2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of two slasher franchise sequels that did a little something different from their predecessors by taking a more comedic approach to the material: Tom McLoughlin's JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI and Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. Those films weren't released until August of 1986, but given that we have a Friday the 13th this week, now seemed an appropriate time to celebrate them with a Face-Off. What happens when these slasher sequels with a sense of humor are put head-to-head? Let's see.
The town of Crystal Lake is trying to move on from the events of the other films, even changing the name of the town to Forest Green. One person who can't let go of the past is the survivor of the previous two sequels. His attempt to destroy the body of hockey-masked murderer Jason Voorhees goes disastrously awry, resulting in Jason being resurrected from the grave Frankenstein-style. As Jason returns to his homicidal ways with increased strength and decreased speed, the hapless survivor struggles to get anyone to believe his story of a zombified killer.
Thirteen years have passed since the events of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, with the Sawyer clan continuing their murderous, cannibalistic ways in secret. Then, a mistake. They kill someone while the victim is on the phone with a local radio station. The murder is broadcast live and recorded. A former Texas Ranger who has been tracking the family for a decade sees this as his opportunity to draw them out into the light and bring them to justice, his own brand of poetic vigilante justice, but instead the killers draw him into a subterranean world of madness.
This was the beginning of a new era for Jason Voorhees, and although he's not the fleet-footed forest-dweller of the earlier films, this iteration of zombie Jason, as portrayed by C.J. Graham, is incredibly badass. Although surrounded by comedic shenanigans, Graham's Jason remains a creepy, intimidating presence, made all the more dangerous by his new found ability to literally tear people apart with his bare hands. While many lean toward Kane Hodder as their favorite zombie Jason, I've always been partial to the one that Graham and McLoughlin gave us.
Don't think him a monster just because he wears a mask made of human flesh. Leatherface is actually quite a sympathetic character, a dim-witted member of an overbearing family. Although he can be overshadowed by the manic antics of his brothers, Leatherface does have a comedic/dramatic storyline in this sequel, as he finds himself torn between his family and his unrequited puppy love for a radio DJ. Bill Johnson does a wonderful job portraying this conflicted Leatherface, terrifying when his chainsaw is running and hilarious when dealing with his romantic feelings.
HEROES & HEROINES
Thom Mathews succeeds Corey Feldman and John Shepherd in the role of Tommy Jarvis, and does fine work making him a sympathetic hero who we root for as he gets thwarted at every turn. He's paired with Jennifer Cooke as Megan Garris, camp counselor and bratty, rebellious daughter of the local sheriff. A bit of a "boy from the wrong side of the tracks" love story plays out between them as Megan gives Tommy her full support - at first probably just because she thinks he's cute, and to defy her father.
It's always great when Dennis Hopper is allowed to go nuts, and that's exactly what Hooper let him do in this film. It is a joy to watch Hopper's Lefty Enright go ballistic with a chainsaw and wade into battle while screaming about "the devil's playground" and singing hymns. As far as I'm concerned, Caroline Williams' radio DJ "Stretch" is one of horror's great heroines; Williams not only has a terrific scream, she also flawlessly handles the emotional moments, even when situations are grotesquely absurd.
You can always count on Jason to deliver in the kills department, and JASON LIVES features some really fun deaths. Three people decapitated with one swipe of a machete, heads crushed, a heart ripped out, bodies broken, limbs twisted. My favorite is the way McLoughlin presents a moment in which a girl gets her face shoved into an interior wall of an RV, her features bending through the exterior of the vehicle.
The kills in the first film were impactful while being light on bloodshed. The sequel goes the opposite direction, heaping on the gore courtesy of Tom Savini. Still, it is light on kills. It opens with a spectacular death sequence, but then just has one other (disturbingly brutal) kill on the way to the climax. There were actually more murders filmed, but they were cut out. They would have disrupted the flow anyway.
JASON LIVES is one of the most well-made, polished films in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. The movie looks amazing, both due to the quality of cinematography and the Georgia locations it was shot in. McLoughlin took the series back to the campground while expanding the scope at the same time, setting scenes all throughout Crystal Lake/Forest Green. With an Alice Cooper soundtrack and vehicular chases and crashes mixed in with the usual slasher mayhem, JASON LIVES is awesome. The humor can be really goofy at times, but I feel that it balances out quite nicely with the horror to make this one a really fun ride.
TCM2 deserves major kudos for being the only entry in the franchise to date that has strayed away from the "kids on a road trip" set-up. It has a great, unique story that Hooper expertly executed. Soaked with gore, featuring some mind-blowing production design, carried by cool characters and backed with an awesome soundtrack, TCM2 rocks. A lot of the humor comes through the performances of Jim Siedow and Bill Moseley, who gleefully went nuts. The film is way over-the-top and, unlike Jason in JASON LIVES, Leatherface is made the butt of some jokes, but it doesn't hurt the character and is just part of the insanity.
JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI
Determining a victor in this match-up was the toughest call I've made when putting together a Face-Off, and I was strongly tempted to call it a tie. JASON LIVES and TCM2 are both among my top favorite horror films; they are essential to me, they hit VHS just in time to play pivotal roles in the beginning of my horror fandom. In fact, JASON LIVES is the specific movie I credit with getting me into the genre. While I can get geek-out giddy over both of them, when it comes down to it I have to give the win to JASON LIVES. It has a bit more style, I find it to be a bit more fun, and it's the movie that made me start loving horror.
Which film are you more fond of? The machete or the saw? Let us know your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below, and if you have Face-Off suggestions you can send them to me at CodyHamman@joblo.com. Your idea could be used for a future article!