There once was a time long ago when teenagers of the 1980's would cruise movie theaters for the latest installment of a hockey masked maniac who haunted a summer camp known as Camp Crystal Lake to slaughter various promiscuous camp counselor who dared work the grounds his blood thirty mother once stalked. The original Friday the 13th (1980) was conceived purely as a rip off of the then popular Halloween (1978) to help upcoming filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham get into the movie business. Essentially, the rip off was a surprise hit for Paramount Pictures and spawned seven sequels under the popular distributor during the 1980's. The series was panned across the board and especially hated by popular movie critics Siskel and Ebert with the duo giving out Betsy Palmer's home address as punishment for acting in the original film. But regardless of the parental groups and critics who came down on the series, it was very popular with teenagers of the time and pretty much dominated the multiplexes until Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) helped the series jump the shark to never recover box office glory again. But even after the fan backlash of Part V, Paramount Pictures managed to pump out a sixth installment to surprisingly decent reviews, but still underwhelming box office. Regardless of Part VI's lack of gigantic financial success it still managed to be a better than expected entry with a surprising amount of craft put into an otherwise disregarded piece of cinema.
By the time the sixth entry had come on home video in the winter of 1987 I had already been introduced to the series thanks to syndicated television and the then video revolution of the 1980's, or what was also known as video stores. The first Friday film I had ever seen was the fourth entry, The Final Chapter, which we all now know wasn't the last installment of the series. From then on I saw all the films in order up until Part 8, then shortly before the seventh entry doubled back and saw Parts 1 through 3 on video and television, yes these films use to actually air on regular television back in the 80's. My introduction to Part VI was at a my first cousin's birthday party back in 1987 where we had a giant sleep over party and my Aunts were cool enough to show a bunch of seven year olds Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI. Still to this day I remember all of us bunched up in front of the tv in our pj's watching Jason rise from the grave after Tommy impaled an iron rail through his chest cavity. It was a fun experience and I can distinctly remember being disappointed when the film ended as I clearly hadn't had enough Jason action for the evening.
One of the coolest things about this entry is Jason really is the "STAR" of the picture. The previous entries were kind of more centered on making the victims somewhat sympathetic to make the audience feel for their deaths once Jason dispatched them, or relieve the audience of obnoxious teen antics depending on how you look at it. But in Part 6 Jason is the name above the marquee and boy does he get justice in this movie as he's given a sleek pair of yellow hardware gloves, a belt fully stocked with all the weaponry Jason needs to dispatch his victims, I guess the filmmakers figured the utility belt would be more plausible then Jason just popping up with a new weapon every five minutes with no explanation for how he got it, and a brand new hockey personally given to him by Tommy so Jason can do his duty with full conviction, Jason enters Part 6 with a BANG! Also, the film actually has heavy craftsman ship put into the cinematography, special effects, and various action sequences. Starting with a pre-title sequence that pays heavy homage to James Bond, Jason slices his machete toward the screen as blood squirts into the camera spilling into the titles "Jason Lives", in true over the top fashion. Once that happened I new Jason Lives was going to be a blast from beginning to end.
One of the many other aspects Part 6 has going for it is that the characters are clearly in on the joke. The 1996 hit Scream is mostly credited by horror fans as the film that got the characters in on the joke that they're living a horror film, but Friday 6, and even lower rent schlock like Return to Horror High (1987) started this gimmick long before Scream. All the teenagers clearly recognize that Jason has returned and they are potential victims, the only difference is that they don't actually believe he exist, but more are just mocking the legend of Camp Crystal Lake until Jason turns their heads three hundred and sixty degrees around from where it started. I love the cheesy 1980's outfits and hair! The girls are actually pretty cute.
And cute doesn't begin to describe the co-star of the piece, Jennifer Cooke, who along side Thom Matthews, Return of The Living Dead (1985), does everything in their power to stop Jason before killing the entire camp, with their efforts being somewhat successful if you only count the children Jason didn't kill and ignoring the 18 to 22 adults already slaughtered by the masked maniac. Jennifer Cooke is not only adorable but one giant ball of sass, which balances out Thom Matthews bland but stoic character of Tommy. I still remember having a huge crush on her as a young kid and just loving those big blue eyes. She's sexy, tough, and smart even saving Tommy from Jason in the final act of the picture. My favorite scene is where she seductively gazes at Tommy as she probes him about the supposed return of Jason, that girls eyes would make any grown man do her every bidding without question.
Jason Lives also sports some inventive kills going outside the standard meat cleaver to the face, or machete through the back scenes, instead opting for Jason to show super human strength on the level of Superman, or The Incredible Hulk. Jason racks up the body count with ripping a man's heart out of his chest, triple decapitation, twisting heads on backwards, smashing heads like a vice, folding a Sheriff's body in half like a notebook binder, and smashing a girl's face into an RV wall. Is all of it as absurd as it sounds? Absolutely! Which still makes me wonder to this day how parents could actually be offended by a Friday the 13th picture? The idea of a man in a hockey mask doing all these atrocities is totally absurd and even one of the actresses from Part V, Melanie Kinnaman, even stated shooting the finale in A New Beginning was one of the most hilarious experiences she had on a film shoot. And to think parents actually believed one of these movies can influence someone to try murder in real life.
How can we mention the Paramount Friday the 13th's without mentioning the brilliant and enthralling score by Harry Manfridini? He simply made the original seven picture before opting out on Part 8 in 1989 to pursue other opportunities. These movies wouldn't be what they are without Manfridini's score, Jason only exist because of the "chi chi ma ma". Anytime someone hears those eerie sounds we know the hockey masked psychopath is close near by about to impale a would be victim. Even kids who were born long after the hey day of these movies know that sound. And Harry Manfridini takes the motifs of the original films spinning them into an action like score penetrating our ears with none stop adrenalin. But how can we not mention the brilliant mid 80's rock soundtrack by Alice Cooper with the title song The Man Behind The Mask.Since MTV was so huge in the 80's, it was almost guaranteed that any movie that wanted to sell tickets needed to have some kind of music tie in to bring in the teenage crowds of the time. It's a catchy tune and of course, VERY 80'S. As a matter of fact, what would any cheese ball 1980's movie be without a shameless music tie in? The cheesy soundtrack is what completes the entire package and makes it a shameful romp in over access. God do I miss the 1980's!
In conclusion, Jason Lives is needlessly violent, over the top unnecessary horror romp that could only exist in the world of the 80's. If there are any readers who weren't born in the 1980's and would like to rediscover some of the silliest horror franchises of its day, give Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives a shot, just keep your tongue firmly in cheek and you'll be able to have a good time.