With 1985’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning not only disappointing critics but alienating the fans, Paramount soon realised that they had to bring Jason Voorhees back in a new and exciting way. New Line Cinema had given the studio a major rival with their inventive and stylish A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and so the producers decided that the only way to survive was to embrace other mediums such as merchandise and music videos. In an effort to convince fans that their favourite serial killer would be making a triumphant return, series producer Frank Mancuso Jr. enlisted the assistance of another star whose glory days seemed far behind him. Alice Cooper had been one of the most controversial entertainers of the 1970s with his brand of outrageous stage theatrics (including Grand Guignol-style executions) but due to an excessive lifestyle of alcoholism his career had come to a standstill, resulting in a slew of obscure albums that failed to achieve the acclaim of his earlier work.
Despite a consistent output of interesting and varied material (including the highly underrated 1980 album Flush the Fashion), fans had begun to look elsewhere for their thrills, with a new generation of heavy metal bands embracing similar theatrics (such W.A.S.P. and Twisted Sister). By 1986, Cooper had sobered up and was determined to save his flagging career. After forming a creative partnership with imposing guitarist Kane Roberts and producers Beau Hill and Michael Wagener, he began work on what he hoped would be his comeback record. Once again returning to the outrageous image he had utilised throughout the ’70s (including his trademark eyeliner), Cooper would co-write ten tracks for what would become Constrictor, eventually making its debut on September 22nd 1986. Six weeks earlier, Paramount would release their sixth entry in the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason Lives, which they had also intended to use as a comeback following the financial disappointment of A New Beginning.
Sensing the commercial prospect of being involved in a high profile slasher film, Cooper would contribute three songs for the movie; two from his latest LP and one exclusive track, Hard Rock Summer. With tie-in merchandise becoming big business in the wake of Star Wars, many studios had capitalised on their products with ranges of toys, clothes and even lunchboxes. And with MTV now such a major force in America, it was perhaps inevitable that the slasher would eventually break out into music videos as well. Despite Jason Lives‘ Tom McLoughlin expressing enthusiasm at directing the promo, the studio instead opted to hire Jeffrey Abelson, who later shoot another video for a hit movie, the Guns N’ Roses track You Could Be Mine, which was released to coincide with James Cameron’s 1991 blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The video opened with a teenage boy, Jason, pleading with his father (whose face remains unseen) to lend him his car, claiming that he had achieved the grades they had previously agreed on. But the father, noticing that his report card also featured D’s and F’s, refuses the request and suggests that he and his girlfriend walk to the cinema. The doors of the theatre open and the audience begins to pile in, an assortment of goths and punk rockers, many copying the image of Alice Cooper (and one of them carrying the infamous hockey mask). The movie being screened is the latest Friday the 13th flick and Jason finally arrives as the film begins, making his way with his date across the row to an empty seat. Many of the clips shown from Jason Lives play out in chronological order, with the opening sequence showing Tommy Jarvis and fellow institute resident Allen Hawes making their way into a cemetary to find a headstone that reads ‘Jason Voorhees.’ Tommy decides to dig up the grave but suddenly Jason swings towards the camera on a rope, ripping through the cinema screen and tearing off his mask to reveal Alice Cooper.
Jason and his date cower in fear as Alice looms over them whilst singing about ‘The man behind the mask.’ Sitting down on his throne, Alice then begins to warn the viewer about the dangers of skinny dipping late at night, whilst his audience watch petrified. Meanwhile, a montage of clips from the feature film continue, which include shots of the paintball massacre (which featured stuntman Dan Bradley in the role of Jason, who was eventually replaced by C.J. Graham) and the double impalement of lovers Steven and Annette. After attempting to resist Alice’s seduction, Jason and his girlfriend charge the stage and try to escape but as they make their way to the exit a bulking figure in a hockey mask appears and captures them. Alice pulls a lever, forcing a cage down and trapping them, but after taunting them suddenly breaks the lock, allowing them to escape.
But, as the crowd leaves the cinema after the show, Alice is pulled back through the movie screen by Jason Voorhees. Back in his father’s office, young Jason admits that he didn’t understand what he had seen whilst watching the movie. Suddenly, his father spins around on his chair to reveal Alice Cooper. The marketing department certainly felt inspired whilst planning Jason’s big comeback for Friday the 13th Part VI, as the collaboration of both Jason Voorhees and Alice Cooper was ingenious. Both had shocked and disgusted audiences, angered critics and made an impact on popular culture, before suddenly losing their magic and being reduced to mere has-beens. He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) captured the true spirit of the franchise with both its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and horror-style music.
The video itself shared many similarities with the cult Italian flick Dèmoni (aka Demons), released the previous year, which depicted an audience at a late night screening of a horror movie being terrorised by the events on screen. The promo clip received heavy airplay throughout the late ’80s on such rock shows as Headbangers Ball and The Power Hour and resulted in Cooper landing a small but memorable role in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness in 1987, before once again reaching the top of the charts with his album Trash two years later (which would boast, among others, the smash hit single Poison). The song and video for He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask would not only play a small part in resurrecting the Friday the 13th franchise but would also once again help the slasher film penetrate the mainstream.