JANUARY 3, 2009
4-5 years after releasing their pitiful bullshit of a boxed set, Paramount has finally realized that people actually care about the Friday the 13th movies, and are thus putting together special editions of the films. Parts 1-3 are due in the coming weeks, and 4-6 were just announced. I am sure 7-8 are coming along as well (being the ones most requested – they are the weakest of the Paramount lot, but also the most butchered by the MPAA). Even better, they are getting new transfers, which is why HDNET Movies aired almost the entire series over the weekend. So for what I think is the first time since I got my cable box, I watched one as it aired, which also happens to be my favorite: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
Lives was also the first one I watched on upscaled DVD (which actually looks better than HDNet’s compressed version, but that’s neither here nor there), and if memory serves, the first one I bought on VHS back in the day. I think I’ve probably seen VIII the most (first one I had on tape, via HBO), but VI has always been my favorite, and unlike the others, my opinion of it never changes. 2, 3, and 5 have gone from being liked to being hated to being really liked, 1 gets worse every time I see it, but 6 (and 4) are simply the crème of the crop, IMO.
And what’s interesting about that is that those are the two with no gimmick, no “it’s the one with ____”. 1 is “not Jason”. 2 is “paper bag Jason.” 3 is 3D, 5 is fake Jason, 7 is Carrie, 8 is New York... but 6 is just a straight up Friday the 13th movie. Sure, it has some jokey stuff, but that gets phased out of the movie after a half hour, and back then it was pretty unique to have a character in a horror movie actually be aware of the existence of horror movies. It’s nowhere near as campy and banal as Jason X either, and some of the jokes are still pretty funny (the little girl reading Sartre’s “No Exit” is possibly the best sight gag of all time).
Even more impressive is that the film works despite the MPAA butchering. While not as bad as the next two films, a lot of the kills are pretty dry, and few are very inventive; Jason seems pretty content using his bare hands or a machete in this one. But it makes up for it with actual suspense, the only film since the original to really even attempt such a thing. I love the bit where Jason shadows the girl walking along the cabin, and putting actual kids in the summer camp for once brings some genuine fear, since unlike the counselors, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will get killed.
Actually, this one has a pretty rare role reversal. The Final Girl is a bit wild, makes out with a guy, etc. Then there’s Sissy, who is nice, mousy, and not as hot as the Final Girl (standard rule is that the Final Girl isn’t as hot as her closest fodder friend). By traditional logic, she would be the FG, but she actually (seemingly) gets it worse than anyone else. Her death is offscreen (by design, I think), but the cabin is completely covered in blood afterwards, suggesting Jason literally tore her apart.
And I actually LIKE the people in this one! All of them! There are really only four teens, and they are all pretty decent people. The one dude is the only one with a libido, and none of them do drugs or even drink. But my favorite is Sheriff Garris (I think this was the first horror movie to have everyone named after horror icons), who is the best adult protagonist in the entire series. I love how he instantly hates Tommy and suspects him of murder (my wife thought the film was edited down because he seemingly gets angry before Tommy even opens his mouth), and how he gets to play hero near the end of the film. I only wish that he and Tommy could have shared a final look or something, providing a nice little “I should have listened to you!” moment. But he gets broken in half before that can occur.
Tommy also rebounds after his annoying appearance in part V. It’s a different actor, and the role actually includes dialogue and stuff like that. Being that he is the first male to ever survive Jason, I liked that they kept him around to break up the monotony of having a girl run around for 15 minutes at the end of every movie, though they should have killed him at the end, rather than survive and disappear along with all the other survivors*. Especially since he gets knocked out and then the Final Girl is the one to actually deliver the final blow to Jason (again: tradition).
But I think what really makes this one stick out is that Jason is presented as an iconic monster, not a guy in a mask. I obviously had no appreciation for it as a 7 year old (when I first saw it), but now I realize that the whole revive sequence is a takeoff on the old Universal monster movies (particularly Frankenstein), and there are other moments in the film that suggest that he is indeed one of the classic monsters. When Rob Zombie announced Halloween, he pointed out that Michael was like one of those monsters, and thus his film would not be any more of a “remake” than any version of Dracula is a “remake” of the Lugosi one, but I think Tom McLaughlin (the first time a F13 movie had a writer/director, another possible reason for its above average quality) did a much better job of selling that idea, 21 years prior, with Jason.
Of course, it’s not a perfect movie. They kill everyone off with too much time to spare, so the finale drags a bit, and Jason and Tommy’s showdown should have been more epic. Also, the part with the paintball group is overly jokey (A smiley face on the tree? Really?), and feels shoehorned in to add more kills to the movie. Oddly enough, that definitely wasn’t the case, as it was one of the first things shot (it’s not even CJ Graham playing Jason in those scenes, but rather the original guy that was cast, who was then fired for not being formidable enough). I would rather have had a more traditional scene where some of the kids are hanging out and they think they see Jason in the background (this movie has ZERO POV shots, by my count) even if it meant a lower body count, but oh well.
Two of my fellow horror nerds/journalists (Dread Central’s Uncle Creepy and Shock’s Ryan Rotten) were lucky enough to record a new commentary track for the upcoming double-dip, but I hope McLaughlin’s original commentary is carried over, as it was pretty interesting from what I recall (I didn’t re-listen for this viewing). Also it would be an excuse to finally get rid of that shitty boxed set once and for all, as it was one of the few things on it that is worth a damn.
What say you?
*Seeing my beloved Amy Steel in the new My Name Is Jason documentary (good stuff) got me thinking about how awesome it would be to have a movie in which all of the survivors meet up for whatever reason, only to be decimated by Jason. As I was telling this idea to Rotten, Steel herself brought up the very same idea! Except in hers they don’t all die. It’s something I will be more than willing to discuss with Ms. Steel over dinner.