Tag Archives: Thom Mathews

CONSTANT COMPANION: A LOVE LETTER TO ‘JASON LIVES’

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.

REVIEW: ‘NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW’ OFFERS A GLIMPSE AT WHAT ‘FRIDAY THE 13TH’ COULD BE

Ten words have haunted the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise since 1981. Since that time, ten other films have played out on screens the world over, but with the notable exceptions of John Shepherd’s Tommy Jarvis (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, 1985) and Jason as human being courtesy Derek Mears (FRIDAY THE 13TH, 2009), the words”let’s think beyond the legend, put it in real terms” have fallen on deaf ears.

One filmmaker heard Ginny Field (Amy Steel), and more importantly, Vincente DiSanti is still listening. Womp Stomp Films dropped its fan effort NEVER HIKE ALONE (2017) three years ago and provided FRIDAY fanatics with something that was much more than a new adventure steeped in “real terms”, it was a glimmer of hope that with the right people driving the RV, Camp Crystal Lake could return to glory.

NEVER HIKE ALONE was the FRIDAY film we’d been waiting for, but it turns out that it was but an appetizer for the delectable, 25-minute dish to come. NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW takes place shortly before the events of ALONE but writer / director DiSanti takes the time to illuminate the emotional toll this universe inflicts on its residents. In other words, Womp Stomp puts it in “real terms.”

DiSanti introduces us to Mark Hill, a 17-year old aspiring photographer and his mother Diana, played to perfection by Courtlan Gordon and Anna Campbell, respectively, but also reacquaints the audience with a pair of old friends. No longer a deputy, we find Sheriff Rick Cologne (Vinny Guastaferro) investigating a case in Wessex County, and once more Thom Mathews is the punk he wants to punch silly.

Unlike the aforementioned Shepherd in A NEW BEGINNING, Mathews wasn’t afforded the opportunity to display the tax of Tommy Jarvis’ associations with Voorhees in JASON LIVES (1986), but that ended with NEVER HIKE ALONE and rages all ahead full in SNOW. The lingering repercussions of those experiences didn’t end when the credits ran on Part VI, and those demons are still very real in 2017 (when SNOW takes place).

Jarvis knows exactly what’s going on when hikers come up missing, and wants to put an end to Jason once and for all. Cologne, however, remains an obstacle and fans will be thrilled to find that the animosity between the two remains as heated and entertaining as ever. Though it’s cliche to say “never skips a beat,” the relationship between Rick and Tommy may be even more contemptuous than it was 30 year ago and the passage of time hasn’t tarnished the magic.

Beyond the performances (which are stellar), it’s the production value that will leave fans in awe. DiSanti’s writing is clean, crisp and sensible, but the brilliance doesn’t end there. Director of Photography Evan Butka takes the snow and the dark and blends them into something wickedly beautiful, Mike Api’s editing is seamless, and Suzan Jones’ sound mixing brings the picture alive. But what would a FRIDAY flick be without makeup effects? Norah Hewitt and Rachel Lynn Gerwig’s work here is something to behold, with kills that will stay with you long after you’ve walked away from the screen, and it’s all topped off with Ryan Perez-Daple’s foreboding score that clutches with tension throughout.

DiSanti continues to raise the bar for further studio releases. Rehashing the same old story, or worse–rushing the same old story for a cash grab–will no longer be acceptable, and we have Womp Stomp to thank for that.

In fact, it reminds this writer of something Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said about a fellow enshrinee, “I would never insult another catcher by comparing them to Johnny Bench.” The sentiment holds true for DiSanti and the Womp Stomp crew because referring to the NEVER HIKE entries as fan films ventures beyond insult, it’s downright offensive. Look, there are many well done fan films in existence, but poorly made ones outnumber them 50-to-1 and the NEVER HIKE pictures are more than a group of friends with some camera equipment and a dream, they are a highly motivated and capable team led by DiSanti. Womp Stomp is not a group of uber-fans taking a weekend to pay homage, they are laying the groundwork for the direction the franchise should embark upon once the legalities surrounding FRIDAY are settled.

Womp Stomp has set out create the FRIDAY THE 13TH film fans have been yearning to see since the ’09 reboot, and if we’re honest, even before that. And that is exactly what they have done. Twice.

To take it a step further, several years ago when rumors of a FRIDAY television series began to gain traction there was excitement, but devotees of the franchise had long since been accustomed to disappointment. Would it actually happen, and if so, would it work as a serial? NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW answers that question with an emphatic yes.

Shudder gave CREEPSHOW six episodes last year and should strongly consider handing a similar FRIDAY run to DiSanti and Womp Stomp because frankly the effect of resurrecting The Last Drive-In would pale in comparison to the flood of FRIDAY freaks rushing to subscribe for a revival of the Jason and Tommy rivalry.

For Camp Crystal Lake to return to its glory days requires three things: the vision of someone who loves (but more importantly) understands the franchise, who also possesses the chops as a writer and director, and then whichever studio ends up with the rights simply needs to get out of their way.

Let’s put it in real terms: that someone is Vincente DiSanti, the most important addition to the FRIDAY family since Kane Hodder.

NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW went live on YouTube at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, October the 13th.

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.

Jarvis glasses

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.

Jarvis window