Franchise Friday - Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter
Although it was designed to finish off the series, we can see in retrospect that Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter, turns out to be a new beginning (see what I did there?). In our review for Part 3, we suggested that it was actually the close of an Origins trilogy and in Part 4, we have the set up for the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. But before we dive any deeper, let’s hit that synopsis:
A woman and her family looking to pick up the pieces after a divorce. A group of college friends looking for a good time. One man bent on revenge. All are set to collide with the unstoppable evil that is Jason Voorhees. Will yet another bloody peace fall upon Crystal Lake? Or can one man’s rampage finally catch up to him and reveal the monster he’s become?
Part 4 picks up minutes after the end of Part 3 as police and EMTs clear Higgins’ Haven of the veritable plethora of dead bodies on the grounds…including Jason. Unfortunately for the denizens around Crystal Lake, it doesn’t take long for Jason to rise again as a morgue technician and a nurse opt for a little hanky panky on the job…and well…you know how these things go by this point. From here, we meet up with our fresh meat for this trip to the Lake, including a young Crispin Glover who, as indicated by his rather interesting dance steps, let’s just say has always been a little…unique. [And now I can’t get Clowny Clown Clown out of my head. Thanks a bunch Dani. – Ed.] We also meet the Jarvis family too. Turns out Mom and Dad are separating and it looks like Mom and the kids, Trish and Tommy, are holing up at the house on Crystal Lake until things get sorted, with Dad being out in California. Trish is a fairly normal girl for her age, a little more family oriented than party oriented though…which can be normal for the oldest sibling during a divorce, so points to the writer there. [Personal experience however dictates that the eldest can also go in the opposite direction. – Ed.] Our last participant comes in the form of Rob Dyer (ugh, obvious much?) who is introduced into the film through a fake scare and a plot contrivance as it turns out the Jarvis car isn’t terribly reliable. (Shocking, yes?) Rob’s a man on a mission as it turns out his sister, Sandra, was killed back in Part 2 (she got the classic shish-kebob treatment with her boyfriend mid-aardvarkus via Jason. Gratuitous Double Penetration indeed…) and he’s looking for some payback.
As he’s the focus of this trilogy, let’s take a separate paragraph to talk about Tommy. In some ways, we see him as a bit of ‘the man of the house’ in spite of his very young age. He’s able to fix the car and is typically delegated the more technical duties…such as restoring power to the house later on in the film. Perhaps most notably though, he’ll be the character that most horror fans will identify with as he’s a computer gamer (evident by Sega’s Zaxxon making an appearance) but most importantly, he’s a little Savini/Winston in the making, his bedroom being filled with latex masks, appliances and ghoulish puppets that, hell, even in my 40s I wish I was capable of! What will be the springboard for the next two movies, Tommy is forced to grow up even more than he can imagine when he’s ultimately put in the position to protect his family at all costs. His solution proves to be unique, harkening a little back to Part 2, but the question the next two films will wrestle with is…at what cost?
Okay, saying anything else there would be spoilery…but then again, the damn film is almost 40 years old…soooo…
How about we shift gears and look at the ultimate aim of the film: Killing Jason. To this point in the series, we obviously know that’s gonna take a lot. Also, we know that he’s expanded his sights from just Camp Crystal Lake to the entire Crystal Lake ZIP code. And, let’s face it, even though it’s wrong, everyone cheers when he dispatches our usual gang of sex-crazed idiots. As one would expect, those are the first to go here. The audience is fine with that…rather expects it really…and yeah, we’re all good here. In fact, this seems like a good time to mention we’ve got Tom Savini back on practical effects and, even with the MPAA’s likely interference, what we see here is certainly up to his level…you won’t be disappointed with what you see. However, if you manage to look in on the deleted scenes, you’re likely gonna be disappointed with what you didn’t see…thanks MPAA…assholes. We’ll revisit this soon. The narrative thing here is to get the audience to turn away from cheering on Jason and instead get on the side of the Jarvis family. The film tries to do this two ways: by killing Mom and killing the family dog, Gordon. Note I said ‘tries’…because it really doesn’t succeed that way and it’s likely the MPAA’s fault. You see, Mom dies offscreen and is never really seen again…not even in the typical Friday the 13th ‘Look at all my kills’ onslaught during the final battle between Jason and the Final Girl of the film. I mean, the film is structured in a way that we kinda get the feeling she’s shuffled off the mortal coil with just a little help from our hockey-masked machete aficionado…but not only does this film violate the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule of cinema, hell, it doesn’t even tell us what happened to her! Then we have poor Gordon, who has a knack of disappearing throughout long stretches of the film anyway…so it’s not like the audience has a chance to get attached. Still, a doggo on screen always at least nuzzles out a little space in an audience’s heart. Yes, we see him run out a second story window…but dogs can be quite resilient creatures…and the way the houses were built, who’s to say he didn’t land on something between the window and the ground? Look, I don’t want to see a doggo’s death on screen…I don’t think anyone does (except for evil cat people…the crazy lady type or the 80s horror movie type…either one)…but if you want to effectively turn the audience against Jason…we gotta see it. So, why am I blaming the MPAA? Well, first off, these are deaths that would hit hard, and, well, we certainly can’t have that. But also, these scenes may have been lost in a deal with the devil. Let me explain. If we’re honest with ourselves, how Jason meets his eventual end is a little on the gruesome side without being terribly gory. (Don’t worry, I won’t say how…) In a little bit of horse-trading, the MPAA may have let the filmmakers keep that scene in exchange for taking additional scenes out, like the two we just talked about. This, in some ways, takes the wind out of the sails in the effort to change the audience’s mind from rooting for the killer to now rooting for the remaining Jarvis kids.
On that note, thankfully, where the film does succeed is keeping the characters of Trish and Tommy intact enough where the audience doesn’t mind getting behind them in the end. At no point does Trish do anything terribly stupid like the other kids her age in the house across the street…i.e., she doesn’t violate any of “The Rules” and at no point does Tommy become a “Kenny”…an annoying child that the audience has no choice but to wish death upon for either doing or saying the dumbest things possible…often times both. Instead, Tommy reflects the horror community at large and likely the type of childhoods they all shared in at least some aspects.
There is one last weak point to mention…Rob’s broken gun. As all the killing is going down, Trish runs off to find him, instead finding only his tent and, within, a broken rifle. This, of course, looks to be a warning…but as we all know, Jason’s not exactly big on the ‘three strikes’ rule. He’s more of a ‘your death is a warning to others’ kind of fella. Was it broken by someone looking out for Jason? Was it broken in a fight with Jason? Like knowing how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop…the world may never know. But it does hint that, yet again, there’s a part of the story that we’re missing and, thusly, it bugs me.
In spite of its weaknesses, Part 4 still proves to be enjoyable…from the strange Mutant energy that Crispin Glover brings to the proceedings to the fitting end (for now) of a cinematic icon and the resulting cliffhanger. If you’re looking for ‘spam in a can’? Check. Boobies? Check. Effective, yet likely still heavily edited, gore effects? Hey, you’ve got the master Tom Savini back, of course that’s a big ol’ check! If you’re a fan of the series, Part 4 proves to be a solid entry. If you’re looking to get into the series, Part 4 gives you a pretty good example of what you can expect from the films up to this point…and while it still feels like a cop out, the recycled footage for the first 5 minutes of the film will get you up to speed on the basics, as per its purpose. All in all, even after all these years, it’s still worth checking out.