Being October and all, I figured it was time to go back to the Friday the 13th series. When we last left off in A New Beginning, Tommy Jarvis had picked up Jason’s mask and looked about ready to stab the hell out of his final girl. Now?
Well, now we’re ignoring all that so Tommy Jarvis can accidentally resurrect Jason’s long-dead corpse with lightning.
Welcome to Jason Lives, everybody.
As with all my Friday the 13th reviews, SPOILERS abound.
Tommy (Thom Matthews) wants to make sure Jason is dead once and for all, and never mind the fact that Jason didn’t kill anyone in the last movie and has actually been dead since Tommy was not John Shepherd but Young Corey Feldman — lighting up Jason’s moldy dead corpse will totally cure Tommy’s hallucinations. So he and a buddy from the mental hospital try to do just that, only they manage to resurrect Jason via lightning instead. Losers.
1. I am at least 75% convinced that Jason is secretly on a holy mission from God.
Here’s how I see it: in most mythologies, the sky is the gods’ domain, right? Any demonic beings or keepers of the damned generally belong to a literal underworld; the sky, meanwhile, tends to be where the Big Guy sits. Lightning is not a weapon of Satan. It might be the tool of some fiendish mad scientist, but Jason doesn’t wake up in a scientist’s laboratory. He wakes up in the ground with a lightning rod in his chest because Tommy is either the unluckiest sonofabitch to ever exist, or because God hates him and wants him to die. My money’s on the latter, particularly when you take both of these facts into account:
A. Rain abruptly starts pouring the moment Tommy manages to light a match, saving Jason from a second and crispier death.
B. Jason displays far more supernatural invulnerability to harm here than he has in past films. Did you guys realize that this is the first movie where someone actually manages to shoot Jason? Man. No one in this franchise has been especially useful, have they? (Although, being fair, Jason was barely in the first Friday the 13th and wasn’t technically in A New Beginning at all.)
Anyway, my point is this: with a little help from that poor schmo Tommy, God totally brings Jason back to be His supreme Instrument of Death, kinda like one of the angels in the Old Testament, only instead of slaughtering thousands in one fell swoop, Jason takes the one-by-one approach for Maximum Terror. And with the power of God propelling him forward, Jason’s Holy Rampage against annoying teenagers, paintballers, and pretty much anyone else explodes into a bigger bloodbath than any of his previous endeavors. Jason kills 18 people in this movie, which is his personal highest body count thus far. (I believe Jason X is Jason at his deadliest. Also quite possibly at his most ridiculous, which is why I love it so.)
2. And to be clear: I am totally both Team Jason and Team God in this one because Tommy and Megan are desperately annoying people who deserve to die horrible, horrible deaths. Sadly, they live.
Tackling Tommy first . . . well, he’s become even more irritating this go-around, mostly because he’s played by a new actor that, presumably, demanded to have lines. (John Shepherd barely opened his mouth in A New Beginning, which was probably for the best. Unfortunately, Shepherd decided not to come back this time around because he became a born again Christian who didn’t feel that the franchise fell in line with his religious beliefs. Obviously, he hadn’t heard my awesome fan theory yet. Possibly not surprising, since I was roughly a year old when this movie came out.)
But assuming you aren’t holding God 100% responsible for Jason’s clearly divine intervention, then you have to recognize the fact that everything bad that happens in this movie is pretty much all Tommy’s fault. Which, actually, I’d be a lot more inclined to forgive if Tommy himself or really anyone bothered to acknowledge this. But no — Tommy doesn’t appear to have any deep regrets about his part in resurrecting the supernatural serial killer who killed his mother. It’d be kind of like if absolutely no one in Age of Ultron ever mentioned the not entirely insignificant fact that Tony Stark totally brought their Big Bad to life. Like, that would be weird, right?
Tommy also figures out how to kill Jason because in the middle of this giant murder spree, he comes across an actual Manual on Occultism somewhere and reads it. Presumably under the chapter titled “How To Kill Undead Masked Warriors of God,” Tommy discovers that the key to stopping Jason for good is to drown him. Except this is pretty much bullshit because Jason doesn’t drown so much as chill at the bottom of the lake attacking anybody that swims by; it takes Megan slicing the hell out of his neck with a propeller blade before he’s defeated. And even then Jason is still alive down there, just waiting for a sequel, so Tommy and his Handy Manual on Occultism really don’t do shit.
You’re useless to me, Tommy.
3. Still, unfortunately, Megan (Jennifer Cooke) is somehow even worse.
At this point, I have not yet decided if she’s the Worst of the Worst Final Girls. Chris (from Friday the 13th Part III) was just incredibly boring and whiny. Megan, on the other hand, does have some semblance of an actual personality; unfortunately, it’s the kind of personality that makes you weep for the species because she’s supposed to be cute and spunky, and she’s actually irrational and ludicrous.
To better describe everything that’s wrong with Megan, let’s go to our experts:
Writer Joe: Okay, Writer Susan, now obviously we need our Main Hero to meet our Final Girl before all the real killing begins. Otherwise, how will we introduce their smoldering sexual chemistry?
Writer Susan: Say, Writer Joe. Did we actually hire actors with any kind of chemistry?
Writer Joe: . . . that’s not important right now, Writer Susan. Let’s stick to the facts. How will these two lovebirds meet?
Writer Susan: Well, Tommy’s in jail, right? Okay, so maybe Megan’s related to one of the cops there. Yeah, maybe Sheriff Garris, AKA, Sheriff Dickweasel, is her dad! And then while they’re talking about her missing friends, Tommy can yell out ominous things from his cell, like, “Jason’s back!” and “You’re all doomed!” You know, hot stuff like that.
Writer Joe: Gosh, Writer Susan, I think you may be onto something. After all, girls really like their bad boys, right? And what’s more bad boy than a possibly delusional man locked in a jail cell after escaping the mental hospital where he’s been committed for most of his life?
Writer Susan: Exactly, Writer Joe! Sure, maybe Tommy’s saying a lot of implausible and deeply disturbing things about a supposed urban legend who’s come to life, an urban legend he thinks killed Megan’s missing friends, but Megan isn’t at all weirded out by any of that because, hey, for a crazy boy, he’s “kind of cute.”
Writer Joe: Well, that certainly seems reasonable.
Writer Susan: Super reasonable, Writer Joe! In fact, I think that after the killings begin in earnest, Megan should, on the basis of this one 45-second conversation, hang out in her car alone with Tommy, flee from the cops pursuing them, bust him out of a jail cell later, and even hold a firearm on a police officer because she knows In Her Heart that Tommy isn’t responsible for killing her friends. Or do you think that would be a little hard to swallow?
Writer Joe: Of course not, Writer Susan! We’re talking about young women here. We can’t rely on them to have brains!
Writer Susan: Oh, too true, Writer Joe. Oh, too true.
It’s also kind of crazy how little Megan cares about her friends dying throughout this movie. I mean, she does care, sort of, for about the span of a scene, but once we’ve cut to a different shot, it’s like those people never even existed. (This actually does make her a pretty good match for Tommy, who clearly doesn’t give a shit about his friend from the mental hospital, whose heart literally got punched out of his chest.) The extremely quick turnaround of grief is so apparent that even my Friday the 13th DVD collection comments on it. According to the miscellaneous Friday Facts section, the average amount of time it takes for characters to get over a friend’s death is two minutes.
4. Pretty equally terrible is Megan’s father, the aforementioned Sheriff Dickweasel.
Honestly, all the cops in this movie are pretty stereotypically awful; we even have a psychotic jackass deputy hanging around, presumably to fill the void left behind by the lack of sadistic orderlies. (Surprisingly, the psychotic jackass deputy doesn’t die, which I can only assume happens because the director forgot about him.) But Sheriff Dickweasel is absolutely the worst.
It’s not just his less-than-sensitive views on mental illness (I lost count of how many times he called Tommy a whack job), or even when he tells the kid, “Don’t piss me off, or I really will repaint this office with your brains,” like that’s an appropriate thing to say to any citizen ever. No, it’s when the Sheriff, who doesn’t care for the way his daughter’s been eye-fucking Tommy, decides that he can’t be bothered to wait for anyone from the mental hospital to come pick up their wayward patient and does this instead.
A. Follows Tommy through town, allowing the escaped mental patient who’s been raving about supernatural murderers all night to drive alone in his truck. The Sheriff tells Tommy where to go, of course, but absolutely no one except the Sheriff is surprised when Tommy ignores this command and drives to the local cemetery instead to try and prove he’s telling the truth. (It doesn’t work, naturally, because the alcoholic caretaker covers up what he assumes is a grave robbery on his watch. It also doesn’t work because God absolutely intervened again. No, I’m not giving this up! Sure, the caretaker can fill in an empty hole in the ground; what he can’t do is magically make a fresh grave look anything like that bullshit we see on screen. What, did all those weeds suddenly grow in the wee hours of the morning? God either wants Jason to succeed, or he just really, really hates Tommy. I’m sure we can all relate either way.)
B. Personally drives Tommy to the edge of town, dumping him there and telling him to take off and never come back.
And holy shit, that’s so godamn irresponsible, I don’t even have words. (Okay. I may have a few words.) I don’t expect the Sheriff to believe Tommy, of course; in fact, I’d probably be a little annoyed if he did — but that also means that, at BEST, Tommy is a seriously mentally ill man and a possible danger to himself, and at worst, Tommy is a seriously mentally ill man and an imminent danger to himself and others. Imagine if the Sheriff was right later on, when he assumes that Tommy is the one killing people. Sheriff Dickweasel would only have himself to blame for everyone dying. In fact, Sheriff Dickweasel should totally be legally culpable for that shit.
5. I will say, though, that Tommy doesn’t exactly help himself out here. Which is not to say that he deserves his abhorrent treatment by the police, of course, but it is to say that if you’re going to go to the cops, you should probably have a better story than, “Whoops, I accidentally resurrected my decomposing childhood trauma with lightning; please help.”
6. The good news is that Jason totally kills Sheriff Dickweasel; in fact, he actually bends that dude in half. The bad news is that not only does our terrible power couple live, they survive over a few perfectly decent people, like Sissy, one of the camp counselors, and the lady CEO who kicked all kinds of dude CEO ass at paintball. (For some reason, I never realized corporate paintball was a thing in the 80’s. I guess I assumed it came later, probably because 10 Things I Hate About You was my introduction to the whole concept of paintball.)
The saddest deaths are probably Lizbeth and Darren.
I mean, they aren’t that sad. This was not exactly a Jimmy, NOOOO! moment. But I kind of wanted Darren to survive, as I was delighted by the surprise appearance of Tony Goldwyn, making his big screen debut. And I wanted Lizbeth (Nancy McLoughlin) to survive because she may be the first character in Friday the 13th history to express both common sense and awareness of horror movies.
7. Actually, I’ve been so busy going over the mostly awful characters and their mostly awful decisions that I haven’t yet talked about one of this movie’s more distinctive features: Jason Lives almost plays like a horror comedy, rather than a traditional slasher, except that, bizarrely, none of the main players seem to be in on the joke.
Certain parts of this movie, for instance, are straight out of a horror parody. The Amex card, for instance, or the totally insane James Bond opener. The entire paintball scene or the bloody smiley face a dead guy leaves on the tree.
Some of the humor works for me, and some of it really doesn’t. (Like the kid who’s reading Sartre’s No Exit? No. Just no, guys.) But it’s interesting because, up till now, the Friday the 13th franchise has never really been intentionally funny, and while horror comedies were definitely a thing (The Return of the Living Dead, for example), I’m not sure how self-referential they actually were. Jason Lives, though, is definitely a bit meta, and you can see how it would be an influence on later movies like Scream. Though Scream is, by far, the superior film.)
8. Finally, Jason Lives contains one surprising thing, and it excludes one surprising thing.
The thing it excludes? Boobies. Breasts. Dirty pillows. Ta-tas. There are no topless women anywhere in this film. I didn’t miss them.
As for the one unusual thing this movie contains?
Yes, for the first and only time in this series, the camp counselors actually have children to look after. It’s a bold concept, I know, but I kind of approve. (Though, sadly, none of them die, not even the kid reading Sartre.)
Lizbeth: “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.”
Lizbeth: “Yeah. That really scared the shit out of him.”
Sheriff: “That’s my daughter’s car.”
Officer Pappas (smirking): “How do you want to proceed?”
Sheriff: “With extreme care, asshole! If the kid’s with her, there’s every good chance he’ll try to do something crazy.”
(Meanwhile, Tommy is in the car with Megan.)
Tommy: “Please don’t do anything crazy.”
Apparently, Jason Lives is a fan favorite, but I’m kind of middling on it myself. I could totally watch it again — Part III easily remains the worst thus far — but I actually wouldn’t say it’s any better than A New Beginning. After all, the intentional humor only works for me about 50% of the time, and Tommy, Megan, and Sheriff Dickweasel are all immensely annoying characters. Meanwhile, A New Beginning actually has some interesting ideas. Poorly executed, of course, but still, interesting.
Anyway, farewell, Tommy Jarvis! I’m pretty sure this is your last movie because next up we have a new heroine who’s . . . telekinetic? BWAHAHA.
Uh . . . Nancy McLoughlin.
Pay attention to your local forecast. If you’re going to dig up your old childhood nemesis and burn his body for good, best do it on a sunny day. Also, don’t piss off God.