Friday the Thirteenth: The Final Chapter has a title so inaccurate that Lionel Hutz would pursue restitution. But it is indeed the end of a chapter of sorts: the first real, definitive death of Jason Voorhees since the series retconned his zombie status between Part 1 and Part 2. And, as we’ll see in the next review, the end of the “pure” Friday the 13ths, before it started expanding its ensemble and storytelling shticks. The title was a marketing gimmick the way Part 3 leaned on 3D to draw in audiences: this time it’s FINAL. (Part 5 would come out 11 months later… “final” indeed.)
This is the most serious of the Friday the 13ths to this point. It’s still operating in the same tonal space as the first three, but there’s more heft to the darkness. Jason is played by Ted White, a giant of a man (apparently only 6’4”, but shot to look like Goliath), more daunting than any past Jason. And the flavor is just a bit less campy and more cynical, though not much.
I also watched Part 4 after reading Hunter’s comment on my review of Part 2 and watching the animated special The Halloween Tree, which probes the historical and cultural undercurrents of “spooky season.” It had me reflecting on why, exactly, Friday the 13th movies work on a psychological level. Hunter suggests the series is “a metaphor for the inevitability of death,” which is true. I’ll go even more specific and propose that these movies, and slashers in general, further reflect the the changes of adolescence. It’s the phase of life where humans typically become aware of both death and sex for the first time in real ways. Many of us lose our grandparents as teens, and we start seeing the previous generation not just as caretakers but as aging relics. Bodies and urges and change so fast, it’s hard not to see it as violent and incomprehensible and as scary as the Grim Reaper (whether he wears a black cloak or a hockey mask). The end of childhood meeting the end of life: stabbing of flesh as an act of sex or an act of violence.
Part 4 interlocks these ideas, bringing them to heightened, direct levels befitting the slightly-more-ambitious tone: For no good reason except metaphor and thematic comparison, the teens’ party house is next door to a suburban home with a nuclear family in which each person is reckoning with different life challenges: a single mom protecting her kids, preteen Tommy (Corey Feldman!) stuck between childhood and sexual awakening and obsessed with visages of death, and a slightly repressed teen, Trish (Kimberly Beck), drawn to the raucous fornicators next door.
We also meet the franchise’s first teen victim character of any compelling dimension, someone I legitimately wished we could have spent more time with: Jimmy (Crispin Glover), an unlucky-in-love loser trying to rebuild his confidence after a bad breakup. Glover gives such a funny and sincere performance that I could see this character being in some sort of teen comedy or drama where he’d be more than flesh to get stabbed. Jimmy spends the whole movie reckoning with his lack of skill in bed — trying to shake the reputation of being a “deadfuck,” which is basically a perfect one-word summary of slashers.
As is the template, there’s more to say about the setup than its unfolding or resolution: this falls pretty squarely into the pattern, with only a couple of wrinkles. Much of the climax takes place in Trish and Tommy’s house, in which Tommy undergoes a transformation as he witnesses true death and darkness for the first time. It’s not quite as thrilling and carefully constructed as the climax of Part 2, but its slight strangeness makes it just as memorable.
The Friday the 13th films have been continually the victim of studio censors editing out some of the film’s especially violent shots — I certainly have noticed that the films don’t linger on the violence. But Part 4 is the first time I feel like it caused a serious detriment on the film: the camera quickly hops away from the slasher action and gore, noticeably undercutting the sense of catharsis and shock throughout the film. It’s especially a bummer because Tom Savini has returned as the gore effects artist, and he’s doing some terrific work. (I know there’s a deep well of deleted scenes for this franchise in the Shout Factory box set, and if I ever revisit the series I’ll probably investigate alternate cuts.)
It’s not exactly higher art than any of the previous entries, but it has more heft to it; or maybe I was just in a thoughtful mood. Regardless, it’s my favorite of the Friday the 13th series so far, beating out the frothy, dopey fun of Part 2.
- Review Project: Friday the 13th Retrospective