Every month, we at The Spool select a filmmaker to explore in greater depth — their themes, their deeper concerns, how their works chart the history of cinema and the filmmaker’s own biography. 40 years after Camp Crystal Lake appeared on the silver screen, we look back at Friday the 13th and how the perennial slasher series mutated across the years. Read the rest of our Friday coverage here.
For an iconic slasher villain, Jason Voorhees sure takes a while to come into his own. By Jason Lives, the sixth Friday the 13th outing, Jason himself has only gotten to slash anything three times! Like its genre cousin Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Jason Lives is a reparative film for its franchise: following an installment not featuring the iconic villain character (sorry, Roy), the titular killer must return with a vengeance.
Jason Voorhees, having been killed at last at the end of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, gets an electric new lease on life thanks to returning champion Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews) and some convenient magic (?) lightning. Why does lightning revive both Jason’s corpse AND his jumpsuit? Shhhh. Some mysteries are not for us to solve.
Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, Jason Lives is a straightforward slasher story that gets to stand above its siblings with its meta-humor and flagrant disregard for the fourth wall. Tommy, hoping to burn Jason’s corpse and thereby cure his own PTSD, accidentally revives Jason (C.J. Graham & Dan Bradley) instead, fleeing to a renamed Crystal Lake (now Forest Green) to tell the authorities.
Said authorities promptly lock Tommy up as a troublemaker because they don’t want new rumors about that old Jason Voorhees getting out, for despite roughly ten years having passed between Tommy’s initial encounter with Jason and the current events, everyone in town under the age of 45 thinks of Jason as an urban legend.
Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), sheriff’s daughter and general heroine, shares some of the plot of the first film with her cohorts at the camp, but it sounds just like someone describing a scary movie rather than passing along useful facts. Her friends/coworkers Paula, Sissy, and Cort (Kerry Noonan, Renee Jones, and Tom Fridley) laugh off the story. Sissy even tries to invent a Jason-themed card game later on in the movie, though Paula declines to play. None of them act as if they’ve ever heard the name Jason Voorhees before, even though he’s buried not five miles away. What is in the water in this place? (Bodies. It’s full of bodies.)
“I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly,” one hapless counselor (Nancy McLoughlin) says when she and her companion (Tony Goldwyn) encounter a newly resurrected Jason in the road. But she obviously didn’t pay as much attention to the recurring stories about the literal mass murderer from her own town.
Jason Lives is a straightforward slasher story that gets to stand above its siblings with its meta-humor and flagrant disregard for the fourth wall.
Meanwhile, Jason does what he does, slashing his way through corporate paint-ballers, creepy old groundskeepers, and camp counselors before the inevitable showdown with Tommy and his newly acquired love interest Megan, leaving Jason chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake, waiting for his next go-round. How do they manage to defeat a newly superhuman Jason, one might ask? Why, Tommy’s car full of occult books, of course. Why wouldn’t a young man, when facing down a non-supernatural killer from his past, make sure to carry several esoteric tomes with him at all times?
I kid, they aren’t esoteric. They look like Tommy made a quick detour to the New Age section at Waldenbooks. Fortunately for Tommy and Megan, these books have just the information that they need. It’s these little touches that gel so wonderfully throughout the movie; in another horror film the audience might groan to see that the hero has conveniently packed his magic books. In Jason Lives, much like Jason’s newly acquired super-strength and his adorable confusion at same, it’s just part of the charm. Hopefully there are a few ideas for spellwork to help Megan deal with losing all of her friends and her father over the course of one evening.
Jason becomes the preternaturally strong and relentless killer in Jason Lives that casual viewers believe him to have been for the entire franchise. From the moment that lightning hits his corpse, Jason is tearing hearts from chests and accidentally tearing off heads and arms (complete with “Did I do that?” look to the audience), tilting his head at rocking RVs and frightened young campers like a homicidal parakeet.
Seemingly unstoppable and insatiable, this Jason is a turning point for the rest of the franchise. This is no longer a Jason Voorhees who can be deflected with child psychology or by an actual child: this is a mystical killing machine, for better or for worse, straight through to outer space.
So, what is it that makes Jason Lives such an absolute delight and highlight of the franchise? It knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and it revels in it. Like a belaboured Saturday Night Live joke, this movie has everything. Comic relief cops! Overprotective fathers! A collection of campers who have packed their pet hamsters! The power of prayer! Car chases! ‘80s Boss Lady corporate humor! A cranky old caretaker who hates those meddling teens and talks directly to the audience! The music of Alice Cooper! It’s all the most comfortable of stereotypes that are somehow still fresh and exactly what the viewer wants to see,
Horror comedies have to walk a fine line so as to lovingly lampoon their targets, and not belittle them. Jason Lives walks that line like a charm. It’s not making fun of the slasher genre, it’s looking directly into the camera and saying, “Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment.” Yes, yes we do, and we love it.
A few notes:
- Absolutely no one in this film can drive. They can’t drive Jeeps, they can’t drive police cars, they can’t drive RVs. Forget the camp, stay off the Forest Green roads!
- I won’t say that Gravedigger Martin IS a nod to Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing, but I also won’t say that he isn’t.
- For a killer whose public perception is that he absolutely hates premarital sex, I’m not entirely certain that Jason knows what Cort and Nikki are getting up to in that RV.
- I’m also not sure that Jason knows what a child is, which is fortunate for the camper he encounters, as Jason seems to consider her either an innocent to spare or a small squirrel of some sort.
- Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin was one of the mimes/actors who played the mutated bear Katahdin in the 1979 natural horror film Prophecy, which has nothing to do with Jason Lives but is awesome.