Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

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*. In my notes on Friday the 13th Part III I noted how that film is rated rather highly in the Crystal Lake canon. I don’t understand why. I thought it was one of the worst of the Jason films. But this one (technically Part IV, though the number doesn’t appear in the title) isn’t all bad. Sure, it’s a long way from being any good, but it’s not without some redeeming moments.
*. I also noted that in Part III the producers could no longer make the claim with a straight face that they were ever going to stop making more Jason movies as long as they remained profitable. So when director Joseph Zito and screenwriter Barney Cohen were told that this was to be the final chapter, the end of Jason, did they really believe it? I doubt it. Yes, Jason is killed off in what seems to be a conclusive manner, but then we close with a look into Tommy’s eyes that just screams “To be continued.” However, according to Zito this final shot was his own call, and a sequel was never discussed.
*. For the most part there is nothing special about this outing. The formula was set. An introduction fills us in on the franchise thus far. A carload of horny teenagers arrives at Crystal Lake. They fuck and die. There’s a thunderstorm. Someone goes skinny-dipping. Another person takes a shower. They are both killed. At the end the last girl runs around screaming and discovering all the bodies. There is yet another instance of that most annoying slasher-film cliché of someone being locked inside a house. Jason is killed, several times. There was even a scary dream ending filmed, but it didn’t make it into the final cut. All the boxes had been checked.
*. While I’m on the subject of formula, note how Bruce Hidemi Sakow is given a credit for the story here and Barney Cohen one for the screenplay. Story? I realize screenwriting credits are . . . weird . . . but how much of an original “story” was Sakow responsible for? Even the bit at the end where Tommy disguises himself as young Jason to confuse the adult Jason is the same as the end of Part 2 where Ginny disguises herself as Jason’s mom in order to confuse him.
*. So why is this any better than the previous instalments?
*. After the compilation of “greatest kills” introduction, and a hilariously awful exploding title, things get started with a pretty impressive crane shot covering the ambulance taking away all the wet stuff left behind from Jason’s rampage in Part III. As Zito says on the commentary track, such a flourish comes down to director’s ego (wanting to do a Touch of Evil), but it’s still a lot more than you’d expect from a movie like this and it at least gives the impression that Zito was trying.

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*. The cast. Of course Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis and Crispin Glover as some random teen victim are the standouts, and Feldman in particular is excellent. They both have signature zany scenes, with Glover busting some crazy dance moves and Feldman humping his pillow like a horny chimpanzee while spying on his new sexy neighbours. But the rest of the cast is above average too. Lawrence Monoson as Teddy isn’t nearly as annoying as he could have been and even the pastel party twins are solid as 1980s bubblegum girls. There’s nobody in the movie that I thought was awful.
*. Tom Savini is back from a brief hiatus (he’d worked on the original Friday the 13th but skipped Parts 2 and III). So the violence is professionally handled. That said, despite the “endless conversations” (Zito) they supposedly had about how to kill people, they didn’t come up with much that was new. There are no particularly original kills, just lots of impalings and broken glass. Indeed several kills aren’t even shown, including the one I like the best (the girl whose shadow we see being speared) and Zito’s personal favourite (the husky hiker being killed in the basement while explaining that yes, indeed, he is being killed).
*. We don’t feel nervous suspense as the kids are hunted down but only relief when they’re finally put out of their mistery. That said, there is one decent scare here. I really like the sequence when Tina keeps looking out the window and we’re made to believe someone is sneaking up behind her, but then Jason comes through the window from outside. That actually startled me.
*. So that’s all to the good, and I think it’s enough to rate this movie above most of the other titles in the series. It also has a sense of humour that still works pretty well. For example, Axel “the Super Bowl of self abuse” (and what does that mean?) may be just another creepy morgue attendant, but he does get the surprising line “Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!”
*. Believe it or not, back in the mid-’80s those exercise videos really were stroke material.
*. As Zito points out on the commentary, working with animals just makes your life difficult. So why is Gordon (the dog) included here? He has no function in the plot at all and in the end just bails on the family by jumping out the window (and yes, I think it’s clear he jumps out and is not thrown by Jason, though there seems to be some controversy over this).
*. How can Jason stab the girl through the bottom of the inflatable rubber dinghy without sinking it? Neither of the commentaries on the DVD address this point. It bugged hell out of me.
*. They should have quite while they were ahead. Or, as Leslie Halliwell put it: “Would to God the title meant what it said.” It didn’t.

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