Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) **˝
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is an extraordinarily stupid title. The movie to which it is attached is part nine of a series which had never risen above the level of mostly disposable entertainment, and which, at its worst, plumbed depths of atrociousness fit to test the endurance of even a man who proudly owns his own copy of Shriek of the Mutilated. The movie was released by a different studio than had put out the preceding eight films, the original producers having decided some years before that the only way left to make money on the franchise was to sell the sequel rights to whatever sucker wanted to buy them. What’s more, the studio that did the buying had, only two years before, turned the much-ballyhooed conclusion to their own indigenous slasher series into an absolute debacle. So with all those strikes against it from the outset, how in the hell did Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday end up being one of the best-made and most entertaining entries in the whole series?
Honestly, there’s another, even bigger reason why I’m surprised that I liked this movie so much. Jason Goes to Hell does just about everything a modern horror sequel can do to piss me off. It’s full of inside jokes; it ignores series continuity with a vengeance, rewriting the back story to the point of making it completely unrecognizable; and it moves the series into an entirely different subgenre from that which it had originally occupied. A serious Friday the 13th fan thus has every reason to hate this film, and from what I can tell, most of them do. In my case, all I can think of by way of explanation is that Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan sank my expectations for a Friday the 13th film so low that I’m now just happy that the next sequel has reasonably good acting and a script that makes some sort of sense in reference to itself. It also doesn’t hurt that some of those inside jokes are genuinely witty for once.
The entire pre-credits sequence is a case in point. An attractive young woman drives alone to a cabin in the small, woodland hamlet of Crystal Lake. She endures the usual succession of slasher movie tension builders, and then hops in the shower. The power goes out in her cabin scant seconds later, and wrapping herself in one of those magical movie towels that never fall off no matter how strenuously one exerts oneself while wearing them, the woman goes to see what’s the matter. By this point, we all know perfectly well that Jason Voorhees is the matter, despite the fact that he ought to by lying in a pool of toxic waste in the New York City sewer system, regressed inexplicably to the age at which he supposedly drowned back in 1957. Regardless, Jason (Kane Hodder, now in his third appearance in the role) is there in the cabin, and he attacks the woman, chasing her out into the woods. All is not as it seems, however, for Jason’s prey is really an FBI agent, and she’s leading the killer into a trap. When the two of them reach a spacious clearing in the forest, dozens of heavily armed cops spring up from behind various sorts of cover, and begin riddling Jason with bullets, turning everything from 9mm pistols to .30-caliber machineguns on the hulking murderer. Jason absorbs at least 100 rounds before mortar fire starts raining down on the clearing, and a direct hit blasts him into about fifteen pieces of various sizes. The FBI agents all congratulate each other on a job well done.
Jason’s remains are flown to an FBI compound in Ohio for autopsy. (Pay attention to the security guards stationed outside the morgue— the huge guy with the beard and the mullet is Kane Hodder without mask or makeup.) A strange thing happens, though, while the coroner (Richard Grant, from The Tower and Godzilla) is examining the killer’s heart, which he describes as being nearly twice normal size and filled with some kind viscous, black fluid— “Frankly I don’t know what the hell it is. It sure isn’t blood.” The disembodied heart begins to beat again, and a funny look comes over the coroner’s face. Then, without warning, the man seizes the undead heart and eats it! Something of Jason clearly enters the coroner’s body when he does so, for his next action is to go on a killing spree in the morgue building. And when that’s done, the coroner marches off in the direction of Crystal Lake.
As much of this as can be made sense of without recourse to the supernatural makes up the lead story on the next week’s broadcast of “American Casefile,” a TV program modeled on all of those true-crime shows that sprouted up in the wake of “America’s Most Wanted.” Host Robert Campbell (Steven Culp, from the 2001 remake of How to Make a Monster) recaps Jason’s twenty-odd-year killing spree, the explosive conclusion to which it supposedly came the week before, and its apparent— if seemingly impossible— resumption. Then he introduces bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams, who had had small roles in House and The Monkey Hustle, finally getting a movie role on par with what he was doing on TV at the turn of the 90’s). Duke had been a gadfly for the FBI all throughout its pursuit of Jason. It was his claim that only he knew how Voorhees could be destroyed, and what went on at the killer’s autopsy certainly seems to bear him out. Duke says he’ll put an end to Jason for good, but that his services are going to cost whoever wants them a princely $500,000. In a move that shows how little there is about “reality” television that can be considered in any way new, Campbell publicly offers to pay Duke’s price, provided that the bounty hunter can supply incontrovertible proof that Jason is really dead this time.
Back in Crystal Lake, it is an occasion for perverse celebration. The town’s most famous son is dead (who really believes what they see on shows like “American Casefile,” anyway?), and the now-harmless Jason has blossomed into a small, macabre tourist industry. Youths from the surrounding area are coming to camp out on the abandoned site of Camp Blood, the local bowling league has some sort of festivities in the works, and the little diner where several of our main characters work is having a two-for one burger special, selling patties in the shape of miniature hockey masks. It’s all very crass, and is probably exactly the way things would go in the real world under the circumstances. That diner is Creighton Duke’s first stop in Crystal Lake. He has something of great importance to discuss with a waitress named Diana Kimble (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’s Erin Gray), who is the girlfriend of Sheriff Ed Landis (The Hitcher’s Billy Green Bush). Diana doesn’t want to hear it, and Landis has Deputy Randy Parker (Kipp Marcus, brother of director Adam Marcus) roust the bounty hunter. But it’s obvious that there is some truth to whatever Duke was hinting at, because Diana immediately walks over to the counter where Steve (John D. LeMay), the former boyfriend of her daughter, Jessica (Kari Keegan), and the father of Diana’s infant grandson, is sitting and begins an even more cryptic conversation with him. According to Diana, there is something Steve needs to know if he ever wants to patch things up with Jessica, but that something is so secret that Diana can’t tell him about it at the diner. Steve will have to come to Diana’s house that night at 11:00, after her shift ends.
On his way over, Steve stops to pick up a trio of hitchhikers. These kids are among those morbid tourists I mentioned a little while ago, and they've come to Crystal Lake expressly “to smoke pot and have premarital sex” on the old campgrounds; after all, this is the first time in a quarter of a century that it’s been safe to do that. Or so these young fools think. As a matter of fact, all three of them are slain by the possessed coroner perhaps an hour after Steve drops them off at what’s left of Camp Blood. The coroner then stops by the diner, where he’s too late to intercept Diana Kimble, but makes the most of his chance to catch a middle-aged policeman named Josh (Andrew Bloch, from Hangar 18 and Talking Walls) and his wife. The coroner kills the woman, but he has something rather more involved in mind for Josh. Knocking the cop unconscious, the coroner hauls him off to the old Voorhees mansion, where he ties him up and transfers the worm-like organism that is apparently the real Jason Voorhees to his body.
Steve and Jason-Josh both arrive at Diana’s house at about the same time. This, unsurprisingly, means that Steve never does find out exactly what the woman wanted to tell him. All he gets out of her before she dies is an admonition to “save Jessica.” The fact that Josh simply refuses to die no matter how much damage Steve or Diana inflicts on him gives Steve some idea of what Jessica might need to be protected from. But it’s unlikely that Steve himself will be in a position to do much protecting, for just then, Ed Landis stops by, and catches him alone in the house with Diana’s bloody corpse.
Luckily enough, the man in the cell next to Steve’s is none other than Creighton Duke. (One assumes he did not go quietly when Randy escorted him out of the diner earlier.) It is from Duke that Steve learns that what seemed to be Josh was really Jason Voorhees, and also what it’s going to take to render the killer well and truly dead. Jason killed Diana— and is going to kill Jessica— because Diana was secretly his sister, and only a Voorhees is capable of killing him. Not only that, Jason surely has plans for Jessica’s baby girl, too, because only the body of a Voorhees is able to contain his evil essence without self-destructing after at most a couple of days. With the last two adult Voorheeses out of the way, there will be no one to stop him should he succeed in possessing the child. Understanding at last what he needs to do, Steve tricks his way out of his cell (in a manner that will seem awfully familiar to anyone who has seen Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives) and goes on the lam.
So where is the famous Jessica Kimble-Voorhees during all of this? Why, she’s on her way to Crystal Lake with her daughter and her new boyfriend— Robert Campbell. Jessica, you see, is a production assistant on “American Casefile,” and her dual tie to the host ensures that she’ll be along when Campbell sets off to film an especially sensational segment in Jason’s hometown. Jessica arrives just in time to find Diana’s younger friend and coworker, Vicky (Allison Smith, of Terror Tract and The Animatrix), scrubbing the blood out of Diana’s living room carpet. Now given that Steve is Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, she doesn’t need much reason to think bad things about him, so she’s more certain than anyone that the luckless little twit is guilty of her mother’s murder. That’ll change soon enough, though, and as is only appropriate, it’ll be Robert Campbell who leads her to see the truth.
Campbell, you see, has more on his agenda than documenting the action in town. He plans instead to make a little action of his own by arranging for the theft of Diana Kimble’s body, and for its transfer to the basement of the Voorhees mansion. Campbell shows up at the house not long after Steve, and from his hiding place in the closet, the latter man overhears all the incriminating details. That concealment also keeps him safe when Jason barges in and trades Josh’s body for Campbell’s. So when Jason finally does come looking for Jessica, he’ll be wearing her new man’s body, making her far more receptive to any crazy stories her old one might try to tell her about her ordained role in the family Satanic conspiracy. And lucky them, Creighton Duke just happens to have brought along the magic dagger that Jessica will have to use if she wants to put her murderous uncle in the ground once and for all.
By now, I’m sure you can see that Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is scarcely a conventional Friday the 13th film. In fact, it only just barely even qualifies as a slasher movie. For that reason, I understand completely the condemnation it has received from hardcore fans of the series, and I feel more than a little temptation to join in the chorus of disapproval myself. After all, I find it pretty hard to swallow the idea that Pamela Voorhees would work at a summer camp when she could afford to pay property taxes on a house like that, and her retroactive transformation from a garden-variety loony to a Lovecraftian black magician rings my bullshit alarm awfully loudly. (Incidentally, notice that among the diabolical paraphernalia lying around the Voorhees house are the Noturon Demonto [or Necronomicon Exmortis, for those of you who prefer to follow the sequel] from The Evil Dead and the arctic expedition crate from Creepshow.) The thing is, though, that this is, without reference to any questions of continuity (either in story or in feel), the best-written and best-acted entry in the entire series, and that simply must count for something. Creighton Duke makes for an interesting anti-hero, and Steven Williams does well with the character even if he tends to ham it up. The emphasis on adults rather than teenagers is another point in the movie’s favor; if the 80’s proved anything about Hollywood screenwriters, it’s that very few of them can write a convincing teenager, and so most of them would really be better off not trying. Not only that, the presence of antagonistic young parents at the center of the story gives Jason Goes to Hell a degree of gravity that it might not otherwise have possessed. All told, I rather suspect that had this movie simply been billed as a non-series horror flick in the vein of Shocker or The First Power, it would probably have been much better received by the fans. Indeed, it is when it operates most visibly within traditional Friday the 13th territory that Jason Goes to Hell is at its weakest. The awkwardly heavy padding and makeup that Kane Hodder wears during his relatively brief appearances at the beginning and end of the film turn Jason into something very much like a rubber-suit monster on the 50’s model in this outing, and make it impossible for Hodder to use his considerable talents as a physical actor. The result is the least frightening, least memorable Jason yet— even the zombified Josh that the killer’s essence inhabits for part of the movie carries more menace. The other zombie killers are quite effective, however, and the almost Terminator-like shootout at the diner is a terrific set-piece. Now if only this really had been the last entry in the series...