Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: where every Friday is the 13th. That’s right, there is no greater evidence of your luck having run out than wasting precious moments of your life reading the junk drawer of internet movie columns. Every week I walk right under ladders to bring you the worst films I can find. But while I acknowledge their atrociousness by stepping on all their cinematic cracks, I am also aware of the rabbit’s foot of redeemable goodness they often carry with them. Like junkfood, we all know these movies are bad for us but we happily gorge our eyes on them anyway. To wit, I also offer a unsubstantial food item to hex your figure as the movie spills the salt in your brain. Wow, I hate me as much as you do right now.
This is a not-that-special occasion that comes about only once every…year or so. For in this month, the 13th day happens to fall on Friday. In honor of this coincidence of the Earth’s revolution around the sun, I thought it was time to return to Crystal Lake and once again check it with everyone’s favorite homicidal sports enthusiast: Jason Voorhees. When a franchise gets not one but two entries into the Junkfood Cinema cannon, you know it’s gotta be extra awful. Ladies and gentleman, prepare for the movie that is six times worse than the original: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
What Makes It Bad?
Friday the 13th Part VI is, and this is saying something, easily the silliest of the series. There are so many face-palming missteps that it’s almost incalculable. This is the film where the writer officially stopped trying. It opens with a zoom into Jason’s eyes followed by a riff on the iconic James Bond gun barrel sequence. But instead of turning from profile and firing a gun at the screen, Jason swings his mighty machete and initiates a gushing flow of…obvious red fabric that is supposed to pass as blood. Oh, but not before he kills classic TV’s most annoying sweat hog Arnold Horshack. I guess the idea was that they were welcoming back Jason. There are also scores of minutia things about the film that make no sense. In the scene where the counselors are setting up for their campers to arrive, they pan across the table bearing the supplies to reveal approximately 700 jars of mayonnaise. How much mayo do growing kids really need? If it’s less than a jar per day per child, they have too much.
Speaking of being the film where the writer stopped trying, behold Jason Lives’ insta-victim delivery system! Granted, slasher film characters do merely exist to be victim fodder, but there is usually some charade of a plot constructed so that their existence is at least explained before they are shuffled loose the mortal coil, right? Friday the 13th Part VI finds this method too inefficient and instead introduces characters 100% irrelevant to the story just so that they can die. Take for example the couple having a picnic in the dankest, nastiest glen in the most unpleasant woods known to man…at night. They get skewered together with a spear before we know their names. But my favorite has to be the paintball players so inconsequential that Jason kills almost all of them with one swipe right as they crop up in the plot.
The lead actor is obnoxious with a capital “punch-him-in-the-face.” He is playing a recurring character named Tommy Jarvis who started off his F13th career being portrayed by Corey Feldman and who was supposed to be the one to kill him for good in The Final Chapter (which was part 4 of an 11 chapter series so its finality is highly suspect). Then in Part V: A New Beginning, Tommy is a grown man with a host of psychological trauma, a legitimately creepy violent streak, and a brooding silence. But then in VI he’s a wiry little spazz that whine-yells most of his lines and generally makes you wish Jason would crush your skull just so the hurting will stop. The unevenness of portrayals of this character is why what should have been an anchor for the franchise (the only recurring character not wearing a hockey mask) never became indelible. Laurie Strode he is not.
Why I Love It!
You may remember from my junkfood-ing of Jason X a few months ago that I have a special place in my heart for this series as it represents my first foray into horror. I feel absolutely no shame – well, ever – in admitting that this was the entry I most often rented from my local videostore. Even after watching it a dozen times, the VHS would call to me from the shelf like a rectangular siren and I would soon be knee deep in the teen bloodbath yet again. Like I said, this is the sequel wherein the writer just plain stops trying and just gives the fans what they really want: dirty, nasty death without the foreplay of plot. As unstructured as the result is, you gotta respect that kind of adept market research.
And Oh Holy Hacksaw if the kills in Jason Lives aren’t amazing! Not only did the writer line up the bumpkins for the slaughter, but he also dispatched them in a way that makes me question his general outlook on humanity. When you watch any of the existing montages chronicling the most violently delicious demises of the franchise, a goodly number of those kills are from this film. The face smashed through the wall of the Winnebago? Jason Lives! The guy folded in half like a morning-after-the-party apology letter? Jason Lives! The triple decapitation? Triple Jason Lives! If you thought you hated these characters, prepare to marvel at how much this screenwriter wished harm upon them.
As a Jasonologist, yes dammit it is a real thing, I love this film for introducing the world to zombie Jason. The madman of Crystal Lake adopted two personas during the course of the franchise. For the first four films, he was redneck Jason. He wore coveralls, still obsessed over his dead mother, and lived in a shack in the woods. His ability to survive blow after blow from a machete was a bit over-the-top, but could have been just as easily explained away by his consuming massive amounts of Schlitz. He was still very much alive until Tommy officially killed him in The Final Chapter.
In the fifth installment, the antagonist was an impostor who used the familiar hockey mask to cover his tracks. At the beginning of Jason Lives, he is very, very dead and has been decomposing in a coffin for near a decade (in the warped timeline of the series that is) when a bolt of lightning reanimates his worm ridden corpse. Look ma, we’re ripping off Frankenstein! From that point on, Jason’s ability to survive any measure of inhuman punishment seems par for the course. I actually prefer zombie Jason over redneck Jason mostly because it elevates the Vorhees mythology to something far more destructive.
There are honest-to-Bob flashes of intelligence in this film. You sort of have to break out the neutron microscope to notice them, but I honestly believe that Friday the 13th Part VI is a very dumb film made by a very smart guy. Yes, there are the insipidly stupid jokes and someone does actually use the word “farthead.” But there is also a shot of a seven year old girl reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit that is never once touched upon. Yes, there exists the brainless, surfer dude Lothario whose every moment on screen makes you want to fill your ears with razorblades. But there is also the fact that the little girl who keeps having nightmares is named Nancy as a subtle nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street a store called Karloff’s. It’s clear that writer/director Tom McLoughlin is both a horror fan and satirist who never got a lot of opportunity to shine. All I know is stupid on purpose is always far more entertaining than stupid by mistake.
Junkfood Pairing: Mississippi Mud Pie
There is so much freaking mud in Friday the 13th Part VI. There is a kill where a woman in drowned/stabbed in a mud puddle, Jason spends the entire film caked in it, and the entire set continually looks as if it just rained. Mud is most certainly a motif. So why not enjoy a big, heart-murdering slice of Mississippi Mud Pie? The first person to call this pairing a stretch gets to wolf down an entire jar of mayonnaise as that was my original idea. Don’t make me get the Hellmann’s…and a spoon!