Celebrating 35 Years of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

What comes to mind when you see a  hockey mask? Martin Brodeur hoisting the Stanley Cup? Olympian Jim Craig draped in an American flag following the miracle on ice?  Nope. It’s Jason Voorhees twisting the blade of a machete through the soft flesh of a nubile teen.

The Final Chapter marked Jason’s fourth appearance in the legendary Friday the 13th series, but, only his third as killer and second to don the titular hockey mask. Amusingly redundant, Friday 4 tackles the slasher paradigm with enough meta-humor and delectable gore to rise above most entries in the series.

Picking up after the events of part three, the picture commences with the seemingly dead body of the famed serial killer being carted off to the local morgue. It takes more than an axe to the head to keep the ol’ lummox down. Soon Jason is again feasting on the serene waters, pleasant air, and defenseless victims of Crystal Lake. His murderous rampage is cut short, however, when he runs into Trish (Kimberly Beck) and Tommy (Corey Feldman) Jarvis, siblings with a keen sense of survival and an unusual penchant for Halloween masks.

Feldman was awash in fame and fortune during the 1980s. His coming-of-age hits The Goonies and Stand by Me provided teens the boost they needed to navigate the awkwardness of adolescence and the pressures of academic life.

Young viewers formed connections between the actions unfolding on screen and their own personal experiences. Friday 4 is not as Daedalean as those other pictures, however it still forces audiences to participate in the activities of its young characters. Adolescent onlookers are sucked into Tommy’s fictive world, they sense his emotional state. Their skin tingles, their hearts beat erratically as Tommy observes a coed undressing through the window. Their breath is cut short while an intruder attempts to break into his home. Tommy creates latex monster masks as a way of coping with the horrors of boyhood.

His story alternates between sequences of titillating and frightening events: he and his sister happen upon a late-afternoon skinny-dipping session then are startled by a mysterious man when their car breaks down on the way home. We don’t just accompany Tommy through the story, we become part of the fiction.

Writer Barney Cohen takes the self-referential style a step further, providing followers of slasher cinema a glimpse of themselves and their fanatical nature. In the same way Tommy wears his Halloween masks to feel safe, genre enthusiasts watch horror films to figure out the world. Jason’s legend has become fodder for campfire tales. Tommy reads about him in old newspaper clippings. It’s only in the final moments of the picture that Jason crosses over from lore to reality. Tommy is forced to examine his own mortality in the face of death. Accordingly, he cuts his hair and disguises himself as a young Jason.

The film sticks fast in many ways to the blueprint established by its predecessors and other early films in the genre. The camera adopts the first-person perspective of the killer: teens violate moral values before being met with sudden and bloody death, and audiences are deceived by displays of comedy before being hit with sequences of sheer terror. But it is set apart from other movies of its type in its handling of the final girl trope. Trish is intelligent and resourceful. Like Alice, Ginny, and Chris before her, she is guided by noble principles. However, unlike other slasher protagonists, she does not face death alone. She defeats Jason with the help of her younger brother, Tommy, who would return to do battle with the killer in Friday 5 and 6 adds an undeniable sense of innocence that is absent from the other films in the series. He is surrounded by a relatable cast of supporting players. Cohen delights in providing each character their own personality, and they are more than mere cannon fodder for the killer.

Structurally and stylistically, the picture is one of the best in the series. It opens with an effective montage of memorable deaths from previous entries. The entertaining prologue gives way to a familiar title sequence. The title card that opened Sean Cunningham’s original film was notable for its progressive connotation. The words “Friday the 13th” rush toward the audience before seemingly breaking through the glass screen. The image suggests an understanding of the power of home video and an acceptance of cinema’s transition in that direction. Friday 4 begins in similar fashion, however instead of breaking through a sheet of glass, the words explode through the screen. The horror this time around is bigger, gorier, ghastlier. Later in the movie, a drugged-up teen called Ted watches an old stag film with an antiquated projector. A knife thrusts through the screen and stabs Ted in the head making a gut-wrenching pop as it penetrates his scalp. Ted slumps to the floor as the knife tears through the screen, ripping it in two.

More famous for his work with Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren than for his early efforts in the horror genre, Director Joseph Zito’s, strong visual style is apparent throughout Friday 4. The picture opens on a close-up of a helicopter searchlight. Cold light cascades onto the barn and cabin that served as the battleground of Friday 3. The camera descends the beam of light and glides over Jason’s mutilated victims. It is an epic shot that adds massive value to the simple story.

Zito’s brutal approach to horror is quite effective, photographing the deaths in violent and gruesome fashion. After rising from the gurney, Jason doesn’t just kill the coroner, he drags a bone saw across his throat; the sound of his skin splitting resounding over the soundtrack before twisting his head around on his shoulders.

Renowned stuntman Ted White (who once doubled for John Wayne) imbues the psychotic killer with an unparalleled savagery. When his prey resists attack he fills with rage. He grunts and groans and smashes furniture with reckless abandon.

During one impressive sequence an unaware teen mounts her bicycle at night. The camera pushes past her and comes to rest on an unassuming section of the cabin. Lightning cuts through the screen, and the brilliant flash of white reveals the girl’s shadow and the grim outline of Jason. Jason attacks before their shadows melt back into darkness.

And then we come to the end. Trish and Tommy lock themselves in a bedroom, but Jason breaks in and attacks. There is a curious pause in action as Jason has to decide who to assail first. Trish wards off the killer with his own weapon but is subdued by his superior force. Tommy, now disguised as Jason, drives a machete into the side of the killer’s face. Jason collapses to the floor as the hardwood handle of the machete pushes against the floorboards. The blade whines as it slices through the meat of Jason’s left cheek. Tom Savini’s awesome effects make the potentially trite sequence powerful, and it is a gleefully gory set piece and one of the most exhilarating final blows in the slasher cannon.

The Friday the 13th franchise is dear to the collective hearts of horror aficionados everywhere, and The Final Chapter serves as a high water mark in the series. It’s as skillfully put together as Cunningham’s original and more creative than a lot of others in the genre. Like in the first film, the killer’s rampage rolls in on the back of a terrible storm. We like his potential victims are thus affected when horrible things happen to them. Though its coming of age elements are better appreciated if discovered at a young age, its gritty gore and gothic suspense will appeal to all fans of the genre.

SINCE ITS RELEASE: 

Though often assailed by critics, the Friday the 13th series remains among the most profitable franchises of all time (much to the chagrin of Paramount Pictures). Officially, the series contains ten films, one spin-off, one remake, and an unconnected television series. Additionally, love of the franchise has resulted in a number of fan films created by devotees of Jason and his exploits. Joseph Zito again teamed with Tom Savini to create The Prowler, a top notch slasher about a war veteran who exacts punishment on unsuspecting teens after his girl runs off with another man.

The first eight films in the Friday the 13th series are available in a priced-to-sell box set from Paramount Pictures. 

Ernie Rockelman

Ernie loves movies. He's not so great talking about them, but he's pretty okay writing about them. He worked as a critic for the Press of AC for a number of years. Now he teaches film to high school kids and occasionally makes movies that nobody sees.

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One thought on “Celebrating 35 Years of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

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    December 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm
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    I love the Friday the 13th films and 4 is one of the best (I am most partial to 6, myself). This was a great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this beloved franchise!

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