Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Writer: Tom McLoughlin
Producer: Don Behrns
Stars: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renee Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, C.J. Graham
Tommy Jarvis’ plan to exterminate Jason Voorhees once and for all inadvertently awakens the killer for a new slaughter spree.
“Jason Lives” usually wrestles with “The Final Chapter” over which “Friday the 13th” film earns the most fan favor. One can kind of see why, as in a certain sense “Jason Lives” represents a pretty direct distillation of what the franchise is all about.
Responsible for establishing “zombie” Jason, “Friday the 13th Part VI” features an incarnation of the iconic killer that is a pure murder machine. He’s no character. He’s a conduit for carnage. “Jason Lives” couldn’t care less about continuity, much less meaningful motivations. Once the setup puts its pieces in place, the remainder of the movie cuts down the whole game board in a bloody machete slash focused almost exclusively on dropping bodies to the forest floor.
And that setup doesn’t make a lick of sense. Unable to leave well enough alone, Tommy Jarvis has the dimwit idea to re-kill an already dead Jason Voorhees by digging up his grave, prying open his coffin, and cremating his decaying corpse. A compelling case can be made that Tommy is as much to blame for what happens next as Jason, maybe more so.
Jason’s maggot-riddled body wasn’t going anywhere. It is now, thanks to Tommy’s Ahab urge to stab his Moby Dick with a metal pole from a nearby fence. Out of nowhere, a laughably well-timed, well-placed lightning bolt strikes the pole, somehow sending supernatural juice that jolts Jason into joining the ranks of the evil undead. On the list of all-time dumbest ways a dead horror movie character comes back to life, only Freddy Krueger’s flaming dog piss resurrection ranks higher.
Writer/director Tom McLoughlin knows his story is silly, and that awareness becomes a recurring thorn cutting into the movie’s clout. “Jason Lives” is goofy to a fault with persistent meta humor about fright flick clichés and unsubtle sight gags that may as well include someone winking at the camera while a “Debbie Downer” trumpet warbles. One or two touches to acknowledge being in on the dopiness would be fine. “Friday the 13th Part VI” takes self-deprecation to a level where it seems McLoughlin may not take his movie seriously at all.
Not that there is a whole lot to be taken seriously. Among the major slasher series, “Friday the 13th” has notoriously remained the most hollow on substance. In true “Friday the 13th” fashion, this fifth sequel exemplifies that.
The wafer-thin core plotline involves Tommy trying to convince the sheriff of Crystal Lake, now renamed Forest Green, that he isn’t crying wolf about Jason rising from his grave to start a new terror spree. In the mix are four counselors, one of whom takes a shine to Tommy, gearing to reopen the camp for a busload of kids.
There isn’t much more to the premise than that. “Jason Lives” never does more than it has to, as evidenced when Tommy briefly thumbs through a library book about occultism, subsequently concocting a plan to destroy his nemesis based on as much reasonable logic as Jason’s lightning bolt rebirth. So to stretch the runtime to its requisite length while waiting for everyone to converge at the camp, “Jason Lives” drops in random red shirts as machete fodder in a series of slaughter scenes almost entirely unrelated to anything else.
Weirdly, “Jason Lives” has some of the better-developed characters in the series. Sheriff Garris and his daughter Megan in particular encounter complex, for horror movie heroes anyway, conflicts over picking a side in the ongoing “is Tommy a lunatic?” debate. “Part VI” doesn’t have a Shelly or a Ginny who truly stands out, though it at least molds everyone from likable clay.
More weirdly, particularly for a property known for its creative kills, the deaths don’t have nearly as much personality as the people. Jason even repeats straightforward stabs from the metal pole or his machete for mediocre murders, a majority of which don’t even occur on camera. “Friday the 13ths” are meant to get a lot of mileage out of this material, meaning “Part VI” ends up escorting audiences on a fairly short trip.
The film nevertheless lands as a relatively strong entry in the franchise for its no frills approach to having just two elements in use: Jason and victims, nothing more, nothing less. However, that doesn’t necessarily even it out as a strong scary movie overall. “Jason Lives” is too jokey for unadulterated horror tastes and too underdeveloped for sophisticated satisfaction. But hey, if all a “Friday the 13th” fan wants is Jason turning wayward campers, corporate retreaters, a canoodling couple, and a drunk cemetery caretaker into mulch, albeit somewhat plainly, “Jason Lives” certainly has that in spades.
PS: Who paid for Jason Voorhees to have a headstone?
Review Score: 65
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