Tag Archives: Tommy Jarvis

Why John Shepherd is the Best Tommy Jarvis

“Let’s think beyond the legend, put it in real terms.”

Only twice since Ginny Field (Amy Steel) applied her child psychology training in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) has the Crystal Lake saga embraced those words: with Derek Mears in the 2009 reboot, and through John Shepherd’s performance as Tommy Jarvis in A NEW BEGINNING (1985).

Tackling a role that had already been fulfilled by other actors—particularly well-known actors—can prove a difficult endeavor, and Tommy Jarvis was no different. For John Shepherd in the fifth installment of the Friday franchise, that fact is and was compounded by a series of issues, not the least of which was timing.

To begin, Corey Feldman was not only the original, but easily the biggest name to have ever portrayed the character. Though THE FINAL CHAPTER opened in April of 1984, less than two months later Feldman would appear in the massively successful GREMLINS, which was closely followed by THE GOONIES, another blockbuster the following year. STAND BY ME hit theatres the year after that, by which time Feldman had become a household name and as a result, towers as the epitome of Tommy Jarvis in the eyes of many fans.

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What’s more, a large portion of those fans regard THE FINAL CHAPTER as the finest of Friday films, whereas A NEW BEGINNING is widely viewed as nothing more than the bridge between Part IV and JASON LIVES, another beloved franchise installment that saw Thom Mathews pick up the Tommy torch, and who already enjoyed cult status for his part in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985).

While one would be hard-pressed to claim that continuity has been a series strong suit, that Mathews’ Jarvis no longer appeared to carry any of the burdens of the trauma he’d endured as a child (or even shortly before the events of Part VI) is a point rarely contended. The fact that JASON LIVES moved at breakneck speed while also embracing the absurdity and humor inherent in the franchise not only endeared it to Friday followers, but made the latter point an easy one to forgive or forget—to say nothing of the fact that Jason wasn’t really even Jason in A NEW BEGINNING. In short, when it comes to the Jarvis trilogy, Shepherd suffered the misfortune of being bookended by a pair of actors seared into the minds of Friday fans as the Alpha and Omega because they happened to helm two of the franchise’s most popular entries.

Key factors all, and components that have relegated Shepherd’s Jarvis to Crystal Lake purgatory. However, it would be a mistake to overlook what Tommy 2.0 brought to the table.

One aspect of Shepherd’s performance that made it so spectacular was that it fittingly followed in the footsteps of Jason from the standpoint that every tortured nuance was offered with nary a word. Writers Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen and Danny Steinmann fashioned A NEW BEGINNING’s screenplay in such a way that the elements of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were not only on full display, but peppered throughout as though boxes to be checked off. It was in what Shepherd did with those opportunities, however, that left it feeling like anything but a laundry list put to film.

Jarvis mirrorWhat’s more, how many performances have the Crystal Lake saga really given us? For as beloved as Betsy Palmer is, her Pamela Voorhees was over the top—for effect to be sure—but over the top, nonetheless. So we’re talking Amy Steel from Part 2 (1981) , Lar Park-Lincoln from THE NEW BLOOD (1988), and Shepherd’s Jarvis from A NEW BEGINNING. So why not celebrate it?

Our first glimpse at Shepherd as Tommy found him waking in an Unger Institute of Mental Health transport van, sweaty and wide-eyed after waking from a nightmare where Jason rose once more. Unable to shake the ghastly events that led to the death of his mother and near murder of his sister at the hands of the Crystal Lake marauder, it was a re-introduction that could have easily fallen into camp, but Shepherd played it with purpose, an effect he wouldn’t relinquish for the duration of the film’s 92-minute runtime.

We bore witness to a character drowning in the symptoms of PTSD. Shepherd’s Jarvis avoided contact and interaction with others whenever possible, and suffered unwanted and intrusive memories of Jason of both the auditory and visual variety. Recurring nightmares made sleep nearly impossible and he was easily startled by nearly everything that crossed his path. Those instances of alarm led to angry outbursts of aggressive behavior because subconscious though they were, whatever figure plagued Jarvis in the moment wasn’t Voorhees, so it served as an outlet for frustration, a punching bag that could be beaten.

True to character, though, Shepherd never ventured too far and instead stayed the course, his fright morphed to resentment and finally to anger, played in such a way that outward reaction was an involuntary response. When Tommy body-slammed Eddie (John Robert Dixon) at breakfast, he was almost immediately pinned to the wall by the head of Pinehurst, Matt (Richard Young), where Shepherd brilliantly conveyed the briefest moment of recognition. As Jarvis snapped back to reality, he glanced at Matt and closed his eyes in remorse, his chest heaving as he collected himself. Later, after he went Chuck Norris on Junior (Ron Sloan) at the trailer park, Tommy was again roused back to the present by Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) and fled at the sad, desperate realization that in those moments, he was unable to control himself.

Jarvis breakfastAnd finally, when Jarvis once more found himself standing face-to-face with “Jason,” Shepherd’s Jarvis was frozen, unable to move until threatened with his own demise. Stabbing his nemesis in the leg, he made his way to the barn loft where he lost consciousness. When he came to and laid eyes on Pam and Reggie (Shavar Ross) in imminent peril, Jarvis, as though having an out of body experience, leapt to action to protect a young woman and child in danger. Thoughts of Shepherd tearfully gazing at the photograph of his mother and sister earlier in the film flood through the audience’s collective mind as they watched Tommy, in a way, save the family he had lost, sending “Jason” / Roy (Dick Wieand) plummeting to his death.

Shepherd’s Jarvis was lost and tormented, and even when his actions were heroic, they emerged reluctantly and never escaped the fractured framework of a younger self who had seen things that could not be unseen.

With the simple decision to follow the path laid by Ginny three films prior, John Shepherd’s turn as Tommy provided FRIDAY THE 13TH more than its finest achievement of the Jarvis trilogy, but the single greatest performance the franchise has ever known.

For a series short on performance, that Shepherd thought beyond the legend and put it in real terms deserves respect, and 34 years on, it’s about time he gets it.

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When it Comes to Friday Final Girls, Sometimes You’ve Got to Let it Cooke for a While

Sometimes I’m a little slow.

Example. It was not an uncommon occurrence in my collegiate days to wander around the local Walmart  in a zombie-like state at two in the morning. I’d wrap things up at the library, head over to snag some food, and have a well-deserved gander at the DVDs. One night, I was about to head out when I happened by a stand of sunglasses with “FOSTER GRANT” written in giant letters along its cardboard sides. I just chuckled to myself and made for the registers without even stopping.

You see, at that point I’d considered Midnight Run one of my favorite films of all-time for roughly twenty years, but apparently that was the time my brain needed to catch up to Robert De Niro’s “Agent Foster Grant” line.

Yes, Yaphet Kotto. You make yourself perfectly understood.

Which brings me to another cherished flick – Jason Lives.

Over the course of an exquisite (and recent) three-week stretch, I went from vomiting, to having a tooth pulled, and finally to influenza. You know how we all wish we had the time to just get into bed and never crawl out? How glorious we find that fantasy? Yeah, believe me when I say there are ways you don’t want to live that particular dream.

Anyway, I can be a little slow.

After numerous viewings of Friday the 13th’s sixth chapter while laid up, something finally dawned on me.

Those of you vaguely familiar with me know that I am, in fact, a Friday freak, and believe at a fundamental level that Amy Steel from Part 2 is one of the greatest final girls in horror history, and that I hold every other Crystal Lake heroine, to my thinking, to her unattainable standard.

But there was a hitch in my giddy-up. A flaw in my mindset that I was unaware existed. For thirty-freaking-years.

Jason-Lives-Friday-the-13th-Part-VI-19-1024x576I never truly considered Jennifer Cooke’s performance as Megan from Jason Lives as on par with Steel, or Adrienne King (Friday the 13th), or Lar Park Lincoln (The New Blood), simply because she never ended up squaring off with Mr. Voorhees, or his vengeful mother, one-on-one.

Sure, Jason (C.J. Graham) busted out of a cabin and wrapped the vice grips around her grape for a moment or two, but was quickly distracted by Tommy Jarvis’ (Thom Mathews) siren song.

Because of that one moment of abandonment, I disregarded everything that sat right in front of me, screening after screening, since 1986.

And it’s a laundry list of obvious.

After Megan’s father, Sheriff Garris (David Kagen) had Tommy locked up for suspicion of Jason’s murders, it was Megan who concocted the plan to trick her dad’s right-hand man so that Jarvis could be “unironed.” Then, she hopped in the car and refused to be left behind when Tommy told her that she couldn’t participate in such a dangerous endeavor. What’s more, when they arrived at the camp, Megan immediately ran to see if her friends and the kids were safe. Yes, she had a bit of meltdown calling for her father well within earshot of said little ones shortly thereafter, but when you lay eyes on a room painted with your friend’s blood, only to see another’s cranium bounce out of a patrol car like a forgotten soccer ball, you might have a moment, yourself.

But the resume didn’t cease to be impressive at that point. When Tommy floated to the surface after his underwater scuffle with Jason, Megan wasted zero time leaping into the lake to grab him (and got a far higher score on her dock dive than Kevin Bacon received from the Czech judge six years earlier). In fact, while Tommy may have fettered Voorhees to the lake floor, it was Megan who put the boat motor to good use to “finish the job” and free herself from the clutches of the Crystal Lake marauder.

And though it was painfully clear that she was not CPR certified, Megan gave Tommy just enough nudges to revive him on the beach.

So yeah, Megan may not have been a traditional final girl, but she was independent, confident and strong, determined to go after what she wanted, and while not fearless, certainly wasn’t hesitant to do what needed doing to save those she cared about. Cooke’s Ms. Garris is the Friday franchise’s John McLain – a hero who possessed the ability to think on her feet — whilst in the right place at the wrong time.

All the ingredients required to rival Ms. Steel. Just had to let them marinate for a while.

Alright, three decades.

(Slides shades on)

Like I said, I can be a little slow.

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