Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) is the fourth film in the titular franchise and my personal favorite of the bunch. Not only does the great Tom Savini return but the film also features Crispin Glover’s awesome dancing that’s better suited to The Best Of Times (1981) rather than a slasher film. Essentially Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is a reiteration of the previous films with some minor alterations. What makes this such a special installment are the few new additions to the tried but true formula.
The opening of Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is a re-cap of the previous three films in the series in the context of a campfire story. The implications of this device help ground the Jason (Ted White) character in the milieu of urban legends à la Michael Myers in Halloween (1978). This adds a regional specificity to the character’s lexicon that had only been suggested in the previous films. Now, in Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, Jason takes on quasi mythical proportions.
The Corey Feldman character Tommy Jarvis is what makes the film. Here’s a kid who is a real film geek that spends his time making monster masks and horror film prosthetics. Tommy Jarvis is the audience surrogate in Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter as he not only reflects the franchise’s devoted fan base but is a practiced voyeur as evidenced in a humorous scene in the film. For much of Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter Tommy Jarvis is on the sidelines. When Tommy finally becomes involved with the carnage he basically assumes Jason’s identity in an act of sinister role play. By “killing” Jason, Tommy Jarvis takes ownership of the murderous character and by extension the franchise itself (an act that is replicated in Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers).
Tommy’s arc in Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter mirrors not only a fan’s relationship to the films but the journey towards creating a profound and intimate bond with the movie. Fans, and horror movie fans in particular, often fetishize and ritualize modes of spectatorship around a beloved film. A film can, to a fan, become completely intrinsic to one’s own self-identity. Every day social media provides glimpses into the intimate bonds that fans form with specific films with some even going so far as to locate parental surrogates in a film’s characters. Tommy’s association with Jason may be born out of fear but it is sustained, as the ending suggests, by the freedom of expression afforded the killer that has been denied Tommy himself.
While this is certainly a disquieting proposition, it is supported by the visual text of Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. Tommy comes into these gruesome circumstances already equipped with a love of the macabre and a psychological penchant for submerging himself within the personas of various monsters (as evidenced by his collection of masks). In the final shot of the film Tommy becomes Jason/the franchise when it dawns on the boy that he himself has physically transformed and not merely disguised himself as something or someone else. This moment is played for horror because that is the nature of the film, but to fans it is a moment of clearcut acknowledgement and empathy.
Whether or not a director other than Joseph Zito could have communicated all of these themes is debatable. Zito’s early horror films, prior to his association with Chuck Norris, all seem to be in a dialogue with their audience. The Prowler (1981) is a particularly good example of this as the viewer is tasked with analyzing their own complicity in the spectacle as a spectator. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is simply a far more refined and complex extension of the operations at work in The Prowler. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter may not be wholly original in its designs but it is a unique variation on the themes of the Friday The 13th films.