Jason lives! Literally! So, naturally, the Friday the 13th franchise realized it’s mistake with the previous installment, and within 16 months on Aug. 1, 1986, they brought Jason Voorhees back in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
After the events of the last film, it seemed like Tommy Jarvis was set up to be the next Jason Voorhees, but with fans rejecting that idea at the box office, they brought Jason Voorhees back. Duh. In so doing, this is the first film in the franchise to explicitly make Jason Voorhees supernatural and superhuman in his strength and durability.
However, it’s weird to call it a “part six” since the fifth film wasn’t really a Jason Voorhees “part,” if you will. If anything, it would make more sense to call it Part V (although, with him not being in the first film, and starting in earnest with the second, maybe it’s really Part IV?).
Unlike some of the previous entries, I am rather certain before watching the film that I have seen it on AMC before. I don’t think I’ve seen it on regular VHS or DVD (or streaming) before, but the television version most certainty.
Both in the director’s chair and behind the typewriter for this film is Tom McLoughlin. He doesn’t seem to have done anything else of note (in my head, at least). Producer credit goes to Don Behms, who is notable in my head for being a production manager on 1978’s Halloween.
I do love the thinking McLoughlin brought to the series, according to Wikipedia: Let’s make Jason Voorhees like a Universal Monsters movie, where Jason Voorhees is like the lumbering Frankenstein. He also took Gothic influences from Edgar Allan Poe. That’s another plus in my book.
Finally, on McLoughlin for now, I also like that he resisted what the previous films were doing in terms of sex and nudity. This film is apparently the only one in the franchise to contain no nudity in his attempt to distance the film from those prior, which had taken the track of “morality tales in which premarital sex is punished by death.” That had been a rather obvious theme of the prior films.
He also cut down on the gore and death, but was pressured by the producers to increase the death count to 16 from the original 13 (which was a tongue-in-cheek move).
In front of the camera, we have a new cast again, including for the third time in time in the franchise, a recasting of the Tommy Jarvis character with Thom Mathews taking over. An interesting note about that change is that John Shepherd, who I thought did a commendable job playing Tommy in the previous film, became a born-again Christian, and didn’t want to reprise the role, so it went to Thom Mathews instead.
As usual with these Friday the 13th films, I don’t recognize or have many notes to offer with the cast. They aren’t star-studded, usually, and most go back to normal lives or the small screen. In the case of C.J. Graham, who plays Jason Voorhees and replaced Dan Bradley who apparently wasn’t intimidating and imposing enough, he was a nightclub owner producers were impressed with, and that’s basically all he ever did in Hollywood. Think about that. You’re just a guy, get seen by producers, and get to play one of the most iconic characters in Hollywood in what many consider to be one of the better films of the franchise.
Also, as you can see below, the better mask (that blue triangle mask is awful) with the red triangle is back:
The synopsis on the film reads, “As a child, Tommy Jarvis did what many others died trying to do. He killed Jason Voorhees, the mass murderer who terrorized the residents of Crystal Lake. But now, many years later, Tommy is tormented by the fear that maybe Jason isn’t really dead.”
So, we’ve obviously retconned the final moments of the previous film where Tommy kills Pam (or at least seems to), but we’re continuing the idea that he’s fearful of Jason Voorhees, despite seemingly having killed him. I believe we’re only a few years after the events of that previous film, so sometime in the early 1990s. It’s not established, but the Tommy here only looks a few years older than the Tommy of that film.
The inversion here is well-done. In the prior film, Tommy has a dream that two guys dug up Jason Voorhees’ grave and brought him back to life. In this one, Tommy, along with another guy, actually do dig up Jason Voorhees’ grave and brings him back to life! It’s smart, too, because it plays into Tommy’s physiological issues, “I just have to know if he’s actually still dead.” But now he’s the cause of Jason Voorhees returning.
Man, this movie might be somewhat ahead of it’s time with it’s meta fourth-wall breaking: Lizabeth (played by Nancy McLoughlin, the director’s wife) and Darren (played by Tony Goldwyn) are driving through the area where Jason Voorhees was recently resurrected, and they come upon him in the road. Lizabeth quips to Darren (quip seems the wrong word since she’s terrified):
“Because I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.”
I loved that! To use my wrestling parlance again, I “popped,” meaning I got excited for that. Their plan is to drive toward Jason Voorhees, with Darren thinking “nobody wants to die, he’ll move.” Remember in my review of the third film I made fun of Jason Voorhees for dodging the vehicle driven at him by Chris? In this one, now that he’s supernatural; Jason Voorhees ain’t moving.
To say that I am howling again would be an understatement. Lizabeth tries to offer Jason Voorhees money after he easily disposes of Darren. That’s so realistic, I think. In that chaotic situation, you’re still not thinking this is a cold-blooded murderer who can’t be swayed by cold, hard cash!
It’s also amusing that we’ve had some crazy characters in this franchise before who unsuccessfully tried to warn everyone about the danger, and this time, Tommy has become the “crazy” character.
We get an even more direct fourth wall breaking with the caretaker of the cemetery, Martin (played by Bob Larkin), who discovers Jason Voorhees’ grave dug up. He literally looks right at the camera, and says, “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason? Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.”
This is also a different scenario than usual: For once in this franchise, we actually see kids at the summer camp! What a novel idea and smashed up against a more powerful Jason Voorhees. Uh-oh.
In the last film, I thought some of the scenes that were played serious came across goofy. McLoughlin here does a great job of melding goofy and horrifying with the paintball scene. It’s got that corporate goofballs trying to paintball vibe, but then Jason Voorhees literally drops in with some brutal kills, ripping one guy’s arm off from the force of throwing him, decapitating three at the same time, and similar to the fourth film, we get, “Somebody help me, he’s going to kill me,” but it fits the character, the moment, and you feel sorry for that character.
The RV scene with Cort (played by Tom Fridley) and Nikki (played by Darcy DeMoss) is fantastic. Jason Voorhees sneaks into the RV’s bathroom (while they are out checking the plug), and while Cort’s driving, attacks Nikki in the bathroom, with a great overhead camera shot. Cort’s oblivious, naturally. Also, throughout the whole scene, Alice Cooper’s, “Teenage Frankenstein,” is playing for some more meta work. Then the RV crashes like it’s an action film, goes on its side on fire, and Jason Voorhees climbs out of the top to a great visual.
We get another great scene when Jason Voorhees is stalking Paula (played by Kerry Noonan) at the cabin WHERE ALL THE CHILDREN ALL. Jason Voorhees is darn sure back to being menacing and terrifying, perhaps the most horrifying he’s been to date in the franchise.
Along with the Frankenstein element of Jason Voorhees being added, we also get the mythology building that the only way to stop Jason Voorhees (particularly now that he’s so powerful) is to return him to his original resting place: Camp Crystal Lake. Tommy even gets Jason Voorhees to come to the water for his trap, which is fun. He calls him “maggot head,” and a bunch of other expletives.
Honestly, in a completely reversal of the last film, everyone in this cast is likable, even Sheriff Michael Garris (played by David Kagen) is likable in his gruff way. And he also thinks of the children by getting them to hide under their beds. That’s what makes this like 20 minutes or so more horrifying than usual because Jason Voorhees is in the area alongside all these little boys and girls. We even get another great visual when Jason Voorhees comings bursting through the cabin door where all the kids are staying and they go scurrying in fear.
The Sheriff even tries admirably to save his daughter, Megan Garris (played by Jennifer Cooke), by smashing Jason Voorhees in the head again and again with a rock. But … to no avail. It just doesn’t matter, and the Sheriff gets killed.
Mind you, again, Jason Voorhees is also superhuman here. He takes nearly 10 regular handgun shots at point-blank range, including one that hits him in the head, plus about three shotgun blasts to the chest to no effect. It doesn’t even slow him down much at all.
Megan is another “final girl” similar to Pam for me where she’s sort of in the peripheral early on, but gets to do some fun things, like evading the police in her car and defying her dad to help Tommy (which is kind of crazy since she doesn’t even know Tommy, but she thinks he’s cute). However, unlike any of the previous final girls, she doesn’t do much to go against Jason Voorhees, besides the end with the boat propeller.
I also love movie magic: This was shot in McLoughlin’s parents’ swimming pool, and yet it genuinely looks like a lake at a camp. How do they do that?! Apparently, the “guts” that occur when Jason Voorhees’ neck is sliced messed up the pool’s filter and he had to replace it. McLoughlin, that is, not Jason Voorhees.
Once Tommy has Jason Voorhees by the boat, we get (I’ve been saying this a lot for good reason) another great visual with the fire encircling the boat. Jason Voorhees on fire and then sinking literally like a rock to the bottom of the lake with the chain around his neck wrestling Tommy still is just fantastically well-done. Perhaps the best ending to a film in the franchise since the first one.
We end with a slight eye twitch from Jason Voorhees, still chained up underwater.
Even though Jason Voorhees was brought back, the diminishing box office returns continued, with this one marking the first time a film didn’t gross more than $20 million at $19.4 million. Still, on a budget of $3 million, that’s ridiculous. I suppose slasher fatigue was setting in for a bit here.
But, interestingly, aside from the original film, this is the most liked film from critics by a good margin. The critical consensus on Rottentomatoes reads, “Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives indeed brings back ol’ Voorhees, along with a sense of serviceable braindead fun.” That’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, but hey.
And it’s true, though! I honestly have zero criticisms to give this film. Not the acting, not the characters or writing, not the direction, not the story, not what they do with Jason Voorhees, none of it. It’s all good. I have no problems with it. I would say it’s certainly a great step-up from the previous installment’s fiasco (where it was directionless and more porno and torture porn vibes than anything). In my head, I would probably still put it behind the first two films because those are so strong, but I’m tempted to slot it ahead of three and four, despite how much I liked those, too.
To bottom line it, the reason McLoughlin’s script and direction work so well here is because the influence of Frankenstein is great (I never knew that, and now that I know that, I appreciate this film even more than I did as a teenager), and he knows what he’s making: a monster movie. He doesn’t take it too seriously, and for that reason, the melding of horror with self-referential and goofiness works so well together. This movie knows exactly what it is and gives it to you good and hard.
If you haven’t seen a single Friday the 13th film, I honestly think I would show you this one first because I think it best captures the appeal of these movies.