This has always been one of my absolute favorites of this franchise. It delivers largely on entertainment value, and a far superior script and cast than A New Beginning had to offer. This wraps up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of films with a very satisfying climax, and there is so much that goes into making it such a great film.
Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green in order to distance the town from its blood soaked past, but Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is not yet free of his past. Tommy and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) return to the town to dig up Jason’s corpse and cremate it to eradicate the nightmare that’s plagued Tommy since childhood. However, an iron rod and a lightning strike resurrect Jason as an undead juggernaut, and he immediately resumes his killing spree. Tommy attempts to motivate the local police into action, but knowing of Tommy’s institutionalization, Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) writes him off as disturbed and has him locked in a holding cell. However, the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), becomes intrigued and invested in Tommy while she and her friends re-open Camp Forest Green for the weekend to host a bus load of kids. As Jason closes in on the camp and builds up his body count, Megan chooses to aid Tommy in bringing an ultimate end to Jason’s reign of terror.
Slasher films of the mid-to-late 1980s were getting tamed down by the MPAA requiring a lot of gore to be cut to gain an R rating. That hurt the quality and effectiveness of so many horror movies at this time, but Jason Lives was able to offer more entertainment value beyond the gore. Writer / director Tom McLoughlin approached this film with a love for classic horror, but also, a desire to add some appropriate humor to liven up the movie. Bringing Jason back from the grave required a bit of leap for the franchise, but it was handled very smartly with the use of some classic monster movie ideas. Jason being resurrected by a lightning bolt much like Frankenstein’s Monster is a clear example of that. The atmosphere McLoughlin added stands out amongst the franchise. The whole film has this wonderful blue tone with shadow and fog which sets a great visual atmosphere that is evocative of those old noir like Universal monster movies. Unfortunately, the Deluxe Edition DVD of the film screwed up the color timing so the blue tones are now green, and if this ever gets a Blu Ray release, this is possibly the transfer they will use.
Thom Mathews is my favorite Tommy Jarvis. He’s finally a full fledged hero taking action to combat Jason directly. Mathews has plenty of diversity to easily handle the dramatic, action, and lightly humorous demands of the script. Tommy’s presented as a stronger character than before, but still with an underlying twinge of obsession. Still, he is ultimately driven to destroy Jason in order to prevent him from killing more innocent people. That is the right turnaround from the previous film where Tommy just stood around and did next to nothing. He’s still haunted, but is taking action to rid himself of this waking nightmare once and for all. Thom Mathews is a strong lead that really shines through, and sparks up a wonderful chemistry with his female lead Jennifer Cooke. She provides a very spirited and strong willed young lady that is hard to handle for her father or Tommy. Cooke has charisma, energy, and allure to spare. She carries herself very well amongst this fun and talented cast – always standing out but never eclipsing anyone. Megan Garris is a tremendous lively addition to the formula as a smart, fun, assertive, and sexy female lead.
David Kagen is very impressive as Sheriff Garris. He’s smartly written to be a well-rounded character that is never dumbed down for convenience’s sake. Kagen makes a big impression right from the start as an assertive man of authority. Yes, he’s antagonistic to Tommy Jarvis, but anyone would be hard pressed to buy his story of Jason rising from the grave. Looking at it from Garris’ perspective, he’s acting entirely properly since he doesn’t know what we know as an audience. He’s an excellent protector for the people of Forest Green and his daughter. Kagen does a great job making him both a realistic hard ass that you don’t want to mess with, and a rational and often fatherly man with a heart. It’s wonderfully diverse from McLoughlin’s writing to Kagen’s acting. Certainly by the third act, he becomes a solid heroic figure that you’re rooting for all the way.
The rest of the cast is a lot of fun. They feel very much of the 1980s with their fashions, haircuts, and just their general personalities. Each character has plenty of richness to them to feel like fully realized people, and the cast have plenty of chemistry and charisma to remain entertaining and pleasant to spend time with. This is one of the most talented casts of the whole franchise, and truly the most fun of them all.
The role of Jason Voorhees eventually fell to C.J. Graham in this film. However, there are a few scenes, most notably the paintball one, where Jason is portrayed by someone else, but he was quickly replaced with Graham. That was a very good choice because C.J. truly defined the undead Jason. He gave the slasher a more menacing body language that was just enough zombie while still being aggressive and intimidating. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
To aid Graham’s notable turn behind the hockey mask, Jason Lives offers up a slew of creative kills and substantial gore. While a good deal of graphic content still had to be cut, the horror aspects still sell very well. Hawes getting punched through the chest, and Jason ripping out his heart is very shocking early on. It’s an excellent first impression of the strength of this resurrected Jason. Tom McLoughlin definitely showed he had fun conceiving and creating this film with all the original kills, and indulging in some nice action sequences. An RV gets flipped on its side driving down the road, and there’s a nice car chase between the cops and Megan’s classic red Camaro. It’s all very exciting and new stuff injected into a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air at this point. The addition of several great Alice Cooper tracks from his Constrictor album was just brilliant. It gave the film an additional promotional boost, and for Cooper, it gained him me and many others as fans. However, the song “Hard Rock Summer” didn’t see release until the 1999 “The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper” box set along with the Movie Mix of “He’s Back.”
I’m sure the dark humor of the film turned a number of people off in 1986. The box office takes of the films steadily declined after Part 3 until the big success of Freddy vs. Jason, and so, this was no bigger of a hit than A New Beginning. However, since its release, Jason Lives has gained a strong standing in the franchise. It’s regularly praised as one of the best, and it is easy to see why. Again, it’s very exciting and filled with a strong visual atmosphere. Of course, it’s the story and its pacing that are the strongest. The film has almost a constant urgency about it with Tommy facing the obstacles of Sheriff Garris and the police while Jason is out slaughtering people. There’s enough going on with the Tommy / police conflict to keep it exciting with him being escorted out of town, getting apprehended in the car chase, and then, having to breakout of his cell with Megan’s help. It’s a very solid build up to a especially fresh, strong, and fiery climax. Intercutting between two stories is usually the most surefire way to maintain momentum and rhythm in a film, and McLoughlin shows a great sense of both. Editor Bruce Green deserves a lot of credit for also keeping the pacing tight and sharply to the point.
Composer Harry Manfredini’s music changed distinctly with this sequel. I’m sure there are those that would have preferred him sticking with the classic sound of Friday The 13th, but I have no particular preference either way. It’s become part of the overall identity of the film which tonally sets it apart from most of the other films. While I’m sure a first time viewer might have difficulty adjusting the new sound, I still feel it’s appropriate for the film Tom McLoughlin made.
While Friday The 13th Part 2 is my favorite of the classic formula, Jason Lives really is my favorite of the undead Jason era. I believe writer / director Tom McLoughlin put together a thoroughly satisfying sequel which strongly wraps up the Tommy Jarvis storyline, and is filled with a fun 1980s style. After the creative failure of A New Beginning, he gave us a film that felt lively and entertaining with some highly memorable and enjoyable characters. The self-referential humor is nicely balanced with the horror aspects, and careful avoids falling into self-satire or parody. It remains light and realistic, never making the characters appear dumb or foolish. It is a very smartly written film that is executed with an equal level of intelligence. I give this film glowing praise all around, and I highly recommend it.