Every once in a while, I feel compelled to revisit the Friday the 13th series just because how well each one plays can depend on my mood. What I realize when watching Jason Lives is something of a miracle among this pile of likable trash: It works. This is not only a great Friday the 13th film, but just a flat-out good film. It’s probably the only film in the god-forsaken franchise that not only succeeds on the level of intended comedy (there’s a key word in there somewhere), but somehow functions as an entertaining thriller. This is owed to the talents of its writer-director, Tom McLoughlin, and an energetic cast. This installment in Jason’s never-ending bloodbath has more energy and fun than any other in the series.
The film begins with the same character that has carried us through the previous two films, Tommy Jarvis (played most notably by Corey Feldman in Part 4, and here by Thom Mathews). As a young boy he slaughtered Jason with his own machete in the fourth movie, grew up and went to a mental institution in the fifth one. Now that he’s out, looks to destroy Jason for good by burning his corpse. But in order to do that, he must dig him up. Gee, nothing could possibly go wrong! With a pretty neat special effects shot accompanied by some fun pyrotechnics, Jason lives, and he’s even more powerful.
The film rockets past its awesome opening that pays a very nice homage to the James Bond titles and never stops moving. McLoughlin moves his camera very well, assisted with nice gothic cinematography by Jon Kranhouse. He always is tipping his hat to the horror classics at one time or another, and he has a sure hand at comedy. The intentional laugh ratio is vastly in his favor. I’m not going to explain any of the “plot” because hey, ever since the first film slashed up screens in 1980, there is no need for explanation. Although how a hockey mask can endure the abuse it does in this series is something I’d still love an answer to.
Now exactly what makes this installment special compared to its counterparts? As I said, it works as a thriller. The opening scene in the cemetery has genuine anticipation. The close up on an eye socket crawling with maggots as it narrows in anger was a very nice touch, and it makes the scene pay off in the end. As the film goes along, it introduces the traditional characters, but it gives us a few that we really do learn to like and care about. The cookie-cutter mentality of the previous movies gives way here to some funny dialogue and cultural in-jokes (“Your mother own a sewing machine kid?”). Instead of the usual clueless authority figures Freddy vs. Jason had such a great time poking fun at, we are given a real three-dimensional character in the sheriff who honestly cares about keeping the peace and the well-being of his daughter, a rambunctious blonde with a knack for seeking out trouble. So when Tommy Jarvis hauls his ass straight to the sheriff’s office after resurrecting his lifelong nemesis, and the sheriff knows who he is, we understand why he would toss Tommy in the brig, even if we know he’s wrong.
There are other moments involving little kids reacting to the sight of Jason and some nice little bits of dialogue between the camp counselors, but most especially with the sheriff. All this works really well, and it’s all due to the filmmakers knowing what they were making and doing their best within the confines of the dependable formula. McLoughin really goes above and beyond the call of duty; he delivers a truly good film with some great visual gags and, gasp, drama. For example: There’s a terrific moment toward the end of the film when the sheriff comes face to face with Jason in the woods of Crystal Lake—or, I’m sorry, Forest Green. McLoughlin cuts to a wide shot with the sheriff, stunned by the sight of Jason. Jason stands perfectly still and they stare at each other for a moment. I watched this and thought, “Wow, a realistic character arc in a Friday the 13th movie.” Commence the snowball fight in Hell.