The deceptively titled fourth instalment of the Friday the 13th franchise proved a significant turning point for the madman in the hockey mask
The Final Chapter proved something of a landmark in the Friday the 13th series, but not for the reason most would have expected. 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 practical effects whizz-kid and series mainstay Tommy Jarvis, but in reality it 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 Friday the 13th 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, a future horror artefact that would transform the character from a slasher boom fad into a bona fide genre icon. At the time censorship hysteria was gaining real momentum, and with the ever popular Jason becoming the poster boy for moral outrage over in the States, 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 were extremely vocal about the impact of Jason Voorhees and the moral implications of the slasher at large. With public outrage reaching its media-spun zenith, Paramount refused to release footage of The Final Chapter prior to its release with the exception of 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,”, concluding “…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, even the least cynical of moviegoers must have been thinking the exact same thing.
Horror hounds were unperturbed by the media’s ethical self-righteousness. Fans were hardly likely to forgo Jason’s last hurrah based on moral grounds; it went against everything the character represented, why audiences paid to see him in the first place. If anything, such rampant mainstream criticism only added fuel to the fire, further strengthening 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, ironically working as a favourable review rather than a scathing admonition. 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 been their intention from the get-go. There was simply too much money at stake.
[Jason’s hand falls on Axel and Nurse Morgan] Jesus Christmas! Holy Jesus! Goddamn! Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!Axel
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 before selling the rights to New Line Cinema at the turn of the 90s, but each grew more bloodless than the last, which to a series whose main purpose was practical effects slaughter was absolutely devastating. In November 1984, angry parent groups took to the streets in protest after ads for Charles Sellier’s controversial festive slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night aired pre-watershed, terrifying kids otherwise secure in the sweet bubble of Santa-led commercialism. The movie was quickly pulled from theatres and the Motion Picture Association of America was forced into further action, ironically leaving the door open for Jason’s supernatural successor Fred Kruger, A Nightmare on Elm Street, released that same week, benefitting from Silent Night, Deadly Night‘s unceremonious expulsion.
Censorship had reached even more puritanical levels across the pond. In the UK, 72 movies deemed unfit for public consumption were prosecuted under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, a series of high-profile court cases involving the likes of Sam Raimi and Ruggero Deodato resulting in their banishment. The latter even faced murder charges after French magazine Photo claimed that some of the supposed practical effects in exploitation shocker Cannibal Holocaust were in fact genuine images of real-life murder, a claim made even more suspicious by the fact that cast members were contractually prohibited from appearing in anything else in an attempt to reinforce the film’s sense of morbid realism. The Friday the 13th movies were much more mainstream in their presentation, but despite their relative lack of reality-driven sentiments, they reached a larger audience, which made them a prime target for unions looking to make examples out of violent-sounding movies or those with brand recognition. This even led to The Final Chapter‘s eventual successor, the wholly preposterous Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, being cast under the fake title Repetition. See what they did there?
Whatever Paramount’s original intentions, those involved with creating Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter were similarly convinced that the movie 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 ‘golden age’ favourite renown for its practical effects excess. The person responsible for those visual flourishes was none other than SFX maestro Tom Savini, who would once again collaborate with Zito, 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 before the series embraced the ludicrously self-aware in an attempt to dodge the MPPA and Paramount’s censorship impositions, 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 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 Paramount’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 spiritedly 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, Jason’s seemingly dead body 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 in what would be Jason’s last semi-plausible return from the dead. 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 initially 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 for a series that is largely throwaway in this department, 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 thanks to the character’s third portrayer in as many years. Adorning the mask is veteran Hollywood stuntman Ted White, who had studied Jason in previous instalments and set out to make the character his own. I still prefer the lumbering menace of Friday the 13th Part 3‘s Richard Brooker, but there’s no doubting White’s unique approach and his impact on the series at large. 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 scene, sending a teenage girl hurtling through a second-floor window in another. Something of an innovator, White offers 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 franchise, even with the usual cuts, which had plagued the series throughout to varying degrees. Friday the 13th Part 3 not withstanding, The Final Chapter is probably the most brutal and creative of all in the kill department. Savini conjures some glorious moments of gore-heavy artistry, particularly a skull-crushing shower kill and a scene in which sleazy doctor, Axel, has his throat cut and his head turned around 180 degrees. Savani aimed to make his presence felt for Jason’s supposed send-off. The fact that fictional effects and makeup wizard Tommy Jarvis shares his first name is no coincidence, Feldman considering it a great honour to have worked on one of the industry legend’s last great SFX outings.
The Final Chapter‘s crowning achievement, a drawn-out, excruciating kill dripping with poetic justice, is reserved for Jason himself, who succumbs to a nasty machete impalement and an unexpectedly savage hacking-to-death at the hands of Tommy, a character who was originally set to replace Jason as the franchise killer. Ultimately, A New Beginning‘s sequel setting ending, which saw Jarvis kill final girl Pam in what promised to be an intriguing development for the series that would stick to its final chapter promise, was scrapped by the time Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives came to fruition the following year, a movie that recast the character, making third portrayer, The Return of the Living Dead‘s Thom Matthews, the instalment’s deeply misguided protagonist (he actually goes as far as digging up Jason’s long-dormant corpse in an attempt to finish the job, a move that backfires quite spectacularly). The original idea for The Final Chapter was for Tommy to fry Jason’s brain with an electrical current until his head exploded, a mouth-watering prospect reminiscent of The Prowler‘s most iconic death, though bringing a headless Jason back from the dead would have proven rather tricky, even by Paramount’s notoriously underhanded standards.
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?Jimmy
Another interesting development in The Final Chapter‘s production is the death of Mrs. Jarvis. In the movie, we don’t get to see her demise. It is implied, but her Jason-inspired fate would occur off screen, proving remarkable for other reasons. It all stemmed from conflict between Paramount executives and the film’s creative team. Looking to freshen affairs for the so-called series finale, 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. The scene was filmed but ultimately scrapped from the final cut, resulting in the most anomalous instance of censorship in the entire series.
In a franchise typically reserved for low-rent upstarts, the majority of whom kids would disappear from the industry almost immediately, The Final Chapter is also notable for its relatively fleshed-out, likeable cast, which, Friday the 13th Part 2 notwithstanding, is unique to a series that put a decreasing emphasis on such elements as the slasher became increasingly genericised. Originally, Zito didn’t want to rely too heavily on creative kills (partly due to outside pressures, I’m sure), instead forging a group of characters who endeared themselves to audiences to the extent that the nature of their deaths was not the be all and end all. Attracting competent actors for a Friday the 13th movie was not an easy task based on their reputation and the worsening stigma that the series carried, but The Final Chapter features a few notable faces that further sets it apart.
Ironically, the cast members who are now considered the real stars of The Final Chapter weren’t exactly stars in 1984. Young headliner Corey Feldman is easily the biggest star in the whole movie, 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 were recognisable faces, though it was Aronson and Glover who would benefit from the movie’s most notorious moments.
The first of those occurs onscreen. 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, his real-life friendship with Monoson translating to the screen, which was exactly the kind of character-enhancing rapport that Zito craved. The two were also heavily into improv, which made their onscreen relationship all the more rewarding. Living up to his quirky real-life persona, Glover is most remembered for one of the most iconic moments in the entire series, a convulsive dance scene that would go down in horror movie folklore, one that has to be seen to be believed. Of course, music is typically added in post-production, which means whatever they were playing onset, if anything at all, would not have synced with what we hear as an audience. Still, I struggle to think of a single song that could inspire such a catastrophic display of physical insanity. Given the reputation of the series and Glover’s serious ambitions as an actor, you have to believe it was an impudent, wholly self-aware gesture designed to make fun of the movie, but ask any horror 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, which occurred offscreen, 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 several hours in a dinghy as Savini prepared to work his magic for a scene in which her character Samantha takes a knife through the stomach and along the spine, a moment that proves as excruciating as it does silly thanks to Aronson’s notoriously ludicrous death expression, though there was nothing at all amusing about the ordeal lurking behind the scenes. “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.”
You son of a bitch! I’ll give ya something to remember us by.Trish
Aronson wasn’t kidding. The actress would develop hypothermia for her efforts, becoming sick for several days thereafter. The fact that only a fraction of her gruesome slaying made it to the screen was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. White was so shocked by what Aronson was forced to endure that 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 and utterly baffling continuity issues, the kind concurrent with its quickening descent into self-awareness. The series timeline is so messed up that fans are still trying to put the pieces together. Tommy’s leap in age between Parts IV and V was the first such instance I became aware of for obvious reasons, a development which suggests there’s a huge leap forward in time, even if we’re given no other indication. Incredibly, and much to my surprise while researching this article, by the time we arrive at 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, we’re supposed to be somewhere near the millennium, despite a purely late-80s aesthetic and a quite incredible gallery of perms on display.
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 slip 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 searching for missing 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, the kind of inconsistency that would evade the passive viewer, but certainly a sign of things to come for a series that would grow zanier by the year.
For me, those later instalments, as anaemic as they can be, are just as fun as their golden age predecessors. Imposter killers, Universal Monster style regenerations, telekinetic shenanigans, ignominious trips to somewhere resembling New York and left-field celestial adventures make for one of the most shameless and pricelessly absurd horror franchises in history. Many fans lost interest after The Final Chapter, a series favourite that many feel should have been the cut-off point for one of horror’s most cynical sensations. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly to many, 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 independent fan-made movies as Friday the 13th’s intellectual property floundered in judicial purgatory, a drawn-out legal battle that has kept the series firmly on the shelf since 2009’s underwhelming survivalist reimagining. Following a lower court ruling in September 2022, original Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller was awarded the copyright for the original Friday the 13th and all associated characters, so expect another reboot in the near future (hopefully a loyal Paramount-era, Ti West-style period piece with a distinctly 80s aesthetic).
Boosted by an emblematic figure like Jason, the Friday the 13th brand has a seemingly limitless lifespan, but in a sense Part IV would prove to be the final chapter, the last instalment of Jason’s more conventional period that was very much a blueprint slasher, the kind that would succumb 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 censor-imposed promise that would lead to a revolutionary period in the evolution of the character. After the fourth instalment, Jason would overcome his sleazy, derivative status as a 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.