On August 1, 1986, the sixth Friday the 13th movie hit theaters, and no one – least of all diehard Friday fans – could have expected what was to unravel in the 90 minutes that followed.
Friday the 13th had adopted the typical 80s cheese factor that horror films of the time were engulfed in. It took the piss out of itself, yet did not come over as a spoof. Jason remained Jason, an unstoppable killer, and the new batch of teenagers still made odd choices. Jason Lives took a good hard look at the franchise and spun things around – suddenly there were homages every few minutes to older classics. Director Tom McLoughlin wanted the movie to have an old Universal monsters atmosphere; he stated on more than one occasion that if you watch Jason Lives in black and white, it feels like a classic B-movie from the 1950s.
Jason Lives certainly pumped fresh blood into the franchise, and even though its predecessor Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning was in no way as bad as some people suggested, fans did feel cheated. The Final Chapter which was Part IV was supposed to be the absolute end of Jason Voorhees running amok with his machete in Camp Crystal Lake. But the returns at the box office were just too good to be ignored, and Part V followed a year later. However, this movie centered on a copycat killer, and whilst fans bemoaned another movie, some got used to good old Jason being back on the big screen, even though it really wasn’t Jason after all.
Another movie was needed.
Jason Lives got the green light and filmed under the working title Aladdin Sane (get it?) which also happened to be one of Tom McLoughlin’s favorite David Bowie records. To this day Jason Lives, with all sincerity, is held in high regard with fans. It just feels different, that dry ice smoky atmosphere at the beginning of the movie, the campy music, the dialogue, the likable characters. It’s a movie that ultimately can appeal to both slasher fans and general horror ones because it is always taking one look back at the scary monster movies of yesteryear. Below are some reasons why Jason Lives is still remembered 30 years on.
This was the first Friday the 13th movie to go full Jason zombie on us. Even though we had already witnessed Jason coming back from the dead, this entry rammed it home how supernatural Jason is. We see his grave, we see it dug up, and then we see Jason being reawakened from his slumber by a bolt of lightning. There’s a touch of Frankenstein (1931) and even the infamous “It’s alive” dialogue when Jason is reanimated. Zombie Jason also meant that the killer’s power had amped up as well, which he proves when he rips the heart out of the chest of his first victim.
Straight off the bat we are set up for something different when Friday the 13th pays homage to the infamous opening titles of the James Bond movies. Up until that moment the only connection the franchises had were how many movies they had both respectively chalked up. The camera zooms into Jason’s eye; Jason appears in the pupil and slashes with his machete. It’s a real wow moment for Jason fans, as the franchise at that point was telling us to get set for something new.
Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis Mark III
With all due respect, John Shepherd had nothing on Thom Mathews when it came to charisma. John, who played Tommy in Part V, had his own qualities and was indeed asked back to reprise his role. However, the actor wanted a change of career; enter Thom Mathews. Thom was instantly recognizable as the lovable punk teenager in the zombie classic The Return of the Living Dead. Here he brought a swashbuckling and energetic performance for the role of Tommy Jarvis. Absolutely determined to rid Crystal Lake (now Forest Green in Jason Lives) of this monster, he will go to any lengths to take care of Jason once and for all… even if it means pissing off the local sheriff in a really big way.
David Kagen as Sheriff Mike Garris
Arguably Kagen’s performance is one of the best seen in a Friday film. Sure, he had some cheesy lines, but his delivery and timing were spot-on. Kagen holds the movie together in that respect and comes over as a genuine sheriff. He has LOTS on his mind, including Tommy claiming that Jason is alive and his beautiful daughter having one eye on Tommy herself. In real life Kagen is a respected acting tutor in Hollywood.
Jennifer Cooke and the Gang
The kids this time are led by Jennifer Cooke, who played Tommy’s would-be love interest and was also the daughter of the town sheriff. Cooke was most recognizable to viewers as the star child from the hit TV show “V.” Cooke is infectiously charming here; however, soon after Jason Lives Cooke quit the movie business. Her buddies are all likable, which goes a long way if you want to make a slasher movie that fans will want to invest their time in. Paula is played by Keri Noonan, and Renee Jones played Sissy – both actresses have now long retired from acting. Tom Fridley gave a fun performance as Cort. It’s also interesting to note that one of the camp counselors – who never made it to camp as they had a certain rendezvous with Jason – was played by Nancy McLoughlin – wife of the director.
The Three-Head Decapitation
Playing paintball in the forest is great fun, but somebody should have told these business execs that they were playing in Jason Voorhees’ backyard. One by one Jason deals with them but then senses an opportunity to take out three in one fell swoop. Jason soon arrives from nowhere, swings his machete, and decapitates the entire trio at once. Unfortunately, the MPAA was not impressed at the time, and even though the scene did remain, it was cut down somewhat. Thankfully we have the scene in all its glory in DVD and Blu-ray extras of the deluxe editions.
The RV Stunt
Simply put, this was one of the best stunts of any Friday the 13th movie. After Jason kills Cort and his girlfriend in the RV, the now speeding vehicle crashes. This was actually done in one take, and it had to be because of budget restrictions. The next shot sees Jason angrily forcing his way out of the RV, standing on top of the burning metal and just looking pretty cool. This was without question C.J. Graham’s finest moment as Jason.
A throwback in some ways to Crazy Ralph from the first two Friday movies, Martin was the caretaker of the cemetery which held Jason’s body. At one point of the film he quickly covers up Jason’s open grave, which just leads to more problems for Tommy with the authorities. He also has some of the best lines, even breaking the fourth wall at one point to stare right into the camera and ask a question. This is the closest a Friday movie has come to a William Castle production in that sense.
Everything from Boris Karloff to John Carpenter is mentioned here. Even Sean S. Cunningham, the original creator of Friday the 13th, gets a nod. A Nightmare on Elm Street is referenced, as is everyone from James Bond to Rambo. There’s a lot going on here, and you can see that director McLoughlin, who also wrote the movie, loves what he’s doing and is happy to revere films from yesteryear.
Okay, so he isn’t in the movie but his music is and on top of that a separate music video was made for “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” which starred C.J. Graham as Jason from the movie and some of the actors. Alice Cooper has always been associated with horror movies, and this was the perfect combination.
Director McLoughlin came into this project with much care and much love – and that’s why Jason Lives worked on every level. McLoughlin had also directed the underrated One Dark Night (1983). He went on to switch villains, so to speak, when he directed an episode of “Freddy’s Nightmares” and also was behind the lens for Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back.