Happy Friday the 13th, Campers! It’s time to talk about the high water mark of the Friday the 13th saga, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), the action-packed fourth entry that was decidedly not the final chapter of this twelve-part (so far) series. Reader beware: this review is not devoid of spoilers, though this writer tries to maintain a few surprises for the uninitiated.
After Friday the 13th: Part III (1982) took terror into the third dimension, Final Chapter was able to capitalize on the best elements of its predecessors while smoothing out some of their storytelling hiccups. Final Chapter ports over the basic setup of Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) and Part III: Tormented former New Jersey summer camp attendee Jason Voorhees (Ted White this time around), wreaks belated vengeance on the same camp’s next generation of counselors. In the original Friday the 13th (1980), a surprising different killer avenged Jason’s mistreatment at Camp Crystal Lake circa 1957. Jason did make a violent cameo appearance in the first film’s epilogue, though.
Final Chapter retains the core elements that worked best (Jason in a hockey mask, idiot teenagers living in sin near Camp Crystal Lake, surprising applications for a machete, the eerie Harry Manfredini theme music, excessive skinny dipping scenes, gratuitous sex and extreme violence), adds a welcome layer of self-aware humor, and brings the franchise firmly into the 1980s with some excellent character work from decade cult mainstays Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman.
Set immediately following Part III (which itself took place right after Part II), Final Chapter arrives at the scene of Jason’s apparent barn death at the hands of prior Final Girl Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell). Jason is carted off to a hospital, packed with a staff so brazenly horny that one coroner seems way too comfortable joking about necrophilia with a comely corpse. After making quick work of the medical horndogs, Jason sets out for a return to Camp Crystal Lake. A technical note: if Final Chapter transpires two days after Part II, that means the events of this puppy would actually transpire on Sunday the 15th.
We then encounter some key new residents of Crystal Lake. First, we meet the lonely Jarvis family, featuring talented aspiring mask maker Tommy Jarvis (Feldman), his adventurous teenage sister Trish (Kimberly Beck), golden retriever Gordon, and their sexually frustrated mother (Joan Freeman).
Arriving at the adjoining cabin are a pack of party-animal youths, including sexually frustrated weirdo Jimmy (Glover), sexually frustrated goofball Ted (Lawrence Monoson), sexually frustrated virgin Sara (Barbara Howard) and her sexually frustrated boyfriend Doug (Peter Barton), plus sexually satisfied couple Samantha (Judie Aronson) and Paul (Alan Hayes). Care to guess who dies first?
The gang meets the Jarvis clan when they touch down, and soon afterwards encounters a pair of identical twin sisters, Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey More). Tina and Terri wear matching attire as if they’re in a Doublemint Gum ad, but one sister speaks with a British accent and the other with a distinctly American lilt. No explanation or even acknowledgment of this phenomenon is ever given.
One more important figure, a connective thread between Final Chapter and Part II, emerges. Crusading Rob Dier (E. Erich Anderson), older brother to Part II victim Sandra Dier (Marta Kober), is camping around Crystal Lake, determined to avenge his sister’s demise and slay Jason once and for all.
Before Jason kills anybody too major, the twins and the party animals commence to raging. Which leads to perhaps one of the great performative tour de forces on Crispin Glover’s terrifically oddball resume. First, he seduces Tina with a spastic dance to Lion’s “Love Is A Lie.” Glover is the only actor circa 1984 who would have gotten down with this kind of panache. Later, Glover’s Jimmy has an unfortunate tandem encounter with a corkscrew and a machete, both at the hands of Jason, in a moment that somehow marries a terrific jump scare with a laugh.
Things ramp up in a hurry when Jason preys upon the Jarvis team and the partiers. Surprising, memorable murders — edited efficiently by Joel Goodman and Daniel Loewenthal — and unique set pieces employing the cunning and ingenuity of young Tommy make the ensuing proceedings a rollicking good time. The script, credited to Barney Cohen and Bruce Hidemi Sakow, is loaded with crass, crude, concisely illustrated caricatured “types” for its adults. In some movies, that could prove distracting, but here, it’s a perfect way to engage the audience without letting us feel entirely guilty that most of the mischief makers here are doomed to become chum for a mad slasher.
The two earnest, well-intentioned Jarvis kids are clearly most deserving of survival, and Feldman and Beck are appealingly charismatic here. Feldman, already a star in the making with a credit in Gremlins later that year and a key role in The Goonies (1985) on the horizon, brings a refreshing gravitas and complexity to the role of Tommy, an artistic pre-teen shut-in who, once pushed too far, undergoes a dark climactic turn.
Grisly makeup maestro Tom Savini returns to the franchise after his striking initial work in the original Friday the 13th. Savini, a combat photographer during Vietnam, famously channeled his brutal wartime experience towards cultivating a new level of realism in horror, starting with George A. Romero’s vampire chiller Martin in 1978. Savini supplies some terrific gore work in Final Chapter, including Tommy’s menagerie of pro-quality masks, a reprisal of his notorious throat-stabbing gag from the original movie, a potpourri of graphic hand injuries, and a great treatment of Jason’s marred visage.
“That’s all this movie is… just mindless, bloody violence… It’s really sick,” Roger Ebert bemoaned in a now-infamously scathing Siskel And Ebert At The Movies review. “It’s just a mayhem film… The film is literally about stabbing,” Gene Siskel concurred. They’re not wrong. But where they err in their analysis is in decrying its messaging. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, operates as a hyper-efficient, happily puerile excursion into the realm of blood and guts. And it’s one of the best of its era in this department. There is no subtextual missive, no intellectual reflection on the creative bloody punishments Jason doles out on his cheerfully sex-mad victims. It’s all surface and style. Luckily for us, the movie makes that surface and style shine like few other slashers ever.