The Friday the 13th series has had its ups and downs. After breaking into the scene in 1980, there was a new installment released almost every year after that. In 1984, Paramount made the misguided decision to kill off Jason once and for all in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (you can always tell when someone isn’t a horror fan because they actually think this is the final entry in the series). The idea came from Frank Mancuso, Jr. (the son of Paramount CEO Frank Mancuso, Sr.), because he wanted to work on different projects. While The Final Chapter (temporarily) killed off Jason, it didn’t stop Paramount from continuing the franchise with Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. This film, as many of you know, tricked audiences into believing Jason was the villain. This was of course not the case and after all of the audience backlash, Paramount decided to resurrect Jason for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which was released 30 years ago on August 1, 1986.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is the first entry in the Friday the 13th franchise to explicitly state that Jason is a supernatural being, making him an unkillable zombie. Jason Lives is considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise (I ranked it #3 last year), mostly thanks to the self-aware humor it injects into the proceedings. This self-referential humor was a response to reactions to the mean-spiritedness of A New Beginning, which had featured a series-high body count at the time. Mancuso, Jr. was all for this and hired Tom McLaughlin to write and direct the film. The humor in Jason Lives is apparent from the beginning, which features a title card that homages a James Bond film.
Even tough Mancuso, Jr. wanted out of the series, he approved of this new approach to the franchise, even being so kind as to give most of the creative control to McLaughlin (something that is almost unheard of for a big studio release even today). The only requirement he had was that the final girl be an attractive blonde. Everything else was left up to McLaughlin. McLaughlin did receive some pressure from producers to make the film more like the previous Friday the 13th films, but he held his ground, maintaining that his direction would be better for the franchise.
Shockingly, McLaughlin was proved right when Jason Lives turned out to be the first Friday the 13th installment to earn a positive reception from film critics since the original film. Critics appreciated the light-heartedness of the sequel The self-referential humor was ahead of its time and inspired films like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the Scream franchise. It even features a sequence in which a woman (Nancy McLaughlin, the director’s wife) uses her horror movie knowledge to tell her boyfriend (Tony Goldwyn) what not to do when face-to-face with a masked man holding a long metal rod. They don’t follow her advice and get killed anyway, but it’s still a fun scene.
By bringing Jason back into the mix, the ending of A New Beginning (in which Tommy Jarvis is revealed to have gone insane) was retconned and all of the actors whose characters survived that film had their contracts terminated. This was going to be a fresh start for the franchise and would arguably be its last truly great entry (though I unabashedly love Jason X). It is also notable for being the only film in the franchise to not contain any nudity. There is only one sex scene in the film and the characters are fully clothed for its entirety (where’s the fun in that?).
Another first for the series was that it didn’t need to be trimmed in order to get an R rating. The franchise had had a history of censorship with the MPAA, who always took issue with the amount of gore in the films. With Jason Lives, the producers actually asked McLaughlin to add more gore. The film originally contained 13 deaths, but McLaughlin went back and added three more kills to gore up the film a bit.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives made $6.7 million ($14.7 million in 2016 dollars) during its opening weekend and went on to gross $19.4 million ($42.6 million in 2016 dollars) domestically. As mentioned above, critical reception was positive for a Friday film, even gaining a mildly positive statement from the late Gene Siskel, who was notorious for trashing the franchise (even going so far as to spoil the ending of the first film in his review). In his review, he called it “the least offensive film of the most offensive film series ever.” It’s not exactly high praise, but it’s certainly an accomplishment for the franchise.
Where does Jason Lives fall in your ranking of the 12 films in the Friday the 13th franchise? Were you old enough to have seen it in theaters 30 years ago? Let us know in the comments below and share your memories of this superb slasher sequel!