Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Rated R

Score: 4 out of 5

It's almost quaint how they believed that this movie would be the end for the Friday the 13th franchise. It's clear from the opening, which quickly recaps the events of the prior three films via a highlight reel of its best moments, that they must have really felt they were making the grand finale here. Not only did they give it the lofty title The Final Chapter, but the gore, the body count, and the nudity have been amped up to series highs, and Jason Voorhees is at his most vicious, as though they wanted to send the series out on a memorable high note. The result is roughly on par with the third film, a thrill ride that represents everything that people love about Friday: grisly slasher violence mixed with campy teen drama and not-so-subtle moralizing beneath its R-rated exterior, and in this case also boasting a great co-protagonist in the form of Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis. Had the series ended here, this would've been a great way to finish it.

The film starts with Jason, presumed dead after the last movie, waking up in the hospital and killing the mortician and nurse watching over him, before he sets out back to Crystal Lake to do what he does best: kill teenagers. This time, however, there's a twist: next door to the co-eds heading up to a lakefront cabin for some debauchery, we have the Jarvis family, comprised of a single, separated mother and her two kids, the teenage daughter Trish and the adolescent son Tommy. Trish is classic "final girl" material, but Tommy is a young horror movie geek who feels like he wandered in out of a whole different type of '80s movie, the family adventure films of Spielberg and Amblin like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Goonies. In other words, it's basically Bill from It or Mike from Stranger Things versus Jason Voorhees, together with Trish and a hunter named Rob out to avenge his sister Sandra, one of the victims of Part III.

The youngsters on their weekend getaway are basically cannon fodder to a man, but the film still spends a surprising amount of time putting them in the spotlight, drawing as much on teen comedy tropes as it does on slashers. We get the "nice guy" Jimmy (played by a young Crispin Glover) who turns out to be just waiting to cut loose and unleash his inner rocker, along with his sleazy friend Ted who, despite putting on an image of a slick ladies' man, winds up being the only one who doesn't get laid that night. Samantha and Sara are best friends, the former being sexually experienced and trying to convince the latter to lose her virginity; no points for figuring out which of them dies early. As the night progresses, even before it becomes clear to them that people are being hacked to death, the feel is very consciously that of what many teen parties actually turn out to be: very dull affairs if you're not getting laid or intoxicated, as the teens spend most of their time sitting around and mindlessly watching an old nudie film that Ted found once they start to get bored. They were among the most realistic protagonists the series has had, and proved to be very fun people to watch even as it became clear that they themselves weren't having a lot of fun there. The fact that none of their characterization ultimately amounted to much was a mark against the film, but I still enjoyed my time with them.

The more interesting and plot-relevant stuff happens with the Jarvises and Rob, with Trish trying to protect her little brother, Rob seeking to take out Jason once and for all, and Tommy putting his knowledge of horror movies and the Jason Voorhees case to good use as he proves to be both far less helpless and a fair bit more disturbed than he seems. Together with Gremlins later that year, this was one of the films that first brought Corey Feldman some real notice, and the twelve-year-old actor makes Tommy into a kid who you can't help but root for (especially given how much he's designed to remind fans of themselves as kids), but who you still have to wonder about as he seems a bit too enthusiastic towards the end about fighting Jason. They brought Tommy back (albeit recast) in the next two films, and watching him here, I can see why he proved popular enough for them to do that.

Jason, of course, is the real star of the show here at this point, the home video box art for the film bearing simply his hockey mask with a knife through it in a pool of blood and little else. He both dishes out and receives some of the grisliest violence in the series, the edits feeling as though the MPAA was desperately trying (and failing) to contain his brutality. Throat slashings, necks twisted, corkscrews to the hand, cleavers to the face, bodies hung from door frames, and all manner of creative uses of a machete abound, and Jason is nothing if not prolific, killing thirteen people in the span of 91 minutes. It may not be as atmospheric as last time, but the in-your-face brutality makes up for it. Jason is in top form here as he hacks and slashes his way through everybody in front of him, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The Bottom Line:

We all know that there were more Friday films after the "Final Chapter" than before it. But honestly, they really could've stopped here and this series wouldn't have been any worse for wear. It's everything that makes Friday the 13th memorable with little of the chaff, and it would've made for a great send-off for the tale of Jason Voorhees and "Camp Blood".

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