How “Jason Lives” Became My Favorite “Friday the 13th”

As a kid horror movies were forbidden. But they were forbidden in the way that staying up late was forbidden. Sure, it was a no no, but our parents always looked the other way if we caught a sneak peek at one of the stronger horror shockers. Plus, growing up with a mother with an insatiable appetite for all things horror, it’s pretty tough to re-enforce a ban when she’s showing up every other day with VHS copies of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Sleepaway Camp.” For some reason though, growing up, my mom always discouraged my watching “Jason Lives.” I could never quite figure out why, though.

I mean, at the age of seven I sat down with my uncle and watched “The Final Chapter” the whole way through on Betamax. And I constantly watched the entirety of “Thriller” whenever I had the chance on our grainy old VHS copy. But for some reason whenever it was on television, my mom didn’t allow me to whet my appetite for Jason Voorhees. Everyone knew who Jason Voorhees was, and while he was never the humongous icon that Freddy Krueger was in the eighties, he was influential in his own right. He’d crossed over in to the mainstream and eventually became my favorite slasher icon. I did go as him for Halloween three times, after all.

Back in the old days my source for movie entertainment came from network television, and WPIX Channel 11 is where I got my movie education. Always edited for time, with commercial breaks, and all. Multiple times a year (mostly around Halloween), they would play a very creepy commercial for “Jason Lives,” and the way it was edited, it came off as a terrifying horror movie. Years later after viewing most of the series, I happened upon “Jason Lives” on television and it instantly became my favorite of the series. In 1998 when we moved to a new apartment I was without a cable hook up for a year, so I would often pop in my “Jason Lives” VHS before bed and indulge myself. I’d even stay for the closing theme song “Man Behind the Mask.”

It’s a consistently entertaining and downright bizarre installment of a movie series that would only get weirder and weirder. From there he’d go to New York, Hell, and then Space. It’s true that I am a huge fan of the movie series but “Jason Lives” took a big turn in to the more obvious territory for better and for worse, embracing its slasher movie origins much in the way “Halloween IV” did. After “A New Beginning,” a sequel in the series sans Jason, the producers hinted that Tommy Jarvis would be carrying on the mantle (literally putting on his mask in the closing scene). This left us with an ambiguous climax that went nowhere, and the studio going back to the well where they’d revive Jason Voorhees once again.

It’s a creative revival too. Jason doesn’t just show up one night, he is brought back by a stupid accident and possibly fate. When he’s mobile again, he’s vicious and stronger than ever. A lot of the horror fans I’ve come across usually balk at the idea of Jason being re-animated by lightning a la Frankenstein’s monster. It’s never been a huge problem for me, especially when Freddy Krueger was once re-animated by dog piss, while Michael Meyers always found ways to evade death like Adam West’s Batman.

“Jason Lives” is about as silly as the previous films, but it also does a damn good job of evoking pure terror in certain moments. The entire sequence in the trailer is intense, and the way Jason bursts through a cabin preparing to kill a bunch of kids (?) as they scream and cower in a corner is still pretty vicious. On the flipside, it thrives in delivering tongue in cheek comedy, and self referential humor. There’s even a breaking of the fourth wall which might be off putting to people that have never seen it. Through and through, though, the movie never forgets what it is. It also never forgets Jason Voorhees’ primary purpose. He’s a killing machine who is quickly making his way back to Camp Crystal Lake, and this time he has an arsenal.

This sequel establishes Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Matthews) as Jason’s “Loomis,” as he seeks to correct his grave mistake stop Jason before the body count rises. Despite his best efforts, there are killings aplenty, and Jason is never short of cannon fodder. Characters are literally introduced just to die horrendous deaths, including a young couple picnicking (in the middle of the night in the middle of the woods…?), a group of inept office drones turned paintball players, a drunken grave digger, and a small group of hapless police officers. While the movie is cited (and sometimes criticized) as injecting comedy in to Jason’s exploits, it compensates as a smart meta-slasher movie that subverts a lot of tropes.

For one thing, the daring, rebellious, very good looking girl is the heroine of the piece. While in other movies she’d die a horrible death, here she’s smart, clever, can drive like hell, and even saves Tommy Jarvis. Meanwhile the more virginal character usually reserved for final girl status is slaughtered like a pig. And when I say slaughtered, I mean that Jason literally throws her bloody battered body out of a window, and pulls her back in to continue mutilating her. Also the only sex scene in the movie has zero T&A.

“Jason Lives” is representative of that forbidden side of horror that was very appealing to me when I was a kid. I cut my teeth on video store boogey men like Jason Voorhees, and I always sit down and indulge in the sixth part in such an eccentric, but iconic horror movie series every chance I get.

Even with commercials and all.