Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

At least the ax wound is well-done.
At least the ax wound's a nice touch.

The presumptively-named Final Chapter opens with a highlights reel, reminding you (by which I mean me) of an editor’s power to twist truth into previously unthinkable of geometries. Intercutting Paul’s campfire recap of series’ mythology from Part 2 with shots from Jason Voorhees’ Greatest Murders might give the uninitiated a false impression of this series’ quality.

That could be dangerous, so let me state plain: Quality has to scrape Friday the 13th off its shoes every time it visits its aging parents. Don’t want to track things across the “family” room carpet, now do we?

But while they’re all bad, each one is bad in its own, brain-damaging way, all of them illustrative of the worlds from which they came. I find these revelations fascinating no matter how many times I trip over them in the course of fleeing a masked psychotic. There might be some value in the damn things yet. Nice to know that the many, many, (many) people involved in didn’t waste their lives, eh?

Before I turn the Hate on, I’ll say something nice about The Final (*cough*) Chapter – it’s opening sequence is surprisingly effective. We finally spend some time in the confused aftermath of a Jason Voorhees rampage as two EMTs haul his supposedly-dead ass out of Higgins Haven, the site of Part 3D‘s unfortunate events.

What...did Jason pay for that with proceeds from his pot farm?
What...did Jason pay for that with proceeds from his pot farm?

Once we get to the hospital, most of the sequence is shot from the hypothetical POV of a succubus sitting on Jason’s chest, passing nurses and flowers and all the bright lights and background noise of a  functional hospital. I enjoyed these five minutes more than the entire ass-end of Halloween II. At least here it feels like a natural continuation of a story that just refuses to end…rather than a tacked-on afterthought, meant to shoehorn another story out of something that already ended exactly as it was supposed to, full stop.

Showing us a Jason’s-eye-view of the venal, ugly people at Wessex County Hospital (in which state? never you mind) is great way to get the audience in a mood for murder. First, meet Axel (Bruce Mahler) and Nurse Morgan (Lisa Freeman), the kind of horny doctor/nurse combo found only in Slasher films and porno movies. Like Bud from Halloween II, Axel is an Asshole of exquisite caliber. At least Nurse Morgan displays a modicum of hutzbah, calling him the “Superbowl of Self-Abuse.” Ah, these two. A comedy team for the ages. Sure, they fight: but soon they’re making out like bandits among the corpses…even as TV talking heads blather on about some “Crystal Lake Massacre.”

We spend a full fifteen minutes with Axel the Ass and Nurse Naughty, lulling us into a false sense that this will just be a rip-off of Halloween II…and we’d better start dealing with it. Part III opened up with similar suicide fuel, and I never thought I’d look back fondly on The Harold and Edna Show.

Mom might as well be wearing a headband with the word "DEAD" writ across it.
Mom might as well be wearing a headband with the word "DEAD" writ across it.

After Jason inevitably rises from his gurney to dispatch Axel and Nurse Horny, we cut to Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck) and her mom (Joan Freeman) as they jog through…the Crystal Lake Woods. Continuity time! It’s probably the day after Axel and Morgan’s demise…which took place the morning after the events of Part III. Part III covered two days, opened the day after Part 2‘s much-longed-for conclusion. Part 2 also covered two days. With all that in mind, I ask you…will Trish and Mom Jarvis, perchance, be discussing the grisly series of murders that just took place mere miles from their jogging trail (and house) over the last six days?

Perish the thought. Too bad, too, since an Evil POV cam is already stalking them. Looks like Jason’s powers of Offscreen Teleportation once again brought him safely back home. Welcome to Crystal Lake: where hockey-masked psychos can come back from the dead, escape a hospital unnoticed (with two new murders on their belt) and cover miles of woodland in a single bound.

We learn more about Trish in five seconds than than we learned about Naughty Nurse and Axel the Ass in fifteen minutes. Trish’s single mom and absent dad mark her as our Final Girl. Her mom, having just rented out the cabin next door to a bevy of vacationing “kids,” becomes a Dead Woman Jogging. What’s that bacony odor wafting towards me on the wind? Must be the New Meat.

"'re not a vampire, are you?"
"'re not a vampire, are you?"

We’ll get to them. For now, let’s focus on this Frdiay’s one and only narrative  innovation: Trish’s little brother Tommy Jarvis (a thirteen-year-old Corey Feldman), the first Final Boy…though he’s really just another special effects nerd in training, spending his non-video-gaming hours making wonderful masks…a hobby Mommy Jarvis not only recognizes, but encourages. He’s the opposite of Part III‘s Shelley. And all of a sudden I’m thinking, Holy shit. A healthy, stable, psychological-trauma-free family unit? In a Friday the 13th film (absentee Dad – who was probably an asshole, anyway – notwithstanding)? Do mine eyes deceive? No. Surely they’re doomed to journey through a night of blood and hell…but what’s that stirring deep down, inside? Am I…actually…worried for them? Do I…(sickening thought)…actually care? About characters in a Friday the 13th movie?

Shit. I spend three movies waiting for it to happen and it still catches me flat-footed. Perfect time for the New Meat to flip my body over the grill of their car and leave me bleeding in the road…the way our New Meat leave a poor, hitchiking fat girl (Bonnie Hellman…who’s actually gone on to have more success as an actress than most of the rest of the cast combined) to Jason’s tender attention.

The New Meat’s half of the film is as lazy, poorly-written, ultimately pointless and needlessly profane as I’ve come to expect from this franchise. There’s Ted, our Odious Comic Relief (Lawrence Monoson), whom we meet as he chats with the recently-dumped Jimmy (Crispin “George McFly” Glover). Ted attributes Jimmy’s recent relationship issues to Jimmy’s being “a dead fuck.” The invisible computer Ted consults apparently “don’t lie” about such things. Jimmy could respond by declaring Ted an “asshole” (like I did) but instead declares himself “sooo horny” in the same nasal tone of voice Asian actresses uses in porno-fantasies from the 1970s.

Once again, "DEAD" headbands all around.
Once again, "DEAD" headbands all around.

The rest? Another Manly Spice named Paul (Clyde Hayes) leads the charge, backed up by Generic Girl Spice Sara (Barbara Howard), Slutty Spice-by-reputation-only (she claims) Sam (Judie Aronson) and Generic Guy Spice Doug (Peter Barton). Eventually, this merry band will happen across Twin Extra-Slutty Spices named Tina and Terri (the sisters Carey and Camilla More). And that’s really all I’d prefer to say about them. Writing all their names down has filled me with the same teeth-grinding rage I felt throughout their twenty minutes of the film.

There’s a reason people cheer for Slasher movie “villains.” The more crops of New Meat I see the more annoying they get, especially when juxtaposed with characters about whom I actually care. It’s the same problem as casting Donald Pleasence or Malcolm McDowell next to unknown teenieboppers. Thankfully, we only spend twenty minutes on the perfunctory character “development” before the murders being. Refreshingly enough, said “development” comes jammed with Obligatory Tit and Ass shots, courtesy our director, Joseph Zito…though the film would have to hand out strip club coupons to make up for Crispin Glover’s revolting awkwardness. Or Teddy’s sleazy, stoned pick-up lines.

The bulk of the film follows Jim-bo’s quest to get it on with someoneanyone – as if he’s contracted some dread disease that can only be cured by blowjobs. Put me down for a terminal case. Otherwise, Jimmy’s laser-like focus on sex can only be chalked up to a dangerous hyper-awareness on the part of the screenwriter Barney Cohen. I can just see the man leaning back from his typewriter and shrugging. “Well, they’re all gonna die anyway…why bother giving them anything to do?”

Proof that 1984 was a horrible, horrible year.
Orwell could not conceive the real horror of 1984: its fashion trends.

Coming on the heels of Part III‘s sparse-but-nonetheless-extant attempts to tell an actual story, this feels like the dangerous backsliding it is. At least Carol Watson and Martin Kitrosser broke their script down into A, B, and C plots. Sure, they never did anything with them…but hell, I appreciated the effort. Too bad this entry’s writer  decided to focus on the effects the Slutty Spice twins have on our New Meat’s group dynamic.

Short version: it goes badly. Long version: Slutty Spice #1 turns Ted down in an attempt  to break up Paul and Sam (she fails). Slutty Spice #2 turns Ted down to help Jimmy prove that he’s not such a “dead fuck” after all. Meanwhile, I grit my teeth and wait for them to die. Jason obliges by stabbing Sam through the stomach from below once she takes refuge on a rubber raft inexplicably floating in the lake…and by stabbing Paul through the crotch with a spear gun.

This is the earliest convenient place in the series to mention the absurd geography of Crystal Lake, something which will become vitally important later in the series (Parts VII and VIII especially). Crystal Lake’s miles of shore front, dotted with settlements easily isolated by convenient thunderstorms, has a bad habit of shifting through space. Earlier, the film established Crystal Lake as at least a good walk away from the Jarvises and their new, doomed neighbors. Now Sam and Paul can trek down to the shore easily. In the dark. Perhaps I’ve been wrong all this time: Jason doesn’t teleport. The Lake shifts around him, and moves everyone else into Jason’s path, like some malignant demigod. All this time it’s been his secret accomplice.

Machetes are a dime a dozen in these damned, haunted woods.
Machetes are a dime a dozen in these damned, haunted woods.

How else could he move about the Dead Meat’s house undetected? Jason would need ninja stealth and a level of self-restraint he’s never evidenced before. Christ, he passes Teddy at least three times before our Odious Comic Relief gets what’s due him (a butcher knife to the back of the head). It’s one of the most slapdash atrocity exhibits in the series…but it’s nothing on the way Jason suddenly appears outside a window, grabs Slutty Spice #2, and tosses her off the second floor. Okay, maybe he flew up there…or he’s realized The Matrix is no different from any other computer system. Whatever. The point is, the New Meat dies and we’re all happy, because now it’s time for the Final Girl sequence.

Which brings me back to one of my pet themes: the relationship between Slasher films and pornography. Someone once said, “A pornograpic film is a film where you the audience actively resent all the time characters waste not having sex.” If you find yourself actively resenting all the time characters waste not dying, congratulations: you’re watching a Slasher film. This applies outside the sub-genre as well as within. Consider Event Horizon, Hollow Man or any of the thousand-and-one things with Jerry Bruckheimer’s name on them (otherwise known as CSI).

A few character moments remind us that the Jarvises still exist, just in case we were so enthralled by the New Meat. After fleeing the gratuitous skinny dipping scene, Trish and Tommy run into Rob, a hiker…who claims he’s hunting bear until Tommy calls bullshit on that. Despite his being a stranger, Tommy can’t resist dragging Rob up to his bedroom to show off his special effects work to another dude, just to get that dude approval you’re sure as hell not gonna get from a house full of your mom and sister. This is a wonderful, remarkably honest character moment in an otherwise bullshit film. Another comes in the next scene, when Trish sees Rob off into the woods. Rob hesitates for a sec before giving her a very polite goodnight kiss on the cheek.

Bonnie Hellman tells he film what she thinks. Who are you to disagree?

Why isn’t this our A story? Oh…right…I’m sorry; I forgot what I was watching for a sec. The film forgets Rob for a full twenty-odd minutes, bringing him (and Trish, and Tommy) back only after the New Meat (and Mrs. Jarvis…although her death is not shown, leading to much speculation from my colleges in the online movie reviewing community) are safely dead. Turns out Rob’s the brother of Part 2‘s Adventurous Spice, Sandra, who met with a spear through her lover and her chest…what was that…all of five days ago in film-time?

So not only did Rob have time to hear about his sister’s demise, do enough research to figure out who was responsible, decide Revenge was the best way to go about things, buy up all the supplies (including a machete), and get out to Crystal Lake…he also abandoned his no-doubt grieving family even as he supplied them with one more reason to mourn: his own stupid death.

Because, let’s face it, if you’re a hunky slab of man-meat in a Slasher film, you’re probably dead as the average mother figure…or anyone named Tina (unless you have psychic powers). While exploring Dead Meat central, Rob sacrifices himself so that Trish might escape, ludicrously calling out, “He’s killing me! He’s killing me!” in what would be a moment of High Camp if the musical score weren’t treating it so goddamn seriously.

The Final Chapter is another entry in the series that would work perfectly well as a short film if you grafted the first five minutes onto the last fifteen. Its Final Girl sequence is actually possessed of honest-to-God drama for once, and with good reason: Tommy. There’s a rare (for this series) genuine moment of tension when the Jarvis siblings, having been separated by Jason, each attempt to distract him away from the other. Trish’s surplus of X chromosomes wins the day, leading to a surprisingly kinetic chase (Jason runs, a tactic that, for most Slasher villains, has since gone the way of the passenger pigeon).

"En garde!"
"En garde!"

Think about this: in the simple act of giving Trish a brother, Barney Cohen and Joseph Zito give Trish more stake in the action than any Final Girl since Laurie Strode. Trish even conquers Laurie Strode Syndrome…sorta…until the very end, when Tommy steals the show and wins a place in my heart for responding to Jason’s stubborn will to live exactly the same way I would: a little Ginny-style headfuckery, followed by a lot of Bruce Campbell hacking-n-slashing.

The effects of little touches (like Tommy’s presence) reveal the paucity of Friday the 13th films in general and bring up an unfortunate paradox: had this, in fact, been the Final Chapter, we would never have seen the glorious spectacles of the mid-80s, when makers of Slasher films threw up their hands in exhaustion and began to actually, honest-to-God play with the form. They creating wretched cross-breeds, half-decent hybrids, and at least one masterpiece called A Nightmare on Elm Street. Would we be better off if they’d stopped here, the way the poster intended?

Probably. But the world would be a much stranger place if they had.


2 thoughts on “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)”

  1. For my money, it’s the best of the F13 films. And my huge crush on Judy Aronson has nothing to do with it. I’ve watched this one with a couple of different ladies and without exception, every single one of them cheers when the twins die.

    1. For me, it’s a toss up between Jason Lives and The New Blood…though I edge toward the The New Blood most nights, and my crush on Lar Park-Lincoln has everything to do with that.

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