Is it possible that this film is so old that there’s no longer any snarky fun to be had making fun of its title? It was certainly possible that in 1984 Paramount Pictures was growing awfully tired of being known as the “Slasher Studio” with titles like the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and APRIL FOOL’S DAY, giving the venerable studio bad press among powerful critics like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who railed against the the violence and supposed misogyny. The problem was that the films were all solid earners on thrifty investments, and studios are notoriously gun shy about killing golden geese. But once Paramount’s fortunes began to rise with a series of successful Eddie Murphy comedies and a string of blockbusters like FOOTLOOSE, FLASHDANCE, (and RAIDERS OF THE something or other) the studio must have felt that they could afford to cut the slasher films loose. Screenwriter Barney Cohen was tasked with killing Jason Voorhees (a job that no fictional character had thus far been capable of) and PROWLER director Joseph Zito was brought on board to send him off with style. An unusually capable cast was assembled, including then-heartthrob Peter Barton (THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR, anyone? Anyone?), future star Crispin Glover, future child-star catastrophe Corey Feldman, and everyone’s favorite LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, Lawrence Monoson, all of whom contributed towards giving the film a feeling of professionalism and legitimacy that the series would never see again while the franchise was at Paramount.
As with the previous entry, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter picks up right where the previous film left off, with an apparently dead Jason lying on the floor of the barn at Higgin’s Haven. With the characters unaware of Jason’s medical condition, which prevents death, his body is brought to the county morgue where he promptly slaughters the attendant (Police Academy’s Bruce Mahler as the show’s only truly obnoxious character) and a nurse before heading back to Crystal Lake. Meanwhile, a group of teens (who apparently don’t listen to the news on the car radio) are headed out to the lake for a weekend getaway in a rented house, situated right across from the Jarvis home, with young Tommy (Feldman) teenage sister and future ‘Final Girl’, Trish (Kimberly Beck)living with their mom (Joan Freeman.) On their way home, the Jarvis’ meet would-be camper, Rob (Erich Anderson) who has returned to Crystal Lake for revenge against Jason for killing his sister years earlier (apparently she was the bottom half of Friday the 13th Part II’s notorious Twitch of the Death Nerve-inspired spear kill.) The arrival of twins Tina and Teri (Camilla & Carey More) completes the victim roster and we’re off to the races, with director Zito bringing a polished execution that the series hadn’t seen before or since.
Zito’s instincts for performance allowed someone like Glover to improvise moments like his stupendously insane dance; and had the series actually ended with this film it would be quite well remembered today. Of course, the spine of any Friday the 13th film is the kills, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapterhas some of the series’ most visceral deaths, displaying the same nasty edge to the violence that Zito brought to The Prowler and the crazy violent Chuck Norris vehicle, Missing in Action. The slaughter scenes here have more weight to them simply because we care more about the performers (one very impressive kill is implied by shadow play against the side of the house during a rain storm and nicely demonstrates creativity trumping gore.)
Besides the always entertaining Glover, a pre-Goonies Feldman is also very good as the monster-mask wearing, Zaxxon-playing Tommy Jarvis – a familiar character to many of us who were too young to see this film when it first came out, but snuck in anyway. Anyone who wonders why he was such a popular child star need only watch the scene where he peeps on a pair of naked teens from his bedroom across the way; the kid nearly always made something out of nothing. And while Kimberly Beck is a bit bland as final girl, Trish, and the phrase “dead fuck” isn’t nearly as funny as screenwriter Barney Cohen seems to have thought it would be, this would be the last time that pointing out the deficiencies of a Friday the 13th film would take up so little space.
It’s a shame that Paramount didn’t deem the film deserving of a Blu-Ray release (yet), but the new Special Edition DVD looks quite nice. Though inflation would drive the budgets of future installments up, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter seems practically epic when compared to the poverty row entries still to come, and the DVD’s image reflects the higher production standards.
To make up for the lack of commentaries on the last 2 Friday the 13th films, there are actually 2 tracks included here, the first featuring Zito, Cohen, and editor Joel Goodman, none of whom are under the impression that the film is anything more substantial than it is, but are rightfully proud of what they were able to achieve. The second is a fan track featuring directors Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) and Adam Green (the woefully under-appreciated Hatchet), which is actually quite fun. They’re both smart, savvy guys who grew up on the same horror feed as the rest of us, and they have a legitimate and heartfelt affection for Zito and the film.
As for the bonus features:
- Buckle up for the 4th installment of the increasingly irritating Lost Tales from Camp Blood (see our reviews for the previous films for an explanation that we’re getting too tired and embittered to re-write.)
- The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited Part 1 is a mock Investigative Reports-style documentary on Jason’s killing spree that is fun for a few minutes, but we ran out of steam long before it was even half over.
- A more substantial extra is the documentary, Jason’s Unlucky Day: 25 Years After Friday, a brief but informative piece on the making of the film, featuring Zito, Cohen, SFX artist Tom Savini (who returned to the series for the first (and last) time since the original) and star Beck.
- Jimmy’s Dead Fuck Dance Moves is an unedited take of Glover’s hysterical dance, where you can see other actors straining to keep straight faces.
- The Lost Endingis exactly that, presented without production audio but with commentary by Zito and Beck.
- Longtime fans will likely be most excited by Slashed Scenes, a 15min collection of alternate takes that offers the best look yet at the unedited murder sequences.
The only disappointments are that the show didn’t qualify for a HD release and that not all the extras from the previously released box set have been ported over (this really ought to be step 1 when studios double-dip on releases), so purists should hold onto their old discs. Otherwise Paramount has done an admirable job with this release. Highly recommended.