Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Once in a blood moon, a franchise will come along that redefines a subgenre and takes it to the next level. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise, which essentially created the horror subgenre of slasher flicks as we know them to this day. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new installment in the series any time soon, now’s still the perfect time to review this franchise as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have released The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-Ray! As such, I’ll be reviewing not only the movies in this franchise but these new Blu-ray releases as well. In this installment, we’ll look at Jason’s electrifying return to the series in Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)!
Prior to the poor fan reception of Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), there were plans in place to make a direct sequel to it. Cast members Melanie Kinneman, John Shepard, and Shavar Ross were all under contract to reprise their roles in a film that would find Tommy Jarvis donning Jason Voorhees’ mask and slicing-and-dicing his way through a hospital. That plan began to crumble when Shepard chose not to return. More importantly, though, by the time, Paramount knew fans did not dig A New Beginning. (It’s only been in the last few years that the flick has found a divisive cult status.) Thus, the decision was made by the studio to scrap the original plans for Part VI and ignore the previous entry entirely. Moving forward, the studio had only two simple edicts for the sixth installment in the franchise: Jason had to be brought back into the fold and he was not to be mocked.
It turns out the person to carry out those studio mandates was none other than a young writer/director named Tom McLoughlin. Like many other filmmakers associated with this franchise, McLoughlin didn’t have much experience under his belt. He had only previously directed and-co written the horror flick One Dark Night (1982). What he did bring to the table was a fresh angle. Taking inspiration from Frankenstein (1931), McLoughlin’s new approach to Jason Voorhees and the franchise was simple — make Jason the monster in a gothic horror flick. Paramount, along with Friday franchise figurehead Frank Mancuso, Jr., cottoned to this idea and allowed him to inject a sense of fun and self-awareness into this installment. Before pitching his take on the franchise, McLoughlin had only seen the original Friday the 13th (1980). So, after being hired to write and direct Part VI, he spent a day in a screening room on the Paramount lot watching the previous five films before moving full steam ahead on his screenplay.
The original draft of McLoughlin’s screenplay was titled Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Rises! Alas, it had to be changed at the behest of the studio, who feared backlash from certain groups. And, as much as I like that kitschy title, I can’t blame Paramount for requiring a title change. After all, the 1980s did have a bent of conservatism to it. All things considered, though, I think it’s safe to say that the writer/director was not out to offend anyone with this initial title. Although, I’m almost certain that backlash over such a silly thing would still occur today, unfortunately.
In any event, he simply changed the title to the equally self-explanatory, Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. This sequel, which ignores its immediate predecessor, finds an adult Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) on a quest to destroy Jason Voorhees’ (C.J. Graham) corpse. But, much to his horror, Tommy finds that the killer has been resurrected by lightning! Having found new life, Jason makes his way back to Crystal Lake’s now active campgrounds, which have been re-dubbed as Forrest Green. Now, Tommy must stop his old foe before he slaughters everyone in the newly reopened camp.
Now, while that plot synopsis may sound like the fare you’ve come to expect from this franchise, I assure you that this flick is more than the stalk-and-slash standard. Some Friday fans take issue with this quality, stating that the film is not as creepy or horrific as they would like. While I disagree with this sentiment, I can certainly understand it. Heck, I admittedly felt the same way up until rewatching Jason Lives for this review! Upon this viewing, I realized this sequel does stride away from the well-tread trail a bit, but it offers so much more. In my opinion, McLoughlin achieves precisely what he set out to do; striking the perfect balance between making a modern monster movie while maintaining enough of the aesthetic and vibe that’s desired from this franchise.
At the same time, McLoughlin also delivers the best-made film to date in the series. Every dollar is on the screen, making this movie look like it was made for triple that budget, if not more. More importantly, though, Jason Lives corrects all the issues that plagued A New Beginning as this film finds the perfect balance between horror, humor, sex, and violence. It’s for all these reasons that Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is a Definite Franchise Expansion! Not to mention a fun film that garnered some critical praise.
Furthermore, I feel that Jason Lives is the perfect introduction for any younger horror fans looking to dip their toe into classic R-rated horror. After all, it’s violent and has some gore, but it’s not too explicit. Beyond that, this is the only installment to date to feature no nudity. And I have to admit; I didn’t even notice the absence of that content.
But, for all the praise I heap on Jason Lives, it does have one major issue. While the cast is solid, all the characters are noticeably one-note. Matthews plays Tommy in “Van Helsing mode” the whole time. And the same can be said for the other characters, who all have their own respective single modes. Oddly enough, I think the most robust performance belongs to the man who portrays Jason himself.
Stunt coordinator Dan Bradley (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) played Jason on the first day of production. After seeing the initial dailies, the studio found Bradley “Too fat” for their liking. Thus, marine veteran C.J. Graham donned the hockey mask. In doing so, Graham was directed to play Jason more robotically. After all, Jason was now essentially a zombie, having been resurrected. And I must say, Graham’s take on the titular character is my favorite to date. Unlike the folks who played Jason before him, Graham legitimately manages to deliver a performance in which he emotes from under that mask.
Despite my slight issue with surface-level characterization, Jason Lives is still one of the strongest and more original flicks in this franchise. So much so that I wish McLoughlin had returned to do a follow-up after this flick grossed an impressive $19.4 million worldwide on a production budget of $3 million. Unfortunately, though, the studio was not interested in taking the series in a direction that would focus on Jason’s estranged father, Elias Voorhees. Then again, while I’d personally pay to see that, I can see why Paramount and the producers chose to keep giving the audience of the time something in the same vein. Perhaps that’s why we essentially get Jason vs. Carrie next time around?
As with every disc in this set, Jason Lives looks fantastic. Thus, all that production value I referred to earlier is really on display here. However, it is worth noting that this is the same 2K transfer featured on the film’s previous Blu-ray release. It’s a real shame this film did not get a 4K remaster as it’s the best-looking entry to date with gorgeous cinematography by Jon Kranhouse.
(*NEW EXTRAS INDICATED BY *)
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood: Part 6 — The 7-minute conclusion of the most entertaining arc thus far in this fan film series.
- The Crystal Lake Massacre Revisited: Part III — At 9 minutes in length, this installment of Daniel Ferrands‘ mockumentary series concentrates on the Jason Lives era of Tommy Jarvis’s life and is quite entertaining due to being the most meta portion of this series yet.
- Jason Lives: The Making of Friday the 13th Part VI — This 12-minutes featurette simply covers the broad strokes when it comes to the making of the film. Featuring interviews with Writer/director Tom McLoughlin, Actors Bob Larkin, Nancy McLoughlin, & David Kagen, and Makeup FX Artist Gabe Bartolis and Chris Briggs. While I think you would be better served to merely listen to a commentary, this making-of is worth watching for the tidbit regarding the vacuform hockey mask alone.
- *Commentary With Actors Thom Mathews, Vinny Gustaferro, Kerry Noonan, Cynthia Kania, CJ Graham, and Author Peter M. Bracke* — If you’re a fan of Jason Lives, then this commentary track is a very entertaining and informative listen. But the best part is that all the folks providing commentary seem to legitimately enjoy having made the movie. I found the only drawback here to be that the track is overcrowded with cast members, all of whom occasionally and mistakenly step on each other’s words.
- Commentary With Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin — This is one of the best filmmaker commentaries I’ve heard in a while. McLoughlin gives great insight into what he wanted to bring to the Friday franchise here, and I greatly appreciated it. Frankly, the guy seems real easy-going & I could listen to him all day as he’s incredibly film literate and is very open about his influences in the medium.
- Commentary With Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin, Actor Vinny Guastaferro, and Editor Bruce Green — As with the other commentaries, this one is informative and entertaining. However, it does tread over some of the same ground.
- Fan Commentary With Filmmakers Adam Green & Joe Lynch, and Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin — Unlike the other fan commentaries on the previous disc from Green and Lynch, this one is much more informative and frankly standard in its content. The track is driven by Green interviewing McLoughlin, while Lynch is mostly absent as he’s managing an online charity auction (which is when they initially recorded this commentary).
- Meeting Mr. Voorhees — Tom McLoughlin’s original ending featuring Jason’s father and Pamela’s husband is presented In storyboard form. I wish this scene had made it into the final film, as I feel it could’ve taken the franchise in a new direction.
- Slashed Scenes — Here, we’re treated to 6 minutes of uncut kill scenes. Now, while I’m all for more violence and gore in the genre, I don’t think it adds anything to this particular picture.
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery
- *Vintage Fangoria Magazine Article* (REQUIRES BD-ROM)
The Friday the 13th Collection is currently available on Blu-ray!
Next Time in Franchise Expansion (or Implosion), Jason meets his match in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)!
The Franchise’s Body Count Thus Far-
Friday the 13th (1980):
Friday the 13th: Part II (1981):
Friday The 13th: Part III in 3-D (1982):
Friday The 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985):