Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Last Updated on June 28, 2024

Paramount Pictures tried to end the Friday the 13th franchise with the fourth film, The Final Chapter, in 1984. The movie did so well at the box office that they couldn’t resist continuing the series with A New Beginning the following year. Once again, they had a success on their hands – but the movie made substantially less money than its predecessor had, and the executives thought they knew why. The franchise had tried to move on without murderer Jason Voorhees, and the audience felt cheated. They wanted more Jason. So when development began on another sequel, there was only one mandate in place: Jason had to be brought back from the dead. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin was hired to resurrect the iconic slasher with Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (watch Jason Lives at THIS LINK, buy the Friday the 13th Blu-ray collection HERE)… and we’re here to tell you What the F*ck Happened to This Horror Movie.

When Paramount acquired the distribution rights to the independently-produced horror movie Friday the 13th, nobody expected greatness would come from this cheap little slasher. But the movie turned out to be a massive hit and kicked off a franchise that was a reliable money-maker for the studio throughout the 1980s. They could fund each sequel for a relatively small amount and then receive a great return on their investment. For example, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter had a budget of two-point-six million and made thirty-three million. That’s why we got A New Beginning, even though Jason Voorhees was killed off at the end of The Final Chapter and they meant for him to stay dead. They stuck to that: while A New Beginning does have a slasher wearing a hockey mask in it, it’s not Jason. It’s a copycat. The film was a bit cheaper than Part 4, with a two-point-two million dollar budget, but also had a slightly disappointing box office haul of twenty-two million. Since it made ten times its budget, Paramount still wanted to make a Part 6, but they knew they couldn’t make another movie like A New Beginning, which some found to be off-putting and sleazy. And they knew they couldn’t make another one of these movies without Jason.

Frank Mancuso Junior, the son of the president of Paramount at the time, was the executive who oversaw the franchise for the studio. He got his start on Fridays by taking a job as a production assistant on Friday the 13th Part 2, but ended up being promoted to associate producer by the time filming was over. He was the primary producer on Part III and The Final Chapter, then decided to take a step back from the movies after that. He remained involved as an executive producer and the rights holders, the people who had invested in the original movie, liked dealing with him, but starting with A New Beginning he wasn’t as hands-on as he had been on the previous two films. A New Beginning turned out to be his least favorite Friday of the Paramount era, but he felt they could turn things around with the next sequel and improve the box office.

Mancuso had been impressed by writer-director Tom McLoughlin’s feature debut, the low budget 1982 horror film One Dark Night, and the pair had nearly worked together on the comedic pseudo-slasher April Fool’s Day. Mancuso produced April Fool’s Day and McLoughlin was attached to direct the film at one point, but a shake-up at the studio resulted in him being replaced by When a Stranger Calls director Fred Walton. So Mancuso decided to offer the Friday the 13th Part VI writing and directing job to McLoughlin as a consolation prize for losing April Fool’s Day. The filmmaker wasn’t thrilled by the idea, because he wasn’t really a fan of slasher movies, but this was an offer he couldn’t refuse. The chance to not only write and direct a movie for a major studio, but a movie that was part of a popular franchise. He took the job… and then he had to catch up on the previous films, because he had only seen the first Friday the 13th. Paramount gave him a five movie private screening so he could see what he had missed.

Once McLoughlin had all the Friday knowledge he could get, Mancuso sent him off to write the script, and the only instruction he was given was to bring Jason back to life. Before McLoughlin got involved, there had been some consideration given to bringing A New Beginning actors Melanie Kinnaman and Shavar Ross back as their characters Pam and Reggie, and Ross had even been told that they wanted to kill him off in the opening scene. That was no longer on the table by the time McLoughlin started writing. He didn’t want to acknowledge a lot from A New Beginning anyway, but that film did present a logic hurdle for him to overcome: in A New Beginning, it’s said that Jason’s body was cremated. How could they bring him back from that? The explanation he found was to say that there had been a plan to cremate Jason, but then somebody paid off city officials to have him buried instead. In the final scene of the movie, we would find out this mysterious person was Jason’s father, who was envisioned as being similar to the mystic Rasputin. The appearance of Jason’s father was something Mancuso vetoed immediately, as this was a character he had zero interest in introducing or having to deal with. So in the finished film there’s no mention of the fact that Jason was said to have been cremated. He’s buried in a cemetery and you just have to brush aside this continuity discrepancy.

Having an intact corpse to work with, McLoughlin was able to turn to a classic for the method of resurrection. Just like Frankenstein’s Monster, Jason would be revived through a lightning strike. It sounds ridiculous, but it works – because if it’s good enough for Boris Karloff, it’s good enough for Jason Voorhees. The fact that our killer is a re-animated corpse also gave McLoughlin the chance to write a slasher he could feel better about putting out into the world, because he imagined that Jason would emerge from his grave more powerful than ever before. His issue with slashers was the fact that the violent acts in these movies could so easily be imitated by people in real life. So for the most part, his Jason doesn’t just go around stabbing people like any unhinged viewer would be able to. He puts his increased strength to use. The deaths in Jason Lives – or, as McLoughlin’s initial treatment was titled, Jason Has Risen – include a heart being ripped out, a head being twisted off, a head being crushed in Jason’s bare hands, a person being folded in half, a face being pushed through the side of an RV, and three people being decapitated with one swing of a machete. The kills are over-the-top, but highly entertaining and satisfying.

A couple of the kills did have to be re-thought between the treatment and the script. Trying to figure out how to equip Jason with multiple weapons he could use throughout the film, McLoughlin decided he would come across a group of hunters in the woods, and one of these hunters would be a really macho guy who carried all sorts of accessories with him. A machete, a hunting knife, darts… and in the treatment, the guy was even carrying an Uzi. The idea was that Jason was going to take the Uzi and use it to open fire on a young couple in an RV. After writing that, McLoughlin realized these murders would be too easy to imitate, it was too close to real world violence. So he took the Uzi out of the story and made the people Jason comes across in the woods a group playing paintball.

In addition to making the kills more unrealistic, McLoughlin also made this slasher more palatable to himself by increasing the humor. He put a lot of comedy into Jason Lives, from character interactions to sight gags and a moment where a cemetery caretaker breaks the fourth wall, looks right into the camera and says, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.” There’s a self-referential edge to the film, with one character noting that she has “seen enough horror movies to know that any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly”, and nods to genre directors and actors: Sean S. Cunningham, John Carpenter, Karloff. Mick Garris hadn’t directed a movie yet at the time, but he got a character named after him because he was friends with McLoughlin. The movie even has a parody of the double-oh-seven gun barrel, with Jason standing in for James Bond. McLoughlin cleared this humorous approach with Mancuso before he started writing and found that the executive was open to taking the franchise in different directions and trying different styles. As long as he didn’t make fun of Jason, he was free to make his Friday more comedic. He followed that rule. While the movie around Jason is rather lighthearted and amusing, Jason himself is a terrifying, unstoppable force.

McLoughlin was given an incredible amount of creative control. Aside from the Uzi change he made himself and the removal of Jason’s father, the film ended up being very close to the treatment he wrote at the start of the process. The story he came up with centers on Tommy Jarvis, a lead character introduced as a twelve-year-old in The Final Chapter. Tommy is the one who put Jason down with multiple swings of a machete at the end of that film – and it traumatized him so badly that A New Beginning, which aged him up several years, showed that he had spent time in mental health institutions. Those movies seemed to be building up to Tommy taking over as the slasher in this franchise, which probably would have been the case if Paramount hadn’t seen the financial benefit of bringing Jason back. Instead, McLoughlin’s film finds that Tommy is determined to get over the trauma Jason caused him, and he figures the way to do that is to dig up Jason’s corpse and burn it.

Poor, misguided Tommy. Jason is dead and at peace down in that grave. But when Tommy unearths him and the lightning strikes, he wakes up very angry and resumes his killing spree. The town of Crystal Lake has tried to put the Voorhees nightmare behind them, the place has even been renamed Forest Green. The local youths have been told Jason was just a legend, and the camp is open for business. Now history’s repeating itself, as Jason slashes his way from the cemetery back to the campground. Tommy tries to get the town sheriff to believe that Jason’s back, but he doesn’t have much credibility. The only ally he’s able to get is the sheriff’s rebellious daughter Megan. It all builds up to a rematch between Tommy and Jason in the waters of Crystal Lake… Because now that McLoughlin had made Jason a fully, very obviously supernatural being, he thought the character should have some kind of monster mythology as well. He has Tommy do research in occult books, where he discovers that the only way to stop Jason now is to put him to rest in the place where he originally died. That would be Crystal Lake, where he drowned as a child in 1957.

So we have another movie about Jason killing a bunch of people, but the writer-director didn’t want to give the audience the same old thing all over again. He built his script around elements that hadn’t been seen in previous Fridays. An underwater fight scene. A car chase sequence where Tommy and Megan are trying to escape from the sheriff and his officers. A spectacular RV crash that ends with one of the most iconic shots of Jason we’ve ever seen. A fully functional camp populated by children, as McLoughlin thought having kids present would raise the stakes.

The previous three Fridays had been filmed in California, but the unions there were becoming very unhappy about these studio-funded non-union shoots, so Jason Lives was sent off to the “right to work” state of Georgia, which also gave them more flexibility with the shooting hours of the young kids playing the campers. To hide from unions and curious fans, the film was shot under the title Aladdin Sane, taken from a David Bowie album. The production was based in the town of Covington, not far from Atlanta, and many other horror movies have been shot in that area over the years, like Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, Doctor Sleep, Freaky, and Fear Street 1978.

Tommy Jarvis had been played by Corey Feldman in The Final Chapter and by John Shepherd in A New Beginning, and it was assumed that Shepherd would be back as Tommy for Jason Lives. But Shepherd was at a crossroads in his life, not sure if he should continue acting or go to seminary school, and he decided he didn’t want to do another slasher movie. So the role went to Thom Mathews, who had recently caught attention for his part in The Return of the Living Dead. McLoughlin was able to assemble a really good cast for his movie, including David Kagen as the tough, disbelieving Sheriff Mike Garris; Vincent Guastaferro as the deputy who’s proud of his new laser scope; Jennifer Cooke as the sheriff’s daughter and Tommy’s love interest Megan; Kerry Noonan, Renee Jones, and John Travolta’s nephew Tom Fridley as Megan’s fellow camp counselors; Tony Goldwyn in his first screen role as an unlucky victim; McLoughlin’s then-wife Nancy as another victim; child actress Courtney Vickery as a camper who’s aware of Jason’s presence at the camp; Welcome Back Kotter’s Ron Palillo as a friend of Tommy’s; Darcy DeMoss, who had nearly been in A New Beginning, as the girl whose face gets smashed into the RV wall. The list goes on, because you need a lot of victims in a Friday the 13th, and this is a standout slasher movie because McLoughlin cast good actors and gave them good dialogue to deliver. He very effectively made us like and care about many of the characters.

The role of Jason was offered to The Final Chapter’s Ted White, but he hadn’t been too enthusiastic about playing Jason in the first place and turned down the chance to come back. So the filmmakers turned to stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, who still works in stunts to this day and has also become a very successful second unit director, handling the action scenes on Bond, Bourne, and superhero movies. Unfortunately, Bradley would get fired from playing Jason because the producers didn’t like his build. According to people involved with the production, he had put on some weight between the time he was hired and when he reported to set for the scene where Jason kills the paintballers. His scene is still in the movie and he’s great in it, but the higher-ups weren’t pleased and he got the boot. His replacement was the runner-up who had been passed over because he didn’t have any film experience: nightclub manager C.J. Graham, who had been an infantry platoon sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Graham came to the filmmakers’ attention because an illusionist performing at his nightclub had a moment in his act where Jason comes busting through a wall, so he put Graham in the Jason costume. That illusionist happened to be a friend of Jason Lives special effects artist Martin Becker. Becker saw the act with Graham as Jason and suggested he be cast in the movie. McLoughlin found Graham to be a great performer to work with, because he followed direction perfectly. Since Jason is now a rotting-but-walking corpse, the director wanted him to move differently than he ever had before, more robotically. Graham nailed that sort of movement, and while appearing calm and methodical he also comes off as being very sinister.

You can spot Bradley in the movie because, aside from a shot of Graham holding a severed arm, he is Jason in the daylight scenes. If it’s night, it’s Graham. And there’s a whole lot of night in the movie; the production took place over six weeks of night shoots during winter months. That had to be a grueling schedule for the cast and crew, and those nights weren’t always easy. Nancy McLoughlin especially had it tough during the filming of her death scene. First, she was nearly impaled when a spear didn’t break through a windshield in the way everyone expected it to. Then she had to stick her head into a water puddle in the middle of a cold night and found that the oxygen regulator she had been provided with wasn’t working properly. So she just had to hold her breath.

The climactic fight scene in the lake involving Jason, Tommy, and Megan was so complicated that it was filmed in three different locations. The shots above the water were done in a lake in Georgia, where C.J. Graham would get covered in leeches while submerged. Most of the underwater shots were done in a temperature controlled pool in California – but the owners of the pool wouldn’t let McLoughlin film the moment where Jason’s head gets chewed up by a boat’s outboard motor there. So McLoughlin went over to his parents’ house and filmed that shot in their pool. The gore from Jason’s damaged head ended up wrecking the pool’s filtration system, so it turns out the other pool owners were right to not want that in their water.

Despite any issues, McLoughlin and his cast and crew made magic on the days and nights they were working on Jason Lives, delivering a fun, fast-paced, clever Friday the 13th movie with great production value. Cinematographer Jon Kranhouse helped McLoughlin make an awesome-looking movie that appears to be much bigger than its three million dollar budget.

Bringing the film in on budget was a struggle. The producer in charge of the cash flow was Don Behrns, who didn’t seem to be popular with McLoughlin or the crew. It has been said that he was a cheapskate who rushed the filming of certain moments and denied equipment requests from McLoughlin, making the director re-think how to shoot some scenes. He was so disliked that the director and crew decided to get some revenge on the night they filmed the RV crash. Behrns had reserved the swamp cooler on top of the vehicle for himself, he wanted that to be removed from the RV before the stunt so he could put it on his own RV. The crew chose not to remove the swamp cooler, and in the finished film you can see it getting destroyed, tumbling down the road as the RV flips over.

Ready to give McLoughlin more grief was the ratings board, known for having issues with the Friday the 13th films. Having dealt with them several times by this point, Mancuso started preparing for the rating showdown as early as the script stage, advising McLoughlin to rework kills he knew the ratings board would object to. The special effects artists at Reel EFX also cut back on some planned effects because Mancuso told them, “It’ll never make it into the movie, so don’t try.” Even then, McLoughlin shot three versions of some kills, ranging from bloodshed he judged to be PG-13 level to gore that was certain to be cut out. And while they knew the ratings board was going to be a pain, the movie still ended up with three more kills than McLoughlin had intended. After watching an early cut of the film, Mancuso decided they needed to do reshoots to add in some extra kills. The scene where the drunken cemetery caretaker played by Bob Larkin and the newly engaged couple played by Roger Rose and Vincent Guastaferro’s wife Cynthia Kania get killed in the woods was added during post-production. The caretaker had been meant to survive the movie, and would have interacted with Jason’s father in that discarded ending, and the engaged couple was added in just to be killed. The death of camp counselor Sissy, played by Renee Jones, was also enhanced with additional photography. Her death had been entirely off screen, but they added in a moment where we see Jason twisting her head off. There was an elaborate special effect done to show her head being removed, but the ratings board made sure that was cut.

McLoughlin was a little bummed that Mancuso had him add kills, because he wanted the total body count to be thirteen. He thought that would be the perfect number. There’s some questionable math at work here, though, because those three added kills didn’t boost the film to a total of sixteen deaths. There are eighteen kills in Jason Lives.

The ratings board made them trim down some of those kills, and even with all the self-censorship that had been done before the movie was screened for them, they still had plenty of problems with it. McLoughlin has said the movie had to be shown to the ratings board and the death scenes had to be altered nine times before it finally got an R rating.

The deaths were the only things the ratings board could have found objectionable with this sequel, as it was the first and to this day remains the only Friday the 13th movie that doesn’t have any nudity. Fridley and DeMoss do have a sex scene, but nothing is revealed. The producers encouraged McLoughlin to ask DeMoss to take her top off for the sex scene on the day it was filmed, but she declined. McLoughlin wasn’t interested in playing into slasher movie clichés anyway; he wasn’t into the “sex equals death” concept, and this isn’t a slasher that directly punishes characters for smoking weed or having premarital sex like so many other movies do.

McLoughlin wanted to give the audience a thrill ride, an old fashioned popcorn horror movie with a comic sweetness, a legitimate storyline, and likeable characters – and he was successful in achieving this. His movie was made all the more fun with the addition of music from legendary rocker Alice Cooper. There are three Alice Cooper songs on the soundtrack: “Teenage Frankenstein”, “Hard Rock Summer”, and one that was written specifically about Jason Voorhees and plays over the end credits. Jason and Alice shared the screen in the video for this song, “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”. Beyond the rock music, there’s also – for the sixth movie in a row – a terrific score from Harry Manfredini.

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (which is, by the way, how the title appears on screen, rather than being Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) had all the elements in place to give fans a great time… but unfortunately, fewer of them turned out to see the movie than had come out to see any previous Friday. Released on August 1st, 1986, Jason Lives opened at number two at the box office, coming in behind Aliens, which had just been released two weeks earlier and drew a lot of horror fans away from Jason’s return. Jason Lives took another hit the following weekend when David Cronenberg’s The Fly showed up to take more attention away from it. This sequel was supposed to be a rebound from A New Beginning’s disappointing twenty-two million, but instead it made even less. Jason Lives ended up with a box office haul of just over nineteen million.

The numbers weren’t what Paramount was hoping for, but again there was enough return on investment that they decided to move ahead with another sequel. Mancuso offered McLoughlin the chance to direct Part 7 – but McLoughlin felt he had already put all of his good ideas into Part 6. Mancuso told him there was a chance that wouldn’t be an issue, because the seventh film might not be just another Jason movie: they were in talks with New Line Cinema to do a crossover with that company’s horror icon. They were talking about making Freddy vs. Jason. Unfortunately, Mancuso had to come back to him soon after and tell him that the deal with New Line couldn’t be worked out. Almost twenty years went by before Freddy vs. Jason was actually made. With that crossover no longer an option, McLoughlin pitched one of a different sort, one that could take the Friday the 13th franchise further into comedic territory than Jason Lives had gone. In the tradition of Abbott and Costello’s encounters with the Universal Monsters, McLoughlin suggested they do Cheech and Chong Meet Jason, with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong playing stoner camp counselors. Paramount didn’t go for it, and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was made without McLoughlin’s involvement… so we can only imagine what it would be like to see Cheech and Chong cross paths with Jason.

The underwhelming box office does not at all reflect the quality of Jason Lives. This was a rare Friday the 13th that actually got some good reviews from critics, and it’s widely considered to be one of the best films in the franchise. It’s a favorite among fans, and screenwriter Kevin Williamson even told McLoughlin that the film’s self-referential, humorous tone was a source of inspiration when he was writing Scream. It didn’t get the reception it deserved in 1986, and the competition it faced definitely had an impact, but it all worked out in the long run. McLoughlin brought Jason Voorhees back from the dead, and it was a triumphant return.

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Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.