Smarting by the anemic box office and angrily negative fan reaction to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING, Paramount brought in writer-director Tom McLoughlin (whose only previous directorial experience was the well regarded ONE DARK NIGHT back in 1983) to revive the franchise. McLoughlin – under studio directive to bring Jason back to life – decided to use humor to smooth over the more ludicrous plot machinations, and his comic sensibilities were thankfully more graceful than his predecessor’s had been. As with previous entries, production began almost before the previous film had exited theaters, and FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART VI: JASON LIVES! was released in August of 1986. The sequel picks up with teenage Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews, so memorable alongside James Karen in the previous year’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and fellow asylum inmate Allen (Ron Palillo, TV’s Horshack, in what would sadly be his highest profile role post-KOTTER) on a breakneck graveyard run to once and for all purge Jason from his dreams. This plays out almost identically to the opening of the previous FRIDAY THE 13TH – though instead of ghoulish pranks, Tommy and Allen set out to burn Jason’s corpse to cinders. What follows gives a fair indication of the type of humor that McLoughlin offers, as the attempt to put Jason down for good has the exact opposite effect: a steel pole gets lodged in the torso of the lifeless, desiccated body – which is brought back to life Frankenstein-style by a bolt of lightning. After Allen gets a hole punched through his chest by the newly animated killer, Tommy flees, his unfinished task a heroically epic fail. The prologue finishes up with an optical shot through the eye of the hockey mask, with Jason stalking across the frame, then stopping to throw a machete at the camera in a takeoff of the James Bond opening that elicited wild applause from the audience with whom we saw the film.
Tommy makes a fruitless attempt to warn the local authorities in the form of Sheriff Garris (an appropriately gruff David Kagen), who winds up throwing Tommy in jail after he makes a grab for a shotgun. Having renamed itself Forest Green in an effort to distance itself from its most infamous son, Crystal Lake – understandably – doesn’t lay out the welcome mat for Tommy; he does, however, find a believer in the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), who just happens to be one of the counselors at yet another summer camp operating off the lake (how do they get insurance?)
Director McLoughlin showcases a few humorous moments of the all-too-rare “laughing with” variety, as Jason goes after a pre-Ghost Tony Goldwin and the director’s wife, Nancy. Jason blocks the path of their rather unintimidating Volkswagen, and after Tony’s unsuccessful attempt to threaten him with a fist-sized handgun, Nancy tries offering him her wallet – cut to final shot of an Amex card floating in a blood-soaked puddle.
McLoughlin is careful never to let the humor drift off into outright satire – probably harder than it sounds when you’re talking about a Part VI of anything – but he’s also aware that given the triteness of the setup it’s probably the only way to squeeze out a halfway entertaining movie. Even if the sequence wherein Jason kills a bunch of corporate executives on a survivalist weekend plays too broadly for comfort, McLoughlin’s heart is in the right place.
With the help from Megan, Tommy escapes from the jail and heads to the place he know Jason can’t resist – a summer camp. McLoughlin does take a risk here; previous films in the series have only shown camps getting ready to open, but here we see Jason actually menacing a little girl in her bunk, and the series dips its toe into palpably uncomfortable waters for several moments (though some of that tension is relieved by a snoozing camper with a copy of “No Exit” open on their chest.)
Being a Paramount film, nothing too horrible happens (though at the risk of a spoiler, let’s say that one character bends over backwards in a more than figurative sense.) However, the MPAA once again had at the film, dulling the impact of nearly every kill. Being the final film in the unofficial Tommy Jarvis trilogy of IV, V, and VI, the showdown leaves Final Girl Megan without much to do, as Tommy lures Jason back to the very lake where he drowned as a boy, leading to a fiery – if not quite final – confrontation.
Far superior to its dreadful predecessor, Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives is the last decent film in the series made at Paramount. The ill-conceived A New Blood introduced a Final Girl with telekinetic abilities, thus ripping off two movies instead of just one, and the aberration that was Jason Takes Manhattan featured a High School graduation party on a cruise to NYC that doesn’t reach the titular city until the conclusion for some hastily filmed Times Square shots (the Pilgrims got to Manhattan quicker.)
While not all the humor in Jason Lives works, at least the failed bits don’t up-end the whole show. The only major complaint is the shift in location shooting to Georgia; while the California locations of III, IV, and V stood out like a bloody machete from the effective Northeast setting of the first two films, Georgia always looks like Georgia.
Paramount has understandably decided to make this film the last of the series to get special edition treatment, possibly because they have run out of installments of Lost Tales of Camp Blood, the 6th (and we hope, final) of which is included here. The film has also been cleaned up a bit since its last release, with a much better looking image than the copy found on the box set.
The best extra is the commentary with Tommy McLoughlin, editor Bruce Green, and writer Vinnie Guastaferro. McLoughlin is a horror enthusiast (who directed several episodes of the Friday the 13th syndicated series); he still relishes his shot at making a Friday the 13th film (he still has Jason’s gravestone in his yard) and he leads an informative and fun chat that makes it hard to switch hack over to the film soundtrack. (We actually had the opportunity to meet McLoughlin shortly after this film, while he was shooting Date with an Angel at the de Laurentiis studios in North Carolina and can confirm that he really is that nice.)
As for the remaining bonus features:
- The making-of piece, Jason Lives: The Making of Friday the 13th Part VI is interesting, but features a lot of overlap with the commentary.
- Slashed Scenes is another tribute to the MPAA, featuring complete versions of the edited kills, though the workprint quality is wobbly.
- Meeting Mr. Voorhees describes McLoughlin’s unfilmed ending that would have shown Jason’s never-discussed father visiting his grave.
- The mocumentary The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part III doesn’t offend; neither is it worth much of your time (particularly for the third time.)
- The nearly apologetic theatrical trailer is also included.