Crystal Lake Countdown: Looking Back on ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’

As you probably guessed was the case, Friday the 13th Part III (1982) was not, in fact, the last of the Friday the 13th movies.  The expectation that the franchise was spiraling out into irrevocably diminishing returns ended up not being the case.  A combination of the Part III being the purported final entry, the overall increased quality from the earlier two movies and the cash-grabbing 3D gimmick all played in the movie’s favor, making it one of the most seen and highest grossing movies in the franchise.  Another sequel was, of course, inevitable, and this one, they again assured us, was truly the last one.

At this point (both in the franchise and in the larger cycle of slasher movies that sprung up in the wake of Halloween‘s (1978) success), Friday the 13th was just like any other slasher series.  It was 1985.  Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) — the infamous Michael Meyers-less Halloween movie that tried to grow the brand beyond its famous slasher — had failed to connect with audiences, reinforcing the marketability of the now-familiar tropes of the celebrity slasher, bladed arsenal, teenage victims and, most importantly, the Final Girl.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) had opened up the subgenre to more supernatural elements (a fact that would be gleefully exploited in later Friday the 13th installments).  And at this point, if you weren’t following the rules of the game, you weren’t making any money.

So for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), the franchise doubled down on the aspects of the series that studio heads saw as being the most profitable.  Jason was back as the franchise’s mascot killer.  A fresh batch of teenage victims was imported into Crystal lake in order to continue his killing spree.  The timeline remained absolutely static — occurring the day after the events of Part III, which themselves occurred a day after Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) — tying irrefutably into the continuity of the previous movies.  The obvious marketing gimmick of this being the final Friday the 13th was now front and center, right smack-dab in the middle of the title, which ensured more gullible fans would line up to see how the infamous franchise decided to bow out of the field.

It wasn’t just fans that fell for this being the “final” Friday.  Industry legend Tom Savini, who notably worked on the first film years prior, returned for the fourth movie because he wanted to be there to properly put it out to stud (and more specifically to kill the character that he helped create).  Although newcomers to the series, The Final Chapter succeeded at securing a surprisingly notable cast just like the first movie did.  Only instead of Betsy Palmer and Kevin Bacon, they wrangled in Corey Feldman (a year before he appeared in The Goonies (1985)) and Crispin Glover (a year before he appeared in Back to the Future (1985)).

The plot not only is nothing to write home about, but it’s nothing that we haven’t already seen in the last two movies.  Jason continues his weekend rampage across Crystal Lake that he started in Part 2.  A new batch of teens (including one of the girls’ nerdy younger brother) desperately try to survive the night, eventually getting the drop on the iconic killer (and supposedly killing him for good).

And while it is indeed one of the most formulaic of the Friday the 13th sequels, it uses the now-familiar avenues of the slasher subgenre to better explore its characters (something that none of these movies get nearly enough credit for doing) and better stage its increasingly graphic kills.  And, at least to that end, the film is a rousing success.  The cast of characters run the full gamut of personalities, making for some interesting exchanges and subplots between them.  Tommy (Corey Feldman) is a particularly interesting kid with a penchant for making monster masks (which sets him us as an interesting, if underused, mirror to Jason himself) and Rob Dier (E. Erich Anderson) occupies an especially affecting subplot where he seeks to avenge his dead sister Sandra, one of Jason’s victims from Part 2 (Marta Kober).

The giallo-inspired kills are just as gruesome as ever, the look of the iconic killer (finalized in the last movie) is as perfectly rendered as ever and the plot is exactly as robust as is necessary for the purposes of this movie.  Nothing stands out as especially well-done or especially original, but the film falls into the comfortable rhythm of satisfying kills and compelling teen drama that makes it stand a cut above most of its competitors at this point in time (although the premiere of A Nightmare on Elm Street that same year goes a long way to making this feel like too much a retread of the series’ best moments).

What The Final Chapter lacks for in originality it makes up for in polish, though.  Its sizable budget (at least for a slasher) ensures that everything looks sufficiently gruesome , its soon-to-break-out cast puts in admirable performances that are admittedly better than the material necessarily deserves and Tom Savini’s makeup effects are, as ever, second to none.  This might be for franchise completists only, but those who fall into that group won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 3/5

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