THE NERDY 30: JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI 30TH ANNIVERSARY
THE NERDY 30 is an ongoing series highlighting a significant film in the sci-fi/horror genre as it turns 30 years old.
Today we celebrate Jason lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, which hit theaters August 1st 1986. Friday the 13th is the quintessential horror movie franchise if ever there was one. Both adored and loathed, producing the most iconic horror villain of all time as well as becoming synonymous with franchises with progressively shittier sequels. As with any sequel, Part 6 is divisive among fans, but I'm here to tell you it's fucking awesome. It was meant by the producers to not just be a sequel, but also a course correction to save the franchise. It did those things, but the director also served up a fresh take and self-aware approach that would have ripples throughout the franchise and the horror genre for decades to come. Let me resurrect your interest in this classic with 30 things I dug up to help make my case, lest you think I'm a farthead.
1) Part 6 has a lot of firsts for the franchise, one of the most divisive is it's use of meta-humor and self satire.
There's a sly self aware wit to the script thanks to writer/director Tom McLoughlin, that was well ahead of it's time. A fast paced blend of in-jokes, 4th wall breaking and self referential quips would alienate some franchise fans, but would end up as the main inspiration for Kevin Williamson while writing his screenplay for Scream. McLoughlin: "I really wanted to make a comedy at the time. And Frank (franchise producer) was really looking for any twist to keep the series going for another one. I sensed he was excited by the notion that I was going to do something different with it, even if he wasn't 100% sure if it was going to work or not".
2) A fresh script with classic roots.
Part 5 had done well at the box office, but was the worst reviewed film of the series. When McLoughlin was brought on to direct, he was given only two stipulations, bring Jason back to appease fans and make the heroine blonde. Being a huge fan of classic Universal monsters & Gothic horror, he drew on elements from early classics like Frankenstein (1931), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), when developing his take on the resurrected Jason. It was also put to the franchises composer Harry Manfredini, to carry these Gothic hints into the music, which he was more than happy to do.
3) Part 6 Jason: Something old, something new.
Every Friday film has it's own unique take on the look of Jason. Always taking some of the previous installment elements but then introducing some kind of twist. The biggest departure from the last "real" Jason, besides clearly being a zombie, is changing his facial deformities. For parts 1-4, Jason had been depicted as having his right eye be slopped and "dead" looking, even relying on it solely for the majority of his "bag-head" phase in part 2. Depth perception issues aside, this was all fine and good until young Tommy Jarvis plunges a machete through the left side of his face and "killing him" at the end of part 4. Besides being dead, he also lost his good eye. In part 6 they kept his lost eye in the look, but retconned his right eye being the deformed one. This design change would carry on with parts 7 and 8.
4) The rise of "Terminator" Jason.
Kane Hodder (who played Jason in parts 7-10), infamously critiqued the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot with a dismissive, "Jason doesn't run!". Hodder must have somehow ignored every Friday film with non-zombie Jason, as Jason does in fact run in all of them. This was the first movie to have Jason as the killer and have him not run. He does walk quite briskly though. I can only guess that Hodder said this to avoid doing any cardio if ever brought back to play Jason again. CJ Graham who played Jason in part 6, while not running, still had a far more toned down and "Terminator-esque" take on Jason than any other entry. Bringing in his military experience to his Jason. Subtle but methodical, it's easily one of the best Jason's of the franchise.
5) The unfortunate fate of Fatty Jason.
Stuntman Dan Bradley was originally cast as Jason, but after the first day of shooting, was deemed "too fat" to be a zombie-Jason by the producers. Although clearly being bulky wasn't an issue with Kane Hodder's various Jason incarnations. CJ Graham who was a restaurant manager at the time, was discovered portraying Jason in a nightclub comedy skit by sheer chance. The scenes Dan Bradley shot are still in the film however and you can see him as Jason in all of the "paintball" scenes. Evidently he was trying to bulk up quickly to play the role and went a bit overboard.
6) The only "Summer Camp" Friday the 13th film of the franchise.
This is the only Friday the 13th to take place at a functioning summer-camp with actual kids attending it. Previous installments that take place on a camp grounds have all been off season or while the camp was abandoned. Never before or after have actual kids been in peril or in the presence of Jason, outside Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis in The Final Chapter.
7) One hell of a bodycount.
While the movie set itself apart by having an actual camp full of kids in peril, all of the kids survive. Despite many feeling this was one of the tamer Friday films in terms of gore, it set the kill bar far higher than previous installments with an impressive 18 kills. The original script had 13, but reshoots were ordered to add in a few more. Which is why the scene of Martin the gravedigger getting killed (along with the couple on the motorcycle who witness it), might feel a bit tacked on. Sissy was originally killed off screen as well. Jason X would go on to beat this count with an impressive 28 kills. Of course the MPAA ratings board lead to most of the kills being cut way back, which is why they might seem a bit tamer. They weren't shot that way. While generally pleased with the final cut, the director felt there was a bit of poetry to having just 13 kills in a Friday the 13th film.
8) We almost met Jason's Daddy.
Adding Martin the gravedigger's death scene created an unfortunate continuity error for the original scripted ending. Much to the dismay of many Friday diehards, the original ending was set to introduce another Voorhees, Jason's father. The final scene was supposed to show a silent daddy Voorhees paying Martin at the cemetery for his special grave-keeping services. Revealing he was in fact the reason Jason was buried instead of being cremated, as some of the locals had believed.
McLoughlin: "I didn't think that any of the previous Friday filmmakers spelled out the mythology, other than the first movie. So I wanted to incorporate more of a backstory, a sense of history." The scene with his father lived on in the films novelization by Simon Hawke. A video with the original storyboards narrated by the actor who played Martin is below.
9) Less a horror movie than an action movie.
Besides the tonal changes with added humor, part 6 was structurally also more of a straight up action film compared to other entries. Complete with pacing, editing, car chases and the franchises first use of firearms against Jason. This is the first Friday film to see Jason shot, let alone shot several times. Much of the production budget went to the RV crash set piece action sequence. CJ Graham was actually inside that as it crashed, rather impressive for a first time stuntman. Rather nerve inducing for the entire production crew. There were many budget battles with the producers and director, this scene was no exception. The production budget manager demanded the director remove the refrigeration unit from the top of the RV before it was crashed so he could keep it for his personal use. The director instead crashed the RV with cooler intact, as cathartic act of defiance. They did this shot in one take as they had to, so when you watch it, and that cooler goes flying off the top and smashing in a hundred pieces, you too can feel a bit more satisfaction.
10) Thom Mathews, the Paul Newman of Horror.
Thom Mathews was (thankfully) cast as Tommy Jarvis, after John Shepherd refused to return to the role after part 5, claiming it was giving him grief in his youth ministry gigs. While Melanie Kinnaman (Pam) and Shavar Ross (Reggie the reckless) were under contract to return as well, their parts were cut once Shepherd announced he wasn't returning and Ross said he wouldn't come back just to get killed. Mathews being an established horror icon from his role in Return of the Living Dead, was a welcomed change by most fans. Shephard himself was only cast in part 5 because Corey Feldman was too busy making Goonies to reprise the role (besides the brief cameo they filmed in his backyard). You can hear audio from Feldman's portrayal of Tommy in the opening of part 6 (they also spell his name wrong in the credits).
McLoughlin: "Finding Tommy Jarvis was a question of getting someone I could believe was Corey Feldman, grown up."
11) Trashing the trashy Part 5.
Recasting Tommy Jarvis wasn't the only change. They retconned the entire notion that Tommy was the new killer, introduced at the end of part 5. The only hint part 5 even happened, is Tommy is seen driving Pam's truck from part 5, at the beginning of the movie. They also retconned the original premise that Jason was only thought to have drowned, but actually survived. Instead establishing he originally did in fact drown, and that the grounds and lake held some form of mystical properties connected to his supernatural ability to not stay dead. Where as earlier it was presumed he simply survived and went off to live in the woods, becoming like a feral animal.
McLoughlin: "I noticed after the Final Chapter, it went a little sideways. So I thought, "I'm going to pick up after The Final Chapter, disregard part 5, and tie the leg-end together a bit".
12) No nudity in a Friday film?
This is the only film of the franchise without female nudity. Darcy Demoss who played Nikki was originally cast to play Tina in part 5, but claims she was fired after refusing to show the director, Danny Steinmann her breasts, with no prior mention of it to her agent. He also later asked her out to dinner and was turned down. She found out shortly after she had no role in part 5 anymore. When she was cast for part 6 she was told to pretend the people involved with part 5 didn't exist. Then on the day she was to shoot her death and sex scene in part 6, the producers pressured McLoughlin to get her naked for the scene. He asked her if she wanted to, but said there would be no problem if she didn't. She declined, citing it was not in her contract to do so. McLoughlin was happy to back down and the scene was shot as you see it in the film. She also happened to appear in the 4th Friday film, albeit very briefly. She is one of the women in the Aerobicise video that country coroner Axl is watching, right before he meets his end.
13) Meta-horror easter eggs
One of the other things that make part 6 memorable are all of the nods to the horror genre sprinkled throughout. Besides the Gothic horror elements incorporated into the film, Tommy mentions a store called "Karloff's" (Boris Karloff), the name Sheriff Garis (named after Mick Garis) who talks of the town "Carpenter" (John Carpenter) and Megan mentions "Cunningham Road" (Sean S. Cunningham). Many fans believe Sissy to be named after Sissy Spacek to honor her role in Carrie, which would be ironic since part 7 is essentially "Carrie vs. Jason".
14) It almost killed the director's pregnant wife, twice.
Speaking of horror Easter eggs, many fans also believed the little "praying girl" was named Nancy as an homage to a Nightmare on Elm Street. But in fact she's named after the director's wife (at the time pregnant with their fist child), Nancy McLoughlin, who portrayed Lizbeth. You'd think the wife of the director would yield some preferential treatment, but in reality she had a really rough go of it on set. Almost getting killed not once, but twice. After Lizbeth's boyfriend (Tony Goldwyn in his first starring role) is skewered and tossed, Jason then lunges with this spear into the windshield, trying to kill Lizbeth. The spear was very real and slid a bit after hitting the windshield, going through at an angle. Nancy got out of the way of it just in time, narrowly missing being impaled. The shot was used in the movie, so you can see it for yourself. Later for her death, she had to have her head submerged in a puddle, and at one point her breathing tubes became clogged with mud, obstructing her breathing. When her character dies and let's go of her wallet, you can see an American Express card with the name "Elizabeth Mott". Mott is Nancy's maiden name.
15) Jason killed by ALIENS?
It was the first Friday film that didn't gross over $20 million. While fans generally look fondly on part 6, many blame disappointment with part 5 for the lack of theatrical support. Of course, going against ALIENS probably didn't help either. It was the first in the series to not debut at number one. The franchise would see ticket sales continue to dwindle with each passing entry until Freddy Vs. Jason ($82 million), and the 2009 reboot ($65 million). Of course, those two films were released to over 3,000 theaters, where as the older films were released to about half that number. Adjusting for inflation, part 6 is the 8th most profitable installment out of the 12 film franchise.
16) 6 Degrees of Travolta.
One of the most common things you'll hear from someone watching Jason Lives for the first time, is them shouting "Horshack!" at the beginning of the movie. Indeed, Ron Palillo of Welcome Back Kotter fame plays the ill-fated Tommy Jarvis sidekick, Allen Hawes. If you John Travolta fans got a little psyched by that, it's worth noting Tom Fridley who plays the 21 Jump Street-reject attired Cort, is also Travolta's nephew. Not only did Fridley go on to appear in Face/Off and Phenomenon with his more famous uncle, he did eventually get cast in an episode of 21 Jump Street in 1989. No word on if he dictated his own wardrobe as he did in part 6.
17) The Bowie connection continues
To keep the production secret and away form the prying eyes of the media and unions, the films are given a fake production name. As per franchise semi-tradition this title was another David Bowie reference, Aladdin Sane. An LP of it can be seen on a table about 33 minutes into the film. A fun play on Tommy's questionable mental state, a lad insane. Part 3 was Crystal Japan, part 5 was Repetition, Part 8 was Ashes To Ashes. Media outlets started picking up on this, so sadly the tradition was dropped.
18) The writer's Friday film
This was the first film of the franchise where it was written and directed by the same person. The only other entry in the franchise to have this honor was Rob Hedden for part 8. Both men would also write and direct episodes of Friday the 13th the series, which of course had nothing to do with the franchise at all, much to the dismay of fans who felt duped by the name. The show would later be called Friday's Curse, but not before alienating people tuning in to it, thinking they were about to see a show about a masked serial killer. A branding fumble that miffed me as a horror-obsessed brat for sure.
19) A critically acclaimed slasher flick?
Despite the low box office, the tonal changes, emphasis on casting good and likable actors and competent directing seemed to have worked on critics. It was the first of the franchise to get positive reviews since the original film. At least as good as you can expect reviews of a Friday the 13th film to be. It would be the first of six "zombie-Jason" movies. Including the remake, there are only 4 films with a "living-Jason" as the villain. It's hard to hate a movie that has so much fun with itself.
20) The Christian Friday film?
Jason Lives also features the franchises only explicit references to God. McLoughlin cites his Catholic upbringing for being an influence on the film. Near the end of the film, one of the children is narrowly spared by Jason after closing her eyes and praying. She can be seen praying once again while Megan is administering CPR on Tommy. The scene originally extended to showing the girl mouth the words "thank you", while looking up, after he regains consciousness. But it was cut.
McLoughlin: "You can take the boy out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the boy. I even originally subtitled my script "Jason Has Risen," but Paramount found that a little bit distasteful, so it became Jason Lives instead."
It was some of these elements that almost won over John Shepherd to return to the role as Tommy. Almost. Thankfully, it wasn't quite church-friendly enough, so we got Thom Mathews.
21) "Just get a blonde"
With the only main casting stipulation being that the heroine be an attractive blonde, McLoughlin cast Jennifer Cooke as Megan. The choice was based primarily on her work on the cult tv show V, which costarred Nightmare on Elm Street actor Robert England. This was her last movie before retiring from acting. She also played a hand in her acting coach, actor David Kagen getting hired, cast as her father - Sheriff Garris. She married Mo Siegel in 1989, the founder of Celestial Seasonings tea.
22) The Friday Frank Capra would make?
The biggest inspiration to Tom Mcloughlin in making Jason Lives was...Frank Capra?
Mcloughlin: "Capra taught me that it's a people-to-people medium. If you care about the people, you'll care about the story. Even if you don't have as great a story as you might want, if you just like spending time with this character, that's good. I guess if you make a character annoying enough people will want to see them killed, and I felt like that was often the case with some of the past Friday films. So, I wanted to make the characters likable so you didn't want to see them suffer."
23) Inhuman Kills
Of course the cornerstone of any Friday film has always been the set-piece kills. That's what this franchise was born of and thrives on. It's also what sets each film apart from the next. So it makes sense that this film also took a different direction with it's kills, beyond just having more. McLoughlin meticulously planned out the kills and in many cases filmed different versions of each, so they had options to work with when it came time to meet the censors. It was of course a sad time for horror and the MPAA ratings board. The mid-80s was a time when they were cracking down and making examples of the horror genre.
McLoughlin: "I wanted all the kills to be humanly impossible to do. I don't want to say the film was 'bloodless', but they were stretching reality."
24) Southern fried Friday
Because of possible union backlash and past on-set tensions of the three prior Friday films, another California production was out of the question. Since pre-teen actors would be heavily featured, they also had to find a "right-to-work" state which allowed extending the hours children could legally be on set, eventually settling upon Covington, Georgia. While not as authentic to it's intended setting as the first two films, it was far more ideal than the Southern California desert look in part 3.
25) Some of the best moments weren't scripted.
Cort's 'indian rock' lesson he teaches the camp-kids was 100% improvised.
Tom Friedly: "We went short on time, and Tom basically was like we need to shoot some more stuff. So he went, "Here you go," and threw me a rock. Just make it up. That scene turned out to be a total improv. And it was a one-take deal."
26) Self aware of puritanical sexual messaging
The director was also acutely aware of past moralistic implications of pairing young lust and violence together.
McLoughlin: "One thing I was very aware of when I did my Friday was the sex equals death thing. I always had a problem that kids have sex and then just get killed, whether it was for moralistic reasons or just coincidental. I much preferred to make fun out of that whole thing. I only had one sex scene in mine and it was played for laughs." On the scene itself he said: "The humor was that this girl was having sex to this song and trying to get the guy to last long enough to get to the end, then when the power went out, so did he. And if you listen really close, after his big moment, we put a sound effect in there. You hear him take his rubber off. It was a subtle little joke we played when we were mixing the movie. Safe sex!".
27) Making action lemonade from low budget lemons.
One of the first scenes filmed was the day-time chase scenes in the cemetery with Tommy and the sheriff. Because it was a historically protected cemetery, there were tight restrictions on what they could do there, one of which being they couldn't walk on or jump over any of the actual plots. So it was staged to be like a game of pac-man.
28) Almost everyone had a blast.
While it was known as one the most fun and jovial of all the Friday productions, not everyone was having a great time. Actor Tom Fridley decided to play a reoccurring prank on Ron Pallilo, as an attempt to poke fun at their mutual Travolta connection. He and some of the other crew got a scarf that looked just like the infamous Horshack scarf from Welcome Back Kotter and hung it on Pallilo's trailer. He would remove it and then they would place it there again. And again. Until at one point he finally grabs the scarf and while holding it over his head screamed, "I am not Horshack anymore, damnit!". Another running joke that was seemingly enjoyed by all was the conspicuous placement of rubber chickens in unusual places, for people to discover. Throughout production, there were rubber chickens constantly being removed from shots. If you look closely during one of the last scenes when Megan is crying and looking at Tommy out on the water, you can see a shadow of a rubber chicken across her chest.
29) A graveyard from (little) scratch.
The film was insanely ambitious for it's paltry $3 million budget, which was one of the few sources of tension during production. Car chases, remote locations with lots of child actors, underwater fight scenes, flipping RV's etc. But one of the more overlooked expenditures was the cemetery in the film's opening, which was built on location in a field from scratch. Wind, rain, a tree getting hit by lightning, six huge above ground mausoleum graves with stone walls, tombstones hand built from styrofoam. If you look closely you'll also see there are no names on any of the gravestones, except Jason's.
Tom McLoughlin: "This is a David Lean influence, but I always thought the elements should play as a character: rain, fog and wind. I wanted stuff flying through the frame as often as possible, to always have motion going on." Because they could only afford so many wind machines, you may notice in the background during close-ups of Thom Mathews, that the wind is absent.
30) The finale that required 3 locations
For the climatic finale on Crystal Lake, three seperate locations ended up being used. On location in Georgia, they shot the wide shots of the lake and canoe. But for the boat fight and underwater, they had to be shot in a more controlled environment. The bulk of these were shot at an Olympic pool at the University of Southern California. For the boat propeller to Jason's face shot, the University refused, so the director shot it at his father's house (who had a pool). Wise choice by the University as the resulting chunks of Jason used in the scene, destroyed the pool filter completely. Also in this scene is a cameo of the original Camp Crystal Lake welcome sign that appeared in the first movie, with "Camp Blood" scrawled across it. One of the many, many little touches that made this sequel something special.
Further your Friday the 13th knowledge and appreciation!
If you want to learn a lot more about Jason Lives as well as all the other entries of the Friday the 13th franchise, you should check out Peter M. Bracke's book Crystal Lake Memories, or the amazingly in-depth documentary of the same name. It's how I know what I know about this franchise. Both must-owns for franchise fans. The film itself is 400 minutes, so don't expect to get through it in one sitting. It certainly changed my perspective on each film, sometimes for the better, sometimes not-so-much. Let's just say the heart was in some of these, more than the others.