The film was the first film in the series to receive favorable reviews since the original. In the years since its release, its self-referential humor and numerous instances of breaking the fourth wall have been praised for prefiguring Wes Craven's Scream series and other similar 1990s horror films. As of 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, Jason Lives was a fan favorite of the series, in addition to receiving positive notice from horror film historians. It is followed by Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.
A year has passed since the Pinehurst Halfway House massacre, and Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green. Tommy Jarvis, still suffering from hallucinations ever since his past encounter with Jason Voorhees, returns with his friend Allen Hawes, hoping to cremate Jason's body and therefore stop his hallucinations. At the cemetery, they dig up Jason's corpse but seeing it causes Tommy to have an audio flashback to murdering Jason and snap, and he stabs Jason's body with a metal fence post. As he turns his back on Jason, two lightning bolts strike the post and revive Jason, who kills Hawes.
Tommy makes his way to the sheriff's office, where he panics and attempts to grab weapons, but is caught and arrested. His warning that Jason has returned goes unheeded by Sheriff Mike Garris, who is aware of Tommy's mental problems and thinks he is imagining Jason. On the road, camp counselors Darren and Lizbeth get lost looking for the camp and run into Jason, who impales them both with the metal rod that resurrected him. The next morning, Garris' daughter Megan and her friends Sissy, Cort, and Lizbeth's sister Paula ask him to search for Darren and Lizbeth. Tommy warns them about Jason, but as he is now considered an urban legend, they ignore the warnings, though Megan becomes attracted to him. In the woods, Jason happens upon a corporate paintball game; he kills the players for their equipment. During these kills, Jason discovers that he is far stronger than before when he rips off a man's arm without actually meaning to.
At Camp Forest Green, the children arrive, and the teens do their best to run the camp without Darren and Lizbeth. Meanwhile, Garris decides to escort Tommy out of his jurisdiction due to his influence on Megan. Tommy tries to make a run for Jason's grave but finds that the caretaker had covered it up to deny responsibility for it being dug up, and Hawes' body is buried in its place. Tommy is then escorted out of town. That night, Jason murders the caretaker and a nearby couple who witness the murder. Meanwhile, Cort goes out to have sex with a girl named Nikki, but both are killed by Jason. The sheriff's men find the victims' bodies and Garris immediately implicates Tommy in the murders, believing he has gone insane imagining Jason.
Tommy contacts Megan and convinces her to help him lure Jason back into Crystal Lake. Meanwhile, Jason makes his way to the camp and kills Sissy, then Paula. Meanwhile, Tommy and Megan are pulled over by Garris. Despite Megan's alibi that she was with Tommy, he does not believe him to be innocent and arrests him, then goes to the camp to investigate. As Tommy and Megan develop a ruse to trick the watching deputy and escape, Jason kills Garris and two other deputies when they arrive at the camp.
Jason is about to kill Megan when Tommy calls to him from the lake; apparently remembering his killer, he goes after him instead. Tommy is attacked in a boat in the middle of the lake and ties a boulder around Jason's neck to trap him. Jason fights back, holding Tommy underwater long enough to drown him. Megan rushes out to save him but is nearly killed when Jason grabs her leg; she turns the boat's activated motor around onto Jason's neck, and he releases her. She takes Tommy back to shore and uses CPR to revive him. Tommy says that it is finally over and Jason is home. Under the water, anchored to the bottom of the lake, Jason is still alive. The final shot of the film is his eye staring off into the water, waiting patiently for an opportunity to return.Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis
Jennifer Cooke as Megan Garris
David Kagen as Sheriff Mike Garris
Kerry Noonan as Paula
Renée Jones as Sissy Baker
Tom Fridley as Cort
Darcy DeMoss as Nikki
Nancy McLoughlin as Lizbeth
Tony Goldwyn as Darren
Alan Blumenfeld as Larry
Matthew Faison as Stan
Ann Ryerson as Katie
Ron Palillo as Allen Hawes
Vincent Guastaferro as Deputy Rick Cologne
Michael Swan as Officer Pappas
Courtney Vickery as Nancy
Whitney Rydbeck as Roy
Bob Larkin as Martin
Wallace Merck as Burt
Roger Rose as Steven
Cynthia Kania as Annette
Michael Nomad as Officer Thornton
Justin Nowell as Billy
Tommy Nowell as Tyen
C. J. Graham & Dan Bradley as Jason Voorhees
Although the previous film in the series, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, had been a financial success, it had disappointed the series' fans and received some of the worst reviews of any film in the series. In order to prevent further alienating the fans (and thus potentially endangering the series), the producers decided to take the series in a new direction, moving it away from what producer Frank Mancuso Jr. called the "coarse" nature of A New Beginning.
To this end, Mancuso hired Tom McLoughlin, who had directed the successful horror film One Dark Night but was also known around Hollywood for shopping around various comedy scripts he had written, a dichotomy that appealed to Mancuso. McLoughlin was given free rein on how he would present the story, with the only condition being that he bring back Jason and make him the film's villain.
McLoughlin decided to take the film in the direction of an old Universal Monsters movie, specifically the 1931 version of Frankenstein, which portrayed the monster as a lumbering killer brought to life by electricity. McLoughlin also drew from vampire lore in order to give Jason a weakness, namely being returned to his "home soil"; to achieve this, McLoughlin disregarded the idea presented in Part 2 that Jason had survived his drowning, instead presenting the idea that Jason has always been some sort of supernatural force. He also decided to retcon the ending of the fifth film, where Tommy Jarvis was a serial killer. In fact, Pam's truck from the fifth film can be seen indicating she is alive.
McLoughlin further decided to expand the series' thematic scope, incorporating action film elements and postmodern metahumor; when Jason is first encountered in the woods near Crystal Lake, the character Lizbeth comments that she and Darren should flee because she knows about proper conduct to survive a horror film. McLoughlin would further satirize the series itself, as Martin the gravedigger comments on Jason's exhumation, "Why'd they have to go and dig up Jason?" before breaking the fourth wall and addressing the camera with the observation, "Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment." In addition to Frankenstein, McLoughlin also cited as inspiration his love of Gothic horror, particularly the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and his Catholic upbringing; Jason Lives features the series' only explicit references to God, and during the climax a praying girl is spared by Jason (a similar scene, in which the same girl prays for Tommy while Megan performs CPR, then mouths "Thank you" while looking skyward was deleted from the final cut of the movie, apparently against McLoughlin's wishes; he recalled in the 2009 DVD's director's commentary, "Somehow it didn't stay in... probably too much sentiment").
The decision to retcon the events of Part V resulted in many members of that film's cast—whose characters had survived—having their contracts to return for a sequel terminated. At one point in time when Jason Lives was being considered as a direct sequel to A New Beginning rather than to The Final Chapter, the surviving characters Pam and Reggie from A New Beginning were to have died in the film's opening moments. Shavar Ross, who played Reggie in A New Beginning, said he wasn't interested in coming back to be killed off and has intimated as much in interviews/commentary for His Name Was Jason and the 2009 DVD of A New Beginning.
Although Mancuso retained control over the film's casting, he deferred to McLoughlin's judgment; the only caveat was that the final girl had to be a "very attractive blonde". To fulfill this requirement, McLoughlin chose Jennifer Cooke, based on her performance in the television series V. The role of Hawes, Tommy's would-be sidekick who dies within the first five minutes of the movie, was given to another television veteran, Ron Palillo, famous for the role of Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter.
John Shepherd was initially asked to reprise his role as Tommy Jarvis from the previous film. Shepherd, an evangelical Christian who had reservations about returning to the series based on the atmosphere surrounding A New Beginning, was initially attracted to Jason Lives based on the scene in which a praying girl is spared by Jason. He ultimately decided to film Caught and shortly thereafter retired from acting to go to seminary. Thom Matthews, who would take over the mantel of Tommy Jarvis, was chosen for his work in the horror comedy Return of the Living Dead, although McLoughlin himself was unaware of Matthews' horror credentials until after shooting began. Other cast members were culled from actors who McLoughlin had directed before (such as David Kagen, who was also an acting teacher for female lead Jennifer Cooke) and McLoughlin's own family—Jason's first female victim in the film, Lizbeth, was played by McLoughlin's wife, Nancy. In keeping with the series' tradition, the role of Jason was given to a stuntman, Dan Bradley. Bradley, however, was replaced shortly thereafter by C. J. Graham. Bradley's involvement during the paintball scene is kept.
After the first day of filming, Mancuso decided that he disliked Bradley's appearance onscreen as Jason. Although the scenes that Bradley filmed—in which Jason kills the paintball playing executives—were kept in the completed picture, the rest of Jason's scenes were performed by C. J. Graham, an area restaurant manager and former soldier. As part of a stage show put on at the restaurant, a magician would hypnotize audience members and place them in a scenario during which they encountered Jason Voorhees; Graham, who stood 6'3 and weighed 250 lbs, was asked to play Jason for the scenario. Jason Lives' special effects coordinator, Martin Becker, was in the audience for one such show, and recommended Graham to Mancuso and McLoughlin. Both men were impressed with Graham's presence, and he was hired to film the remainder of Jason's scenes.
Jason Lives would become notable for being the only film in the franchise to contain no nudity; the characters in the film's sole sex scene are both fully clothed, a conscious move on McLoughlin's part to distance the series from the notion that the Friday the 13th films were morality tales in which premarital sex was punished by death. McLoughlin was pressured by the film's producers to have Darcy Demoss remove her shirt during the RV sex scene, but he only suggested the idea to Demoss, who refused.
Jason Lives was filmed in Covington, Georgia, an area close to Atlanta, GA. The scenes involving the police department and town were filmed in Covington while the camp scenes were filmed at Camp Daniel Morgan outside the city limits of Covington. In the film, Camp Crystal Lake has been renamed Lake Forest Green. Surrounding Camp Daniel Morgan are Smokey the Bear signs asking everyone to "Keep the Forests Green".
Some of the climactic moments of the film involving the primary characters in the lake were actually filmed in the swimming pool of McLoughlin's father. Although McLoughlin ruined the pool's filter in the process (it was jammed by gore churned into the water when Jason is hit with the boat propeller), McLoughlin's father was pleased that he could now boast a Hollywood film had been shot in his backyard.
McLoughlin's attempt to deliver a "different" kind of Friday the 13th film were met with skepticism from the producers. In a contrast to the series' other entries, which had to be edited for violence in order to avoid an "X" rating, the film's producers requested that McLoughlin add additional gore, violence, and murders to the film. The original cut of the film contained 13 killings as an in-joke; in order to appease the studio, McLoughlin had to add an additional three killings, bringing the total up to 16. These were the killings of Martin the gravedigger, and the recently engaged couple on a nighttime picnic. The scene of Jason killing Martin would later be cited by McLoughlin as one of his favorite parts of the movie for the shot in which the picnicing man suddenly realizes that he's been spotted by Jason, which McLoughlin felt to be the film's scariest moment.
Additionally, McLoughlin was made to extend Sissy's death, adding the shots of Jason dragging her to the ground and twisting her head off; as originally filmed, Sissy was simply pulled out of the cabin window, and wasn't seen again until Megan finds her head in the squad car.
McLoughlin also found himself in contention with the producers over how the film should end. In the original script, the movie was supposed to have concluded in the graveyard, with Martin the gravedigger meeting Jason's father, Elias—a heretofore unseen character in the series—with the implication that Elias knows Jason has been resurrected and has come looking for him. The studio balked at the scene, as they did not want the responsibility of having to introduce Elias' backstory in the next installment. Additionally, the added murder of Martin made the scene an impossibility to shoot. This ending would have tied up a continuity error from A New Beginning, when it is mentioned that Jason was cremated; a deleted scene from Jason Lives had Tommy asking Sheriff Garris why Jason wasn't cremated, as had been planned, at which point Garris informs him that someone paid the city to bury Jason; Elias' handing Martin a wad of money would have indicated that he was the man who paid for Jason's burial. The scene was later storyboarded for inclusion on the film's "Deluxe Edition" DVD release, with Bob Larkin reprising his role as Martin to provide voiceover. Elias, like Jason, was scripted to be completely silent.
McLoughlin ultimately shot three endings, two of which, against his expectations, were not included on the film's DVD release. In one ending, Jason's mask floats to the surface of Crystal Lake, having become detached during his struggle with Megan. In another, Deputy Cologne was seen trying to reach the jail cell keys after having been locked in by Tommy and Megan; the door to the police station opens and the film abruptly ends, indicating that Jason had managed to get free. The producers disliked both of these endings, as each one left Jason's survival ambiguous, and wanted it explicitly shown onscreen that he was still capable of returning for a sequel. As a result, McLoughlin shot the film's current ending, showing a closeup of Jason's open, twitching eye.
The film's music was composed by Harry Manfredini, who composed the scores to all of the series' previous installments. In addition to the original score, the soundtrack also featured:"He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" by Alice Cooper, from his album Constrictor
"I'm No Animal" by Felony, from their album Vigilante
"Teenage Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper, from his album Constrictor
"Hard Rock Summer" by Alice Cooper, from the box set The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper
"He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" had an accompanying music video, combining clips from the film with new footage featuring Cooper. It is not present on any home video release of the film, but may be viewed on YouTube.
On January 13, 2012, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 6-CD boxset containing Manfredini's scores from the first six Friday the 13th films. It sold out in less than 24 hours.
All tracks written by Harry Manfredini.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives opened on August 1, 1986, in 1,610 theaters and grossed $6.7 million its opening weekend. Ultimately, it would go on to gross a total of $19.4 million at the US box office, ranking at number 46 on the list of the year's top earners. The Numbers estimates the US gross at $17.8 million.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 52% of 27 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5/10. Variety describe the film as predictable but "reasonably slick". Caryn James of The New York Times called it "a gory waste of time". Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune called it the least offensive film of the most offensive film series ever. Ken Hanke of Mountain Xpress wrote that it "may not be exactly a good movie in the strict sense, but it's easily the best in the series". Patrick Naugle of DVD Verdict called it "one of the best films in the series" because of its "witty humor and fun performances".
Fan reception was largely positive, and it was considered a fan favorite.
A novelization of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was written by Simon Hawke in 1986; notably, the novelization features an appearance by Elias Voorhees, Jason's father who was originally meant to appear in the film, but was cut. The book also includes various flashbacks to Jason's childhood and the backstories of characters such as Tommy and Sheriff Garris are also expanded.