Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
      ( 6/30/2009 09:38:00 AM ) Bill S.  


"BECAUSE GROWNUPS THINK IT'S FUNNY TO BE SCARED." There's a telling moment in the opening credits to Friday the 13th: Part VI -- Jason Lives. We've already seen Jason Voorhees improbably resurrected from his grave by two bolts of lightning, even though we were told in the previous installment that the guy had been cremated. What follows after Jason makes quick work of the disposable companion of would-be monster killer Tommy Jarvis gives a clue as to what writer/director Tim McLoughlin is up to. A visual parody of the James Bond opener with our masked anti-hero tossing a machete at the viewer instead of firing his berretta, it signals that this particular none-too-scary entry is gonna have a whole lotta winking in it.

And so it does. Despite a body count that once again surpasses the titular 13, there's an air of goofiness to the proceedings that's exemplified by the presence of Ron Palillo in the victim pool. Jason butchers a Sweathog! Movie history in the making.

Set an undisclosed number of years down the road from the earlier Fridays, the movie centers on Tommy Jarvis' (played this time by Thom Mathews, best known to horror fans as the young hero in Return of the Living Dead) doomed attempts to destroy the killer of Camp Crystal Lake. His first try involves digging up Jason's corpse, dousing it with gasoline and burning it to a crisp, but that trick never works. The very elements conspire to revive and protect the worm-eaten killer: once those lightning bolts revive him, it starts pouring to thwart Tommy's fire starting. Retrieving his hockey mask (which Tommy and friend have inexplicably brought with them), the implacable undead serial killer stomps off into the woods in search of new easy pickings.

Of course, there's a fresh batch of camp counselors available for this bloody work. The good folks of Crystal Lake have changed the name of their burg to Forrest Green, and the change has brought back the tourists, too. Among these is a newly engaged couple who come across Jason in their car ("I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly," the girl tells her beau), a group of corporate paint ballers and a comic cemetery caretaker who happens across Jason's opened grave and says directly into the camera, "Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment."

Tommy, to his credit, attempts to warn the local constabulary that He Has Risen, but, like constant kids before him, isn't believed. Instead, the town sheriff (David Kagen) thinks that Tommy himself in doing the killings to make everybody think Jason's Alive, a fair enough assumption considering the number of times in the last movie that we were led to believe the same thing. Fortunately the sheriff's fetching daughter (Jennifer Cooke), for no good reason that we can see, sides with our hero, and the two work to trick the killer into returning to the bottom of Crystal Lake, where he presumably will rest in peace. It's not like this guy rose out of the lake before to go on a killing spree, is it?

As for the requisite counselor slashings, McLoughlin ups the stakes by, for the first time, actually showing a whole group of living breathing kids at the camp. One pair of boys gets to crack wise during Jason's final assault on the camp ("So what were you gonna be when you grew up?" one asks his buddy), while a cute little girl gets to deliver an unheeded early warning. Nobody listens to anyone younger in these movies!

Though the movie's killings are plentiful, they're treated both less explicitly and more cartoonishly than they were in earlier flicks. In one outlandish gag, for instance, a paint baller gets his face smashed into a tree, leaving behind a bloody smiley face in the trunk; in another, Jason lops off three heads with a single swath of his machete. Having established Jason's supernatural creds, the moviemakers decided to focus on "kills that were almost impossible for a person to do," as McLoughlin states in the DVD's "Making Of Friday the 13th –- Part VI" feature. The heightened unreality didn't make the ratings board go any easier on the flick, however, as a feature showing "Slashed Scenes" makes clear. Though the uncut killings were still pretty tame as these things go, the fx folk were still forced to trim their best gags.

Paramount's "Deluxe Edition" DVD contains many of the usual bells and whistles, though there's one fresh moment entitled "Meeting Mr. Voorhees" featuring a series of storyboards depicting an originally planned appearance by the hitherto unseen husband to game show regular Betsy Palmer's Mama Voorhees. The moment doesn't really tell us much, though it does hint at future plots never to be developed. Wonder who they would've gotten for the role of Daddy V., anyway? Orson Bean, perhaps?

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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