I feel like I can't do it dead seriously.' I just felt like it needed
to have some bit of a wink at the whole series."
--director Tom McLoughlin
After a 2001 edition with just a trailer and the 2004 box set From Crystal Lake to Manhattan--which included a 14-minute interview (not included here) with director Tom McLoughlin and actor C.J. Graham, along with deleted scenes--Jason Lives gets a new transfer, a new 5.1 track and some new bonus features. Should you resurrect this film once again? Let's find out...
I love Friday the 13th films like they're my children, but part of the joy in reviewing almost all entries in the franchise is making fun of them. Technical mistakes, bad acting, severe story flaws...isn't that part of the experience? But try as hard as I might, I simply can't find anything in Jason Lives that deserves my sarcasm. From the very first second (where the sounds of a harsh rustling wind play over the Paramount logo) to the final fade to black (after an awesome Alice Cooper song makes you want to sit through the entire closing credits), this installment has me hooked in its frightfully funny grip.
By now, the Friday films were starting to become an even bigger joke, with the supposed Final Chapter shamelessly followed by A New Beginning. This was a cash cow for Paramount, which couldn't care less about the quality of the films. That makes it all the more amazing that Tom McLoughlin--three years after his equally groovy directorial debut One Dark Night--took the job so seriously. He grabbed the Friday reigns with a mission, and his passionate vision shows in every frame of the refreshing sixth installment. It's a welcome change of pace, and easily the most accessible to casual viewers.
Jason Lives (McLoughlin's second title choice; apparently the execs at Paramount felt Jason Has Risen was in poor taste) cuts right to the chase and speeds though its lean 84 minutes with force. It's unclear whether Part V is being ignored, but nothing here really dismisses A New Beginning. Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is now a little older and out of the insane asylum. Still haunted by Jason's memory and convinced the madman is still a danger, he heads to the cemetery with a mission--destroy the body and send him to hell for good. But a lightening bolt has other ideas, resurrecting the killer--who (like the franchise) takes on supernatural qualities for the first time.
Tommy escapes and bolts to the sheriff's office, where he tries to warn the town that Jason is on the loose. But Sheriff Garris (David Kagen) isn't convinced, dismissing his ramblings as those of a disturbed troublemaker. The last thing the town needs to hear about is the legend of Jason Voorhees--which is why they changed the name from Camp Crystal Lake to Forest Green and told their kids that Jason was just a myth. Tommy gets locked up, then dumped outside the city limits the next day.
But with camp opening up for the season--run by a handful of teenage counselors including the sheriff's daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke)--Tommy is certain that Jason is destined to return to the area he's familiar with. He heads back into town, convinced that they only way to stop the madman is to return him to his original resting place. But as the body count rises, Tommy's odds of survival are becoming slimmer by the second.
Virtually every aspect of this production is marked by a drastic rise in quality, which speaks to McLoughlin's talent--he is the only person in the history of the franchise to serve as sole director and writer on any of the films (I'm still scratching my head wondering why he didn't have a bigger career in the genre). There's a sense of purpose here, and every element comes together beautifully--the attention to detail is magnificent (how much do I love the Raggedy Ann doll?!).
Where to begin? This entry was filmed in Georgia, and the setting looks gorgeous on film--the shots of the fog-filled lake in front of a dark forest are always eerie. The fog is joined by the wind and the woods as essential elements in the film, virtual characters unto themselves that convey a sense of mystique and contribute to the film's grand scale.
McLoughlin also brings back the Camp Crystal Lake mythology, which takes center stage again after being completely ignored in Part V (as is the all-important date, which thankfully gets mention here). That helps the already superb screenplay and clever script, which boast the best structure in the series. Crisp, quick and smart, the dialogue here never wastes words--scenes flow smoothly with frequently funny verbal bridges or visual cues connecting them. Harry Manfredini has also bolstered his score, the stronger arrangement creating a more theatrical experience--my favorite of the series (the final lake standoff--one of the greatest Friday showdowns--is made even cooler by the chords and bells the composer uses).
Technically, Jason Lives is also shot and edited with more conviction and fluidity. McLoughlin (along with cinematographer Jon Kranhouse) uses the camera beautifully, filling the screen with haunting imagery and framing the shots perfectly--including three great aerials (the overhead RV bathroom shot is frightening, as is the image of Megan cornered between two cars). And if I had to pick my favorite shot of the entire franchise, it would be the sequence where an unsuspecting Paula (Kerry Noonan) is trailed outside the cabin window by Jason.
As for the kills, this is a great collection, a huge step up from A New Beginning. McLoughlin does such a good job that the cuts by the MPAA--while missed--aren't nearly as jarring as they are in other Friday films. Gore isn't the point here, and the director knows how to run with the power of suggestion--Paula's demise is the best off-camera Friday kill ever, preceded by an atmosphere build-up (the wind, the cabin door blowing open) that is genuinely scary. There are a handful of other gems, including a face-smash through the trailer wall, a fist through the chest, a triple beheading and one hell of a back breaker. All of them are memorable, and only one uses gore.
Something else McLoughlin proves he doesn't need is nudity--no breasts or butts are found here, proving that the director went out of his way to be original, failing to resort to cheap tricks to sell his movie (cussing is also kept at a minimum). He and the film are so confident and assured that the overall quality makes up for any missing blood and boobs. Only one stalk sequence feels tacked on--because it was. Wanting more carnage, the studio told McLoughlin to increase the body count, resulting in the forest sequence where two lovers and the caretaker meet their demise (although I still love the whiskey bottle kill, so I'm not complaining).
The director also revels in breaking the rigid rules of the franchise. The biggest change is the injection of humor, as sharp and cutting as Jason's machete. The Scream franchise and every other film in the new wave of self-aware slashers owe a huge debt to Jason Lives, which was way ahead of its time and rarely gets the credit it deserves. We had seen silliness in Friday films before this, but nothing like the clever, witty tone that Part VI adopts.
I image the shift in tone might ruffle the feathers of some franchise diehards who like the action formulaic, mean and bloody. There's really no "final girl" anymore; Cooke gets no one-on-one chase, and that was always my favorite part of each film. But I love the final standoff (rotor blade!), the most satisfying ending for me. It's amazing that Jason Lives can maintain a scary vibe while still being funny. Everyone is in on the joke, but what's remarkable is that McLoughlin still shows great respect for the franchise and never lets the film fall into parody.
The humor is injected in just the right dosage, and--like the whole film--holds up remarkably well today: the title sequence nod to James Bond, a selection of small props (the American Express card, a hamster running in a wheel or--my favorite--a Jean-Paul Sartre novel), perfectly placed dialogue from smart characters (see my pictorial essay below), hysterical editing (watch where we jump after caretaker Martin's says "Does he think I'm a fart head?!"), clever use of songs (a feral Jason watches a trailer shake to the sex-filled Felony song "Animal") and the breaking of the fourth wall ("Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment!") are just a handful of the gems here.
Other bolts of energy come from the Alice Cooper-heavy rock song, the first time the franchise relied on lyrical music so much (it sounds like a bad idea, but it works well; I wish I could say the same for the 2009 Friday). "He's Back" is a killer song, running neck-and-neck with "His Eyes" as the coolest franchise tune. Also watch for some action, including a trailer explosion (with an iconic image of Jason atop the wreckage) and a car chase (this also sounds like a bad idea, but how can you not love an orange '77 Camaro?!).
There's also the casting of young kids as camp-goers ("I can think of only one thing even more terrifying!"), who--for the first and only time in the franchise--are in jeopardy. It's a bold move that raises the stakes on the suspense, and a few of the talented young cast members are given memorable lines and scenes (young Courtney Vickery's delivery of the line "If I should...die before I wake", with its effective hesitation and emphasis, is perfect). And that's just one way McLoughlin shook things up with casting, where he took a slightly different route. When John Shepherd decided not to return as Tommy Jarvis (this probably contributing to Melanie Kinnaman also being dropped), the director landed Mathews, who was already on the radar with The Return of the Living Dead the year before (coincidentally, with Part V's Miguel A. Núñez Jr. and Mark Venturini).
Likewise, Cooke was a regular on NBC's V: The Series, and Ron Palillo played "Oh, oh, oh!!!" Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter. And the future was bright for debut performer Tony Goldwyn, now a respected director and actor; and Renée Jones, who has enjoyed a long career on Days of Our Lives and other shows (and her Walkman here is so much trendier than Violet's in Part V!). Also in the cast are John Travolta's nephew Tom Fridley (love the squaw story!) and McLoughlin's wife Nancy.
It's arguably the strongest cast in the series, a far more accomplished group than we have seen in most of the films (you can try to make an argument for The Final Chapter). The acting here easily ranks as some of the best in the series, and the characters are also some of the most likeable. It's also nice to see such a strong, developed role for an adult--Sheriff Garris may seem like an ass, but he turns out to be a likeable (and very protective) father, with Kagen giving a great performance.
McLoughlin has noted that he was inspired by the classic Universal horror films and the iconic monsters, which he took as inspiration for this work (he script and a few visuals tilt their hat to other genre films and directors). Like a modern day Frankenstein (you might even say a "Teenage Frankenstein"), Jason is presented as an unstoppable force of nature, and for me C.J. Graham is the best Jason ever. It almost didn't happen, because the former Marine wasn't initially cast. Stuntman Dan Bradley--who now enjoys an illustrious career in the industry--appears in the paintball sequence, which was shot the first few days. (While Bradley usually isn't mentioned with the other Jasons, he should be--he appears in one of the franchise's most memorable sequences, and his reaction after one kill is priceless.)
But the studio wanted someone with a different build, so Graham--who did all of his stunts--was quickly cast. And the result, for me, is the most intimidating Jason of them all--in stature, presence and movement. Whereas the other Jasons blinked at least once and showed signs of vulnerability, Graham is a massive freight train, the most confident of them all. (On fire while under water?! Dayum!)
Graham has the stare and the stance down perfectly: The shot of him just standing and starring at Tommy in the graveyard opener is fierce (this is the last Jason I would want to encounter in a dark alley). Graham also tilts his head just right for maximum creepiness, showing an understanding of the character even behind the mask and makeup. And the walk? Oh dear lord that walk...forgettaboutit! This guy is rock solid, a wall of steel that (like the film) moves with frightful fluidity. Whenever I see that final sequence with Jason forcefully strutting into the lake as he chases down Tommy without the slightest bit of hesitation, a little pee trickles down my leg. That is one determined badass, people. Game over.
Get away if you can
Just keep on runnin'
Run as fast as you can
He's a dangerous, dangerous man!"
Why I Love Jason Lives: A Photo Essay
Jason Lives arrives in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The colors for this film are intentionally earthy, so they don't pop off the screen. And while this image isn't as sharp as Part V was--there's also lots of grain--the new transfer eliminates all those pesky film specs that appeared on the 2004 disc (I no longer have my 2001 disc for comparison), making this the best looking entry so far (bring on the Blu-Ray, fellas!). Update: As has been noted elsewhere, some of the blue hues in the film have been changed here; whether that was intentional or not, I don't know; outside of the final lake shot, I probably wouldn't have noticed, and this in no way hampers my enjoyment of the film.
- Bruce Green, editor
Thankfully for fans, director Tom McLoughlin has always been an enthusiastic contributor when asked, and his segments from the 2004 box set and this year's His Name Was Jason documentary are perhaps the best of any cast or crew member. He headlines a new audio commentary here with editor Bruce Green and actor Vinnie Guastaferro (Deputy Rick Cologne). While it's disappointing that C.J. Graham isn't on the track (damn that would have been nice, but at least he's contributed before), this still ends up being an informative, enjoyable listen despite some minor repetition of material we've heard through the years.
McLoughlin notes that he's a big fan of many screwball and film noir films from the '30s and '40s, which influenced his script and characters--Jennifer Cooke's Megan was modeled after the saucy, feisty roles of Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Arthur. He also talks about how and why he inserted the humor elements, and notes that he tried to make the characters as likeable as possible. The director rightfully praises costume designer Maria Mancuso (Frank's sister) for her contemporary wardrobe selections, which were ahead of their time in 1986. It's a point I wish I remembered in my review--the clothes for most of the characters here have held up well, and don't date the film nearly as much as they have in other installments.
While Guastaferro--a friend of McLoughlin's who now teaches acting--had a small role (his wife Cynthia Kania also makes an appearance), it's clear he is a huge fan and knows a lot about all aspects of production, making his contributions very valuable. "I think anyone listening to this commentary knows how much we really like this movie...we're just sitting here really bubbling and enjoying it. It's really something."
Green is also having a good time, frequently trading compliments with McLoughlin: "You didn't really go for the gore as much as the last one. This is a much better movie. It's not as disgusting." Green doesn't speak much, but he has some of the funniest moments ("We had a lot of hamster footage..."). While talking about the film's triple decapitation, he notes that while working on Part V, he received a memo from the MPAA: "It said, 'Junior's head can only bounce once.' We had six bounces." He also talks about meeting a real life Prince of Darkness: "Do you remember when Alice Cooper showed up to see the film at Paramount, and he got out of his car and he was wearing golf clothes? I was so disappointed...I wanted the makeup and him all in black, and he was wearing seersucker pants...it was shocking to me."
The guys share stories about the sets (they sprayed the woods to make them look burnt), McLoughlin's influences (the old Universal films are joined by Carpenter, Spielberg and Capra!), the effects (it was hard to get a lot of maggots shipped to Georgia) and the cast and crew--including initial Jason Dan Bradley, now a highly successful second unit director; assistant editor Jonas Thaler, a post-production supervisor on all three Lord of the Rings films; and sound man Dane Davis, who won an Oscar for his work on The Matrix. (The gang also points out a few things I missed, like the "squish" sound in the beginning where Jason steps on Horshack's heart.)
Other fun tidbits are also raised: McLoughlin talks about how his "narly" hands have been cast by special effects artists to fill in for "unusual looking old hands" in other Hollywood productions (his hands have doubled for Martin landau and Eddie Murphy). He also notes that character Nancy--the little girl who has bad dreams--was not a nod to Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street (as some people have thought), but simply named after his wife. The director also notes a few scenes that he shot that aren't included anywhere; why that is (and where the footage is) is unclear. There was a final shot of Deputy Cologne trying to escape his prison cell, as well as more carnage when Sissy's head is torn off and more blood flow when the caretaker gets killed. All in all, the track is a great listen.
The 2004 bonus disc in the From Crystal Lake to Manhattan box set included a nice 14-minute segment on Part VI that featured interviews with McLoughlin and Graham. Here, we get the new Jason Lives: The Making of Friday the 13th Part VI (12:33), where McLoughlin is joined by actors David Kagen (Sheriff Garris), Nancy McLoughlin (Lizabeth) and the briefly appearing Bob Larkin (Martin the caretaker); and special effects men Greg Bartalos and Chris Biggs, who talk about constructing the mask, their effects and the resistance from the ratings board. (Sadly, Graham is not here again). While McLoughlin shares a few familiar stories, the majority of content here covers somewhat new ground and is still interesting (although I still wish it were longer!).
"My main objective was to give the audience a sense of the old gothic horror movies, because I was trying to set a tone right from the beginning that this was going to be like what the Universal horror movies used to be: the stormy night, going to the cemetery, digging up the grave, a monster that is actually dead coming back and is unstoppable," he says. "If you turn the color off, this movie would look great in black and white."
The director talks about his decision to add kids ("innocence in a horrific situation like that makes drama all the more powerful") and how his discomfort with the slasher genre made him want to make the kills more "impossible" for a human being to do. He also shares a compliment he received from Kevin Williamson, and praises Graham: "C.J. was amazing...not only one of the nicest, sweetest guys, but one of the most focused. That Marine training was incredible, because I'd ask him to do something and it would be 'Yes sir!' and he would execute it just like the machine that C.J. seemed to embrace perfectly." (In a funny side story, the director notes that the Marine training almost spelled doom after Graham mistakenly followed his instincts in one scene.)
Kagen also has fond memories of his fight with Jason ("What a ball to get to do something like that!"), and also praises the cast and crew: "It wasn't like they were making some trashy film; they wanted to make the best film they could make and do the best shots and the best lighting, and Tom always kind of had a twinkle."
Adds the director: "Over the years now, having done so many films, I really do make a difference between a 'film' and a 'movie', and this to me was a movie. This was a ride," he says, adding that he tried to make the best of his budget. "I was trying to be very ambitious in this show. When I look back and I think how much we did do with that amount of money, it was pretty miraculous."
Up next is Slashed Scenes (6:00), the majority of which we've seen on the bonus disc of the 2004 box set. Sadly, the scenes aren't cleaned up and inserted into the film. The old disc presented the clips in small images that ran side-by-side with the final cut from the film. As with that footage, the video quality is a lot rougher and dark--and in some cases without finished sound (one clip--Lizabeth's death--uses a random score selection). Most are presented in the context of the scene, so you're not getting six minutes of new footage. But here it's presented in a bigger (yet still full frame) image.
The recycled footage includes the puddle of mud filling with blood after Lizabeth is killed; Jason removing the severed arm from his machete after the first paintball kill; a shot of the severed heads on the ground after the triple beheading; a second or so extra of Cort getting stabbed in the RV; officer Pappas' head expelling blood and brain matter onto Jason's mask (the effect I wish was included the most); and extended footage of the sheriff's back-break scene (unfortunately, the images are pretty dark, which really sucks for those last two deaths).
What's new--and wasn't on the 2004 disc--is very minor: we get another second of Hawes' heart in Jason's hand in the opening kill, and the camera lingers for an extra second after the first officer (stunt coordinator Mike Nomad) gets killed and falls into the boat with an arrow to the head. You also get the shorter cut of Sissi's death, which doesn't include any new footage but does include different sounds (hacking and a scream). Also new are two non-gory clips from the closing scenes where the kids crowd around Megan as she frets about Tommy. I can't tell the difference in the first brief clip, but the last one has a (I can't believe I'm using this word in a Friday the 13th review) precious moment with little girl Nancy that I wish was included in the final cut ("Somehow it didn't stay in," says McLoughin in the commentary. "Probably too much sentiment.").
What's not included here is the 25-second dialogue clip where Sissy inadvertently cusses in front of the girls after calming them down in their cabin. This was included on the 2004 disc.
Next is Meeting Mr. Voorhees (2:46), a brief clip in which McLoughlin talks about his initial (unfilmed) ending to the film that the studio didn't approve (although it was included in the 1986 Signet paperback adaptation by Simon Hawke). After the director's introduction, it cuts to storyboard art from Crash Cunningham that's accompanied by dialogue from Bob Larkin as Martin the caretaker (who wasn't killed in the original screenplay). It's surprisingly effective, and man I wished they filmed this and included it--it really fits the film's tone. While I'm sure another director would have screwed it up down the road, it would have been a great exclamation point, the perfect bookend to McLoughlin's ode to classic, gothic horror.
What's left isn't worth much of your time: Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part 6 (6:28) continues the unrelated short film saga, but it's slow and boring--there just isn't any substitute for the real thing. Ditto The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part III (9:10), a mock documentary of news reports and "expert" musings on the film's storylines that fills in the story gaps between films (according to this, Tommy didn't actually kill Pam at the end of Part V). Full of bad acting, bad accents and bad humor, it's mostly a waste of time (the Cookie Ray Brown characters tries to be Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman, but fails miserably). The film's theatrical teaser trailer (1:42) is also presented, and sets up McLoughlin's gothic tone nicely.