That was actually good. I don't mean merely better than other Friday the 13th films, but honestly dragging itself up to become deserving of critical attention. Mind you, it doesn't look it. It's still the same kind of story being told in the same lowbrow way, but that doesn't change the fact that it's quietly achieving something extremely difficult. I'm about to name-drop Roman Polanski, if that gives you any idea.
What's different about it is that it's a horror-comedy. That's a devilish thing to try to pull off, you know. Attempts at that tend to end in disaster, while even the successful examples don't usually strike me as having truly managed to straddle the divide. As a success on this level I'd count Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
and Evil Dead 2
(but not Army of Darkness), but I didn't get the impression that Shaun of the Dead was trying to scare me, much though I love it, and I don't remember The Fearless Vampire Killers achieving much on either count. (Look, Polanski.) Personally I think horror-comedy is one of those things that just doesn't tend to work, even though it's not hard for horror to be hilarious in flashes. Suicide Club
made me laugh out loud, but you'd never call it a comedy. The Chucky franchise did well at both horror and jokes, but when your franchise is built around a bad-tempered killer the size of a six-year-old, it would have been more surprising if they hadn't gone in that direction.
Realise then that I'm paying a considerable compliment when I call Jason Lives a successful horror-comedy. It's not even a spoof or a pisstake. It's a regular Friday the 13th film, with Jason killing people as if there's no tomorrow and heroes putting their lives at risk trying to stop him. It's just that it has a sense of humour about it. Admittedly one could argue that they don't achieve a true blend of ying and yang, with the film being predominantly comedy in the first half and then switching to horror in the second, but that's quite a sensible approach and there are still laughs in the second half too.
We start with our old friend Tommy Jarvis, this time played by Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) since John Shepherd from Part 5
had become a born-again Christian and didn't want to do any more slasher films. Mathews has got out of the nuthouse and is driving back to Crystal Lake with his friend Ron Palillo to dig up Jason's corpse and exorcise a few personal demons. He's brought spades, knives, petrol, etc. Apparently Palillo is well-known in America for playing a TV character called Horshack, by the way. He's a lot of fun here, but don't get too attached to him. Anyway, the duo reach the cemetery. Mathews opens Jason's coffin and attacks the worm-ridden carcass with what soon becomes a lightning conductor in a thunderstorm. We knew they were going to bring him back, but I don't think any of us guessed it was going to be so camp. Jason becomes a zombie, Palillo dies ugly and we've got a reborn franchise on our hands.
Believe it or not, this is all great. Theoretically this is one of the stupidest scenes in this entire retarded franchise, yet the film is well aware of that and turns it into a virtue by going for laughs. The resurrection is a hoot, while the gag with the gasoline, the rain and the match is actually a clever moment. Even the characters are fun and distinctive, which certainly isn't something you'd expect in a Friday the 13th movie.
Mathews escapes alive, but the comedy continues. Jason butchers lots of people as violently as always, but what makes it different this time is the way his kills are being used as punchlines. Some of his victims are being portrayed so broadly as to be cartoonish, but despite this they work onscreen in a way that Part 5
's rednecks didn't. These are characters, not walking scenery. I laughed just at the expression on a paintballer's face as he sticks his head through some bushes, but you've got to love the way they're donning "DEAD DEAD DEAD" headbands on being zapped by the opposing team. There are yucks to be had from Jason being shot with a paintball gun, while even the violence has a Looney Tunes aspect to it. The Smiley Face death is merely goofy, but I enjoyed that man's arms coming off.
Now normally I don't like comedy this broad, but somehow here it works. The film keeps coming up with extra touches to help you past the overacting. After a while things calm down, but the dialogue never loses its sense of fun. Two smart-arse boys are hiding under the bed and telling each other that they're doomed. "So, what were you going to be when you grew up?" There's also a clever one-liner built around the deputy sheriff's Terminator laser sight. Other kinds of joke include mild sight gags with road signs (friendliness, sportsmanship, etc.), some tongue-in-cheek editing ("Do you think I'm an idiot?" "YES" shout a bunch of kids in another scene) and some in-jokes with the place and character names. Cunningham Road is the most obvious, being a reference to the creator of Friday the 13th, but look out also for nods to Boris Karloff, John Carpenter, Sissy Spacek from Carrie (maybe) and a little girl called Nancy who sees a monster in her dreams. I'd guess they're talking about Heather Langenkamp's character in A Nightmare on Elm Street
. Admittedly they also have someone say "I've seen too many horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly", but we should show mercy. This was a full decade before Scream, after all.
The first half of Jason Lives is definitely comedy rather than horror. A child wouldn't find it frightening, but after a while the film gets interested in scares. Jason's kills are pure entertainment, but there's tension to be had while we're waiting for him to show himself. I first noticed that with the couple in the camper van. I was also holding my breath when that girl stuck her hand through a window to pour a drink on what looked like someone in the bushes. You'd never call this a terrifying film, but it's at least average for its franchise and entire leagues above the likes of part 5.
That's an interesting comparison, actually. Both films, as usual, were kneecapped by the MPAA. Lots of violence here was either deleted or re-filmed to avoid an X-rating, e.g. a disembowelling, an arm sliding off a machete, a triple decapitation, a knife entering a head, a fountain of blood and so on. There's still plenty of aftermath in what eventually reaches the screen, but even so the results owe more to Tom and Jerry than it does to Tom Savini, with Jason's best kill being bloodless and simply involving snapping a man in half. The severed body parts seem like a slightly cartoonish touch too. Furthermore, on top of that, there's no nudity! These are teenagers who keep their clothes on even during sex. You're probably expecting me to call this a crime against cinema... but it doesn't matter. Part 5
was built so blatantly around its exploitation moments that it fell down in a heap when deprived of them, but Part 6 keeps going with barely a dent. It has a story, characters and likeable protagonists whom you want to see win. That's worth a lot. The main drawback of the film's PG nature is that it spoils a "face in the groin" gag, which doesn't work because the heroine's wearing jeans rather than a skirt. Add in the army of actual kids at the camp (!) and the family-friendly swearing, e.g. "farthead", and you might be starting to wonder if Paramount had been hoping to lure in the little ones. Uh... maybe not.
Yes, it's a ludicrous idea, but the film can definitely be read that way. There's even parents vs. children subtext, with dialogue like "our parents keep telling us that Jason was only a legend" and (said by a camp counsellor to a child) "grown-ups think it's funny to be scared". Of course we're all sitting there wondering if Jason's going to start carving up kiddies, but the film tips its hand on that one when he walks into a crowded dormitory and ends up not killing any of them, after which we know it's all going to turn out okay. Wow. Friday the 13th for children. Now I really have seen everything.
There are more plot holes than normal, although that's partly the consequence of having a plot. The ones I noticed involve Tommy Jarvis's supernatural knowledge of Jason. He starts the film wanting to dig him up despite the fact that he's been dead and buried for about fifteen years, which is quite the coincidence given that zombie-Jason only seemed to need a bit of cardio-shock therapy to get him up on his feet again. Even after that, Tommy keeps up his apparent second sight. "Jason will return to an area that's familiar. Eh? Why? I wouldn't have been ready to bet that Jason wasn't about to sprout fairy wings and fly away to Neverland, but sure enough Tommy's right and Crystal Lake's about to become a bad place to be. He also knows that bullets can't kill Jason (again correctly), with the only way to stop him being apparently to return him to his original resting place. I boggled, my friends. Of course Tommy gets it catastrophically wrong at the finale, assuming that Jason's dead when of course he's got another zillion movies yet to hack and slash in, but maybe it's just that he'd lost his mental link to the alien slug parasite. Don't forget that he'd apparently turned into Jason at the end of both Part 4
and Part 5
, so I quite like that hypothesis.
Zombie-Jason is officially a goon, though. There's not the slightest connection to his mother or the guy he used to be, except that he still likes killing. Given the dedication with he goes after his victims (18 in this film alone), it's looking almost as if Tommy might have saved tens of thousands of lives with that machete in part 4. However having said that, apparently the original script for Part 6 had a bit on the subject of Jason's father, someone about whom we still know nothing, and this even managed to make it into the novelisation. His name's Elias Vorhees and we were going to get flashbacks to Jason's childhood. Cool.
I liked this film a lot, but don't get too excited. It's still a Friday the 13th film, with everything that implies. Characters show up to die at the hands of a faceless man with the personality of a pet rock. If you'd sooner chew your feet off than watch one of these things, don't be swayed. Nevertheless there's so much more going on than there was in most of its predecessors, making this only the second film in the series after Part 4
that I'd even consider recommending. I was also rocked back by the horror-comedy aspect, especially since horror-comedies tend to be doing zombies or vampires rather than being a proper entry in one of the big name (albeit low-rent) franchises. Freddy Krueger liked his wisecracks, but that's not the same thing. I'd mostly forgotten about the comedy by the time we reached the (comparatively straight) finale, though.
Apparently the workprint version of the film is circulating as a bootleg, containing for instance the uncensored version of Jason's back-breaking kill. I wonder if it also has Barney the dinosaur?