E. Erich Anderson
By the time 1984 rolled around, there was absolutely no denying that Jason Voorhees and Friday The 13th had become a phenomenon. Even though the Jason character had not donned his iconic hockey mask until the final reel of the (at the time) latest film, the mask had become as recognized as the white William Shatner mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween films. Hell, the mask was featured in the advertising for what was being called “Jason’s unlucky day” with Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. The poster image (as seen above) has become arguably the most recognized advertising image in all of the 1980’s slasher boom, which was ironically kick started by the original Friday The 13th. On a personal note, I actually have my right forearm covered by a tattoo of this image, to display my love of both horror, the Jason character and the Friday films themselves.
All three of the first films in the series were in a way essentially overseen by Steve Miner, who was Assistant Director on the first film, then Director for the second and third installments. Miner chose not to return to Crystal Lake, putting Producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. in a position to find someone who could direct the “final” film in the series, but also help put the hockey-masked slasher out to pasture. Mancuso brought on Joseph Zito, who had directed the criminally underrated and nearly forgotten 1981 slasher, The Prowler. And although he was not brought on initially, makeup extraordinaire and gore master Tom Savini would also return to help kill his creation. Armed with a script from writer Barney Cohen, it was finally time for Jason to have his final hurrah.
The film opens literally moments after Friday The 13th Part 3-D ends with police and ambulances cleaning up the carnage from the previous film. Everyone’s favorite hockey-masked mongoloid slasher is transported to the local hospital and put in the morgue, but of course it isn’t long before he begins stirring. After a particularly brutal throat slashing with a hacksaw to the morgue doctor and dispatching of the nurse, Jason begins his trek back to Crystal Lake. We soon meet the Jarvis family who lives in a cabin by the lake. Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) is a single mother living with her teenaged daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and pre-teen son Tommy (Corey Feldman, roughly a year before he would blow up due to being in The Goonies) and their dog Gordon. Tommy is clearly a nod to Tom Savini both in name, as well as the fact that he has an obsession with makeup effects and making prosthetic masks.
Adjacent to the Jarvis household, a group of new victims are making their way to a cabin to have some fun for the weekend, not knowing what so obviously awaits them. While a good chunk of the group are forgettable, the standouts are clearly the duo of Ted (Lawrence Monoson) and Jimmy (the absolutely insane as always Crispin Glover) who we first meet in the back of the station wagon having a mostly improvised conversation about being a “dead fuck”. Rounding out the group of victims for the film are Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey More), two twins who join up with the group of rowdy teens, as well as the mysterious Rob (E. Erich Anderson) who is actually on a hunt for revenge. Of course, soon enough Jason starts adding to his illustrious body count, until a final showdown in the Jarvis household where he finally meets his match.
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter has long been considered one of the absolute strongest entries in the series. The film actually takes the time to make the group of victims incredibly likeable so that you actually feel something for them when Jason starts dispatching them one by one. I would argue that this film ranks as having the best and most relatable victim pool, with the groups from Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and Friday The 13th Part 3-D also ranking highly in this regard. In terms of how Jason moves and goes about his business, I think it is safe to say that Ted White‘s portrayal of Voorhees is easily the most brutal and unflinching rendition of the character. He moves with purpose and menace, and never seems to stop until he is finally dispatched in the film’s finale.
Of course, being that it is a Friday The 13th film, it is not quite perfect. The entire story of Rob pursuing Jason seeking revenge for his sister’s murder really makes absolutely no sense when you stop to think about it for more than 10 seconds. The film implies that his sister is Sandra from Friday The 13th Part 2, who we may recall was part of the bed shishkebob. But in the actual timeline of events, Friday The 13th Part 2 took place only two days prior. Of course, when you break it down, this is an ’80’s slasher movie, so looking too deep into it is really pointless.
The film builds until Jason has his final showdown with young Tommy Jarvis, where in a particularly brutal moment, Tommy embeds the machete in the side of Jason’s skull and he slowly slides down it. In a film full of excellent kills (including a personal favorite from the series where Crispin Glover gets a corkscrew embedded in his hand and a cleaver in the face) it takes the violence and gore to a completely new level.
The Final Chapter is also recognized as the beginning of the unofficial “Tommy Jarvis trilogy”. It is quite clear that the original plan was to have Jason removed from the series and then lead to Tommy becoming the new focus of the series as a killer, and they even began somewhat travelling down this road with the next entry in the series, the unfairly-maligned Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning. Of course, the fan reception towards that film would lead to Jason’s full return in Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, but we will be getting to those entries in the series soon.
In the end, The Final Chapter is not only one of the strongest entries in the series, one can easily argue its value as the undisputed king of the Friday The 13th series. Whether or not you love the films like I do, or any hardcore Friday fans do, it is a damned near flawless example of what can make the slasher sub-genre work, and why it became so popular in the 1980’s and still retains a solid fan base over 30 years later.
14 (13 if you choose not to include Jason’s demise)
Jason having the machete embedded in his skull and slowly sliding down the blade as it opens his skull further.
Stay tuned for the next entry where we will tackle one of the most hotly debated films in the series, Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning.