Deformed psychopath Jason Voorhees is pronounced dead and sent to the county morgue, following the events of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 IN 3-D. Soon, however, his “corpse” walks right out of the hospital and returns home to terrorize a family living near Crystal Lake and their youthful new neighbors.
A strong case can be made that THE FINAL CHAPTER is the perfect FRIDAY THE 13TH film. Loaded with cardboard, one-dimensional characters, nubile starlets in varying states of undress, buckets of gore and stomach-churning make-up effects, and everyone’s favorite vicious, hulking killer in a hockey mask (all set to the sharp strains of Harry Manfredini’s familiar theme), this movie delivers everything a die-hard fan of the series could ever want. It is fast-paced, well-photographed and utterly brutal in its depiction of what was intended to be Mr. Voorhees’ final bloody rampage. It is a visceral, unrelenting roller coaster ride of hormones and horror, an exercise in popcorn terror so expertly constructed by action director Joseph Zito (MISSING IN ACTION, INVASION U.S.A.) that it scarcely gives the viewer time to question its numerous inconsistencies.
There are a few innovations that elevate this entry above the earlier and later sequels. Instead of simply replaying the final minutes of PART 3, Zito intercuts the great campfire scene from PART 2 with many of the more memorable bits from all three previous movies, cleverly priming the audience for a final showdown with Jason. To further enhance continuity, screenwriter Barney Cohen created a brother for PART 2’s ill-fated Sandra, a serious-minded fellow who has come to Crystal Lake with a machete to avenge his sister. While most films in the series (and, indeed, in the genre as a whole) place a pretty but wholly virtuous teenage girl center stage as the protagonist, the hero of this story is a pre-adolescent boy (Corey Feldman) with a gift for horror mask-making. Of course, little Tommy Jarvis has a pretty but wholly virtuous older sister (Kimberly Beck) who also survives the final reel, but it’s the kid who makes the last stand against the killer. This tense climax is pretty illogical (and a bit derivative of PART 2) when examined out of context, with Tommy making a somewhat bizarre leap of logic in his plan to help his sister. Fortunately, the scene is so wildly off-beat – and punctuated with some of Tom Savini’s grisliest make-up effects – that it remains one of the most unforgettable moments in slasher film history.
Savini and Zito stop just short of the sadistic realism they achieved in their previous collaboration, 1981’s THE PROWLER. Still, the graphic killings here are very imaginative and extremely intense. One character shouts to his friend in another room to inquire about the whereabouts of a fancy corkscrew – only to immediately have his hand nailed to the kitchen counter with the implement in question. This same fellow is later hung in a doorway, crucifixion-style, and then literally ripped down when Jason needs to make a quick exit. A screaming, towel-clad teen is trying to open a locked door to escape when an axe explodes through the wood and buries itself in her chest. Viewers will never look at strawberry-banana yogurt the same again after seeing an early scene of a hungry hitchhiker impaled through the throat while eating a healthy tropical snack. There are also a couple of bloodless kills which are surprisingly effective – one involving a two-story window and the car below it, the other shown only in shadow. Jason’s unquenchable thirst for bloodletting is matched here by that of his director and make-up supervisor, making this one of the most savage and uncompromising films in the series.
As usual, the cast is attractive but not overly gifted in the theatrical arts. Feldman, Beck and Joan Freeman deliver solid performances as the Jarvis clan, while mousy Barbara Howard and a young Crispin Glover are the strongest thespians among the pubescent partiers next door. Glover, while only slightly less obnoxious than the rest of his gang, manages to elicit a tiny bit of sympathy by demonstrating the social awkwardness that characterizes many of his performances, and by playing whipping boy to Lawrence Monoson’s thoughtless, chauvinistic Ted. The scene in which Glover’s Jimmy cranks up some irritating, generic rock and roll and dances as though he’s having some kind of seizure is reminiscent of those beach party and teen horror flicks of the late 50s and 60s, in which the producer’s son or nephew hoped to use the film as a vehicle to promote his tone deaf musical aspirations.
No gaggle of victims before or since in this series has been more obsessed with sex, leading to a lot of nudity and absolutely no characterization. Judie Aronson’s performance as the jilted Sam is as flat as her figure is curvy (which is to say, very), and her otherwise excellent death scene is severely undermined by the cartoonish mugging that was apparently supposed to pass for pain and terror. Future soap stars Peter Barton and Clyde Hayes are interchangeable and equally bland as Doug and Paul, respectively, though Hayes does stand out somewhat for his particularly unpleasant demise. Twins Camilla and Carey More sure look hot, and their performances aren’t really bad, but it’s never quite credible that these two beauties would accept an invitation to the party ostensibly as dates for losers Jimmy and Ted. Like the blatantly repugnant “Teddy Bear” and most of his friends, these two ladies are also not overly likable despite their pleasant aesthetics. For characters we are supposed to feel for, these kids are all pretty self-absorbed and shallow – a fact best demonstrated in the aforementioned hitchhiking scene, when they offer the poor traveler a few cruel slurs rather than a ride, simply because she’s overweight. It is only Jason’s sheer lack of humanity, and the decent folks next door, that keep the audience from rooting wholeheartedly for the madman in the mask.
The biggest flaw in the narrative is the fact that the Jarvis family seems almost completely oblivious to the horrible events that have taken place over the previous weekend, just a few miles down the shore. Late in the story, Beck’s Trish does comment that the killer is dead, but it’s stretching credibility to believe that Mrs. Jarvis, a mother of two children living in a small community, would not show a bit more concern for her kids’ safety in light of the recent massacre. Mere hours after Jason is carted off to cold storage, the Jarvis girls are jogging nonchalantly down a wooded trail, smiling and chatting as though this were Mayberry rather than Crystal Lake. It’s pointed out several times that Tommy has a bad habit of leaving the front door open, drawing only a token reprimand from his concerned mother. What kind of parent doesn’t vehemently insist on locking the door when a psychopathic killer is known to frequent the neighborhood? When Mom does observe that some maniac could come right in, she does so in a flippant, tongue-in-cheek fashion, drawing an equally flippant response from her daughter. The fact that the twins who’ve joined the party next door are also apparently locals and also quite oblivious to the danger they are in raises the question – are the people of Crystal Lake just that used to death, or did the filmmakers drop the logic ball in an otherwise continuity-friendly film? One or two lines of dialogue could have patched this gaping hole and made this movie that much better.
Of course, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER was not so final. Less than a year later, Paramount released a follow-up built around this entry’s climactic twist. Still, Zito and company approached the material in THE FINAL CHAPTER as though it were the be-all, end-all, slam-bang finale to the franchise, and the results are fast, furious and frightening fun. This film represents the last time Jason was really scary, and the last time before New Line Cinema bought the property that the mythos established in the original film really played an integral part in the proceedings. Though far from perfect, this faux coda still delivers the goods more than 20 years after its release, exemplifying probably better than any other entry the primal energy that made this franchise the most successful and enduring of its kind.