The first slasher movie I ever saw was Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. This viewing occurred in the basement rec room of my parents’ house when I was about twelve years old. I was with my ten year-old brother, Paul, and the two of us were trying to keep ourselves entertained on a Saturday night. Our parents allowed us free-reign over the tv as long as we could choose a program amicably. Often, we would stay up until one or two in the morning on weekends cruising the various cable offerings. It was in these circumstances that we came upon Jason Lives.
Up until that point, my experiences with horror films had been limited and unpleasant. I had watched a few movies as a youngster that made me fearful of the genre (more on those later). I worried about nightmares and was particularly concerned that my reactions in social situations (i.e. slumber parties, etc.) would be embarrassing. As a result, I typically avoided scary movies and protested when they were played at friends’ houses.
Yet, somehow, my brother and I ended up watching enough of Part VI to get completely freaked out. I say “enough of” because we didn’t watch the film from start to finish; we likely parked on the channel for a minute or two–long enough to see a scene in which Jason mercilessly kills a couple after they get a flat tire. I remember in particular the killing of the female character, who opens her wallet, credit cards spilling out, in an attempt to buy Jason’s sympathy. Of course, Jason dispatches her without hesitation, and the filmmakers heightened the kill’s impact with a first-person camera angle from the victim’s perspective.
Years later, this scene stuck out in my mind as the one that frightened my brother and I so much that we attempted to watch Disney’s Cinderella as a corrective measure and, when that failed, slept in my parents’ bed; however, my brother reminded me recently that another more disturbing scene scared us shitless. It features a teenage couple (post-coitus, of course) driving down a road in a camper. The male drives recklessly, while the female passenger stumbles about the camper before Jason pulls her into the bathroom. Again, I remember clearly the way the scene was shot: an extreme high angle reveals Jason in the cramped bathroom covering the girl’s mouth before jamming her face into the camper wall; the film then cuts to an exterior of the camper, where an impression of the girl’s screaming face emerges from the steel. Back in the interior, Jason exits the bathroom and walks slowly toward the male driver, who can’t hear Jason approach because of his loud rock music. Jason then stabs the driver’s head, and the film cuts to the camper flying over an embankment and crashing. Jason, of course, rises from the wreckage unscathed and the terror continues.
That I had repressed this scene speaks to its power, but that I recalled it so easily once I was reminded of it also suggests its impact was indelible. I could remember the camera angles and shot sequences so clearly. Normally, a film’s construction was of little import to me as a kid, but studies on perception of time actually show that a our senses during times high stress heighten, allowing us to perceive of time as passing more slowly. Something similar happened when I saw Part VI, as I recalled particular shots and editing patterns years after the fact.
While the camera angles contributed to my stressful response, the sexual overtones in the latter scene scandalized my inhibited pre-teen self. The implication that Jason punished the teens for their sexual activity played into my belief that sex was dangerous. Carol Clover and others have written about this element of the slasher at length, so I won’t revisit that discussion. Instead, I invite you to watch Alice Cooper‘s video “Man Behind the Mask,” a song written specifically for Part VI that perfectly captures these themes of puritanical justice:
I’ve since revisited the Friday the 13th series, watching Part VI about a month ago. The film begins with Tommy Jarvis, who killed Jason in Part IV, digging up the grave of the deceased villain with intentions to burn Jason’s corpse. Instead, a bolt of lightening revives Jason and kick-starts a blood bath. Tommy alerts the local authorities of Jason’s resurrection, but his pleas are dismissed and Tommy is jailed. Meanwhile, Jason kills a trio of paintball players, a drunken gravedigger, and a slew of camp counselors. Luckily, the sheriff’s spunky daughter develops a crush on Tommy and springs him from jail to pursue Jason. The two track Jason down and lure him into Crystal Lake, where they first shred his face with a boat propeller and then chain him to the bottom of the lake with a large boulder as an anchor. In spite of the triumph, the film concludes with an ominous shot of the submerged Jason opening his eyes, suggesting that he will return for yet another sequel.
As the plot outline suggests, Part VI is a campy affair. More surprisingly, it understands its status as trashy entertainment. The dialog alone demonstrates the writer’s humorous take on the project. For instance, after Jason’s presence becomes known at the re-opened Camp Crystal Lake, one sarcastic young camper asks another “So, what were you gonna be when you grew up?” There are more than a few knowing winks at the audience, with lines like, “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.” Such lines anticipate Scream’s self-referential humor and nods to fandom. This humorous approach, along with bad acting, 80s mise-en-scene, and cheesy music make Jason Lives my favorite installment of the series.
Which brings me back to the disparity between my initial response and that upon re-viewing the film years later. As a pre-teen, I’d not yet accumulated the cinematic experiences that allowed me to see Part VI as merely a product of generic formulas that could be anticipated and mocked. Having seen many slashers since, I can now laugh at Jason Lives even as certain scenes disgust me. I have some mastery over these texts, and I must say, that’s a very liberating feeling.