Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer of Slash: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

1984 was probably the year most agree that the slasher died. It had an amazingly productive and successful (financially more than artistically) run for studios as they pumped out slasher after slasher with little to no budget. Despite these miniscule budgets, the films still made a good amount of money for the studios. As we’ve talked about already, Friday the 13th was the first film to really kick of the idea of the must-have sequel, and what followed was a torrent of films that adhered to the tested and true template laid out by the original Friday and its sequels (most specifically Part 2). Feeling that the subgenre was nearing its end, the producers of the Friday films felt they needed one last hook to bring in the waning audiences: in Part 3 it was the tired, old 3-D gimmick, and for the fourth entry in the series, the producers decided to name it The Final Chapter. Yep, they were going to kill Jason. That was their promise. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter isn’t as gimmicky as the Friday films that follow, but it’s the most apathetic of the first four films; a film so blatantly and lazily adhering to a template without a care for its characters or its audience. The filmmakers present the Meat, they present Jason, and then there’s a whole lot of killing, and then there is the most goddamn annoying ending that would be repeated ad nausea in subsequent Friday films.

And really (even though I have hindsight on my side, I would like to think that I would be cognizant enough to realize how much bullshit this whole “final chapter” thing was), what schmuck believed that Paramount was killing off one of their cash cows? Because let’s face it: they could still follow the Roger Corman model; they could increase the budget for each Friday film by about a million dollars and just keep pumping them out until the moment came where they broke even (Part 8 is the film that flirted too closely to the margins for the folks at Paramount, even though it doubled its budget, causing them to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema in a somewhat shocking move). Corman described this as the Carnosaur effect wherein you know when to stop based on the simple economics of profit margins. So, all of that to say, there was no way this was the final entry of the series. No matter how hard they wanted us to believe they were killing Jason. He wasn’t going to die. There was still a lot of money to be made. So if you can get past that, then Joseph Zito’s Final Chapter isn’t a terrible entry in the series – it’s just indistinctive and unexceptional in way that almost all slashers made in 1984 were. In fact, it’s almost identical to the original in that Zito is about as useless a director as Cunningham and is totally saved by having Tom Savini on board to do the effects.

The film begins with clips from the previous films to give us the context (as if anyone paying money to see this back in 1984 needed the context) and is the best use of the stock footage that plagues the first three sequels. It’s briskly edited together to give the viewer a nice “greatest hits” before Jason’s (not-so) final performance. After that, all I can really remember is thinking how this series has something with exploding title cards. I can’t tell which I liked best: the exploding title from Part 2 or the hockey mask explosion in this film? Anyway, the plot for The Final Chapter is dodgy at best (I always thought it would have been a much better idea for them to bring back the Final Girls from the previous two Fridays to finish the job – but that would have required some actual screenwriting, I guess) as it can really be summed up as thus: the film picks up where the third film ends; Jason goes to the morgue but of course he’s not dead; kills some people (I love the guy who that it was a bright idea to seduce a nurse with Jason’s corpse lying right behind them) a la Michael Myers in Halloween II; ends up back at Crystal Lake (not the camp, though) where a group of friends – the most obvious Disposable Meat I’ve seen in a slasher – that includes “Dead Fuck” (that’s one funny thing about the movie) Crispin Glover have rented a house; a family with the name Jarvis lives next door; Tommy (played by a young Corey Feldman) is a young Savini/Rick Baker as he enjoys scaring his sister with all of his masks and other effects he cooks up; Jason stalks victims and kills them; Tommy and his sister must kill Jason.

It’s sold to us as something different, but Zito – a hack director (he worked with Savini on The Prowler and would later go on to do make two Chuck Norris movies: The Delta Force and Invasion U.S.A.) if there ever was one – can’t seem to figure out how to at least try and make it interesting for the supposed last go-round for Mr. Voorhees. It’s all lit and framed appropriately – that is, in order to spotlight Savini’s heavily cut gore effects – but it lacks tension; it’s essentially the first Friday movie where there’s a whole lot of padding while the audience just waits to see what Savini has in store for us this time. I remember thinking this movie was much better than it is when I initially saw it in high school. I have to say, if there’s one horror director that benefited from his films being released during the heyday of home video, it was Joseph Zito. This film and his ’81 slasher The Prowler were much better in my memories than they were on recent viewings, and I can’t help but think that his grimy aesthetic was somewhat appealing on VHS; whereas all restored and digitally remastered, his films lack that grimy allure that all exploitation movies had on VHS. Now I just see his two early slashers for what they really are: boring chores.

I have no idea what the motivation is for these characters being where they are except the story requires a bunch of horny teens get together in one house. There is an odd bit of padding in the middle where they all dance around, smoke pot, listen to music, and then do it all over again only they switch dance partners and do it all over again; it’s all so random and dull and keeps the film from having any kind of cheesy, exploitation charm that, say, Part 7 (probably my favorite of the sequels after Part 2) has.

The Final Chapter shares a lot in common with the original film and its first sequel in that it was heavily edited by the MPAA. Not unlike other Savini films, the cenors were all over this one making little cuts here and there to shorten up the gore scenes. Most scenes aren’t affected too much by the cuts (although if you’re curious, you can check them out here) with the exception of the “death” of Jason; it’s a phenomenal set-up and a great gory set piece – arguably Savini’s pièce de résistance although I think I prefer the exploding heads in either The Prowler or Maniac – that were it to truly be the way Jason was going out, would have been a more than apt Grand Guignol curtain call for the icon of the slasher film (up to that point since Freddy Krueger wouldn’t enter into pop culture for another six months, changing the whole mentality of what a slasher could be, kickstarting the whole “supernatural slasher” era).

There’s nothing here that really holds up as being unique with the exception of that final gore piece: the film feels a little grimy and poorly paced like the first film, it lacks the pedal-to-the-metal pacing of the second film, and it doesn’t have the iconic moment a la the hockey mask (for as silly as it is, it’s one of the series’ defining moments that skyrocketed it into the mainstream); it’s just kind of there with its empty promise of being the final film of the series (it should be noted that the film tacks on a horribly idiotic ending shot of Tommy, after having just killed Jason, looking at the camera as if to suggest that now he’s the new Jason). The producers of the series didn’t even have the decency to wait a year to make and release the next film (a horrible, Season of the Witch type of slasher that doesn’t even have the series’ monster the one responsible for killing people – but more on that later).

Any Friday film post-Final Chapter feels different. Not because of the gimmick that this was the final movie with Jason (the series would reverse the whole thing by Part 6 and just start having Jason kill people again) but because they would all abandon the basic template laid out by the first four films of the series by attaching some kind of gimmick to them: in Part 5 you don’t even have Jason killing people, Part 6 is some kind attempt at meta-humor (setting in motion a whole different kind of bad slasher movie, the self-aware slasher), Part 7 pits Jason versus a Carrie-like clone, Part 8 places Jason in Manhattan in one of the most god-awful cynical depictions of New York City I’ve seen in a film, Jason Goes to Hell is just Jason’s spirit possessing people and having them do the killing for him (a la A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2), and finally in the tenth film Jason goes to space (yes, I refuse to acknowledge Freddy vs. Jason).

It can be quite it easy to look at Final Chapter as something more than it is because it’s the last of its kind: a true slasher film. Yes, there would be more slasher films produced post-1984, but they would have their own little twist on the subgenre. There’s a pang of nostalgia that creeps in when one watches The Final Chapter, but it’s also a film where I often find myself saying, as Mr. Burns did, good riddance to bad blubber; I’m glad the subgenre changed post-1984. And even though Wes Craven had something to say about the total death of the subgenre (as did the Italians, specifically Michele Soavi’s brilliant 1987 hybrid giallo/slasher Deliria AKA Stagefright), there really weren’t many more slashers like what we have – love ‘em or hate ‘em – in the first four Friday the 13th movies.

So to recap: this is the end of the slasher boom that existed from 1981 – 1984 and adhered to a very specific formula; this is the movie where Crispin Glover dances like the schizophrenic he is; this is the film where Corey Feldman shaves his head to make himself look like a young Jason Voorhees; this is the movie where Tom Savini agreed to do the effects on the grounds that the film really did kill off Jason (D’oh!), and this is the film where Jason “dies” via a spectacular machete-in-the-head scene that is one of the very best things Savini has ever created. There’s a lot that keeps The Final Chapter from being even remotely close to the bottom of the series’ offerings, but there’s just something that feels so uninspired about the film; there’s something missing from what should be something much more than justanotherslasher. Sigh, I hate that the film is such a slog even though I think it’s less annoying than the first film but not as entertaining in the goofy and cheesy way Part 3 is. This review has been a bit of stream of conscious because I’m just not quite sure what I can write anymore (and, Mr. Tim Brayton, if you’re reading this: how did you do it, man?). The rest of the series doesn’t get much better after The Final Chapter; although there is the surprising exception of Part 7 – a surprisingly giddy and alive entry into the series. But more on that as I wrap this thing up on Friday.


  1. Well, and I felt in the minority because I didn't think this was the best Friday the 13th movie, as many have said in retrospectives and so, but then you go the complete opposite calling it not as fun as number 3. Well, with that I disagree, specially when I think that Part 3-D is a lame excuse for a movie (not that the rest aren't but... at least they are fun).
    I mean, how can you not like or love a movie that has Crispin Glover dancing the most maniacal dance ever. It has self-concious humour as well, with the whole party getting smaller and smaller as time goes by and no one notices anything strange as Jason goes on killing people.
    It's not a great movie either, but it's watchable and fun. If I had to choose one moment where I thought that this movie wasn't going to be the best was with the suicidal dog... there was no explanation for the dog to throw itself out of the window. None at all.
    So, I dig this movie, maybe it's the best of the rest of the movies that would follow (with one exception) and I quite think it should be lauded for some good acting from Feldman.
    I leave you with my favorite internet persona and his choices for the best moments of Friday the 13th, featuring many from part 4.