Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) **½
What the hell? While I’m at it, I figure I may as well go all-out, and keep reviewing these turkeys until I reach a logical stopping point. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter seems like as good a place as any to pause; after all, it was supposed to be the end of the series. Not only that, it’s also a movie I’ve really been wanting to review, in that I have something of a special relationship with it. You see, this was the first R-rated horror movie that I consciously saw in its original, R-rated form. Sure— I’d already seen Night of the Living Dead, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and a couple others by the time I caught this flick on cable maybe a year and a half after its theatrical release, but those movies had come my way via broadcast TV, and there hadn’t been a whole lot left of them once the network censors had put their scissors back in the desk drawer. There were also a handful of movies— Of Unknown Origin among them— that had been rated R without me realizing it. But with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, I knew what I was getting into— indeed, though I wasn’t familiar with the term at the time, I recognized that watching this film was some sort of minor rite of passage: this was a grown-up movie, and I could expect a far more intense experience from it than I could from the likes of Creature from the Black Lagoon. It sounds kind of silly now, but remember, I was about eleven at the time. The upshot of it all is that I learned that movies like this weren’t going to give me unbearable nightmares after all, and that it was fun seeing something on the screen that was as violent and gruesome as my own depraved imagination. From that moment on, I was hooked. I had graduated from Jack Arnold, Tod Browning, and Bert I. Gordon to George Romero, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper; Lucio Fulci, Sam Raimi, and Ruggero Deodato would follow soon enough. It isn’t often that a brain-dead slasher movie can honestly claim to wield even a small degree of life-changing influence— not a bad showing for one of the dumber entries in one of the dumber long-running horror franchises of the last 20 years, eh?
And you know what the really funny thing is? Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a lot better than I remember it being. Make no mistake— it’s still fucking stupid, but its sights are set so low that it has no trouble meeting and sometimes even exceeding its ambitions. The most important thing to understand about this film is that it marks the point at which the people behind the Friday the 13th series finally gave up even pretending that there was a real story being told. It’s as though producer Frank Mancuso Jr. (who took over from Sean Cunningham with the first sequel) sat down with the letters sections of a few issues of Fangoria and figured out that all any of his fans particularly cared about was tits, ass, and severed limbs. With that in mind, this fourth Friday film features a much larger cast with much prettier actresses (if I may use the term somewhat loosely), and boasts the return of Tom Savini to the effects department (although rumor has it Savini agreed to contribute only because this was slated to be the last movie in the series— he’s said to have appreciated the opportunity to kill off once and for all the monster that he had inadvertently helped to create).
The first thing non-fans (and even some less ardent followers of the series) always ask in connection with Friday the 13th sequels is: “why in heaven’s name do they keep going back to that stupid camp when they know all those people have been killed there?!” To ask that question at all reveals that you haven’t been paying attention to the movies. There are no summer camps in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter or its immediate predecessor, and after the second film, nobody can honestly be described as “coming back” to the scene of a mass slaughter— though few people seem to grasp the point (and sometimes even the screenwriters seem to be among those who miss it), Parts 2-4 of the series take place over a period of just six days. When the curtain rises on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (after a much more thoughtfully composed stock-footage intro than either of the prior sequels possessed), police and paramedics are crawling all over Higgins Haven, collecting evidence and packing up the bodies of the people who met their ends in Friday the 13th, Part 3. The last of the stiffs loaded into the ambulances is that of Jason Voorhees himself (played here by an uncredited Ted White, whose efforts to conceal his turn behind the hockey mask couldn’t save his career from Demonoid).
Once at the hospital, Jason and his victims are turned over to Axel (Bruce Mahler), the stereotypically disgusting movie coroner. (You know, just once, I’d like to see a movie coroner who doesn’t eat while he works or make lecherous comments about the female corpses...) As he wheels the gurneys into the coldroom, Axel takes a lot of time out to make passes at his sort-of girlfriend, a nurse who works with him in the morgue (Lisa Freeman, of Savage Streets). These two seem to have an odd relationship, in that the nurse rebuffs his every advance (“Listen, Axel— I am not faking any more orgasms for you!” she says at one point), and yet no sooner does she get a free moment than she sneaks into the coldroom to make out with him. While they’re at it, a TV tuned to the Plot Specific News Network drones on about how the man believed to be responsible for the rash of murders in and around Crystal Lake has been killed by one of his intended victims, and right on cue, Jason’s hand slips off the edge of his gurney, and lands on the nurse’s thigh. That’s about as good a mood-killer as you’re ever going to find, and the nurse storms out, leaving Axel to beat his meat while watching one of those semi-pornographic aerobics shows they used to broadcast back in the mid-80’s. There are thus no witnesses when Jason inexplicably climbs out of the locker in which Axel has belatedly stored him, and cuts the coroner’s throat with a convenient bonesaw. The nurse, naturally, is next; she gets a scalpel in the gut just minutes later.
Meanwhile, back at the lake, we’re being introduced to the two groups of characters who will occupy our attention for the remainder of the film. The Jarvis family— Mom (Joan Freeman, from Tower of London and Panic in the Year Zero!), Trish (Kimberly Beck, of Roller Boogie and Massacre at Central High), and Tommy (Corey Feldman, who would attract more notice with The Lost Boys and less with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever)— live in a great big house, nestled deep in the woods and well isolated from the town of Crystal Lake. Trish is an obvious Final Girl candidate, with all the personality traits that implies, while Tommy is the usual precocious little brat, his precocity manifested most strikingly in his talent for making foam latex makeup effects. The house next door to theirs is being rented by six of the usual horny, slow-witted teenagers: the miserably single Jim (Crispin Glover— yes, that one); Teddy, the enthusiastically single asshole joker (Lawrence Monoson); shy and withdrawn Final Girl candidate Sarah (Amityville: The New Generation’s Barbara Howard); Sarah’s not-quite-a-boyfriend-yet, Doug (Hell Night’s Peter Barton); Samantha the Amazing Slut (Judie Aronson, from American Ninja and The Sleeping Car); and Sam’s Expendable Meat boyfriend, Paul (Alan Hayes, of Neon Maniacs). Along the way, the teen vacationers pass by two notable things— first, the graveyard where Jason’s mom is buried (and note that only now do the filmmakers bother to give her a first name: Pamela), and second, an unfortunate hitchhiking fat girl whom Jason kills for no good reason the moment the rest of the Expendable Meat’s station wagon rounds the corner down the road from her.
Now we’ve already seen three murders, and we’ve got the makings for up to eight more (one of the other nine characters has to survive, you know), but believe it or not, we’re still not done setting up the shooting gallery here. On the morning after the Teenage Targets set up shop next door to the Jarvises, both sets of characters meet up with yet more young people who are almost certainly doomed. On their way to Crystal Point for a big skinny-dipping party, Sarah and company encounter a pair of Sexy Bicycling Twinstm by the names of Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey More, the former of whom also appeared in The Dark Side of the Moon and The Serpent of Death). Shortly thereafter, a Hunky Backpackertm named Rob (Erich Anderson) comes to Trish and Tommy’s rescue when the solenoid in their 1971 Plymouth Grand Fury craps out on them on the main road through the woods. Indeed, so impressed is Trish with Rob’s ability to get their car restarted (and, one suspects, with his Backpacking Hunkinesstm) that she gives him a ride to the Jarvis house. (You got me... I mean, he says he’s hunting bears, and I doubt there are too many of those even in Tommy’s room. I guess it was the only way screenwriter Barney Cohen could think of to establish a budding friendship between Rob and the Jarvises.)
When night finally falls, Trish and Tommy have gone back into town for some reason, Mom is out jogging, Rob is camped out in the woods, and the Teenage Targets have brought Tina and Terri back to their place for a party. The Sexy Bicycling Twinstm immediately prove to be more trouble than they’re worth. Teddy and Jim both end up in competition for Tina while Terri sinks ever deeper into a petulant sulk, and Tina then screws things up even more by ignoring both of the tiresome single boys to put the make on Paul. Paul, for his part, doesn’t exactly reveal himself as an unshakable pillar of virtue, and Sam, outslutted for once, is forced to deploy the “I’m going swimming” gambit in a desperate attempt to recapture her boyfriend’s attention. When you get right down to it, this is a potent maneuver. In one masterful stroke, it sends the dual messages, “I’m getting out of here because I disapprove of your behavior” and “follow me to witness public nudity.” I, for one, would bite in a second. Paul does not, however, until it is much too late. By the time he follows Sam out to the lake, the girl has already met up with Jason in an aquatic version of the “sharp implement from under the bed” attack so beloved of the Friday the 13th special effects guys. And, of course, Jason is still waiting around when Paul finds Sam’s body.
Jason heads over to the houses then, where he somewhat surprisingly kills Ma Jarvis before turning his attention to the kids next door. Terri is the first of that bunch to get it, knifed while she tries to flee the increasingly orgy-like party. As the remaining characters pair off and separate, Jason makes the rounds of the bedrooms until none of them— not even shy, lovable Sarah— remains. Trish and Tommy become concerned when they return home to find the power disabled and their mother still out of the house. Sending her brother downstairs to fix the fusebox, Trish runs out into the inevitable pouring rain to find Mom. She finds Rob’s campsite instead, and is nearly killed when its owner sees her silhouette inside his tent and begins hacking at it with a machete. It may seem like strange behavior, but Rob has his reasons. As he explains to Trish once he realizes who she is, he didn’t really come to Crystal Lake to hunt bears. Rather, his little sister, Sandra, was one of the attendees of Paul Holtz’s counselor training seminar (you remember her, right— the one who got impaled to the bed while fucking her boyfriend in Friday the 13th, Part 2?), and when the news got back to him that there had been a massacre at the seminar, Rob got himself a craving for a little vigilante justice. Trish reminds Rob that the killer was himself slain by another girl two days later, but Rob knows something Trish doesn’t, that Jason’s body disappeared from the morgue— along with two hospital employees— just hours after being taken there. He and Trish understandably high-tail it back to the house at that point.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’s Final Girl sequence is one of the stranger ones in the subgenre, in that Trish isn’t quite Final even after it starts. Rob is with her when she goes next door to check on the renters, and even after Jason kills him, there’s still one more character to whom Trish can go for some degree of help— Tommy. Oh sure, Trish initially figures herself to be protecting her little brother, but while she’s fighting for her life against Jason, Tommy is next door reading Rob’s newspaper clippings about the Crystal Lake bloodbath. (This is one of those points at which the screenwriters seem to lose track of their timeframe. Tommy lives in Crystal Lake, and Jason’s reign of terror was only declared over the day before yesterday. What information could Rob’s out-of-town clippings possibly contain that Tommy wouldn’t already have known?) From them, he learns not only of the details behind the current string of murders, but also about the story told by the survivor of the original Camp Blood Massacre about a deformed boy attacking her while she drifted in a canoe out on the lake. And conveniently enough, one of the clippings even has an “artist’s conception” drawing of the boy Jason as he was described by that survivor. When Jason chases Trish back home, Tommy is ready for the killer, having turned himself into a reasonable likeness of the young Jason. In a scene obviously modeled on Ginny’s psychological showdown with Jason from two movies ago (but which suffers from direct comparison to that incident because it doesn’t make any sense), Tommy distracts the killer’s attention by impersonating his own former self, giving Trish a chance to unmask him, and then drive Rob’s machete into the socket of his good eye, through his brain, and clear out the back of his head. When Tommy sees Jason’s finger twitch a moment later, he goes completely postal, grabs the machete, and dices the fallen killer like a goddamned Vidalia onion. Let’s see you bounce back from that, you ugly son of a bitch!
In writing about Friday the 13th, Part 3, I pointed out that movie’s total failure to justify Jason’s attacks on the vacationers at Higgins Haven. Well, that goes double for The Final Chapter. There is absolutely no reason on Earth why Jason should concern himself with the Jarvises and their next-door neighbors. Like Higgins Haven, the Jarvis house isn’t on the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake, and like Chris, her friends, and the luckless biker gang, none of the people in this movie ever trespass on the camp’s ruins. If anything, Jason’s activities are even more nonsensical this time, in that he resumes his killing spree in a morgue far removed from his old stomping grounds. The murders he commits here are completely random, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of the hitchhiker. I mean, really— what the hell did she ever do to anybody?
The other major instance of missing justification in this movie has to do with Jason’s resurrection. Granted, that machete-chop to the shoulder that Ginny gave him back at the end of Part 2 ought to have killed him, too, but I’m willing to let that one slide on the grounds that such an injury wouldn’t be immediately fatal; Jason would either have to bleed to death outright or drown in the blood that would be steadily filling his mangled left lung. An axe to the forehead, however, is another matter entirely. No way anybody is walking (or even crawling) away from damage like that! But after some 24 hours of lying in a barn, plus a few more of being processed by the hospital and deposited in the morgue, Jason suddenly rises up and keeps on killing like nothing had happened at all, and we get not one word from the filmmakers to explain how such a thing is possible. And while we’re at it, I’ve got another nit to pick with this scene. You know what the first thing that happens to you in a morgue is? They cut your fucking clothes off, that’s what. So would somebody please explain to me why Axel doesn’t even bother to remove Jason’s mask?!
But in spite of everything, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter winds up being far more enjoyable than its immediate predecessor. The reason is simple enough, too. The producers were right. Slasher movies are exploitation movies, so the more exploitive they are, the more entertaining they become. Part 3 drummed out of us any expectations we may have had of the series as far as scripting, direction, or acting are concerned, but Part 3 did not then follow through with the essential tradeoff, replacing those things with commensurately high levels of sex and violence. The Final Chapter, on the other hand, was the bloodiest entry in the series to date (it somehow made it past the MPAA intact), and Tom Savini’s presence on the makeup team meant that the gore effects would have a qualitative edge over their predecessors to match the concurrent quantitative increase. Not only that, this movie is far more generous with its displays of naked flesh than any of the previous three films. Of the actresses who play more than bit-parts, all but Kimberly Beck and Joan Freeman have nude scenes, and Judie Aronson and Camilla More have more than one. For that matter, there’s also a good deal of male nudity, albeit none full-frontal. Like I said, Mancuso knew what we were here for, and he gave it to us. He may not have been aiming very high, but after the hopeless ineptitude of Friday the 13th, Part 3, he really didn’t have to.