VHS Revival marks a significant turning point for the madman in the hockey mask
The Final Chapter is something of a landmark in the Friday the 13th series, but not for the reason most would have imagined. Back in 1984, the movie was advertised as the final instalment of horror’s most popular slasher franchise, one in which the irrepressible Jason Voorhees ‘finally met his match’ in the form of a practical effects whizz-kid named Tommy Jarvis, but in reality this was only the beginning, or, more accurately, the dawning of a new era.
By all accounts it was all very innocent to begin with. Producer Frank Mancuso had signalled the end of the series as early as 1982, announcing at a wrap-up party for Friday the 13th Part 3 that the Jason character was done with, which is unthinkable all these years later, particularly since Part 3 was the instalment that introduced Jason’s iconic hockey mask, an artefact that would ultimately transform the character into a bona fide horror icon. By that time, censorship hysteria was gaining real momentum, and with the ever popular Jason becoming the poster boy for moral outrage, Mancuso was beginning to feel the heat. Paramount, who weren’t quite ready to put their marquee attraction to bed, agreed to one final instalment with the proviso that Friday the 13th Part IV would indeed be the final chapter. Period.
Others weren’t convinced by Paramount’s series-ending proclamation, particularly influential critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who had been extremely vocal about the impact of Jason Voorhees and the moral implications of the slasher genre as a whole. With public outrage reaching its sensationalist zenith, Paramount refused to release footage of The Final Chapter prior to its release besides an edited-for-gore trailer, but that didn’t stop Siskel and Ebert from openly lambasting the makers of the film on their weekly review show At the Movies.
Ebert, in particular, went above and beyond in his condemnation of the series and the exploitative actions of those behind it, calling the film an “immoral and reprehensible piece of trash,” that wasn’t over by a long shot, stating, “…the sickest thing is, this isn’t the final chapter. That’s just an advertising gimmick.” Whether or not you agree with Ebert’s moral stance, you can’t deny him such an assumption. On some level, we were all thinking the exact same thing.
Horror hounds were unperturbed by the media’s ethical self-righteousness; if anything, it merely added fuel to the fire. Fans were hardly likely to forgo Jason’s last hurrah based on moral grounds. It went against everything the character represented, why we paid to see him in the first place, and such vehement mainstream criticism only strengthened the character’s anarchic lore. Ebert proclaiming that The Final Chapter was nothing more than, “ninety minutes of teenagers being strangled, stabbed, impaled, chopped up and mutilated”, was music to the ears of a generation weaned on cynical, dead-eyed slaughter. In fact, the movie would experience the best opening weekend of the year up to that point ($11,183,148), a number that was also the best in the franchise and would remain so until Freddy vs Jason almost twenty years later. It’s no wonder Paramount would renege on their series-ending declaration, regardless of whether it had in fact been their intention all along. There was simply too much money at stake.
Axel: [Jason’s hand falls on Axel and Nurse Morgan] Jesus Christmas! Holy Jesus! Goddamn! Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!
Unfortunately for fans of gore, Paramount would also take censorship rather seriously following the fourth instalment. They may have been willing to reap the financial rewards of four more sequels, but each grew more bloodless than the last, which to a series whose main purpose was practical effects slaughter was absolutely devastating. In November ’84, angry parents took to the streets in protest after ads for Charles Sellier’s festive slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night were shown on daytime television, terrifying kids across America. The movie was quickly pulled from theatres and the Motion Picture Association of America was forced into further action. In the UK, 72 movies deemed unfit for public consumption were prosecuted under the Video Recordings Act of 1984. Some filmmakers were even accused of real-life atrocities as the British tabloids soldiered on with their wholly sensational ‘video nasties‘ campaign. The fact that people were willing to swallow the notion that independent filmmakers were committing real acts of murder for the sake of a few dollars was absolutely mind-blowing. Beneath all the accusations and political bluster, tabloid-fed hysteria was the true enemy.
Whatever Paramount’s original intention, those involved with creating the picture were similarly convinced that The Final Chapter would indeed spell the end for Mr Voorhees. According to director Joseph Zito, “We were told — and would believe — that Part IV was going to be THE final chapter. I mean, ‘final chapter’ as in no more Jason, no more Fridays, no more nothing. Therefore, it was going to be a movie about the death of Jason.”
Zito was hired in the absence of Steve Miner after impressing with 1981‘s The Prowler, a movie that lives and dies by its practical effects. The person responsible for those visual flourishes was none other than SFX maestro Tom Savini, who would once again collaborate with Zito on the latest ‘Friday’ sequel, returning to the series for the first time since the original Friday the 13th back in 1980. In many ways, The Final Chapter was a last hurrah for explicit, Jason-led gore, and there was simply no better man for the job. Speaking of his own Crystal Lake homecoming, Savini would explain, “I thought I would never hear from the Friday the 13th people again after the first [Friday the 13th], because 2 went by, they did not offer me Part 3, but the idea of offering me the film where I get to kill Jason made me feel like Dr Frankenstein — I created a monster and I get to kill him.”
Despite the company’s eventual reneging, The Final Chapter sets itself up as the final instalment of the series, opening with a campfire scene in which a counsellor recaps Jason’s years of wanton destruction to a group of kids who are not in the least bit perturbed by a potential recurrence. Will they ever learn? Beyond the movie’s prologue we begin where we left off, as Jason’s seemingly dead body is taken from the final scene of Friday the 13th: Part 3 to the local hospital, a sterile retreat where he inevitably finds a second wind and returns to Camp Crystal Lake for more of the same. This time, Jason terrorises not only a gaggle of horny, drunken teens, but a fatherless boy and his family; residents who still live in the house across from Camp Crystal Lake, despite three previous massacres in as many years. No wonder daddy didn’t stick around!
The Final Chapter kicks off what fans lovingly refer to as the ‘Tommy Jarvis Trilogy’, a character originally portrayed by up and coming superstar and future cult favourite Corey Feldman. Tommy is the younger brother of The Final Chapter‘s final girl, Trish Jarvis, a maternal figure in the Laurie Strode vein who proves a more than formidable foe for Jason’s latest incarnation, which is arguably the most direct and brutal to date. Zito delays Jason’s resurrection for as long as possible, which allows the movie the kind of tension rarely glimpsed in the series. When Jason is slid into the freezer at the hospital, we see a little puff of air. When his seemingly lifeless arm falls off the trolley, we shriek with anticipation. It’s all beautifully paced and admirably restrained, but when Jason finally decides to make his movie, he is swift, brutal and utterly remorseless.
The Final Chapter gives us Jason at his most savage, and a lot of it was due to the character’s third portrayer in as many years. Adorning the mask on this occasion was veteran Hollywood stuntman Ted White, who had studied Jason in previous instalments and set out to make the character his own. In The Final Chapter, Jason is quicker and more agile, hunting his prey in a manner that sees him smash straight through a door in one instance, offering us a glimpse at the inescapable brute who would rule the roost during those later, Kane Hodder-led instalments. “What I had done prior to coming on,” White would reveal, “was I’d rented number 2 — I think it was 2 or 3 — and I watched the way Jason moved, and I decided that I didn’t want him to be a big clumsy oaf, so I did change it, I changed it to where I moved faster, and I tried to make the kills a little swifter.”
With Savini back on board and determined to send Jason out on a high, The Final Chapter features some of the most memorable deaths in the entire slasher sub-genre, even with the usual cuts. The fact that fictional effects and makeup wizard Tommy Jarvis shares Savini’s first name is no coincidence, and Feldman considers it a great honour to have worked on one of his last great SFX outings. Savini conjures some glorious moments of gore-heavy artistry, particularly a skull-crushing death in the shower and a scene in which sleazy doctor Axel has his throat cut and his head turned around 180 degrees.
The film’s crowning achievement is reserved for Jason himself, who succumbs to a relentless hacking-to-death by Tommy after having his head impaled with a machete. The scene, which is drawn-out, excruciating and dripping with poetic justice, was a joy to behold back in 1984, even if the original idea was for Tommy to fry Jason’s brain with an electrical current until his head exploded. Despite Jason’s iconic machete death, the thought of his head becoming flesh confetti in a manner reminiscent of Zito’s The Prowler is a mouthwatering prospect, though bringing Jason back from the dead would have proven rather tricky, even by Paramount’s notoriously underhanded standards.
Jimmy: Hey, Ted, where’s… where’s that, uh, that corkscrew? That fancy corkscrew for the wine bottle? Ted? Hey! Ted! Ted! Hey, Ted, where the hell is the corkscrew?
[Jason shoves it into Jimmy’s hand]
There is also the death of Mrs. Jarvis to consider. In the movie, we don’t get to see her demise ― it is implied, but her Jason-inspired fate would occur off-screen. This particular death would prove the subject of much conflict between Paramount and those in charge of creative. Screenwriter Barney Cohen loved the idea of a maternal figure meeting her grisly end in a series where death was typically reserved for teenagers.
Cohen would say of their discussions, “The idea, to me, of kids watching a mother figure being ripped, was extremely exciting. [The Audience are] used to seeing kids being punished, essentially for their loss of innocence. To see mom punished; that’s grotesque.” Instead, Paramount wanted a dream sequence reminiscent of the first movie, one that sees the corpse of Mrs Jarvis floating dead in a bathtub while a machete-wielding Jason appears in the background. This scene was filmed but ultimately edited from the final cut, resulting in the most anomalous instance of censorship in the entire series.
Another thing that sets The Final Chapter apart is it’s relatively fleshed-out and likeable cast. Originally, Zito didn’t want to rely too heavily on creative kills (partly due to outside pressures at the time, I’m sure), instead forging a group of characters who endeared themselves to audiences to the extent that the nature of their deaths didn’t particularly matter. Attracting notable actors for Friday the 13th movies was not an easy task based on their reputation and the stigma the series carried, but The Final Chapter features a few notable faces.
Ironically, the cast members who are now considered the real stars of Friday the 13th weren’t exactly stars in 1984. Young headliner Corey Feldman is easily the biggest star in the whole movie in hindsight, but asides from voicing Young Copper in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, his career was only on the precipice. Following The Final Chapter, Feldman would star in huge Hollywood hits Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, License to Drive and The Burbs in an incredible five-year run that would transform him into a household name. Elsewhere, Crispin Glover wouldn’t star in Back to the Future for another thirteen months, and Weird Science‘s Judie Aronson had only been acting for a year before immortalising herself as Jason fodder. At the time it was American sci-fi series The Powers of Matthew Star headliner Peter Barton, along with The Last American Virgin‘s Lawrence Monoson, who stood tallest, though it was Aronson and Glover who would benefit from the movie’s most notorious moments.
Described as “an eccentric” who “walks to the beat of a different drum” by co-star Feldman, Glover would play the sexually starved and oddly insecure Jimmy Mortimer, and his real-life relationship with Monoson translated to the screen, which was just the kind of character-enhancing rapport Zito craved. The two were also heavily into improv, which made their onscreen relationship all the more rewarding. In The Final Chapter, Glover more than lives up to his oddball, real-life persona with a convulsive dance scene that would go down in horror movie folklore, all but confirming the theory that white people are somewhat lacking in the rhythm department. The era is known for its quirky moments, the kind that simply don’t exist in today’s slick production arena unless transparently self-aware. They remind us of a simpler time when the industry was not so regimented and ‘bad’ movies took on a very different, often accidental guise. Ask any Jason fan about The Final Chapter and they will invariably reference ‘the dance’, a scene of obscure charm which has become nothing short of emblematic in the slasher canon.
Aronson’s notable incident was much more troubling. Filmed between October 1983 and January 1984 in Topanga Canyon and Newhall, California, weather conditions were cold during The Final Chapter‘s particularly gruelling production, and the script called for rain, which meant actors had to remain wet throughout much of the shoot. Aronson, who would suffer from one of the most heavily edited kills in the movie, suffered even more. The rookie actress spent hours in a dingy as Savini prepared to work his magic in a scene where her character, Samantha, took a knife through the stomach and along the spine.
“Shooting my death scene was a bit of a challenge,” Aronson would explain. “That’s where the horror part came into filming for me. What they did was they made a fake body. There was a raft with a hole cut in it, and my body went through the hole. I was upright in the water, and from [my waist] up I was just leaning over. It was very, very cold, and the water was even colder. It was hours and hours in the water and it became really difficult for me. There were points where I felt that I just couldn’t go on anymore.” Aronson wasn’t kidding. The actress would develop hypothermia for her efforts, becoming sick for several days following the scene. The fact that only a fraction of her gruesome slaying made it to the screen was a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
Trish: [in the house with Jason] Tommy! Tommy, get the hell outta here!
[Jason appears. Trish then holds him off with the machete]
Trish: You son of a bitch! I’ll give ya something to remember us by.
Ted White was so shocked by what Aronson was forced to endure that it got to the stage where he actually stepped in and threatened to quit if the crew didn’t cut her some much-needed slack. Zito, who was working on a strict deadline and already threatening to go over schedule, had to get the movie made at all costs. Like many directors caught in such a stressful and demanding situation, he lost sight of the reality of things, and in doing so pushed Aronson beyond the limits of safety. In the end, no one was harmed too seriously, but if not for White it could have been a whole lot worse.
“She was freezing. She was so cold her teeth were chattering and she asked to get out,” White would recall. “And they were reloading the camera. And the director said no. This girl was actually turning blue, and I went to Joe Zito and told him. I said, ‘Joe, we’ve gotta get her out of there before she freezes up completely. And he said, ‘Why don’t you just do Jason and I’ll do the directing?’ And that’s when I got a little upset with him and said, ‘Well, either get her out or I’ll walk ― one or the other.’ So they pulled her out.”
Also worth noting, especially for series diehards, is the fact that The Final Chapter is the first instalment to suffer from Friday the 13th’s infamous continuity issues. The series timeline following part IV is so messed up that fans are still trying to put the pieces together all these years later. Tommy Jarvis’ leap in age between Parts IV and V suggests that there’s a huge leap forward chronologically, and by the time we arrive at 1988’s Friday the 13th: The New Blood, we’re supposed to be somewhere near the millennium, despite a purely late-80s aesthetic.
The inconsistencies here are not so obvious. In fact, Zito failed to make the connection after reading the script, which was why the goof was able to creep through unnoticed. Despite the various leaps in time in future instalments, Parts II to IV happen within a few days of each other. Rob, who comes to the aid of Trish and Tommy Jarvis, is out hunting for his sister Sandra in The Final Chapter, the same Sandra who appeared in Friday the 13th Part II, which in the series timeline occurred only days prior, though an unaware Zito gives us a character who has been searching for much longer. Again, it’s nothing major. It’s the kind of inconsistency that would evade the passive viewer, but certainly a sign of things to come in a series that would grow zanier by the year.
Ultimately, Ebert was right: Jason would live to fight another day. In fact, he would live on for another quarter of a century and counting, starring in crossovers, reboots and even Indie fan-made movies, but in another sense Part IV would prove to be the final chapter, the last instalment in Jason’s more conventional period, one free of annual gimmicks that was very much a blueprint slasher. For many fans it is the cut-off in the series, one which led to a half-decade of campy mayhem that cranked up the humour and skimped on the gore, transforming Jason into a supernatural entity who stalked his victims with a raised eyebrow.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Jason’s more explicit period, The Final Chapter will always be remembered for its young stars and accidental quirks, but mostly as a landmark in the series, a censorship-imposed promise that would lead to a revolutionary period in the evolution of the Voorhees character. After the fourth instalment, Jason would become much more than a sleazy Michael Myers clone. He would become the Roger Moore of the horror genre, a self-reflexive figure of tongue-in-cheek immortality, a character who despite critics’ best efforts transcended the predictability of the ‘Friday’ formula to become one of the most memorable characters in all of horror. For better and for worse.