Friday the 13th's Tommy Jarvis: The Hero of Horror
An in-depth look at the development of Friday the 13th's protagonist, Tommy Jarvis.
Warning: This editorial contains spoilers for the entire Friday the 13th movie franchise.
If there is one character that stands out in the Friday the 13th series, other than Jason Voorhees, it would have to be Tommy Jarvis. First introduced as a young boy in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Tommy would go on to appear in the next two installments of the franchise as well. This makes him the only recurring protagonist as well as Jason's fiercest nemesis. After all, Tommy is the only person to truly kill Jason. To quote the character himself:
In The Final Chapter, the first movie of the "Jarvis Trilogy," Tommy (Corey Feldman) is a twelve year old boy with an affinity for creating scary masks. He lives with his mother and sister in a cabin located near Crystal Lake. A group of teens arrive at a vacation house located just behind the Jarvis Residence to do what teens love to do in horror movies: Party and have sex. Ultimately, Jason comes to kill everyone but Tommy and his sister Trish manage to survive. In a stroke of genius, Tommy shaves his head in order to look like and confuse Jason, having earlier researched Jason's childhood. Doing this buys enough time for Trish to attack Jason with a machete. Though she misses and only removes his mask, Tommy jumps in and is able to kill Jason with a blow to the head. Jason's head slides down the length of the blade and when Tommy sees Jason twitch he continues to hack at his head repeatedly as his sister yells his name and it fades to black.
In many ways, young Tommy is a stand in for us as the audience. He catches brief glimpses of female nudity, much the way that watching these kinds of horror films back in the day allowed us our first adult glimpse into the world. Also, back in 1984, the idea of a young child being in a horror movie was fresh and original. This was also the first time in the series in which there was a male survivor; this effectively ended the reign of the "final girl." Tommy Jarvis had not only killed Jason but also broke a tradition that had lasted for three films.
The use of cult icon Corey Feldman as Jarvis made the character more attractive and relatable. Although according to Ted White, who played Jason in Part IV, Feldman was a spoiled brat and he didn't enjoy working with him.
Originally Part IV was to be the final chapter of Friday the 13th, but due to its success at the box office another sequel went into development immediately. Since Jason was killed in the previous film the screenwriters had to come up with a new idea to continue the series. They decided Tommy Jarvis's story would be continued in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.
By the end of Part IV, Tommy was emotionally scarred by his experiences with Jason Voorhees. He was forced to enter psychiatric care for most of his childhood. By the beginning of Part V, a 16-year old Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) is no longer a ward of the state and is sent to Pinehurst Youth Development Center. It is a halfway house for troubled teens designed to help them return to society. Despite his years of rehabilitation, Tommy is still haunted by the ghost of Jason, often seeing him in the mirror. No matter how hard he tries, he can never seem to escape him.
Shortly after he arrives at Pinehurst, an incident occurs between two fellow residents resulting in murder. Afterwards, a hockey mask wearing killer begins to stalk the teens, killing them one by one. Everyone is convinced Jason Voorhees has returned. As fewer suspects remain and the body count rises, Tommy himself becomes the prime suspect. At times even Tommy seems unsure he isn't the masked killer. When finally confronted by Jason, Tommy believes he's just a hallucination until he's physically attacked. Following a fight between the two, Tommy ultimately kills Jason in self-defense, pushing him out of a barn loft onto farm equipment. When the killer is unmasked, it turns out to not be Jason at all, but local ambulance driver Roy Burns. Burns had snapped upon the death of his son at the beginning of the film and used Jason's MO to punish those he felt were responsible, likely planning to pin all of the murders on Tommy.
Even though Tommy had killed only in self-defense, the situation proved to be too much for his psyche. After a terrifying nightmare, Tommy awakens in a startle. Throwing his bed at the window to make it appear as if he had escaped, the last scene shows him hiding behind the door wearing Burns' mask and wielding a kitchen knife as his friend Pam enters to investigate. Although Pam talked Tommy out of his psychosis off screen, the fact that he was so close to murdering his friend shows just how close Tommy had come to becoming the monster. For a boy who once loved the idea of creating and wearing masks, they had now become a symbol of his worst fear. It was a daily struggle not to lose himself to the darkness the hockey mask represented. He knew that if he were to give in and wear that mask, there would be no going back.
Since Jason Voorhees remained dead, the filmmakers intended for Tommy to become the Crystal Lake slasher but fan backlash put a swift end to that idea. The fans didn't want a copycat killer, they wanted the real deal. That's exactly what they got.
In Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Tommy Jarvis makes his final appearance. This time he is portrayed by Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead). It is now several years later and Tommy and a friend make their way to the cemetery at Crystal Lake, now renamed Forest Green. Tommy plans to dig up Jason's body and cremate him, hoping this will finally allow him to find some kind of closure. However, upon seeing Jason's body, Tommy snaps and repeatedly stabs him with a nearby fence post. Lighting hits the post, bringing Jason back to life. He kills Tommy's friend and then approaches Tommy while he is soaked with gasoline from the attempted cremation. As Tommy desperately tries to light a match, it begins to rain and he is forced to run for his life.
Jason has come back from the dead. Instead of being horrified, Tommy is relieved he finally has the chance to confront his childhood demons. By killing Jason once and for all, he hopes to kill the part of himself that has become a mirror of Jason. As we saw previously, Tommy's grip on reality has weakened. Why else would Tommy have brought a hockey mask with him to Jason's grave? Sure, it's a convenient way to explain how Jason reacquires his signature look, but I think there is more to it than that. He simply cannot let go of his past and the grip that Jason has had on his life. Meanwhile, Jason is murdering everyone he sees as Tommy tries desperately to convince anyone that the threat is real. As the body count rises, the finger of blame is once again turned onto Tommy and he is thrown into jail. Only one person truly believes him, Megan Garris, the sheriff's daughter. She helps him escape, even holding a gun on one of the deputies to do so.
Meagan Garris is unique within the Friday series. She is one of its strongest female characters, an equal to Tommy in almost every way. She isn't afraid to defy her father and take Tommy's side despite his troubled past. She knows what she wants and sees something special about Tommy beyond physical attraction. As the couple continues to connect, her faith in him ultimately helps make Tommy even stronger. He is no longer is fighting for himself, but also to protect someone that he cares about. In previous films, romance could spell disaster. It often led to doom for most couples, but this budding relationship is the very thing that saves Tommy's body and soul.
Tommy enacts a plan to lure Jason back into Crystal Lake and chain him to the bottom, trapping Jason where he had died as a boy. Tommy manages to accomplish this but is dragged down alongside him. Megan selflessly returns to save Tommy, using a boat motor to shred Jason's head and pulls Tommy from the depths, reviving him with CPR. The symbolism is not lost as his she literally breathes new life into him. The old Tommy Jarvis is dead, but the new Tommy Jarvis is able to move on with his life for the first time. Part VI may have been titled Jason Lives, but in the end it was Tommy that truly lived.
The legacy of Tommy Jarvis is still felt today, even among younger generations that have not seen the films. This stems from the addition of Tommy as a special character in Illfonic's Friday the 13th: The Game. Although not a selectable if counselors find the CB radio on the map, they are able to make contact with Tommy. A dead or escaped player will then be selected later in the match to respawn as Tommy. He is equipped with a shotgun with a single bullet, a health spray, and a pocket knife that can used to escape Jason's grab kills.
This version of Tommy retains the appearance and likeness of Thom Mathews from Jason Lives. His intended role within the game is to be the hero and help the other counselors escape, although some players choose to use him as a second life and escape on their own. Tommy Jarvis is the only counselor that can actually kill Jason, although it is a difficult process that requires at least one female counselor and intricate coordination.
A recent update has led to the inclusion of the "Tommy Tapes" that can be found and collected within the game. These tapes, written by Adam Green, are meant to bridge the gap between Part IV and Part VI. While their canon status can be somewhat disputed, they are an interesting addition to the Tommy Jarvis legacy. Also of note is Tommy's surprise inclusion in the Freddy vs Jason vs Ash comic series, but I will save that for another time.
In conclusion, Tommy Jarvis is very a unique character. While women in horror have a track record of being the survivors and continuing to appear in sequels, rarely do we see a boy not only survive the film, but grow into a strong and independent man. As a boy, he loved masks while as a man he grew to hate them. The obstacles that Tommy overcame both physically and mentally are nothing short of miraculous. He has had an unbelievable journey battling an undead serial killer, mental illness, and even himself. He saved several lives, ended the lives of those who deserved it, and managed to break the cycle of violence. In the end, he was able to discard the mask and find peace in just being himself. As such, he has truly earned the title of "The Hero of Horror."