[This feature originally appeared in the "Class of 1986" issue of DEADLY Magazine.]
In 1985, Jason Voorhees was dead. Despite the death of a horror icon, Friday the 13th fans still flocked to see the Jason-less A New Beginning in theaters that April, but while the box office numbers would justify a sixth film, many moviegoers were less than pleased by the lack of Voorhees behind the hockey mask, pining for the return of Crystal Lake’s former camper who only wanted to make mommy proud.
And so, Paramount Pictures began their search for a Dr. Frankenstein, someone who could bring the hockey mask monster back to life. As someone who grew up on Universal Monster movies and filmed his first feature in a mausoleum, Tom McLoughlin turned out to be exactly the bolt of lightning the studio needed to get Jason back on his feet.
“I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do a sixth one, I can’t take it seriously,’” McLoughlin explained. “‘We’ve got to have a sense of humor about it. I just want the whole genre looking at itself in a more satirical way for those who catch it, and then for people who just want a slam-bang horror movie, I’ll do that, too—make it more like a ride.’ I really wanted to bring a different flavor to it, kind of like what I had done with One Dark Night in terms of being more gothic. So I went off and wrote a treatment at Hollywood Forever cemetery.”
McLoughlin’s time among the tombstones paid off, as he completed an extensive screenplay treatment titled Jason Has Risen. From the first appearance of a frantic Tommy Jarvis behind the wheel to a closing scene of Jason’s hockey mask floating on the surface of Crystal Lake, the treatment provided an in-depth look at McLoughlin’s unique vision for a new Friday the 13th film. It was funny, it was frightening, and it cemented the filmmaker’s spot behind the camera for Part VI.
“I basically skipped right past Part V,” McLoughlin said. “I picked up where things left off in Part IV and Tommy was a kid and he was institutionalized, and now, after all these years, he’s gotten out. If you saw Part V and you were still looking at it as a chronological piece, it still made sense. We actually tried to get John Shepherd to play Tommy, so there would be a continuation, but I did not want to approach the ambulance guy [Roy Burns] being Jason—all of that I didn’t make part of the mythology. I really wanted it to be Tommy just going back because he needed to see that he [Jason] was dead—another little borrowing from The Bride of Frankenstein, when the old guy wants to go down and make sure he sees The Monster’s burned bones so he can sleep at night after losing his son. So again, I borrowed—or stole [laughs]—a lot of those influences.”
“Jason really became like the classic horror monsters. Dracula did not want to be undead. He even had a line about that: ‘To be dead must be glorious.’ Frankenstein’s monster sure as hell did not want to be brought back as body parts. Wolf Man hated what he was, so Jason would have been fine staying in that coffin, but this son of a bitch Tommy brought him back, so he’s going to go get this kid. And anything that’s in his path dies.”
In addition to instilling a gothic style and self-aware humor into Jason Lives, McLoughlin also strove to populate his slasher story with likable people and palpable tension—two elements that weren’t always present in a subgenre known for going heavy on the gore and light on the character development.
“I tried to just embrace all of those old-school horror movie rules so that it really did have a hero, heroine, villain, and hopefully characters that you liked, so that when they died it’s like, ‘Oh shit, I liked her. I liked Paula.’ Or, ‘Cort was funny, why did he have to die?’ As opposed to, ‘Yeah, kill the bitch,’ which is something I never particularly liked about slasher movies, just getting off on watching some woman get tore up.”
And while Part VI didn’t rely on buckets of blood—not counting the moment when Paula and Sissy’s crimson cabin interior—there was still one scene in particular that McLoughlin and his crew had to trim to please the MPAA, and not because of gore, but due to its disturbing nature.
“The biggest ironic thing of all was that the most old-school gag kill, which was the killing of the Sheriff [David Kagen], where I had him bent backwards, got the most responses from people—a completely bloodless kill. Also, that was picked on more by the motion picture rating board than anything else in terms of it being too horrible, and we had to take a few more frames off [laughs]. And they let a lot of the other shit go, which is amazing, so go figure.”
Similar to poor Sheriff Garris, many of Jason’s victims were killed at night, requiring McLoughlin and company to adopt a Dracula-like sleep cycle while filming. But rather than succumb to the grind of the graveyard shift, McLoughlin and his cast and crew—who were all relatively in the same age group—enjoyed working with each other until the sun spilled over the horizon, and they even spent time together on their weekly night off.
“We were on six-day weeks, so that meant six days a week of [shooting] all night and then we would wrap literally on Sunday morning. You would sleep all day Sunday, so now you’re up and it’s Sunday night. What do you do? We found a club in Atlanta. We were down in Covington, Georgia, so it was about a 45-minute drive, and there was a club that ran all night, so we would dance all night and then sleep all Monday and go back to work on Monday night. We were all basically in our late 20s, early 30s, so it was a really fun peer group experience. We were this mystic family of vampires that did stuff at night while the rest of the world slept.”
The cast and crew’s hard work on an insomniac-like schedule was finally put before an audience during a test screening of Jason Lives at Paramount Studios, and McLoughlin saw firsthand whether or not the fans would embrace his take on the beloved Camp Crystal Lake killer.
“The first screening was at Paramount Studios for a recruited audience. Basically, they went out and said, ‘Do you want to see the next Friday the 13th?’ And they were like, ‘Shit, yeah!’ They lined up sometime in the morning for a 7:00pm screening at Paramount. And of course they were out there all day in the sun drinking and smoking—they were toasted and ready to go, so when they packed that theater, there was a rumbling that sounded like San Andreas. Once the movie started, they went into one wall of noise, only rising up when there was a kill. And they talked, they were just insanely noisy. I couldn’t hear the soundtrack, I don’t know how they could hear anything, but they just really, really loved it.”
“Part of me was thrilled that they were so into it,” McLoughlin continued, “but the other part of me was like, ‘They’re so fucked up, I don’t know if the movie’s good or not. They’re just happy to be here watching a Jason movie.’ So when it was all done, Frank Mancuso came over and said, ‘That was great. But we need three more kills.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got thirteen kills. I really wanted that. I had thirteen kills for Friday the 13th.’ And he said, ‘Nobody’s going to be counting. We need to kill three more people.’
While McLoughlin went out of his way to add a bit more carnage to the movie after the test screening, a scene featuring Jason’s father, Elias, had already been cut before filming ever began. Incorporating Elias onscreen (something that to this day has still never been done) would have been a game-changer for the franchise’s future, but looking back, McLoughlin believes that leaving Jason’s mysterious father out of the picture was the right move.
“I really wanted to explore as many things in and around Jason as possible. Of course, the history of him and his mom was apparent, but what was his father like? At that time, I had this image of a super-powerful guy like John Barrymore’s Svengoli, who was tall and thin, with ugly, weird hands and long stringy hair—Raymar in One Dark Night kind of embodied that. So I carried that idea over for Jason’s father, that there was something about him. He wasn’t necessarily anything supernatural, but was he a minister of some sort of cult group? What was he?”
“I didn’t want you to see much of anything of him other than that he was in a long coat with long hair. At the end of the movie, you see the caretaker talking to him, and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve been taking care of her really good, sir, like you told me. I’ll make sure nothing happens to your wife’s grave or his grave.’ And then some money’s put into the caretaker’s hand and he bows his way out of there, and then you see Jason’s father staring down like he senses there’s something wrong, that maybe his son isn’t down there [in his grave]. Then it was going to be a move-in on his eyes, that were going to look deadly cold, like a shark’s eyes, and then that was going to dissolve into Crystal Lake, where you would see Jason hanging underneath.”
“And did he [Jason] move or did he not move?” McLoughlin added. “There would be that sense that maybe his father has some slight psychic ability or senses where his son actually is at that point. I just wanted to leave it on that ominous note. And Frank Mancuso said—and in retrospect, I think, very wisely—‘Look, we just did a movie where we took the audience to a whole other place with somebody imitating Jason, and now we’re bringing him back, and I don’t want them to think at the end of the movie that the next one’s going to be about Jason’s father.’ Jason was back and he was going to stay.”
Jason Lives would go on to take in nearly $20 million on a $3 million budget. The movie’s success led to an inevitable Part VII, and while McLoughlin did not return to direct the follow-up film, he was involved in early discussions about the movie, which was originally planned to pit Jason against the dream haunter from Elm Street.
“Frank Mancuso said, ‘Would you be interested in doing another one?’ And I said, ‘Well, I would have to figure out something unique like I did for this. I don’t know what that would be.’ And he went, ‘All right, Jason versus Freddy.’ I said, ‘Isn’t Freddy with New Line [Cinema]?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we would have to work that out, but what do you think?’ And I went, ‘Well, Frankenstein versus the Wolf Man, sure!’”
As Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street fans know, the two slasher icons would not go head-to-head until 2003, but the idea of Jason meeting someone from another franchise got McLoughlin thinking of another potential crossover.
“He [Frank] came back after about a month and said, ‘Nah, New Line’s just not going to give up Freddy, so that isn’t going to fly.’ And I said, ‘Well, while we’re in that ballpark, what about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein? Paramount has Cheech & Chong. What about doing a Cheech & Chong and Jason movie? And he said, ‘I don’t know about that, I think that’s going to be more comedy than horror.’
While it would have made quite an intriguing horror comedy, Jason never stalked Cheech & Chong through their scented haze, and McLoughlin moved on from the Friday the 13th franchise to helm the romantic fantasy Date with an Angel. Ironically, McLoughlin also became a story editor on the non-Jason Friday the 13th TV series and also directed an episode of Freddy’s Nightmares in 1988 before continuing his long career as a thought-provoking writer and director.
And like the man who brought it to life, Jason Lives has enjoyed an increasing appreciation over the past three decades as the film that recharged the Friday the 13th franchise—and had a hell of a lot of fun in the process.
“Over the years, it has been embraced the most,” McLoughlin said, “and I think it’s because of the humor that it still works as an entertaining piece. But just in terms of the ages when people saw my Friday, it hit at the right time, when that was the one you discovered and Jason was cool and almost Terminator-like as a monster. Those were all things I intended, because I thought, ‘I’m bringing him back like Frankenstein. A bolt of lightning brought Frankie to life, so why not Jason?’”