nightmare and then encounters Jason, which you could take as a reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street but I think McLoughlin has said it was actually meant to be a shout-out to his wife, who has a part in the film. Even if it is just a coincidence, I think it's a welcome one. Also, as part of the humor, this film makes some self-conscious comments about horror films, ten years before Scream would do the same thing. When the old caretaker is filling Jason's grave back up with dirt, he says, "Why'd they have to go and dig up Jason?" He then looks right at the camera and says, "Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment." That made a lot of critics love this film, stating that you can't really hate a movie that's making fun of itself. At an earlier point in the film when this couple comes across Jason standing in the middle of the road, the girl says, "We'd better turn around... because I've seen enough horror movies to know that some weirdo in a mask is never friendly." This movie knows that it's a hokey slasher film and is having fun with it, which makes it such a pleasure to watch.

Not only is this movie the first one since the original to actually take place at the original Camp Crystal Lake, it's the first time we've ever seen the camp in action as well, with there actually being little kids here and the counselors having to do their jobs. Big change from Part V, which took place away from the lake. Speaking of that film, McLoughlin has said that when he was writing this film, he decided to ignore the previous one and pick up after The Final Chapter. Given the ending of Part V, he had little choice but the inclusion of Part VI in this movie's title does seem to infer that the previous film did take place. The way I've always felt about it is that either Tommy was stopped before he could stab Pam at the end of Part V and he eventually came to his senses or that ending was just a nightmare he had in the hospital; whatever the case, both scenarios lead us into this movie. (I know it's a stretch and it's never mentioned in the film but I like to have all the movies count if I can possibly help it). And in stark contrast to Part V and the series in general, there's no nudity at all here. There is a sex scene, mind you, but the girl keeps her shirt on the whole time, and after they get done, if you listen closely, there's a sound effect that's meant to be the guy taking off a condom. McLoughlin has said he did that to distance the series from being morality tales and to make it clear that Jason doesn't care whether or not you've had sex, done drugs, etc., that if he sees you, he'll kill you. End of story.

Tommy in this film is played by Thom Matthews, yet another Return of the Living Dead alumni like Miguel A. Nunez Jr. and Mark Venturini in the previous film (was there some sort of partnership between that film and this series?) While he's still clearly haunted by his past encounters with Jason, he's nowhere near as disturbed here as John Shepherd's interpretation but regardless, I think Matthews does a good job. While he's scared of Jason, he's good enough to take it upon himself to destroy him once and for all since it's his fault that he was resurrected and he's also got enough guts to lure Jason out into the middle of the lake so he can trap him on the bottom. However, I would like Tommy more in this film if it weren't for the fact that he does some pretty stupid things. For one, after the opening, he goes straight to the sheriff and tries to tell him that Jason's been brought back to life, as if the guy was going to believe that. Instead, the sheriff throws him in a cell and the next morning, Tommy starts rambling about Jason again, further incriminating himself. Even after the sheriff tells him to leave and basically threatens to kill him if he ever sees him again, Tommy tries to get in touch with him after reading up on how to deal with the undead. Dude, the guy thinks you're crazy! Just go back to Crystal Lake and try to stop Jason yourself! You've read up on it and you know what to do. Just go do it! So that's a major strike against Tommy but, other than that, I do like his portrayal here and I root for him throughout the film.

David Kagen plays Sheriff Mike Garris (a joke on Mick Garris perhaps?). He may seem like a real asshole and he kind of is, truth be told, but when you think about what he's faced with and what this kid puts him through, you can understand his anger. The area has been quiet for many years now and, as Garris himself says, "They don't need some kid stirring up Jason shit again." Even though it is frustrating that he won't listen to Tommy, since we know Tommy's telling the truth, it's not hard to understand why he's so angry. Not only that but his daughter is an annoying, smart-mouthed bitch. Still, he does love her enough to take on Jason by himself when he sees him heading in her direction, which, of course, ends up with him dying. Even though he has one of the best deaths in the film, I think it's actually a real shame that he dies. I personally wanted him to live, realize that Tommy was right, and have him say, "You were right, kid. I'm sorry."

The other characters are pretty bland. As I said, I find Jennifer Cooke's role of Megan, Garris' daughter, to be very unlikable. Ironically, even though this is my favorite movie, I find her to be the most annoying lead girl in the series. She's just a smart-mouthed brat who talks back to her father, does really annoying things like trying to see how far she can lean back in a chair without falling over, and says to Tommy when he tries to borrow her car in order to go to Crystal Lake himself, "Nobody drives
this puppy but me." She is so annoying that I actually wanted Jason to crush her head when he grabs her but damn it, that doesn't happen. The other counselors aren't as bad but they are forgettable. Paula, played by Kerry Noonan, does do something that annoys me, though: when she takes this little girl to bed and the girl asks what she should do if she gets
scared again, Paula shushes her and while doing so makes a face that, for some reason, has always got on my nerves. Renee Jones as Sissy is the typical wise-ass black girl... and she doesn't last very long before getting killed. Cort, played by Tom Fridley (who I think is John Travolta's nephew), does nothing except act really dumb half the time and bang some girl in an RV before meeting his end. The girl in question, Nikki (Darcy DeMoss), is another annoying bitch who bosses Cort
around and deserves the death that she gets. The counselors that never make it to the camp, Darren and Lizbeth, are kind of special because they're played by a young Tony Goldwyn and Nancy McLoughlin, the director's wife. Her death has a joke attached to it because she tries to buy Jason off with some money and an American Express card, the latter of which doesn't sink into the water after she's killed. That was meant for people to say, "Don't leave home without it," and, by all accounts, many in the theater did get the joke.

I've always viewed the Friday the 13th series as being divided into two distinct phases, the first of which encompasses the original on up to The Final Chapter, four movies which all looked and felt pretty much the same and were more or less believable, with Mrs. Voorhees and a human, if hard to kill, Jason being the antagonists. (Part V sort of fits into that phase as well since we were still dealing with a flesh-and-blood killer there and it does have the same look as its predecessors but, at the same time, since its connection with this film is questionable, I've always tended to view it as its own separate entity.) Jason Lives begins the second phase of the franchise, with Jason's coming back as a murderous, walking corpse being the angle the series would stick to until the 2009 reboot. (Moreover, the supernatural territory now that we're clearly heading into now would be added to in the majority of the following films.) Starting here, Jason slowly walks after his prey rather runs, takes many gunshots and other forms of deadly punishment and just keeps coming, and is more powerful than ever, able to deal far more devastating and graphic kills. C.J. Graham plays Jason this time and he does so like the Terminator, turning and walking in a hulking, robotic fashion. While I don't think he's as menacing as Ted White was, I do think he does a good job here. One thing I like is that, even though he's undead now, Jason still has his childlike way of thinking and reacting to stuff he doesn't understand. One funny moment is when this paintball guy shoots him in the chest with a pellet and Jason just looks down at the splatter on his shirt, seeming more annoyed than mad, and slowly looks back up at the guy before chasing after him. He also does the inquisitive head-turn that both he and Michael Myers tend to do when he sees the RV rocking back and forth from Nikki and Cort's crazy lovemaking. You only get one look at Jason's face at the beginning but it's so dark and so mangled you can't really make it out.

Jason's also armed to the teeth in this movie. At first, he uses the fence post that acted as a conductor for the lightning as a weapon but when he encounters the aforementioned paintball players, he kills one guy and takes his machete. After he slaughters the rest of the players, he takes some of their equipment, including an extra knife pouch and combat belt, where he keeps throwing daggers. Jason's like Rambo here! As before, when he finally gets to Camp Crystal Lake, Jason knows enough to cut the phone line so nobody can call for help. One interesting note is that Jason doesn't kill any of the little kids. At one point when the little girl Nancy sees him, he walks up to her and leans down to look at her while she quickly says a prayer to make him go away, although it didn't seem like he was going to hurt her. Later, he does burst into the building where the kids are, sending them running for cover, but it seems more like he just did that so their screams would attract Megan there so he could kill her. My guess is that he either doesn't hurt the children because he basically has the mentality of a child himself or because he's like an animal and is simply curious about children while he sees adults as a threat. Speaking of which, when Tommy yells at him to get him into the lake, Jason seems to remember and stomps into the lake to attack. In that case, the question now is, does he just remember him from the cemetery or does he know exactly who he is?

The kills in this movie are wonderfully over the top and fairly gory too. The first kill is Hawes, whom Jason punches all the way through, pulling out his heart in the process. He impales Darren with the fence post and after throwing him over his shoulder, he apparently stabs Lizbeth right in the head when she's lying in a mud puddle. The first paintball guy that he
kills is done by grabbing his arm and ripping it off, sending him into a tree. (It's so quickly edited, it's at first hard to tell exactly what happened.) He kills three other paintballers at the same time with a triple decapitation, which is awesome! We don't see him kill Roy, the poor guy who's dumb enough to shoot him, but later on, the police find parts of his body hacked off, suggesting Jason went a little crazy. He kills the caretaker by catching a liquor bottle he throws away, breaking it, and
shoving it into his throat. Ouch! He then proceeds to hack his body up when he seems some guy spying on him. He impales both that guy and his girlfriend with the machete. Jason kills Nikki by crushing her face into the wall of the RV and puts a knife in Cort's head. He twists Sissy's head off and Megan later finds it a squad car. He attacks Paula in her cabin and the aftermath that we see is pretty horrific: there's blood on every
single part of that room, including the bowl of popcorn Paula and Sissy were munching on earlier, like somebody exploded in there! He crushes one cop's head in, (that aftermath is particularly nasty), does another one in by hitting him in the head with a throwing blade, and, finally, kills Garris by bending him all the way backwards until his spine snaps in half in a kill that hurts just to watch.

This movie is full of great action scenes you wouldn't normally expect to see in a Friday the 13th movie. The scene in the RV as Cort drives it, with Nikki being killed by Jason in the bathroom, is a really exciting scene and it's all set to I'm A Teenage Frankenstein by Alice Cooper. After the RV crashes, Jason gets out and stands on top of it as it burns, which is a cool image. There's also a hilarious car chase where Megan and Tommy are trying to outrun her father's squad cars and because it's set to another Alice Cooper song, Hard Rock Summer, it could make you think you're watching a Beverly Hills Cop movie instead of Friday the 13th. Finally, the end battle between Tommy and Jason out on the lake is a great finale. Tommy manages to chain Jason to the bottom of the lake but Jason apparently kills him in the struggle (it turns out that he didn't, though). Megan then swims out to save Tommy but Jason attacks her, forcing her to fend him off by putting the blades of the motorboat's outboard engine right into his neck.

For this movie, Harry Manfredini composed an entirely new music score, using none of his cues from the past films save for a new sound to the, "ki, ki, ma, ma." The music here really beefs both Jason and the series up a notch, giving it a more badass sound than it had ever had before. I already mentioned how great all the music during the beginning and over the opening credits is. It just builds up so well, adds to the nice atmosphere with the windblown cemetery, and culminates in an awesome crescendo when Jason is resurrected and the opening title lets you know what kind of movie you're in for. I also really love the music that plays during the final fight, especially when Tommy is dumping gasoline into the lake to set it on fire, as well as other cues like the building one when Jason throws a dagger at a cop and the eerie music you hear for the quiet scenes that take out in the woods, like when Cort and Nikki feel like they're being watched. The Alice Cooper songs also help give this movie an upbeat, party atmosphere. I really like the two I already mentioned in the review as well as I'm No Animal by Felony that plays during the sex scene but the best song, by far, is He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask), which plays over the ending credits. It makes Jason feel even more awesome than he already is, as well as simply being a really cool song for a really entertaining movie.

While others may have differing opinions, for me, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is the peak of the franchise and would never be topped. It's the one that made me a fan of the series and it's also simply the one I have the most fun due to its sheer entertainment value, which is comprised of a fun tone and feel to the film, a breezy pace, a nicely self-aware sense of humor and wit, a monstrously unstoppable portrayal of Jason, good kills, and a great, memorable score and soundtrack. While I do love some of the following movies, this is as good as gets in my humble opinion.

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