Michael Myers has Doctor Loomis. Freddy Krueger has Nancy Thompson. And Jason Voorhees has Tommy Jarvis. The difference here is that while most heroes originate in the same film as the villain, we don’t get a recurring antagonist for Jason until the fourth entry, the one that was supposed to be the end of the franchise. This sequel that was designed to end the series winds up giving the Friday the 13th films their first recurring protagonist (Yes, Alice returns but is killed off in the first act of the second film).
When we’re introduced to the character of Tommy Jarvis, he’s a child. That alone separates him from other horror heroes. He stands out from slasher survivors for being male, but then he’s also a kid and that’s something we really weren’t used to seeing in a movie like this. It was genius on the part of Barney Cohen and Joseph Zito to put that in there, even if it would sound shocking on paper to have a child in a Friday the 13th feature.
But let’s face it, most of us who grew up on horror movies grew up on the franchises and saw them when we were very young. I know I did. I loved watching through the franchise as a young kid and seeing them each for the first time. The moment I sat down to watch The Final Chapter after renting it from my local video store, it became my favorite.
Throughout most of The Final Chapter, Tommy is an observer, which is such a smart move. He’s essentially an audience member, just like the children who are wearing their parents down to let them watch this movie in the first place. He’s watching the kids from across the street, squealing with glee at seeing his first female nudity, the same way many of us kids reacting to seeing our first nudity in these features.
And while Tommy’s older sister Trish fulfills the archetypal role of Final Girl, it’s Tommy himself who has to get involved in the action and ultimately save the day. When we’re younger, we love to imagine scenarios when we’re watching these kinds of movies. We can’t help but wonder what we would do if Freddy came for us in our sleep, or if we found Michael Myers lurking in our hedges. Because of that, it is so gratifying as a younger viewer to see a child stand up to Jason and put him down.
He is the first one to ever do it, too. Ginny in Part 2, Chris in Part 3, they both knocked Jason down, but never out. Tommy knew what we kids knew: he’s never really dead. So he waited for Jason to make the slightest twitch and then hacked the holy hell out of him.
Tommy Jarvis is still the only survivor to come back, other than Alice’s aforementioned cameo in part two. Fans affectionately refer to Parts 4, 5, and 6 as “The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy.” Not only do we get to see him return for two sequels, but we get to see him grow up and face down his own personal demons. While Corey Feldman returns for the opening of A New Beginning, the feature quickly introduces us to an older Tommy who is incredibly troubled by the traumatic events of his youth. Part of this character arc is designed to make the viewer wonder if Tommy himself could really be the killer this time.
There are plenty of fans out there who still wish the series had gone that route and turned Tommy into the killer, but I think that would have been a mistake. I think it’s much more interesting to take a much more unexpected path and turn this troubled character into a hero. It’s not really about whether or not he’s going crazy, it’s about whether or not he can face his own fears and his own anxieties in order to step up and fight back. It’s a very rocky road for him. He’s barely functioning at the start of A New Beginning. But even though the Tommy we’re introduced to in Part V is very different from the one we see in Part VI, I think the changes are believable.
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In Part VI, Tommy is fed up with how much Jason has consumed his life and he is desperately trying to put the past behind him, to the point that he chooses some pretty extreme ways to go about doing it. He needs to see Jason’s grave, needs to know he’s dead, needs to see him one more time, but seeing him brings back that deep-rooted anger.
Honestly, when he winds up accidentally raising Jason from the dead, it seems to be almost a relief for Tommy. Yes, he wants to fix his mistake and help people and end this madness as quickly as possible. But he hasn’t been functioning that well since his brush in with Jason and hasn’t had much in the way of closure. Facing off against Jason a final time offers him that. By the end of the film, Tommy’s the healthiest and most content we’ve seen him since he was ten.
Tommy Jarvis is the most recognizable character in the Friday the 13th series outside of Jason and his mother. He’s by far the most recognizable character to go up against the Crystal Lake Killer and live. Since his last appearance in Jason Lives, fans have been begging to see him again. Tommy has a legacy all his own because he’s a hero every kid could identify with and every viewer could root for.
He’s not a clean cut, stalwart hero. Tommy is a believable character who is deeply affected by something terrible that happened to him as a child. He experiences mental illness, he struggles with the role of hero and even with friendships and relationships. He’s everything Jason isn’t: very passionate, and very human. And that’s why he’s endured as long as he has and why fans will always hold him in such high regard.