Memory can prove an unreliable witness after thirty-five years, but gazing through the haze of recollection I can see with absolute clarity a childhood event that formed the very bedrock upon which I stand as an adult.
Come with me for a minute.
I spent every other weekend at my father’s house during my formative years, and though I didn’t look forward to those visits (my sperm donor was a verbally abusive alcoholic), they weren’t completely devoid of appeal. You see, my dad would put me to work in the yard mowing lawn and trimming bushes, but this won’t be some nonsensical take about adopting a work ethic, rather what I did with that hard-earned chore money once the landscaping had come to a close.
We’d hop in the car and head for the video store. But here again, this will not be where I regale you with stories of a younger me perusing the enticingly hypnotic cover art of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) or THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976), because I knew exactly what rack I was locked in on: Horror section, F.
On Saturday afternoons each fortnight I’d scoop up every FRIDAY THE 13TH VHS Midtown Video had available and my weekend was made. I would return to my father’s, retreat to my room and revel in Camp Crystal Lake, far away from my dad (at least in my mind) to kill the hours until I returned home on Sunday night. A religious routine that never got old.
At that time, we were only up to A NEW BEGINNING (1985), but that singular event was just around the corner, waiting to change my life permanently the following year.
My grandmother was dying of cancer, and not to put too fine a point on it, but my home life wasn’t what I’d describe as stable. Struggling each day to come to terms with losing one of the few people I felt close to (never mind the constant chaos at home), I found myself at the Book Nook with my father and sisters. I distractedly wandered the aisles for a few minutes when my eyes fell upon the cover of a paperback strewn with lightning, a tall, slender machete dipped in blood and a familiar hockey mask draped in shadow. The title made my heart leap: JASON LIVES. And the tag made me dizzy: HE’S BACK. AND YOU WON’T WANT TO BE ALONE.
For the first time my chore money wouldn’t be laid down for FRIDAY tapes, but rather for the novelization of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986).
For the first time I had something to focus on other than my grandmother’s inevitable passing. I had torn through the pages before the weekend was out, an act that was repeated innumerable times, and if I was at my dad’s, the book was with me. It was a friendly and familiar guide through a painful year.
I had yet to see the cinematic version (and regrettably lost that book in a move sometime later), but I knew that it had changed the game. Then I saw the movie.
Director Tom McLoughlin’s immediate nod to the Univeral monsters had me smiling and C.J. Graham’s soldierly portrayal of Jason resurrected by aforementioned lightning left me on the verge of squealing. I was in love with Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis and his jean jacket before I even understood why I was so drawn to him, and for the first time a flick proved better than the book.
Look, I know the novelization of a horror franchise’s sixth chapter isn’t exactly Stephen King, but when you experience equals parts ghast and glee as you read about Sheriff Garris being turned into a human folding table only to find that McLoughlin, Graham, David Kagen (Garris) and the effects team had seamlessly translated Simon Hawke’s words into celluloid images, your devotion is lifelong. I watched that scene over and over with a grin that nearly ruptured my skull as I chuckled, “being a cop is backbreaking work.”
It helped me mourn, it helped me get through weekends where I just wanted a time machine to get back home, and it kept its promise from that paperback tag: I didn’t want to be alone, and with JASON LIVES, I never was.
In the decades since, JASON LIVES has not lost an ounce of impact. To call it a comfort movie is insufficient because it is home to me. Whenever I’m tired and need soothing sounds to slumber — JASON LIVES is the DVD of choice. Should I be feeling uncertain or anxious and need to calm frayed nerves — JASON LIVES. Overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness (hello pandemic) or inadequacy (hello losing my job during said pandemic) — JASON LIVES.
While an accurate count would be impossible to tabulate, rest assured that I’ve seen JASON LIVES well over 100 times. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. Growing up as the freak whose favorite holiday was Halloween and no one in my life could wrap their craniums around my love of horror, I had long since come to a peace and understanding of who I am and what I love. And JASON LIVES is my holy grail because it was there for me when nothing else was.
Now that I’m settled into my life, I have plenty of friends, friends whom I consider family, but that doesn’t mean the same old lack of understanding doesn’t crop up now and then.
A few years back I had to have a tooth pulled, and as luck would have it, I got the flu that same weekend. I spent two days in bed falling in and out of sleep, eating popsicles and reaching for a bucket; all while JASON LIVES played on a loop. My then girlfriend would pop into the bedroom from time-to-time to check on me and say “you’re watching it again?!” My head merely tilted from Bob Larkin making eye contact and dropping “some folks got a strange idea of entertainment” like he knew me to peer into hers as I deadpanned “Yeah. I am.” She just shook her head and exited stage left.
Hell, a girlfriend before her once agreed to sit down and watch it with me (her first and last viewing) and at one point she laughed sarcastically and blurted “this is so stupid.” Keep in mind that this was at the exact moment C.J. blew the door off of an upended RV and walked across its smoldering carcass to the badass beats of Harry Manfredini horns. We didn’t last long.
Since, I’ve worked in television and newspaper and dabbled in horror writing, utilizing convenient skills to secure interviews with Graham and Mathews, and Guastaferro (twice). Vinny even lauded me for properly pronouncing “ya-bang” instead of the incorrect “you-bang” he’d heard from many others. I immediately shot back that “you-bang would be a different genre” and he howled for a good ten seconds. It made my heart soar to offer such enjoyment to someone who has meant so much to me, even if it was momentary.
I’ve written about Kagen being the straight-man to JASON LIVES’ self-aware and deprecating humor, and how Jennifer Cooke (Megan Garris) is perhaps the franchise’s finest final girl this side of Amy Steel (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, 1981). Hell, I’m flanked in my office by a “Leaving Forest Green” sign and autographed Guastaferro “ya-bang” as I write this, all while a Jarvis jacket hangs in my closet.
Even this week I’ve watched it twice. Once to prep for this diatribe, and the other as a nap aid.
I have never felt alone because of JASON LIVES. Odd as it may sound, Camp Crystal Lake or Forest Green is my happy place that transports me to serenity. Regardless of how I’m feeling emotionally, from that day at Book Nook to the film’s 35th anniversary that we celebrate today, JASON LIVES has always been with me, a constant companion that shall forever leave me echoing Mathews’ Jarvis:
Landon will return to the area that’s familiar. No matter what you call it, it’s still home to him.