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

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

Directed by: Tom McLoughlin

Premise: After being definitively killed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Jason Voorhees is accidentally resurrected by the traumatized survivor of his last rampage. Now an indestructible zombie, Jason returns to Camp Crystal Lake where counselors and children inhabit the cabins.

What Works: All franchises, and especially those in the horror genre, eventually turn into self-parody if they go on long enough. The slasher genre had been sent up as early as 1981 with Student Bodies and Saturday the 14th and in the mid-1980s the horror genre as a whole took a silly and self-aware turn in titles such as Return of the Living Dead and Evil Dead II. But among the best films to do this was Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. The Friday the 13th franchise had spearheaded the slasher fad of the 1980s and it was the most visible symbol of a trend that parental groups, public moralists, and some film critics found offensive. The series had started as something of a lark; the original Friday the 13th was a low budget affair that was given a big budget release and its presence in mainstream movie theaters was a somewhat subversive thumbing of the nose at more “respectable” cinematic work. But after inspiring multiple sequels and many more copycats, Friday the 13th had become the mainstream and the formula was rote. Filmmaker Tom McLoughlin was hired to write and direct the sixth installment but McLoughlin brought a different sensibility to his picture. Compared to the earlier Friday the 13th movies, Jason Lives had a more professional and polished cinematic look. McLoughlin was a good filmmaker and he executed the movie’s set pieces with style. Jason Lives also added a gothic element with spooky atmosphere and nods to the occult. This is best observed in the spectacular opening in which Jason Voorhees is resurrected. But more than anything, Jason Lives added self-aware humor to the material. Foreshadowing Scream by a decade, the characters of Jason Lives acknowledged the conventions of slasher movies and the film played upon the clichés. But the filmmakers did this while also working through the conventions and respecting the subject matter. As a result, Jason Lives was able to give the audience something that was simultaneously fresh and familiar. 

What Doesn’t: Friday the 13th is one of those franchises in which the viewer is either on board with it or not. Like James Bond, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings, there is a contingent of people who love this series and for them Jason Lives is ninety minutes of fun. But viewers who didn’t like any of the first five Friday the 13th films probably aren’t going to be won over by the sixth instalment. Jason Lives attempts to tell a slightly more elaborate story than other slasher films and it has characters in a lot of different locations. This becomes unwieldy and a few of the characters show up in places without a motivation, especially the love interest played by Megan Cooke who keeps hanging out in the sheriff’s office where her father works. Characterization was never a strong aspect of the Friday the 13th series and most of the characters of Jason Lives are slasher movie types. Fans of the Friday the 13th series are probably going to overlook all that but Jason Lives may disappoint its fan base in two respects. For one thing, Tommy Jarvis, a returning character and a fan favorite, isn’t as interesting as he was in the previous film where he was disturbed and withdrawn. For another, Jason Lives isn’t as scary or as bloody as earlier sequels. The filmmakers recognize that the series is unable to be scary the way that it was four sequels ago and they embrace the campiness. But by changing the tone, Jason Lives doesn’t have the primal impact that worked so well in the first few Friday the 13th movies.

DVD extras: Commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is not the scariest entry in the series; that title still goes to Part 2. But it is the best made of the films and the most fun. Its style and intelligence set Jason Lives apart from the rest of the series and its success as a self-aware horror picture distinguish it from other films in the genre.

Episode: #617 (October 23, 2016)