TGIF13 – Day Four: Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter

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The Friday the 13th series comes to a close, and so does this series of reviews, with this – the final film of the series. It was a good run, but alas. all good things…

Nah, I’m just screwing with you. Of course this isn’t REALLY the end…but audiences in 1984 were sure sold the idea it would be. The question is, even with the hindsight that this wasn’t really the grand finale, does the film at least still deliver on the high expectations of such a promise? Check out the review below to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

FRIDAY THE 13th – PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

Directed by: Joseph Zito
Screenplay by: Barney Cohen
Story by: Bruce Hidemi Sakow

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THE PLOT

After the ax to the head delivered by Chris in Part 3, Jason – seemingly dead – is promptly whisked off to the local morgue. The Crystal Lake paramedics are apparently terrible at diagnosing a little thing like death, however, and it isn’t long before Jason has woken up, killed a doctor and nurse, and is back on the loose.

Meanwhile, a group of friends have rented a house on Crystal Lake, and are there for what they assume will be your pretty standard week of debauchery. Right next door is the home of young Tommy and Trish Jarvis (along with their mother). Needless to say, Jason soon makes his way onto the scene as well, and sets all these characters in his sights. But this time, some one is hunting Jason, as well. Rob, a hitchhiker Trish and Tommy befriend, turns out to be the brother of one of Jason’s past victims, and soon he and the Jarvis siblings are locked in the ultimate life or death struggle with the masked murderer.

MY THOUGHTS:

So let’s just get it out of the way – this ain’t really the “final chapter.”

No shock there. Heck, this is a series in which not one but two movie titles promised a “final” entry, and both turned out to be full of crap. That’s certainly not surprising nowadays, given our understanding of how the horror genre works. However, back in 1984, a large percentage of the audience probably thought this would be the final onscreen appearance of Jason Vorhees, as did many people involved with the film itself.

And why not? After only two sequels (but numerous imitators), the Friday the 13th model was already beginning to feel a little outdated by the time this installment went into production in 1983. In addition, the filmmakers knew that, coming off the 3D spectacle of Part 3, they would need a pretty big hook to once again excite audiences. With both those things in mind, it’s perfectly understandable that they eventually decided on finally just killing off Jason and letting the series go out with a big bang.

Knowing what we know now – that this is actually far from the final film – you might think it puts a damper on the whole Part IV experience. Thankfully, that’s not the case. The fact is, the makers of this film really considered it a possibility this would be the last entry, and it definitely shows onscreen. This movie pulls out all the stops. Even if it’s not the last film in the series, it still comes across like it was meant to be, giving it a bit more ambitious feeling than the previous installments.

The film also benefits from a few noticeable tweaks to the already well-worn formula, most noticeably the addition of a child character. Given that the series is about a summer camp, it had been noticeably absent of children until this point (except for Jason himself in the first movie, of course). So no matter what you may think of Corey Feldman, his presence here is actually a breath of fresh air. I’m not sure the filmmakers knew that they were creating a character who would become – in the eyes of many fans – Jason’s all-time chief adversary. In fact, judging by the final shot of the movie, I’m pretty sure they had something completely different in mind for the character, altogether. Still, Tommy Jarvis would become a big part of the Friday the 13th mythology, and at least some of that can be attributed to Feldman’s likable, easy-going performance.

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I also always enjoyed the idea of the Rob character. Even if his story feels a little short-changed, the concept of someone actually hunting Jason is a strong one, and the fact that he’s doing so to get revenge for his sister, who was murdered in Part 2, is a nice touch – especially given the sometimes frustrating lack of continuity between the previous films. And while Rob’s death scene may be one of the series’ goofiest (“he’s killing me!”), it’s still an effective surprise. Audiences going in expecting Jason’s demise probably bought into Rob as the guy who would eventually finish him off, so it’s a neat twist when it instead turns out to be Tommy – who was probably the least likely candidate in the eyes of most fans.

Hey, at least I tried, right?

Hey, at least I tried, right?

Having said that, it’s probably a good thing the Rob and Tommy characters were so different from anything the series had seen before, because the rest of the characters sure aren’t. The group of kids renting the house across from the Jarvis place, and the two twin sisters they befriend, are just your typical slasher movie victims – maybe not as annoying as the interesting batch in the last movie, but also not as likable as Part 2‘s cast, either. I suppose there is some effort made to give them all a little bit more character than you usually see in these films, but it’s somewhat negated by their one-track minds (and dialogue).

Not that I want to complain about the twins, but still…

Don’t get me wrong, I understand how important the idea of horny teenagers is to this kind of movie, but the kids in this movie talk about absolutely nothing but sex. It gets to be a little tiresome, so much so that you really can’t wait to see them taken out. On the plus side, one of them is played by the always awesome scene-stealer Crispin Glover, and what movie isn’t better with a little George McFly thrown in?

Though, in case you were wondering - yes, his buddy on the left is just as annoying as this picture would suggest.

Though, in case you were wondering – yes, his buddy on the left is just as annoying as this picture would suggest.

Anyway, if it’s true that you can’t wait to see these kids get theirs, the good news is these moments don’t disappoint, thanks to the series return of FX legend Tom Savini. After helping create the Friday the 13th phenomenon with his work on the first film, Savini decided not to work on the first sequel over his disagreement with using Jason as the villain (Savini had always considered the first film’s final scare to be nothing more than a dream, and thought the idea of Jason still being alive was too corny). But Part IV director Joseph Zito – who had just recently worked with Savini on The Prowler, one of the genre’s more brutal offerings – enticed him back to the series with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Savini had helped create Jason, and now he was going to get to kill him.

It’s not like the Savini-free sequels had been lacking in blood, but it’s still comforting to know the man himself is back in the saddle on this one, and he definitely brings his A-game, with a number of memorably nasty moments. And Savini’s influence is felt in more ways than one. Young Tommy Jarvis, with his first name, obsession with horror movies, and wizardry at creating masks, is clearly meant to be a tribute to Savini – a nice subtle way to further enforce the idea of Savini as the man who is finally killing Jason off.

And speaking of Jason, it’s somewhat ironic that the film which was meant to be his last is the one where his character finally takes full form. His iconic look now firmly in place, and no longer relegated to just hiding in a barn waiting for victims to come his way, Jason is more intimidating, and terrifying, than ever before. Interestingly enough, the man who played Jason, veteran stuntman Ted White, was so disgusted by the final product (and the treatment of some of the female cast while shooting it) that he asked for his name to be taken off the picture. That’s a shame, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s one heck of a Jason, bringing a particularly menacing physical presence to the role.

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All in all, the elements that work (Rob and Tommy’s characters, Crispin Glover, Zito’s understanding of mood and tension, and the overall big event feeling) end up overpowering those that don’t (the rest of those stupid kids), helping The Final Chapter become one of the series’ most enjoyable efforts. You certainly can’t hold it against this movie that the series producers would later make it a liar by cranking out yet another sequel. If it had been the last movie, it would have been a satisfying and successful climax to the saga. As is, it still delivers a noteworthy climax: Jason does in fact die, thus forcing a change in the future direction of the series. So while it might not have truly been the franchise’s Final Chapter, it definitely is the end of one particular era.

Oh, and before I forget, there’s also this:

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BODY COUNT: 14

Perhaps believing this would be their final chance to kill off horny teens, the filmmakers delivered the highest body count yet, with all but one death (the Jarvis mother) shown in all their bloody gory. By the way, this tally is including Jason – the one and only time I will do so, seeing as how it’s the only instance he actually and inarguably “dies.”

BEST KILL:

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While it’s more of an impressive stunt than the usual gory effect, the sheer brutality of Jason throwing a girl from a second story window onto the roof of a car below makes it a particularly striking moment. Still, the best kill is, not surprisingly, the death of Jason. The image of Jason’s head slowly sliding down the machete blade is just as effective today, and the further series of machete whacks he takes from Tommy – even if they occur off-screen – is a rather suitable end to a killer who was no stranger to that weapon himself.

BOOB COUNT: 8

This one makes up for Part 3‘s skimping on the nudity, thanks to both a shower scene and a group skinny-dipping scene. And this number isn’t even including the old stag film the characters watch at their party, which would probably at least double the total.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

Well, they were so busy trying to fill the movie with just about everything else you could ever want from a Friday the 13th, it’s not surprising they had to cut corners somewhere. And so, I hate to say, The Final Chapter has no crazy old coot to speak of – a noticeable strike against an otherwise strong offering.

NITPICK PATROL:

Surprisingly enough, I don’t really have too much to complain about here. It is somewhat bothersome that we never actually see what happened to Mrs. Jarvis, but – as explained in Peter Bracke’s excellent book Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (a fantastic read definitely worth tracking down if you’re a fan of the series), that’s only because the footage revealing her fate was eventually determined not to work in the overall film, and thus left on the cutting room floor.

If I had to make one complaint, it would be about the speed in which Tommy hatches his plan to impersonate the young Jason…

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It’s obviously meant to be a throwback to Ginny distracting Jason by impersonating his mother at the end of Part 2, but it’s still a little hard to swallow. At least in that case we knew that Ginny was familiar with Jason’s backstory. Tommy has only just seen Rob’s news clippings about Jason – that’s a pretty clever plan for a young child to come up with after only knowing about the killer’s history for a few minutes. You could make the argument that Tommy might have already been familiar with the Jason story, seeing as how his family lives in the area, but if that’s the case it’s definitely not made clear enough. Plus, when you get right down to it, that he shaves all his hair off and impersonates Jason doesn’t really make a big difference in the end. Sure, he temporarily distracts Jason, but would it have been any different if he had just come downstairs as is and yelled “hey, Jason?” I guess we’ll never know.

FINAL SCORE: 3.5 out of 4 Hockey Masks

3-5

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About Trevor Snyder

Give me zombies or give me death. Wait...that doesn't make sense.

Posted on November 7, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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