Why the Best Friday the 13th Movie Is Jason Lives - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Why the Best Friday the 13th Movie Is Jason Lives

By the time it reached its sixth entry, the Friday the 13th franchise was in the midst of an identity crisis. The first four installments had gradually defined the series identity. The original 1980 film established the backstory of Jason Voorhees’s death at Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th Part 2 introduced Jason as the main killer, Friday the 13th Part III debuted Jason’ iconic hockey mask, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter featured the best set of characters in the series yet, including the young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). Unfortunately, the fifth film Friday the 13th: A New Beginning failed to keep the momentum going, suffering from a ridiculous twist, lack of inventive kills, and characters too obnoxious to invest in before they meet their grizzly fate. Most importantly, though, A New Beginning dropped the series’ most important element: Jason himself.

Thankfully, the masked killer made his welcome return in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives—played in this film by C.J. Graham—which saw him facing off with his old nemesis Tommy Jarvis, now played by Thom Matthews. However, Jason Lives didn’t just pull off the recurring storyline—it changed up the franchise’s tone for the better. Jason Lives is self-referential; it breaks the fourth wall to spoof the saga’s recurring elements, and it was the perfect way to justify the confused continuity and appease longtime Friday the 13th fans. 35 years after its release, Jason Lives hasn’t been topped, and it's unfortunate that the later installments abandoned its cheeky quality.

RELATED: Every Single Jason Kill in the 'Friday the 13th' Franchise Ranked

The knowing silliness is apparent within the pre-credits sequence, in which Tommy digs up Jason’s grave, only to inadvertently resurrect him through a fence post struck by lightning. (A direct homage to Frankenstein.) While the series had always been playful with its canon, this was straight-up science fiction that imbued Jason with superhuman strength. Introducing a new killer hadn’t worked in A New Beginning, and Jason Lives brings back the central slasher in a fun way that acknowledges the reversion; Jason even gets his version of the James Bond gun barrel intro.

Tommy’s history with Jason sets up an exciting character arc. The Friday the 13th films find joy in violently dismembering horny teenagers, but the characters have to be memorable. Having a likable lead character traumatized by his past experiences with Jason sets up a confrontation with actual stakes (literally and figuratively), but it also helps bypass exposition. Tommy desperately tries to explain Jason’s capabilities to other characters, and the film finds comedy in their refusal to believe him. It was the first time a non-Jason character’s storyline was woven throughout multiple films, adding a depth that wasn’t present in the earlier installments.

Even if Tommy is the only character aware of Jason’s backstory, the other characters are still in on the joke with self-aware dialogue. A couple youthful victims reflect that they’re destined to be “real dead meat,” and the film even parodies its own soundtrack cues when Nicki (Darcy DeMoss) asks her boyfriend Cort (Tom Fridley) to time his climax with the end of a ten-minute song. The film playfully chides the audience’s interest in the gruesome kills when the cemetery keeper Martin (Bob Larkin) remarks that “folks have a strange idea of entertainment.” This jab came after critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel had decried the series for its depravity.

More important than any singular character is Camp Crystal Lake itself. Friday the 13th was hardly the first slasher film, but the summer camp setting with its accompanying adolescent anxieties made the series unique. Tommy’s initial attempt to dig up Jason’s corpse came as a botched attempt to confront his own trauma, and Jason does the same by returning to the site of his childhood accident, now renamed Camp Forest Green. Jason Lives honors the series' conceit, as Jason is actually threatening an active camp populated by children for the first time.

The danger doesn’t detract from the fun, and when average users imagine Jason as an icon, they’re most likely imagining his depiction here. He’s become a literal boogeyman, a spooky undead monster that frightens sleeping children. The kids add some truly bizarre jokes, like why is a young girl sleeping by a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential stage play No Exit?

Between the decapitation of a group of employees on an ill-fated business guys playing paintball (which leaves a bloodied smiley face on a nearby tree) to a sexist creep whose arms are literally torn from their sockets, the kills are more playful. Although it's one of the least graphic installments, Jason Lives is so relentlessly paced that its kills are more frequent. It also makes room for longer setpieces with sustained tension. Nicki and Corts’ roadside demise is one of the best sustained sequences, and concludes with the iconic shot of Jason standing on top of their RV.

The campy slant also confirmed what was clear in the more grounded installments: Jason is basically immortal. Jason Lives highlights the absurdity when Sheriff Gorris (David Kagen) fails to kill him with three separate shotgun blasts, each with a cheesy music note. Instead of feeling like a retread, the unkillable Jason required the series to be more creative. Tommy manages to defeat Jason after an extended waterside brawl in Camp Crystal Lake by chaining his neck to an activated boat motor. The tease of Jason’s lurking body in his old resting place was the perfect segway to the next installment.

The Friday the 13th series had long abandoned the somber anguish of a grief-stricken mother from its first installment, and by ramping up the silliness and establishing compelling characters, Jason Lives epitomized the series’s growth. Unfortunately, these lessons weren’t continued by later installments; Part VII: The New Blood, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and The Final Friday attempted to be straightforward horror films, and while Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason leaned into farce, they lost the Camp Crystal Lake setting. Jason Lives should have been the new template going forward, and if legal battles clear the path for another film, the next Friday the 13th project should look to the series’ highpoint 35 years prior.

KEEP READING: The Best Sequel of Every Horror Franchise, from 'Scream' to 'Halloween'



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