Creature-Feature Conversations is a series of movie reviews as dialogue between horror authors, with a focus on unique, engaging, or cult-status horror films.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986, directed by Tom McLoughlin)
With guest reviewer Orrin Grey
JR: This was actually one of the first entries I saw back when I started w̶a̶s̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ investing my money in horror VHS/DVDs in high school. I remember it being a bit scarier back then, but even now, I found that its humor and self-awareness won me over in the face of its by-the-numbers horror movie plot and proceedings. I really liked it, and consider it kind of a perfect beers-with-your-buddies type of slasher: unpretentious, silly, with some creative flourishes and a few actors who looked like they showed up to earn their paycheck by chewing on some scenery.
OG: I think I’ve now seen all of the Friday the 13th series, but most of it has only been in the last few years, and, admittedly, a lot of the later ones blend together. When I was younger and more their target audience, I wasn’t actually a big fan of slasher films, and it’s only been the enthusiasm of Stephen Graham Jones and Adam Cesare that have helped me to re-evaluate many of them now.
That said, the thing that struck me the most about watching Jason Lives was that I came to the Friday franchise pretty late in the game—Jason Goes to Hell may have actually been the first movie in the series that I ever saw—so to me, this is what Jason always was: this unstoppable revenant. To realize that he didn’t become overtly supernatural—and then in such a spectacularly Universal monster-ish way—until the sixth installment of the franchise rocked me back on my heels a little bit.
JR: This does seem to have a number of Frankenstein call-backs, doesn’t it? At first it’s an odd choice, this far in, to lend him some overt supernatural characteristics. But it also makes sense—ya gotta go somewhere after five moves. It’s this, or send him to space (for the record, I’m also a fan of Jason X).
It’s a concept that has always been under the surface of the previous Friday the 13th films. Like all great slasher-killers, Jason seems to have teleporting abilities and can manipulate the environment in order to draw out or frighten his victims. Whether it’s his mother in the first film or possessed-Frankenstein’s monster-Jason in this one, the killer operates on a supernatural-like level, regardless of the entry number.
Discussing Jason (along with Freddy, Chucky, and others) on the schoolyard playground was akin to speaking of a terrifying curse and trying to determine how best to remedy it should you be touched by it. “Jason can only be killed by [method], because that’s what happened in [entry x], the one or two moves I saw out of order.”
OG: Oh man, yeah, I remember the “Jason can only be killed by [x]” discussions, not to mention similar debates as to what was under his mask, as though it was some great mystery, even though it gets shown in pretty much every movie!
And yeah, most of the big-name slashers are definitely some variation on the boogeyman, a fact that is made text rather than subtext as early as Halloween. But again, the realization that it took Jason six movies to fully morph into the thing that he had, in my mind, always been, was weird to realize as a grown-up.
When I started revisiting (or, in most cases, visiting for the first time) Friday the 13th installments a few years ago, Jason Lives was actually one of the first ones I hit, and a big part of why is because it was written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, who made One Dark Night a few years before, which is a movie that I love. Prior to re-watching it for this, I also caught the fifth installment in the Friday series, A New Beginning, which had a brief appearance by Miguel Nunez Jr., who played Spider in Return of the Living Dead. So between that and Thom Mathews starring in Jason Lives it was like a RotLD reunion special up in here.
And yeah, tons of Frankenstein call-backs. Not just the grave-robbing/resurrection sequences, but stuff like “Karloff’s General Store” in the background…
JR: I believe there were also shout-outs to Sean S. Cunningham and John Carpenter.
As derivative as this movie should have been considering how tired the formula was at this point, the movie doesn’t seem to be cynical. The filmmakers and actors had some fun with this one. They seem to know the whole thing is farcical dreck, but give it their best anyway —whether it’s the local sheriff going full apeshit in every single scene, the clever camera work, the spooky lighting and cinematography around Camp Crystal Lake itself, or the humor/horror around all of Jason’s appearances and kills, no one can accuse this movie of being boring.
Horror can have lofty goals and pretensions, and it can address critical issues of the human experience. It can also be fun and silly (with a side of spooky). As I reflect back on my own changing tastes in horror cinema and literature over the years, I find myself increasingly inclined to enjoy that lighthearted (if gory) side of the genre. Jason Lives is a movie I really like. It embodies so much of what made the 80s horror boom great: it’s not afraid to shrug off pretension and just have fun. This makes an excellent Sunday afternoon Halloween season watch. It’s the kind of movie that makes you feel like a teenager again, breaking a few rules to watch one of those awful, degenerate slasher movies your teachers warned you about…
OG: Not to mention the nods to James Bond…
After watching parts 5 and 6 back-to-back, it’s interesting to me that this far in the studios clearly still didn’t know what the hell they were doing with this weird shaggy dog of a franchise. Part 5 obviously intended to eliminate Jason entirely and replace him with Tommy Jarvis as a serial killer, but while Jason Lives picks up right where 5 left off, it abandons that pretense entirely in favor of the (admittedly much better) super zombie Jason angle.
As for how Jason Lives holds up, I like it, but not as much as a lot of other people I know seem to (present company included). It’s definitely not my favorite of the Friday series, though it’s also nowhere near the worst. My high point is probably the whole resurrection sequence, with its big spooky graveyard and its delightfully decomposing Jason.
There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the rest of the movie, including all the things you mentioned, but for me the actual structure of the movie pretty quickly becomes too repetitive, just a series of random people being introduced for Jason to kill and narrative cul-de-sacs involving Thom Matthews’ Tommy Jarvis escaping from jail. While you may not be able to call it boring, it still feels like the plot needed to be padded out even to reach its very modest 86-minute running time.
All that said, it’s a fun movie, and one that I never mind revisiting. And if you like Jason Lives even a tiny bit, then I really can’t recommend Tom McLouglin’s previous film One Dark Night enough! It’s a favorite of mine, and one in dire need of a decent Blu-ray release…
Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters and the author of a number of spooky books. His stories have been published in dozens of anthologies and other venues, including Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year. You can find him online at http://orringrey.com.
Jonathan Raab is the author of numerous short stories, veteran advocacy essays, and novels including Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization and The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre. He is the editor of several anthologies from Muzzleland Press, including Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror and Terror in 16-bits. He lives in Colorado with his wife Jess, their son, and a dog named Egon. You can find him on Twitter @jonathanraab1.