It took five films for me to, at least somewhat, get into the spirit of the Friday the 13th franchise. That chapter finally found the right formula to making one of these movies worth seeing. What we need, in order of importance: (1) Creative kills, so we’re not just watching the same thing over and over again; (2) characters we can tell apart; (3) dialogue that doesn’t make us want to plug our ears, delivered in a way that seems at least moderately natural; (4) and a touch of humor, noting how silly the whole premise is. If it also had a sustained sense of atmosphere or tension, it would elevate itself to something genuinely worth watching, rather than appearing good in comparison to earlier movies in the series.
With Jason Lives, we’ve taken that 4th element, the humor, and elevated it to the most important position, while also forgetting about most of the other ingredients to making a successful Friday the 13th film. Yes, Jason Lives is funnier and more self-aware than any of the other films in this series. That doesn’t necessarily make it better, especially when it still has a kill quota to fill.
The film begins at silly and then takes it to another level as it proceeds. Its opening scene involves Jason having been dead for years, only to be resurrected by a metal rod and lightning. Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Mathews), protagonist of the last film, wants to cremate his body but winds up bringing him back from the dead instead. Now, Jason wants revenge, and is about to kill seemingly everyone in the town of Crystal Lake, which has been renamed “Forest Green,” in hopes its townspeople will allow true events to fade into myth.
But, with Jason back, we have to do the whole thing where he kills random people, many of whom are unrelated to the plot, while he searches for the protagonist, Mr. Jarvis. Most of the time, he does it with a knife, just like he’s done for the majority of the last four installments. There are a couple of creative moments, but for the most part, you’ve seen this movie before.
And that’s something that the filmmakers know, so they include a bunch of in-jokes, meta-humor, and even a couple of times when the film breaks the fourth wall. It’s like they’re just as tired of the formula as you are, so they make mention of it. That’s funny. If there’s one Friday the 13th that’s intentionally funnier than it is scary, Jason Lives is it. The film have never been scary, but save for the fifth one, they’ve not had much humor to them; any time you laugh, it was because the film was so bad that you would be unable to stifle the snickering.
It’s also more action-packed than earlier entries. There’s a car chase, a shootout or two — and, yes, Jason (who is now a zombie) stabs a bunch of people. Eventually, the plot brings us to a summer camp at the lake where it all started, and there are actually children at the camp this time. This is where the film’s fiery climax occurs, and if the final showdown scene doesn’t make you appreciate the filmmakers’ flair for gorgeous shots, you need to reevaluate what you think looks nice.
In fact, despite the decidedly tongue-in-cheek nature of Jason Lives, it actually has some of the more iconic moments of the franchise. A shot of Jason standing on top of a recently flipped over motor home is probably the image I’ll take from the film, although the aforementioned climactic battle is up there. The films following the first have all been shot relatively well, but this is the first time that the framing is so strong that you could take a still image and be impressed.
The acting isn’t altogether awful, and the dialogue maintains its not-being-awful quality from A New Beginning. I couldn’t tell you who anyone was apart from the main character and perhaps the daughter of the sheriff who befriends him for reasons that don’t matter, but their brief interactions are relatively fun and completely harmless. And, you know what? There’s actual character growth from movie to movie when it comes to our lead, Tommy. When’s the last time that happened in this franchise? (Hint: never.)
Friday the 13th: Part VI — Jason Lives is a sillier version of films we’ve already seen in this series, but its sense of humor and winks at the audience allow it to be watchable. The filmmakers know how ridiculous the franchise has become, and they make nods toward that. That doesn’t excuse the lack of discernible characters or the unimaginative kills, but I’ll certainly take a less serious take on what we’ve seen before than a serious one that winds up exactly like earlier entries.