Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
The 80’s were a great decade for horror, especially my favorite subgenre, the slashers. Many one hit wonders were released, but a few franchises were born. Friday the 13th brought us Pamela Voorhees, followed by her son, the hockey-masked killing machine, Jason Voorhees. Jason may not be portrayed by fan favorite Kane Hodder in the film I most enjoy, but it does include a fine mix of horror, humor, hard rock, and a hot car, not to mention my favorite kill in the series.
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI hit theaters in 1986. The story opens with Tommy Jarvis and a friend in the cemetery where Jason Voorhees is buried. Tommy is determined to destroy the body, and with the help of his reluctant friend Hawes (played by Ron Palillo, Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter”), he opens the casket to reveal the corpse. Tommy grabs a metal fence post and stabs the body repeatedly, leaving the weapon impaled in Jason. As luck would have it, a thunderstorm starts. Lightning strikes the post sending a massive electrical current through the body, bringing Tommy’s nemesis back to life.
Jason dispatches with the friend by punching him in the chest, his arm coming through the other side, clutching the dead man’s heart. Tommy gets away without seeing Jason don his trademark mask, indicating that he is officially back in the murder business. Before the opening credits roll, we see Jason walk into the frame, turn and slash his machete, reminiscent of James Bond. It can be seen in this great body count video.
Tommy runs to the police station, but Sheriff Garris doesn’t believe his tale. He doesn’t appreciate hearing the Jason legend. The townspeople want to forget what happened at Crystal Lake, going so far as to change the name to Forest Green. Tommy is in a holding cell when the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan, and her friends enter the station with concerns about two missing camp counselors. Tommy tells the group that Jason Voorhees is behind the disappearances. Deciding that Tommy Jarvis is going to cause trouble, Sheriff Garris runs him out of town. Megan and her friends are camp counselors at Forest Green. With Jason headed to his old stomping grounds who, if anyone, survives?
Kane Hodder, often regarded as the Jason Voorhees by fans, didn’t pick up the hockey mask until Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Before then, each film had a different man play Jason, sometimes more than one actor in a film, as was the case with Jason Lives. Dan Bradley appears in the paintball scene, but producers felt he didn’t have the right build for their vision of the character. Bradley was replaced by C.J. Graham, who appears as the killer in the rest of the movie.
I love the clever references found in Jason Lives. One little girl at the camp named Nancy has what the counselors believe are nightmares, when in actuality she has seen Jason lurking around the cabin. Could this be a reference to a character in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, released two years before this Friday installment?
Also, in the beginning of the film, Megan asks her dad the sheriff to drive out to Cunningham Road to look for Darren and Lizbeth, the missing counselors. This may be a nod to the director of the first movie, Sean S. Cunningham.
There is quite a bit of humor in Jason Lives, from funny segues to cute quips. Martin the cemetery groundskeeper shovels the dirt back into Jason’s open grave, muttering aloud to himself why anyone would want to dig him up. He stops long enough to look directly into the camera to deliver this line, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.”
In another scene, when Tommy asks Martin if he covered back over Jason’s grave, after Sheriff Garris pulls Tommy away, Martin says, “Dig him up? Does he think I’m a farthead”?
“Yes!” is the next word we hear, but it’s the children in response to Megan at camp.
When camp counselor Cort is explaining Indian markers to the boys, one kid remarks to the other, “If this is as exciting as it gets, we’re in big trouble, dude.” If he only knew the excitement to come.
As Jason stalks the camp, the kids hide under their beds in the cabins. One boy says to another, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up”?
A horror film is made even more awesome if it has a rocking soundtrack. Of course, Jason’s trademark theme by Harry Manfredini is heard, but there are three great Alice Cooper songs throughout the movie. When Megan and her friends are unloading a truck with campground supplies, “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is heard. Talk about foreshadowing. This song was written for the movie. Check out the video.
When Jason finds himself in an RV stalking Nikki and Cort, “Teenage Frankenstein” plays on the sound system. Unfortunately for Nikki, Cort turns up the volume so he doesn’t hear her demise or Jason stalk him.
“Hard Rock Summer” is the final Alice Cooper song found in the movie. It’s heard in the sports car Megan and Tommy are in when they try to elude the police.
The car used in the film is a beautiful 1977 orange Camaro. I love muscle cars, and who doesn’t like seeing them in action? Megan’s baby resembles the beauty below.
Now for the kills. Long before Jigsaw came along with his inventive traps, Jason set the bar in creativity. Jason Lives held the record for the most kills in the franchise until 2001’s Jason X. Sheriff Garris gets bent in half when he goes against the masked killer. Poor Paula takes a beating in her cabin before being thrown through the window. Her limp body is bent over the sill, but Jason pulls her back in for more fun. These are just a few of the noteworthy kills in Jason Lives. My personal favorite death scene in all the films is Nikki’s. As she walks toward the front of the RV, Jason emerges from the restroom, grabbing the girl and dragging her into the small space with him. The audience gets a view from above of the struggle, which is no struggle for Jason, who barely moves as Nikki attempts to free herself. Finished with her feeble escape attempt, Jason forces her head into the side of the RV, leaving an indentation of a face frozen in a scream. There’s no blood or gore to be found, just old-fashioned creative killing at its best.
One thing missing from this particular Friday the 13th is nudity. Although Cort and Nikki enjoy a romp in the RV, no one’s naughty bits are shown. This is almost unheard of in a horror film from this era, particularly when premarital sex is the Batsignal for homicidal maniacs.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting two actors from the film. If it looks like I’m getting a bit friendly with C.J. Graham (Jason Voorhees) in this photo from 2005, it’s because I am, but it was at his request. While my husband was fiddling with our camera, C.J. said to me, “C’mon, let’s make him jealous. Squeeze me harder.” How could I not oblige, “Jason?”
I met Thom Matthews (Tommy Jarvis) in 2010. He was equally fan friendly and amenable to a photo. The inscription above his signature reads “Jason Lives.” Indeed he does, in the hearts of horror fans worldwide.