Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Before Ghostface and Leslie Vernon came along, Jason rose from the grave and started poking fun at the slasher genre.  Though Friday the 13th: Jason Lives might not fit the definition as of meta-horror as we know it today, writer/director Tom McLoughlin injects the film with a sly ability to laugh at how silly the genre is while delivering on the bloody mayhem.

By the way, the next paragraph contains spoilers for the previous two Friday the 13th films.  You have been warned.

Janson really hates unmarked spoilers.

After dispatching Jason in Part IV, than being terrorized by a Jason wanna-be in Part V, Tommy Jarvis was to put on the hockey mask for this film.  However, after negative fan reactions, and a drop in the domestic box office numbers, the producers decided to bring Jason back from the grave for Part VI. 

McLoughlin disregarded the ending in Part V (a trend other films in the series were happy to follow), and opened with Tommy (Thom Mathews) driving to Jason’s grave.  His plan is to burn the killer’s corpse and bring an end to his nightmares of Jason’s return.  Aided by Allen (Welcome Back Kotter actor Ron Pallio), Tommy exhumes Jason, but instead of simply incinerating the corpse, Tommy’s anger takes over and begins stabbing at Jason’s chest with a metal rod.

Bad move, Tommy, as an inconvenient thunderstorm sends a few bolts of lightening down the makeshift lightning rod and into Jason’s chest.  As the reanimated slasher kills Allen, Tommy runs off to the nearest police station, conveniently located at Camp Crystal Lake, to warn the cops of Jason’s return.

Today's lesson is that lightning, a metal rod and a corpse
 always leads to that "Oh CRAP, HE'S ALIVE!" moment.

I guess Tommy’s councilors weren’t too good at reintroducing their clients into normal society.  To no one’s surprise, Tommy is locked up for the night, than driven out of town by the sheriff (David Kagen).  But during this time, Jason’s been trekking back to the former Camp Crystal Lake, while killing anyone he meets on his way.  As the bodies pile up, the cops figure Tommy is behind the mayhem, motivated by his desire to prove Jason is alive.  Ah, movie psychology.

Meanwhile, Tommy finds the only occult bookstore in a three state radius and formulates a plan to put Jason to rest for good.  Aided by the sheriff’s daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), the pair heads back to the former Camp Crystal Lake, dodging Jason and the cops. 

Okay, we all know how this ends.  But while the basic plot remains faithful to the formula established earlier in the series, this entry not only makes fun of the franchise, but also hints that Jason’s motivation for killing might not be as simple as making teens pay for drinking, doing drugs and having sex.

Well, there's at least one drunk, drugged sex fiend in every crowd.

To start, McLoughlin’s Jason is more menacing.  He not only kills innocent victims (like the two female councilors who are doing their job and NOT partying), but also threatens children.  While it shouldn’t be a surprise that all the kids survive, the film contains two scenes where things might have ended badly for a child had circumstances not drawn Jason’s attention away from them.  By suggesting that Jason would kill children makes him a more deadly and menacing figure than previous incarnations.  No longer the punisher of hormonal transgressions (as deemed by puritanical society), Jason is now a harbinger of death to anyone trespassing in his domain.  

I suspect the MPAA's reaction to this scene involved hysterics at some point.

Another surprise is the film’s lack of nudity.  Unlike previous entries (though, to be honest, my memories of Part V are a bit hazy), no actress takes her top off during this film.  Thought the film contains a sex scene, and one unconsummated act, the moments are more chaise than some network television shows.  Whether this was a decision on director McLoughlin’s part, or fear of incurring the wrath of the MPAA, it is a bit of a shock, coming from the franchise that started the blood and boobs trend in slasher films.

But it’s McLoughlin’s injection of humor into the script, often at the expense of the slasher genre, that might have influenced future filmmakers.  Victims comment about how horror films inform them that a masked figure in the road is never a good sign, young campers wonder what they would be IF they grew up, and, most telling, a scene when one character turns to the camera and exclaims, “Some folks have a sick idea of entertainment.”  It’s quite funny, but a surprising jab at the fans of the franchise. 

Yes, the smilie face is in the movie.  I didn't say all the jokes worked.

Perhaps these moments are not as self aware as current meta-horror films, but it’s hard not to admire McLoughlin’s daring script.  Not only did he inject a sense of humor that poked fun at a beloved genre franchise, he also had the guts to question the audience’s taste in wanting Jason brought back to the screen.  And though the box office take was low (no surprise, considering the reaction to Part V), McLoughlin’s attempt to move the series in a new direction garnered a surprising amount of favorable critical response.  Had Part VII found a filmmaker daring enough to follow in his footsteps, the franchise might not be in need of a second reboot.

He's practicing on the RV.  Up next, space stations!

No comments:

Post a Comment