This year marks the 30th anniversary of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Of course the film turned out to not be as the title promised. But nonetheless it is a fan-favorite and an essential slasher film. In fact, in some ways it marks the end of that era. It may not be the end of the Friday the 13th series, but it is does mark the beginning of the end of the traditional slasher film, which was running out of steam by 1984 and completely changed shape when A Nightmare on Elm Street emerged that very same year.
The movie picks up where the third left off. Jason Voorhees is apparently dead in the barn at Higgins Haven. The police have arrived to clean up the rather lengthy mess left by the end of Friday the 13th Part III. They take Jason to the morgue and once he’s there, we get only the most subtle hints that Jason is in any way alive. This is a smart move on the part of director Joseph Zito and the producers.
Moviegoers had spent two films watching Jason hone his craft on free-spirited teenagers and by this point he had become something of an emerging icon. From the beginning of the movie, fans are waiting eagerly for the monster’s return, watching the body and waiting for it to rise up. The opening smartly plays to audience expectations. There’s a puff of air when Jason’s body is stuffed into a locker. All of the cues that indicate there is life left in his body are subtle things, up until Jason decides to make his presence known by killing the two morgue attendants.
The standouts among these new characters are Jimmy and Ted, who are two of the liveliest characters in any Friday the 13th film. They play off of one another perfectly. Which says a lot because there really aren’t too many people who can keep up with Crispin Glover, but Lawrence Monoson does it expertly. These characters are two friends, both of whom seem to have less-than-stellar luck with the ladies – although Ted acts like an expert. Jimmy has just blown it with a girl before coming on this trip, and Ted runs the details through an imaginary computer to determine that poor Jimbo is a “dead f**k.”
These two guys are the only ones in the teenage cast not paired off with a female counterpart, but all that changes when the group meets a pair of lovely twins while out walking. While this could turn into an eye-rolling near-porno scenario, it ends up being more interesting and in a wonderfully ironic twist, it’s resident sex expert Ted who winds up alone.
These aren’t the only major characters in the movie though. These kids move into a house by the lake just across from the Jarvis family. Trish Jarvis, our final girl, is the older of two siblings raised by a single mother. Her brother, Tommy, winds up being a bit more interesting, though. Played by Corey Feldman, Tommy Jarvis would become the first (and so far only) recurring protagonist in the Friday the 13th series. While he would be played by different actors in the fifth and sixth films (with a cameo by Feldman at the beginning of the fifth) it is still interesting to see this character progress through the series.
There’s a reason for that, too. Tommy Jarvis is a kid that any other kid watching the movie can relate to. He’s a bit shy and quirky, and he’s a rabid horror fan. He creates masks and special effects that young fans dream about being able to make—at least I know I did. There’s been quite a bit of speculation that the character was based on horror FX guru Tom Savini, but the filmmakers (including Savini himself) claim that this is not the case.
Tom Savini’s work on the original Friday the 13th is a large part of its success. His gore gags were unprecedented at the time and it started a lucrative career for Savini in splatter films, an area he had never really planned to get into.
By 1984 he had already done films like Maniac, The Burning and The Prowler, so it was a big surprise when he returned to do the effects for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Savini’s mentality was that this would really be the final film in the series and he wanted to return to kill off the monster he had essentially created.
The director tasked with bringing Jason to his apparent end was Joseph Zito, who was familiar with the slasher genre, as he had already helmed the underrated The Prowler, which also featured effects work by Tom Savini. In fact, Savini has said that he did his best gore work on that film. So this movie alone was enough o to earn Zito the job. He also brought with him an important sense of visual style. His direction never loses sight of the characters and in fact showcases their importance, but it also makes the most of the films isolated setting.
The death scenes provided for The Final Chapter are some of the best. They all provide iconic Friday the 13th moments. From the banana-eating hitchhiker to poor Jimmy getting a corkscrew for his hand (he had asked for it though) and a meat cleaver to his face. These death scenes are all very quick, they’re there just long enough to appreciate the jolt and the effect, and the rest is left to the imagination. Which is really the perfect mix on delivering on what the audience wants to see, giving them that visceral moment yet at the same time keeping it scary and allowing some sense of mystery to remain.
Jason himself is more brutal in this film than perhaps any other entry in the franchise. Much of this is due to actor/stuntman Ted White who actually hated working on the picture and even denied a screen credit—the end credits simply read “Jason as Jason.” He has since warmed up to the role and is appreciative of the fans. But his anger and frustration at the time only added to his performance.
This is one ferocious Jason we’re dealing with here. Even if he’s not shown fully for most of the movie, the intensity is clear and it’s only made more so when he’s wrestling around with Trish and Tommy in the film’s climax. White’s performance was unpredictable. He would be totally still one moment and lash out the next, and that’s a large part of what made his Jason so scary and why his performance remains so effective.
Two of the most infamous deaths in this movie, the deaths of Sam and her boyfriend Paul, actually caused a few problems on the set and almost caused Ted White to walk off the movie. Sam swims out to a raft and is impaled by Jason, who pops out of the water from underneath her. Paul later swims out to check on her, discovers her body, swims back to shore and receives a spear gun blow to the groin for his troubles.
Judie Aronson, playing Sam, had to lay in that raft naked for hours on end in freezing cold conditions. It was taking a clear toll on her and White demanded that she at least be warmed up when they weren’t rolling the camera on her, but director Joe Zito wouldn’t have it. Eventually White said that if they didn’t pull her out of the water, he would simply quit the movie. They got her out. Aronson had hypothermia and nearly died. She spent the rest of the shoot recovering.
This movie also has the perfect Friday the 13th atmosphere. The woods, the tone, the rainstorm, there’s something that transcends cliché to feel almost classical. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread hanging over the whole film, especially with this Jason being so aggressive (not that he was polite and upstanding before) that makes it all feel scarier.
Yet The Final Chapter also has a perfect balance in terms of tonality. As stated, these kids could lead their own Meatballs-esque summer camp comedy were they not fated to be systematically slaughtered at the hands of a machete-weilding madman. This balance of humor and horror was something many other entries in the series failed to capture and was only matched by Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, although that installment was arguably more humor than horror.
All my life, I’ve been a fan of the Friday the 13th series and of Jason Voorhees in general. I watched all the movies, I even played the NES game (not that I’m dating myself too terribly because I was young when it was old) and yet, out of all the films, The Final Chapter was the VHS tape (now I’m dating myself) that I almost wore out. This was the movie I could not stop renting and it took me some time to realize that that was simply because it was the best. Not just the most well made of the Friday the 13th series, but one of the best of the heyday of slasher films. If the original slasher cycle truly did end with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, it’s in many ways the perfect finale. Maybe the filmmakers truly did believe this would be the end of the series, but it seems very unlikely.
This was the most successful of the series at that time. As soon as the opening box office numbers were in, they knew they’d be back. And even if Jason sat out the fifth entry, it didn’t take him long to return to cinemas. For Friday the 13th, there probably is no “final chapter.” Even Jason Goes to Hell couldn’t make good on the same promise. He may disappear for a few years, but he always comes back.
The most ironic thing about The Final Chapter is that it cemented Jason’s place as an icon when it was supposed to be a grand finale. This was in many ways a beginning. This was the first film in which Jason wears the hockey mask for the entire duration. Audiences began to associate physical details with the character that would never go away. Friday the 13th Part III may have introduced the hockey mask, but this movie is the reason it stuck around. And now it’s impossible to imagine Jason without it. That’s only a small part of the staying power of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, a movie that couldn’t deliver on its own title, but delivered so much more instead.