After the disappointing box office returns of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, in which Paramount had attempted to resurrect a franchise which they had so spectacularly laid to rest the previous year, producers were desperate to return to their former glory and so immediately set about getting the series back on track. Whilst the fourth sequel had alienated much of the fanbase, the character of Tommy Jarvis, whose story had begun when he had finally brought Jason’s reign of terror to an end with The Final Chapter, had become a popular addition to the mythology but he had been sadly underused throughout the fifth film. Deciding to employ a more lighthearted and self referential approach to their material, Paramount offered the director’s chair to Tom McLoughlin, whose previous success had been the 1983 horror One Dark Night, on the condition that he would pen the script as well. A daunting task as he would not only have to find a plausible way to bring Jason back from the dead but now the franchise also had Freddy Krueger to compete with.
It has been several years since Roy Burns had adopted the visage of Jason Voorhees and slaughtered the residents of the Pinehurst halfway home. Having remained institutionalised ever since, Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is still haunted by the night in which he was forced to butcher the Jason in self defence. Deciding that the only way that he can move on with his life is by destroying him for good, Tommy heads out to the cemetery with reluctant fellow inmate Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) and a can of petrol to cremate his remains. But after digging up his grave and opening the coffin, Tommy suddenly snaps and breaks off a rail from the metal fence and begins to drive it down repeatedly into the corpse. But, as he tries opens the can and prepares to pour, a freak lightning bolt strikes down and hits the rail, sending a current straight into Jason’s chest. A moment later, he awakens and rips out Allen’s heart, causing his body to fall into the coffin. Tommy douses him in petrol and tries to light a match but rain suddenly begins to pour down heavily, forcing him to run to his car and head into town.
Crystal Lake is now known as Forest Green, in an attempt to move on from his bloody history and forget about the carnage which Jason caused. Tommy runs into the police station where is confronted by Sheriff Garris (David Kagen). Recognising the story of Jason and realising who Tommy is, he orders his deputy (Vincent Guastaferro) to throw him into a cell. Meanwhile, two young counselors, Darren (Tony Goldwyn) and Lizabeth (the director’s wife, Nancy McLoughlin), find themselves lost as they search for the camp, only to find Jason standing in the middle of the road, brandishing the rail. When Darren asks why she has stopped the car, her smart response is, “ Because I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.” Darren pulls out a gun but is immediately impaled, whilst Lizabeth attempts to bribe him with her American Express card. Naturally, Jason isn’t impressed and drives the rail down into her face.
Concerned for her missing friends, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke) heads over to the police station to talk to her father, but Tommy throws a stick in the spoke by stating that Jason is alive and on the loose. Afraid that his twisted stories may upset his daughter, Sheriff Garris drives him out of town and gives him a warning on what will happen if he ever returns. But Tommy knows that Jason will never rest and that he is the only one who can stop him and so, with the help of Megan (they were clearly attracted to each other from the moment they first met), they follow Jason back to the camp, whilst trying to avoid the sheriff who has become convinced that Tommy is the real killer. Knowing that the only way to put an end to Jason’s evil forever is to send him to his original resting place, the bottom of Crystal Lake, Tommy tries to set a trap by luring him out into the water, forcing him to have to face Jason once and for all.
Jason Lives seems to divide Friday the 13th fans right down the middle. There are those that enjoy the playful aspect of the movie and enjoy its fast pace and sly humour, whilst there are others who feel that it is the one responsible for the series slowly becoming ridiculous and losing its edge. In a manner of speaking, both could be considered correct, but there is no denying how enjoyable Jason Lives actually is. Despite being heavily censored by the MPAA (much like the other Paramount-produced sequels), there is still a high body count and a selection of inventive set pieces. A last minute addition to the script (although it was the first to be shot) was the paintball scene, in which Jason slaughters a group of office execs out on a team building afternoon. This sequence is significant as it was the only scene to be shot with stuntman Dan Bradley in the role of Jason, as after a few days he would be replaced by C.J. Graham
This is also the film responsible for the zombie-like Jason, who would prove to be indestructible and superhuman, a concept explored even further when Kane Hodder took over the role in the subsequent four sequels. There are moments which some viewers may find a little too dumb, such as a drunken caretaker talking directly to the camera, or one kid who asks his friend, ‘So what were you going to be when you grew up?’ The addition of several Alice Cooper songs also caters more towards pop culture, something which almost destroyed the Freddy Krueger franchise. But Mathews (continuing a trend from A New Beginning of hiring actors from Return of the Living Dead) makes for an excellent hero, no longer the useless comatose of the previous film, now sporting the makings of an action hero, whilst Cooke is equally impressive as the final girl. For those that take the Friday the 13th franchise too seriously, Jason Lives is most likely an irritating and pointless movie, but any one who enjoys the wink-wink humour of Scream will no doubt enjoy this addition to the series.