Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives: Deluxe Edition

Jason Voorhees has become, over the years, a movie monster of the same magnitude as Dracula and Frankenstein. Forever engraved as a steeple of eighties pop-culture, everyone knows him on a first name basis. Therefore, it is not surprising that audiences and fans alike balked when it was discovered that Jason was not the killer in Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning. Paramount, taking note of the fans disliking to Jason's absence, and still desperate to milk a still profitable series, decided to bring the ol' lug back for another trip to camp, appropriately titling the film Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives in 1986.

Now, it’s easy to just assume the film was a massive hit considering the way the film is revered today. It’s easily the most played Friday the 13th entry perennially come October, and some of the set pieces, like the fiery boat climax or the lightning crashing beginning, have ingrained themselves as some of the most iconic moments in Jason’s history. Yet, when it came out in theaters, it did noticeably less business than the commonly slung A New Beginning, and proved that with Jason or without, the Friday the 13th franchise was losing steam. It’s nice to know, though, that 23 years later, Jason’s appeal has only grown over the years, so much so that the remake drew a considerably larger audience than all of these later sequels. His luster may have been dying in the eighties, but now and beyond Jason most definitely still lives. We know that Jason Lives more than treads water with series fans, but how does the new DVD hold up? Sink or swim, let’s dive in.

The Story

The film begins with Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Mathews) and his friend, Allen (Welcome Back, Kotter's Ron Palillo) on a search to find Jason's grave. Around ten year prior, Jason had gruesomely murdered Tommy's mother and friends, and has since occupied the majority of Tommy's thoughts. So together, Tommy and Allen, fresh from their stay at a mental institution, find Jason's gave and prepare to destroy him once and for all by cremation (can't a guy rest in peace?). As always, things do not go as planned, and the masked murderer is struck by lightning and revived back to life, with nothing but carnage on his mind.

Tommy escapes and attempts to warn the local sheriff, Michael Garris (David Kagen), about Jason's resurrection. Not believing his story, Garris puts Tommy behind bars while Jason prowls the newly named Camp Forest Green. While in lock up, Tommy meets the sheriff's daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), who takes quite a liking to him. Megan and her friends are counselors at a nearby summer camp for kids, whose lives are now threatened by the mask wielding maniac. With Megan's help, Tommy manages to escape the police station and head off to find Jason, who by this time has killed a couple vacationers, paintballers, a drunk graves keeper, and of course, some horny camp counselors.

Driving around frantically looking for him, Tommy finally meets him at his old stomping ground, the summer camp site. Jason, brandishing his blood soaked machete, is not going to give in without a fight, however. After several others fail to apprehend Mr. Hockey Mask, it is up to Tommy to finish the job. In an exciting climax, Tommy battles Jason on a boat in the middle of the lake, attempting to return Jason to his childhood death bed. Does Tommy prevail, or does Jason one-up his body count? Fans familiar with the series should already know the answer.

Jason Lives is a solid entry into the never-ending franchise, and a fun diversion for the casual horror fan. Littered with comedy, this is undoubtedly the lightest in tone of all the sequels, and is certainly the least scariest. Director Tom McLoughlin, realizing the series had become embarrassingly cliché, injects life into the series by not taking the material too seriously, including several self and movie related references ("Cunningham Road", the James Bond title sequence, etc.). The end result is a fun little monster movie like the Universal films 40 years prior.

Although the film may lack the scares of the other films in the series, Jason has never been better. Played fiercely by C. J. Graham, he is given plenty of screen time (more so than any of the other films) as he kills every adult in sight. Rather than have him lurking in the background, which was the case in his part incarnations, Jason is brought to the forefront in the film, which was a nice change. Fans have stuck with the films because of its unstoppable killer, so why not give him some time to chew up the scenery too?

As good as Jason is, it is the rest of the cast that usually makes or breaks his films, and thankfully all the supporting players do their jobs. This is nothing more than an entertaining B-movie, and the actors know it, playing their roles with exaggerated expressions and dialogue. Thom Mathews is especially fun as Tommy Jarvis, and is a large improvement over John Shepherd's dull and depressing characterization in Part V. None of the cast play their roles seriously, and as a result, the film is a whole lot of fun.

Also notable in the film is the soundtrack. Harry Manfredini brings forth another solid score, with plenty of "Ch ch ch, ah ah ah's" to be heard throughout the film. It sets the mood at the start of the film and holds it the entire way through with the characteristic sounds of his previous soundtracks. This would prove to be the last soundtrack Manfredini would specifically compose for a Friday film - although credited in The New Blood along with Fred Mollin, all his bits are just recycled from previous films. It's a nice score to go out on, and having some Alice Cooper songs to boost the appeal certainly doesn't hurt, either. From "Teenage Frankenstein" to the theme song, "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)", his songs bring a pop-culture sophistication to the proceedings, a benefactor that none of the other films possessed. The songs are catchy and work perfectly within the film.

After the nihilistic heft of The Final Chapter and the campy excess of A New Beginning, this sequel is a more modest return to the simple groundwork set by the second film, where the only mandate was to emulate a rollercoaster ride with laughs and screams. Coming at a time when both the Friday series and horror in general was starting to play itself out in the era of home video, this one starts to introduce a few post-modern sensibilities, but at its heart, it's that same fun, earnest Friday the 13th the fans love. It would prove to be the last, too, before the high concepts of telekenesis, manhattan, hell and space took over. Jason may live again in this film, but when he gets buried in the lake, so too does the old reliable Friday formula. It was nice knowing you, old friend.

Image Quality

When Paramount first rolled out DVDs of the Friday the 13th films, the transfers were commonly regarded as good, if serviceable, transfers. That changed with Part 6 onwards, where Paramount really stepped up and delivered some crystal clear transfers. The visual upgrades for the previous 5 films, while beautiful, aren’t really a stretch considering how far transfer technology has come. Jason Lives provides the true test, since the original DVD already looked so good. Well, the end result isn’t quite as glowing as with the previous Deluxe Editions. In fact, in many ways the revised color timing in this film seems a step back. The previous transfer really pushed the blues that factor so much into the moonlit cabins and the lakeside finale, here though, Paramount sidesteps the blue for a more murky green, and the effect is not nearly as appealing. Other scenes look more yellow than they ought to, and really, a lot of times the colors just seem off. It’s certainly stylistically different than the 2001 DVD, whether that’s a plus or not I guess depends on the beholder…that’s why we do screenshots!

That said, this transfer, like those for 4 & 5, increases the viewing area ever so slightly. There is also less grain as textures and detail look a bit sharper in this new transfer. A change of pace from the other films, the timing on this new transfer is actually darker than the original track. Compared to the earlier films, the original DVD of Jason Lives was quite bright, but again, I’m not sure if the darkening here was the right thing. There are bits in the original DVD where blacks are a tad milky from the added gamma and in this track that never happens, but at the same time some scenes feel a bit too dark, like the cabin scene with the little girl. All the previous films have been obvious upgrades, but honestly, recommending this new Jason Lives master comes down to preference.


If Jason Lives was the first Friday film to really look like a quality DVD, then it too is the first one to really sound like one. This was the first film mixed in stereo upon theatrical release, so the surround track on the previous DVD was certainly more dynamic than usual for Jason. This time it gets the Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrade, and like the video, it really isn’t all that much better. By most accounts the 2.0 surround track and the 5.1 mix are almost identical, both with a decent soundspace, but both having limited channel separation and zero directionality. Sound effects and music cues are once again pushed to the backs; you’d think that now with stereo master tapes, Paramount could have separated the channels a little more for this 5.1 upgrade. The 5.1 mix only sounds a touch louder, but bass levels are almost the same. There are a ton of explosions, car chases, lightning crashes and other natural sound elements present in this track – it’s a shame Paramount didn’t bother to maximize them at all. Ho hum.

Supplemental Material

A little bulkier than A New Beginning but still no The Final Chapter, Jason Lives gets a sizable amount of special features on this Deluxe Edition release. First up is the commentary with Tom McLoughlin, editor Bruce Green and actor Vincent Guastaferro. This represents a sort of balance between the fact-heavy filmmaker commentary on The Final Chapter and the jokey one found on A New Beginning. McLoughlin and Guastaferro really keep this going, bouncing memories off of each other throughout, with Bruce Green mostly quiet, but occasionally chiming in with interesting editing anecdotes. McLoughlin shares a lot of great tips on directing techniques and also really remembers every minute detail of the film. McLoughlin previously went solo for the commentary track on the box set, but with Guastaferro there to keep up the levity, this is an even better track than before.

Like with the previous films, there’s a short featurette looking back on the film. This one, “Jason Lives: The Making of Friday the 13th: Part VI” (12:55) brings together Tom McLoughlin, his wife (who played the American Express card victim), the sheriff (or “Sherriff” as it’s improperly written on the title card) David Kagen, and effects men Gabe Bartalos and Chris Biggs. Tom’s already spoken at length about the film on previous editions and interviews, and as such there isn’t much new here. It’s nice to see the sheriff again today, and he expresses a lot of enthusiasm about the fanbase, but like all the other participants, doesn’t really offer anything new. It’s all the same old story here, with speakers surprised at how the series has lived on, how they had to endure cuts from the MPAA, etc. Where’s Alice Cooper? Thom Matthews? This featurette is sadly a shallow disappointment.

Probably the most interesting extra is a recreated alternate ending using voice over and storyboards. Tom McLoughlin introduces the “Meeting Mr. Voorhees” (2:45) segment, stating how this was always the ending he had intended. Basically, it introduces to the screen Jason Voorhees’ father as a bit of a cliffhanger for the next film. It’s great they went to the extra work to make this supplement, but sadly the piece really doesn’t offer much above the cliché and would have surely hurt the series. Jason’s dad comes off as a poor man’s Man in Black (yeah, I know) from the Halloween franchise, and we all know how much the fans love him. The absence of a father figure has always been key to the Friday the 13th films, which is yet another reason why this tacked on ending just doesn’t work.

Next up are “Slashed Scenes” (6:04) which consists mostly of extended murder sequences that were trimmed by the MPAA. There is also quite a bit on the tamer side with an extended finale with Tommy drowning at the lake and the subsequent revival. There is even some religion thrown in for good measure. Many of these deleted scenes were already featured on the “From Crystal Lake to Manhattan” set, although this time instead of being presented split screen to show the differences, these ones are full (frame) and intact. Prepare for some fan edits! On the box set, the deleted scenes ran 4:35, and here they run 6:04, mostly because of how long the final bits are with Tommy on the lake shore. Missing from this new disc is a longer (and better) dialogue scene in one of the cabins between some of the campers. Why they couldn’t have just included everything from the previous disc is beyond me, and this marks the second time they’ve goofed on this, forgetting about all the nicely extended scenes from The Final Chapter prior. Still, it’s great to have these in full, now.

The third installment in the mockumentary “The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited” (9:33) rebounds after the jokey theatrics of the second segment. This one is still quite funny, but the humor is more earned from observation on inconsistencies in the Jason Lives story than cheap jokes. Like the first segment, it has a lot of fun trying to rationalize plot holes in the series. They talk about how Tommy likely got plastic surgery between the happenings of A New Beginning and Jason Lives to hide himself from Jason, and they also question how Jason could just stay chained underwater in a shallow lake without anyone finding him. It’s all great fun, and such a novel idea – here’s hoping we get stuff like this for the inevitable special editions for the Elm Street films once that remake hits the market.

The three episode story arc ends here in “Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 6”, with the hospital patient again lost in the woods with Jason on his tail. This one has some solid confrontation, and dramatically the ending is pretty damn brutal. You won’t see the final camper in any slasher film act like the one here. Good stuff, and hopefully it continues for the final two discs. The disc is rounded off with the fun theatrical trailer and that obligatory preview for The Uninvited. Another fine lenticular cover also graces this DVD release.

Final Thoughts

Jason Lives is the closest the Friday franchise ever came to old Hollywood, with quick, witty dialogue and an affectionate sense of B-movie camp. While the film has fun with the whole premise, it never crosses the line, eschewing genre conventions before it would ever take a pot shot at ol’ Jason. It is bookended by some of the most thrilling moments of the series, and peppered with creative deaths and homages in between. Undoubtedly the most accessible today of all the vintage flicks, it’s easy to see why the film still endures pop culture resonance. This DVD, on the other hand, won’t be as long lasting. All aspects of this disc are a relative disappointment considering the high standards of the previous Deluxe Editions, with the visual quality in ways worse than the previous DVD. The audio is comparable to the old 2.0 track, too. The supplements are good, but a few, like the storyboarded alternate ending and the retrospective featurette, are real letdowns. Those who already have the box set already have access to a Tom McLoughlin commentary and the quality audio and video, so until the Blu-ray comes out, there’s definitely no need to upgrade for a few decent supplements. Hopefully Jason will live a little livelier in HD.

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