Great Character Arcs in Horror: FRIDAY THE 13TH IV, V And VI’s Tommy Jarvis!!
Writing an introduction to an article about quite possibly the best character in the entire FRIDAY THE 13TH series (aside from Jason, obviously..) shouldn’t be this hard, but what do you say about the only person who not only handed Mr. Voorhees his ass, not once like most survivors, but three times? I’m kidding, of course…there’s plenty to be said, and well, it’s time to say it. So, without further ado, Great Character Arcs in Horror: Tommy fucking Jarvis.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER is not only my favorite entry into the series, but it’s always one of my five favorite films of all time. Every single thing about that movie does it for me, the teens, the kills, the dancing..and Tommy Jarvis. Played by Corey Feldman (THE LOST BOYS, THE GOONIES…if you don’t know Feldman, shoot yourself), our first introduction to Tommy comes in the form of an innocent boy who has a love for making monsters and masks. Tommy instantly gives any horror fan the feeling that he’s one of us, and that familiarity instantly makes him a character that you want to take a journey with. Barney Cohen’s writing in the film gives us a kid that we’ve all been at one point of our lives, I mean, who DOESN’T remember the feeling of laughing at your first time of seeing someone naked, and playing it off when you’re caught?
We’ve all been that kid in the middle of a “Jarvis Sandwich”, so to speak, and it’s because of that, that we so quickly root for Tommy and hope that he gives Jason a run for his money. The character (just like every single other character in the film) is written so well in THE FINAL CHAPTER, that though fanboys will kill me for saying it, if you took Jason out of the film, it would instead be just as solid, as a coming of age story. Tommy is completely adored by his mother, and his sister Trish acts not as just an older sibling, but when the fit hits the shan (name the movie that used that phrase and I will give you the biggest high five), her maternal instincts kick in hardcore, and she gives Tommy the backup that he needs.
Unlike most horror films (then AND now), instead of an adult trying to save the day, we’re asked to follow a child and rely on Tommy as the protagonist to Jason’s antagonist for the film, and when the teens are slaughtered (as well as Rob, who gets murdered by Jason in the most disturbing kill of the whole series), it’s Tommy that catches Jason off guard long enough for Trish to give Jason back his machete, straight to the head. The sad part of THE FINAL CHAPTER, is that by the end, Tommy is already damaged emotionally, something that would carry over to the next time we saw him, in A NEW BEGINNING, but not before the producers would give audiences a cliffhanger ending in THE FINAL CHAPTER with Tommy hugging his sister and opening his eyes wide and demented, insinuating that Tommy would be the next killer.
Not following the weird cliffhanger in THE FINAL CHAPTER, and this time played by John Shepherd, the Tommy Jarvis in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING is a much different character. Gone are the innocent smiles, and naivete’ that Feldman’s take on the character had, instead they’re replaced with a damaged Tommy, one that is older and still afraid as hell that Jason will return. Tommy barely talks in A NEW BEGINNING, and is prone to get violent when provoked, something that sets viewers up, making them wonder if may he is the Jason copycat, dispatching people left and right.
Though I’ve always felt that A NEW BEGINNING has often been criminally underrated, I’ve always felt that Tommy is a little too damaged in his second appearance, almost alienating people as much as the lack of Jason does. Aside from that last quarter of the film, the character doesn’t do much to combat pseudo-“Jason” (or better yet, Roy), and is almost more of a secondary character to Pam and Reggie, leaving us to wonder if there was really a need for another Jarvis film. It would’ve been great to either see the return of Feldman in A NEW BEGINNING, or at least to have the character be written as more of an opponent to Jason, as opposed to just an anxiety filled aggro-Tommy. Luckily for fans of the character AND the series, A NEW BEGINNING wasn’t the last time that we followed Jarvis, as 1986’s JASON LIVES brought forth the return of not only Jason, but also a smarter, angrier, and well…badass Tommy.
JASON LIVES begins with Tommy and his friend (and former fellow institute resident) Hawes, driving to the cemetery where Jason was buried after the events of THE FINAL CHAPTER (even though he was mentioned in A NEW BEGINNING as being cremated), with one mission in mind: to set fire to Jason’s body and destroy it for good. When things go wrong, and lighting strikes a fence rod that Tommy stabbed into Jason’s dead body, we get the first film featuring “zombie” Jason, a more primal killer with strength now that will punch through people’s chests, knock heads off with a punch (JASON TAKES MANHATTAN) and various other silly as hell things that the Jason in parts II-IV didn’t do.
When Tommy’s friend is killed, and he barely escapes, Tommy begins his quest of trying to get people to believe his story: that Jason is back and ready to slaughter the people of Crystal Lake (now named Forest Green). The Tommy Jarvis in JASON LIVES isn’t a nervous basket case like he was in A NEW BEGINNING, instead he’s pissed off and intent on bringing Jason to a final end, something that we all know will never happen. Another thing that JASON LIVES introduces to the Tommy Jarvis arc, is a potential love interest, something that was lacking in THE FINAL CHAPTER (for obvious reasons..) and A NEW BEGINNING, as Tommy spent that whole movie being brooding and freaked the hell out. The inclusion of the Megan character, (a rebel who doesn’t care that her father thinks Tommy is killing people) adds a side to the character that we haven’t seen thus far: one that becomes a full blown hero, willing to sacrifice himself in order to make sure Megan and the children at the summer camp are safe. It’s such a great character transformation to watch, and equally as awesome to realize that the silly little Tommy in THE FINAL CHAPTER became such a badass.
Where Tommy’s arc ends, unfortunately, is when he lures Jason into Crystal Lake by calling him a pussy (I mean hey, that pisses of every undead slasher, right?), as well as having chains and a boulder waiting for the killer in an attempt to drown him. Tommy sets fire all around the boat, and as he waits, Jason bursts up from behind him, shattering the boat and taking Tommy into the water with him. During the struggle (and while getting choked out), Tommy finally is able to secure the chain and boulder to Jason, sending him below to his death (yeah, right), but unfortunately drowning himself. When it seems that Tommy’s story has ended with his sacrifice to save everyone else, Megan is able to revive Jarvis with some serious CPR, leaving the film with a bit of hope. Of course that hope is quickly put to an end, when the movie ends with Jason not being dead.
Through three films, the character of Tommy Jarvis went through dramatic changes. While some of them might have been slight missteps, he went from being an innocent kid being forced into the horrible situation of combating horror’s best slasher, into a man on a mission to destroy that monster, to put an end to Jason. While producers resurrected Jason in order to fight a psychic(?!) in THE NEW BLOOD (along with many other people in sequels), I still find myself feeling that Tommy was successful in conquering his demons, and giving Jason (as well as us fans) BY FAR the best opponent that stood up to the Crystal Lake slasher. Viva Tommy Jarvis!