Warning! This feature review contains massive spoilers.
‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ would reunite the collaborative team behind the flawed yet sturdy 1981 slasher The Prowler. Joseph Zito’s work on that film released the same year that Friday the 13th would become a brand name franchise with its first sequel is what gave the director the task of putting Jason Voorhees to rest one last time. Coming along for the ride to make the ultimate series finale was fellow collaborator SFX maestro Tom Savini who had also created the viscerally gory murder set-pieces in the original movie and only agreed to return as he was promised that he could kill off the creation he accidently had a hand in bringing to fruition.
The writer of the first film Victor Miller had only created the young boy Jason who had drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957 used purely as a backstory for the motive for his vengeful murdering mother Pamela Voorhees. Savini designed the deformed mentally retarded boy who would come out of the lake in a final Carrieesque jump scare in a dream sequence that was a rewrite of the movie’s ending. It was not until Friday the 13th Part 2 that writer Ron Kurtz and director Steve Miner who had served as an associate producer on the previous film made Jason Voorhees the antagonist. He then elevated the character’s status to major iconic movie villain when giving him his now prominent trademark hockey mask in ‘Friday the 13th Part III’ (1982) that is now so deeply imbedded in modern popular culture. This was itself an accident in that a new imposing look was just required for Jason after losing his burlap sack in the last film in what was then supposed to be the last instalment of the series.
Grossing just under the equivalent of the original’s domestic take on just about a couple of a million dollars more budget and creating a new distinct look for a now very popular movie madman Paramount Pictures decided to take one last stab at their winning formula that was so good to them as it was a guaranteed cash cow. During a year off after the previously proposed final foray into Crystal Lake, the slasher sub-genre was beginning to show signs of a decline in its popularity due to the constant formulaic offerings that offered little innovation. Feeling confident that this should indeed be the swansong for the franchise and that the monster needed to be destroyed once and for all Frank Mancuso Jr. and co brought in Zito and Savini that would have made the series go out in a bloody blaze of glory. Another collaborator from The Prowler though that remains unsung compared to his colleagues would also play an important role in making the definitive Friday the 13th slasherthon. Director of photography João Fernandes who did more that his fair share of uncredited camera work on that film to help create its moody atmosphere brings to this movie some more nice cinematography that contributes supremely to its very similar mean spirited tone with a sombre look throughout that is also casted over its day scenes.
As the film opens, surrealistic eerily creepy music kicks in by franchise composer Harry Manfredini and we then get a very well edited together recap of the events of the previous three instalments including the campfire tale scene from Part 2. The story of Jason Voorhees told by Paul Holt (John Fury) serves as the montage’s narration. As soon as we see the mid-close-up of Paul staring into the distance saying, “Jason’s out there” shown is Part III’s climax. As soon as Jason falls to the ground from the axe in the head he receives from final girl Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell), the camera zooms in ever so slightly on his close-up as we here Chris’ line exclaiming “He can’t be alive!” and one of those flashes of light appears. This was a prominent stylistic trait in the early days of the series that served as transitions between the kills and the next scenes and here from Jason Voorhees’ supposed death in Part III it leads nicely into the next part’s title card.
The main theme of Manfredini’s soundtrack can be heard and the very cool graphics of Jason’s hockey mask appears from a black background moving rapidly to the front of the screen. When it stops, we hear the sound synonymous with the franchise “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” and the Friday the 13th logo appears in red across the mask. Suddenly, flying in from the top of the screen’s background comes the movie’s subtitle breaking though the mask that explodes in flames and we now see clearly the words “THE FINAL CHAPTER”. All of this tells us that this movie really means business as it is most definitely supposed to be the grand finale living up to one of its taglines - “Three Times Before You Have Felt The Terror, Known The Madness, Lived The Horror. But This Is The One You've Been Screaming For.” And boy do they deliver on that promise.
As the picture fades in, in a night setting almost blinded by the large white light from the searchlight of an airborne helicopter the camera begins a fantastic long fluid tracking shot lasting approximately 1-minute and 27-seconds. The camera slowly tilts down from the helicopter to a parked police patrol car and then moves to the right as an ambulance drives into Higgins Haven (the setting of Part III) with the camera following it as it drives to the left of the screen and as it does, the camera reveals the crime scene of Jason Voorhees’ rampage. We are taken through a tour of the carnage as the ambulance attendants take out the bodies and police officers run about and there are parked patrol cars everywhere as the camera moves forwards to the opened doors of the barn where the climax of the last film took place. The camera keeps on going as we see Jason’s body on the ground and two officers putting into an evidence bag the axe Chris used to put a stop to his massacre. When the axe is put into the evidence bag, the camera stops at a mid-shot and then tilts down to the hockey masked loon-sod’s body that is then covered up… with his mask still on.
While it is obviously fucking stupid that his mask would be left on taking his body to the morgue, it serves the purpose of being the only feasible way for Jason Voorhees to keep his now iconic visage. There was no way Paramount was going to make a Friday the 13th movie without their fluke of creating a new famous image in popular culture. Unless of course Jason found another one but what were the chances of that happening without it being even more ridiculous. This was a path that was actually travelled down later in the god-awful ‘Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan’ (1989) after the original mask he got from Shelly in Part III was completely destroyed in the slightly less terrible ‘Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood’ (1988).
When Jason Voorhees’ body is taken to the local hospital, we are introduced to horny morgue attendant Axel (Bruce Mahler who played Fackler in the Police Academy franchise) and Nurse Morgan (Lisa Freeman) two expendable characters used solely as a double helping of fodder for the opening kills of the film. When the two are making out in the morgue in front of Jason Voorhees’ body, his hand falls out from beneath the cover touching Morgan’s leg. This leads to an argument and she goes outside while Axel puts Jason’s body in a cold chamber but is not paying attention and carelessly forgets to lock it and the door is left wide open. This is another sign that screenwriter Barney Cohen just does not give a fuck. If Axel were doing his job properly then we would not have a movie at all so Cohan has to have him make this mistake. The hockey-masked maniac wastes little time and dispatches them both in the upmost grisly fashion - Axel’s has his throat slashed by a surgical hacksaw and his head twisted around and Morgan is gutted with a scalpel.
Again, the writer throws logic out of the window and never attempts once to explain how Jason Voorhees could survive a heavy axe blow to the head. It was not until the overrated but passably entertaining ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ (1986) that writer and director Tom McLoughlin came up with the idea that the character had always been something of the supernatural and had just been resting revived from a bolt of lightning that turned him into a super powered zombie killer. However, here this is the real Jason. Going back to Friday the 13th Part 2 - The Franchise Started Here - “…a backwoods hermit psychopathic deformed man-child and witness to the killing of his mother crying out for her resurrection”. This is what Jason is in this film and it is never alluded to in the previous two instalments that he is anything more than this. The killing machine just survives for more murderous mayhem and that is that. In addition to this, were Axel and Nurse Morgan the only staff left in the hospital that night, nobody else saw a hulking brute in a hockey mask leaving to go back to Crystal Lake? It just does not matter, as Jason Voorhees needs to get out for the promised cheap thrills geek show with its abounding displays of bloody delights.
Next we are introduced to the Jarvis family - mother (Joan Freeman), daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and son 12 year-old Tommy (Corey Feldman in his pre-Goonies first starring role) and the location of Jason’s next carve em’ up marathon. These are two houses opposite each other far out into the woods well away from town occupied by the family and the other rented out by a group of teenagers staying for the weekend. This serves as the perfect isolated setting for Jason Voorhees to commit another spate of brutal slayings. All he has to do is his usual slashing of the car tyres and cutting off the electricity and telephone lines and everybody is in mortal danger. Obviously, being 1984 there are no mobile phones.
The teens this time around are a very likable bunch, I never once wanted to cheer on Jason to do away with any of them, and they are arguably the most memorable of the series. Another first time starrer in a major role here is weirdo actor Crispin Glover who went on to play George McFly in Robert Zemeckis’ classic time traveling adventure ‘Back to the Future’ (1985). He plays the lovable nerdy Jimbo here or “dead fuck” as his confident with the girls friend Ted (Lawrence Monoson) teasingly calls him in the movie’s running joke due to Jimbo’s apparent limp dickiness. No sooner though has Jimbo proved Ted wrong by successfully bedding one of the hot twins Tina (Camilla Moore) and the other is Terri (Carey Moore) while Ted is left watching a vintage soft-core porno on a projector that he is killed. Although this is not before he gives us one of the greatest ever dance performances in cinematic history…
Here are some more nonsensical illogical what the fucks. I do not get how the Jarvis family can be living in Crystal Lake but are completely careless of their own safety and are not at all frightened considering the mass murder spree that has taken place during the past week since Part 2. Also, the teenage friends arrive in Crystal Lake with no knowledge of what has happened completely oblivious to the danger. When we first meet Trish and her mother, they are jogging with not a care in the world and when the gang of teens meet the two twins, who are also residents of the town, they too are completely carefree riding their bicycles. When the mother is having a conversion with Tommy about leaving the door open and letting their dog Gordon out Tommy says, “we’re in the country” to which his mother jokingly replies “what happens if the psycho wanders in?” and then Trish jokes “probably just challenge him to a game of Zaxon” (a computer game Tommy was just playing). In one scene, Trish and her mother are sitting on a sofa reading. When Trish goes to bed, we see that her mother is reading a newspaper with the headline “MASS MURDERER’S BODY MISSING” but she takes no notice of it and averts her eyes to another story at the bottom of the page not bothering to warn her children.
It is not until later when Trish learns from Rob (Erich Anderson) whom she and Tommy gave a lift to when he fixed their broken down car that he tells her that Jason’s body has disappeared and that two hospital workers are missing (he must have obviously hid Axel and Nurse Morgan’s bodies). Why would Rob keep it quiet and not warn the Jarvis family way before? It turns out that Rob armed with a shotgun and a machete and camping outside near the location of the two houses is on the hunt for Mr Voorhees as he killed his sister Sandra in Part 2. There is the weird scene where the Jarvis’ dog Gordon seemingly just takes a running jump out of a top floor window. Either he was just scared or it was supposed to be Jason who threw him out.
While Trish is with Rob, he is killed in the basement of the house the teenagers have rented when they go in to investigate and for some odd reason after Trish gets out of there, she decides to go back down when it is obvious Rob is dead and she cannot do anything for him. This scene provides the film with one of its most memorable quotes - while Jason Voorhees is hacking away at Rob with a garden claw, he screams out in anguished pain - “He's killing me. He's killing me!” When Trish finally gets out of there, she opens the kitchen door to escape only to be met by the dead body of Tina on the ground and strangely decides she cannot get out that way. Really, she was incapable of stepping/jumping over a dead body.
A continuity error is Jason’s look. Chris stabbed him in the leg in Part III but there is no wound visible here and he has already recovered from his limp much like how in Part III also he healed up quickly from the machete wound on his shoulder that he received from final girl Ginny Field in Part 2. His long black fingernails also from Part 2 have magically grown back when in Part III they were normal. The red strikes underneath the eyeholes of his hockey mask suddenly disappear towards the end here but they could have just worn off as the movie progressed.
Gripes aside, this is the quintessential look though for the crazed maniac slasher. Everything is here from his battered and damaged hockey mask with the bloodied axe wound mark slit, the black shirt with grey trousers, the return of those horrible black fingernails and Tom Savini’s grotesque make-up underneath the mask with just a bit of hair at the back. He was completely covered in hair in Part 2 but completely bald in Part III and here we have something in between. This is the perfect to a T Jason Voorhees as he is also still human, still slimmer, still running, still lurking in the shadows benefitted well by the dark lighting with the camera only revealing parts of him until the finale that amps up the suspense in between kills and he was still scary. This was the last time in the original continuity of the franchise that he truly was with best ever Jason performer stuntman Ted White giving a menacingly mean performance with Jason Voorhees being at his cruellest. He is really pissed off here!
The Prowler remains Savini’s best work in the slasher sub-genre but here the gruesomely graphic depictions of the victims’ demise is a damn close second with some of his most inspired creative kills bettering his own work in the original ‘Friday the 13th’. As the teens are driving to their destination for their weekend getaway, they do not stop for a fat ugly woman hitchhiking. As she sits down to scoff a banana Jason sneaks up behind her and rams a knife (he presumably got from the hospital) though the back of her throat and we see a close-up shot of her hand squashing the banana as the blood runs down her front. A very nasty kill. When two of the teens a couple Paul (Clyde Hayes) and Samantha (Judie Aronson) have a fight, Samantha goes out alone (it is scenarios like this that tell us the hockey masked one is going to turn up). Taking her clothes off (this instalment has the most T & A of the series) she swims out to a dingy floating in the lake. After laying in it for a while in the quietness of the night Jason Voorhees suddenly rises out of the water and sticks a blade underneath the dingy going right though her. When Paul goes out to look for Samantha he finds her in the dingy (which somehow survived the attack), and thinking she is just sleeping, he swims up to her quietly to surprise her. When discovering she is dead he freaks out quickly swimming to the nearby dock and just as he pulls himself up getting out of the water Jason creeps up and spears him in the groin with a harpoon gun. Extremely Hardcore.
One of the most memorable deaths is that of Jimbo’s. When he is in the kitchen looking for a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine in celebration with Ted after getting his end away he shouts out “Hey, Ted, where the hell’s the corkscrew”. Jason Voorhees answers by coming out of the left of the frame and impales it into his right hand that is rested on the counter following it up by whacking a meat clever into his face. Horrific stuff.
Fernandes shows off some more nifty cinematography with a well staged off screen kill. With the camera placed in a long shot of the house the teenagers are renting one of the twins Terri is seen leaving in a rainstorm that remains for the rest of the night while her sister Tina is getting it on with Jimbo (as soon as she told Tina she was leaving you know what is going to happen). She walks over to their bicycles and the camera slowly zooms in on her tricking the viewer into thinking that this is the subjective narrative of Jason’s POV. The camera instead moves past her carrying on towards the windows of the house to our left and as it gets closer and lightning strikes, we see the shadows of Jason Voorhees impaling her from behind (sexual innuendo untended) and the camera keeps on moving until it gets right up to the blind of the window open on the wall. The camera then cuts to an interior close-up shot of Ted sitting in an armchair smoking the butt of a joint as he laughs hysterically at the retro porn that we then see clips from. The camera then goes back to the exterior shot of the window blind on the wall and Terri with a long pole stuck in her back is slammed hard face first against it. I will leave the rest of the brutality of the victims’ deaths spoiler free. There are a fitting 13 kills overall (not including Jason's) and what with all the bountiful tits and arses on display this tells us that the filmmakers really were trying to go out with a bang making the last film.
The best kill of all though is the mutilation of Jason Voorhees himself. In a pulse racing climatic battle between Jason and the two Jarvis siblings (their mother is dead at this point killed off screen), the deranged loony is finally brought to a startling halt. When Trish finally gets out of the opposite house through the kitchen window after having her other escape route blocked by the dead body of Jimbo pinned to the door frame (understandable this time) she makes her way back to her house leading to an immensely exciting confrontation. After a prolonged chase sequence with Jason Voorhees going after Trish that leads to the other house and then back to the Jarvis’ home again two machete blows from Trish injure Jason. When he finally gets a hold of her pinning her to the ground strangling her Tommy runs down the stairs behind them and we see he has shaved his head and made himself up to look like Jason Voorhees as a child and Tommy shouts out his name making him turn around to look. Tommy based his look from the sketch of Jason as a boy taken from the description given by the original movie’s final girl Alice that was in one of the newspaper clippings that Rob had.
Much like how in Part 2 when Ginny used her background in child psychology to manipulate man-child Jason Voorhees using herself as an image of his mother here we have a young boy horror fan a maker of monster masks (apparently written as a tribute to Tom Savini) manipulating the retarded deformed psychopath. He uses himself as an image of Jason as a child of around about the time he supposedly drowned and forces him into a state of trance taking him on a trip down a nightmarish memory lane to make him remember the torture of his pain as a child. As Jason Voorhees moves closer to Tommy reaching his hand out to him Trish picks up the machete that had fallen to the floor during the struggle and taking a hit at Jason as he suddenly turns around she knocks off his mask giving us a great reveal of the best make-up job ever of the hideous fiend. As Jason Voorhees moves towards Trish, Tommy jumps down from the staircase and picks up the machete that she has dropped. As Jason quickly turns around Tommy whacks it into the left side of his head, the demented killer falls down with the machete still embedded in his skull, and his head slides down it as its handle hits the floor.
As Trish and Tommy are hugging, he looks down at Jason Voorhees' body and sees the fingers on his left hand moving. Tommy suddenly breaks his embrace with his sister and starts hacking away at his body in a crazed frenzy yelling “Die! Die! Die! Die!” as Trish looks on in horror all captured in vivid slow motion. In the epilogue back at the local hospital, while Trish is in bed she is talking to a doctor with a police officer present about the possible psychological damage that Tommy might have received due to his trauma having attacked Jason's body in a fit of rage. After the doctor assures her that he will be all right, she asks to see her brother. When Tommy enters the room, they hug each other and the film ends with an extreme close-up shot of Tommy’s face opening his eyes and staring deep into the camera. Barney Cohen and Joseph Zito used this to set-up Tommy as the new major antagonist should Paramount decides to continue the franchise. However, more importantly this emphasises on the serious tone of the first four films showing us the consequences of what such violent acts can have on its victims previously evidenced by Chris’ decent into madness at the end of Part III.
This was the last real Friday the 13th movie and it really was “The Final Chapter”. After this, the creepy twitchy atmosphere of dread that transcended through these first four instalments and the true mythology of the series were all lost forever in the original continuity. This film may not have expanded on the mythos previously set but it would have been one helluva a satisfying conclusion but while this almighty blood soaked climax is one of the greatest ever in the history of the slasher sub-genre at the same time it was also a shot in the foot for the mythology. I do not know if this entry would have hit the heights that it did if the filmmakers were not trying to end it all here but one thing is for sure is that the series would not have gone in the direction that it did later due to the finality of its conclusion.
Paramount was never going to let the franchise die either way after ‘The Final Chapter’ became such a massive hit. If they had of not made the movie to in fact be the last then maybe the series would have stuck to a human Jason Voorhees and a constant setting of Crystal Lake where the action belongs. We most certainly would have not had a copycat Jason and the set-up of Tommy as the next killer in the passable 'Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning' (1985). This itself proved unpopular and was partially retconned to give us the resurrection of Jason Voorhees as a super powered zombie seen in full view for the majority of the later instalments’ running times that lead to all kinds of stupid way out scenarios and venturing out of Crystal Lake. All this took away any mystery the character once had with those illogical plot points of his constant survival and its lack of explanation in the first four films just serving to give this antagonist an air of mystique. There was an attempt to get back to the roots of the franchise with the hit and miss 2009 reboot that drew from these early entries as its source material but it still could not get it entirely right.
Aside from an abundance of illogical discrepancies that come hand in hand with this franchise and the slasher sub-gene in general anyway if ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ had of in fact been the last sequel that we were promised, then that would have been just fine with what is really an exceptional send off. It certainly lives up to it encompassing all the elements that were laid done in the first three movies perfecting the formula and innovating what is the essential Friday the 13th film and one of the most purest well paced tightly directed slashers ever made.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.