I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly
The sixth Friday the 13th offers a massive course correction from Part 5. Whereas Part 5 embraced a cocaine ethos that saw diminishing returns on throwing more of everything at the audience – more characters, more deaths, more nudity, more misguided ways to twist the formula – Part 6 offers a much more coherent pitch: Friday the 13th but as a campy, Evil Dead-inspired horror comedy with a very slight meta-narrative bent.
Much of that focus and coherency derives from a fresh new voice for the franchise: journeyman Tom McLoughlin serves as the director and lone writer, meaning he controlled the entire vision of this outing. It’s the first time the series has even a hint of auteurism to it, as if the film comes from the mind of a creative trying to tell a specific story rather than a committee calculation on how to get butts in the seat.
The film opens with an absolutely terrific 15 minutes that might be the high point of the series to this point: Tommy Jarvis (recast as Thom Mathews), still haunted by the trauma of his encounter with Jason back in Part 4, breaks into a cemetery, digs up Jason’s coffin, and pries it open to Jason’s decaying, maggoty corpse. In a fit of rage he stabs the corpse with a crowbar, only for it to get struck by lightning and Jason to rise like Frankenstein. It’s a brilliant, grimy pastiche of Gothic horror. The subsequent kill scenes are shot almost expressionistically in a creepy rainstorm, Jason’s figure looming in mist and darkness like he’s a Universal horror creature.
The rest of the movie plays out alternating between goofy scenes of teen camp counselors – this time with actual child campers to look after; egads! – and some of the series most novel kill scenes yet. There’s a particular corker in an RV that ends with a fire-lit Jason staring in the distance that’s just a blast.
Jason Lives has a meta-slasher humor to its edge in which Tommy and his friend (the surprisingly non-final girl-ish Megan played by Jennifer Cooke) try to think like Jason and prove to the police chief (Megan’s dad, played by David Kagen) that Jason is alive, and it’s not just another copycat killer. The final takedown of Jason occurs with Tommy luring Jason into the water to relive the iconic zombie jump scare of Part 1, but with a hellish tint. This makes Part 6 a bit of a proto-Scream, especially once you mix in the the murder mystery element from Part 5.
Notice in my mention of the film’s humor that I haven’t described any of it as “funny.” It’s not aggressively anti-comedy the way the comic relief of Part 5 is, but Part 6 thrives more on its light tone than any of the actual comedic content. As with the best Friday the 13ths, the biggest laughs come from outrageous murders rather than the other shenanigans or punchlines: The body print in the RV wall as Jason murders someone in a closed room, is terrific, e.g., while the slapstick paintball fight is a tad too goofy.
Part 6 breaks some of the cardinal rules of slashers that I don’t especially care about. Namely, there are some characters who are obviously not dying outside of the final girl, most especially the child campers: The film gets a lot of mileage out of having Jason cross paths with kids, but this is obviously just a tease. This is not the type of movie to murder an innocent child. If you want your slashers to be nasty and dangerous, Jason Lives will probably piss you off.
Overall, it’s one of the more satisfying entries in the series to this point in its run. It’s got a goofy bent to it that feels well-developed, and it’s very well-shot, and just feels more idiosyncratic and personal than the previous entries.
- Review Project: Friday the 13th Retrospective