Tagline: Nothing this evil ever dies.
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Writer: Tom McLoughlin
Starring: C.J. Graham, Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Kerry Noonan, Renée Jones, Tom Fridley
18 | 86 min | Horror
Budget: $3,000,000 (estimated)
The last time we saw Jason Voorhees his head was sliding along the edge of a machete.
That particular instalment was advertised as The Final Chapter, and although Part V stayed true to the studio’s promise by introducing a copycat killer, you never really believed it was the end for the madman in the hockey mask. There was simply too much money at stake.
Jason Lives! is a tongue-in-cheek slasher that throws the logic rule book down a bottomless well. Thanks to Paramount’s bleeding of the splatter formula, Jason has been transformed from your everyday homicidal maniac into an omnipotent force that simply cannot be stopped, a quasi-protagonist who thrives more on humour and violence of a more implied variety. It is because of this that the movie is something of a milestone in the series, taking a self-referential approach that would become the hallmark of later sequels.
Fans tend to divide the Friday franchise into two categories: the pre Video Recordings Act era featuring a Jason who is violent, cynical and geared for the slaughter, and the post Jason Lives! era, which is gimmicky, graphically muted and laced with irony. The majority of those latter efforts suffer dramatically from the censoring impositions of the MPAA and BBFC, but Jason Lives! is a different entity entirely. Unlike its successors it somehow survives without the violent extremities of earlier instalments.
In order to achieve this, director Tom McLoughlin embraces the realms of the supernatural with a character who would fondly become known as Zombie Jason. Basing his version of Voorhees on the Universal monsters of yore, McLoughlin eschews logicality for a creature unbound from the basic laws of humanity.
The fact that Jason’s name appears in the movie’s title is no chance occurrence. The transition may have begun with Part 3’s decision to drop the POV killer, but this is the movie that truly embraced Jason as the marquee attraction. The Final Chapter presented Voorhees as something of an antihero, but we were still rooting for a young Tommy Jarvis come the movie’s finale. So self-reflexive are Jason’s actions in Jason Lives! that an older Tommy Jarvis is somewhat peripheral. We’re here to see teens getting slaughtered, and we know just the man for the job.
This time Jarvis is played by cult horror star Thom Matthews, and his decision to dig up a long-buried Jason leads to the most absurd horror resurrection you are ever likely to witness. So beyond the realms of plausibility is Jason’s return to the fray that anything becomes possible, and our protagonist’s stupidity in triggering such a comeback makes fickle fare of Corey Feldman’s talented and resourceful young whippersnapper. Not only does an adult Tommy aid a highly improbable return for our long-dormant destroyer, he also decides to bring along his infamous hockey mask, and without detracting from the marketability of the franchise a lightning-induced Jason is back from the dead and fitter than ever.
That leads Tommy to the former Camp Crystal Lake, where his psycho-reunion ramblings inevitably fall on deaf ears. Residents of the newly-christened Forest Green are trying to put the stigma of four consecutive massacres behind them, and believe that the best way to do so is to bury the truth. Having never heard of a library or a television or any of the other multiple outlets that are likely to recall the murderous misdeeds of the world’s most relentless serial killer, our latest batch of victims are happy to accept Jason as mere urban legend, and the inevitability of their fate is spelled out in blood and guts.
If you would care for an analogy of how Jason Lives! differs from previous instalments, a no-nonsense Sean Connery has here been replaced by a safari suit-wearing Roger Moore, Jason’s innuendos a physical manifestation of Bond’s eyebrow-raising quips. In one particular scene, Jason pulls the power cord to a generator, stopping a couple of teeny boppers mid-coitus, and after the lights go out the horny girl becomes upset when her beau’s sexual spark promptly follows suit.
Of course, this is all a sideshow for one of cinema’s most unlikely heroes, a character who transcends the sinking censor ship by appearing as if by magic, mocking the horror staple of one last scare by eating a barrage of bullets with sheer indifference. Much like The Dream Warriors would for rock star counterpart Fred Krueger, Jason Lives! marked a turning point for Mr. Voorhees, starting the series on a path towards commercial purgatory and a plethora of watered-down sequels.
Those later instalments would fail to fully capitalise on director Tom McLoughlin’s winning formula, but in some cases less is most definitely more, and in the minds of many Jason Lives! is one to cherish.
After helping to awaken Jason’s sleeping corpse, Tommy’s former nuthouse roomie Allen (Palillo) has his still-beating heart pulled out of his chest by a fuming Jason.
Most Absurd Moment
Returning from beyond the grave and reclaiming his iconic mask, Jason faces the camera for a close-up, and in a hokey nod to the famous James Bond opening, a miniature Jason strolls into the frame, slashing at the screen with a giant machete as blood spells out the movie’s title.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Dismissing Tommy’s claims of a returning Jason in every way imaginable, the contemptuous Sheriff Garris attempts to call the camp’s councillors, only to find that the telephone line is as dead as our killer’s latest batch of victims.
Tommy: ‘The phones are dead. Doesn’t that tell you something?’
Sheriff Garris: ‘Yeah! They should have paid their bill!’
This is meta-humour at its most gruesome, a bloody, comic caper which never takes itself seriously enough to provide any scares — and that is precisely the point. After the backlash that followed the notorious slasher flicks of the early 1980s, the genre would need something of a makeover if it was expected to survive the decade, and with their newly invincible antihero the studio had found just the recipe to keep the lolly rolling in.