When Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter premiered I was just a kid, still watching Saturday morning cartoons in my pajamas, my legs dangling off the couch. What I knew of the Friday the 13th films came via third-hand bits of lore relayed in wide-eyed whispers on the playground.
Jason was a hockey mask wearing monster who killed people in awful, horrific ways. I remember, at the video store, seeing the franchise’s iconic box covers. I felt certain those white stencils holding bloody knives or axes were gateways to pure, brutal terror.
Thus, it’s an odd sense of nostalgia that draws me to the series now. Of course, the films aren’t as scary as my young self believed. They’re not scary at all. But watching them takes me back to days of looking for prizes in breakfast cereals. Back when a monster like Jason represented the pinnacle of terror.
This installment picks up where Friday the 13th Part III (1982) ends1. Hanged after suffering a hatchet to the face, Jason is dead. The police cart his body off to the morgue.
But of course, he’s not dead.
Jason wakes up, dispatches some improbably young hospital staff members, then heads back to Crystal Lake to work through a house of oversexed teens.
This script operates on a simple, but proven, formula: titillate then shock2. Show some nudity, then have Jason dispatch someone in a gruesome, over-the-top, fashion. To that end, it delivers.
But it also goes a step further by fleshing out its cast of teen victims. They spend much of the film unaware of Jason or any suspicious goings-on. They’re in their own movie, complete with their own sub-plots. Granted, those sub-plots amount to little more than a bad teen sex comedy, but they hold our interest when Jason’s off-screen3.
And when Jason’s on-screen, he’s a juggernaut. An unstoppable, inhuman force of evil. A demon with a machete4. Consider how Jason never runs. Running implies chasing. Chasing suggest the possibility of escape. In this film, Jason isn’t an assailant, he’s an inevitability5.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is pure, well-executed, exploitation. An amalgam of gratuitous nudity and creative violence. A visceral thrill-ride. It’s not a great movie, but it’s everything my younger self could have hoped for.
Films two, three, and four happen back-to-back over four days. This entry starts on Sunday the 15th, and ends on Tuesday the 17th. Yet one character is out to avenge his dead sister, who Jason killed in the second film. Said character has been compiling newspaper clippings on Jason since her death. Except, by the film’s timeline, his sister died less than 48 hours ago. Was he scrapbooking during the funeral? ↩
Slasher films aren’t alone in this. One of the best scares in Alien (1979) comes after the camera lingers on some pin-ups of nude women. ↩
It also helps that Crispin Glover’s performance foreshadows his turn in Back to the Future (1985). His dancing scene almost makes the movie. ↩
As a supernatural inevitability, in addition to asphyxiation, Jason would seem immune to the laws of physics. Consider his going from outside the second-floor window to inside the first-floor kitchen in a matter of seconds without making a sound.
Grade: C ↩