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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
After three films and Frank Mancuso Jr. feeling like he was being typecast as just a "horror producer", Paramount decided to close out the Friday the 13th series and kill off Jason once and for all with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Despite the fact that Part 3 was originally meant to be the last film, the producers went ahead with the project, bringing in Joseph Zito, who had some success with The Prowler a couple of years earlier. Also returning to the fold was Tom Savini, who Zito had worked with previously.
The film is more or less a copy of Part 3 storywise, but with a family next door thrown into the mix. This time around we're treated to another group of teenagers that we actually like, including a young Crispin Glover (who went on to film Back to the Future a year later). Although the difference this time is that the teenagers are simply out to party and get laid, even the young virgin. By this point, this series was pretty much well-known as being filled with horny teenagers who would get their comeuppance, even though it's not all that clear cut. We're also introduced to a young Corey Feldman, whose character would be Jason's ultimate foil. Having a kid be under threat from Jason was something new too, and raised the stakes a bit.
While the special effects are pretty great, The Final Chapter isn't as strong a film as had I hoped it would be. The unnecessary character of Rob, who was looking for the man who killed his sister, is pretty much swept under the table and meets his demise early on in the third act, leaving little to no resolution to that character at all. Sure he attempts to save Tommy's sister, but he feels useless and tacked on, adding nothing to the overall plot (as do the promiscuous doctor and nurse at the beginning of the film). It also seemed like a missed opportunity to dig deeper into Jason's backstory and his family history. It's clearly evident that Paramount didn't put much thought into it and was only concerned with producing a horror film with a body count that would turn a profit and not much else.
An interesting aspect to overall story up to this point is that if you break down the timeline of films 2 through 4, you realize that they take place over the course of a week in different locations in and around Camp Crystal Lake. I find that absolutely insane. If something like that happened in the real world, there might have been a constant dragnet of police checking over the area, especially since Jason is still alive. After all, they just might be looking for him. Instead, he just goes unhindered and murders everybody he crosses paths with. The people he kills aren't even aware of the murders happening around them (except the general store couple at the beginning of Part 3, but they barely count as characters anyway). Most people probably don't even think about it much though because the story isn't focused in that direction anyways. We're just here to watch a bunch of teenagers get slaughtered over and over again.
This is also the last film in the series where Jason is still human. Two sequels later he would be resurrected, literally, and would be almost superhuman. That wasn't in anybody's minds at the time though. Jason really bites the dust in this one, and there's no wink-wink moment at the end where you know he'll return. I've always thought that the final moment of the film, wherein Tommy stares blankly into the camera, was to signify Tommy's loss on reality, and not that he would be taking up Jason's mantle. The people who made the next sequel, however, didn't feel the same way.
Released on April 13, 1984, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter brought in a lot of dough for Paramount, and they immediately went back on their intentions to end the franchise and quickly got another sequel in development. Oh, if only Jason would have known how many times he would arise like Lazarus, he probably would have stayed underwater. Overall, this is a solid entry in the series, but for me, it's missing something that made Part 2 work so well, mainly the solid character development and suspense factor. Not that The Final Chapter isn't good, but Tom Savini's effects are the real star in this one and not necessarily the story. Although, it was probably thought out much more than the next film.
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning
After The Final Chapter raked in the profits, the decision was made to continue the story, but without Jason. It was a blow from the very beginning of the process, which had many more blows to follow. For this reason alone, the film gets a bad rap as the redheaded step-child of the series. The idea seemed to have been for Tommy to be traumatized by going through yet another experience with Jason, or at least someone like Jason. Afterwards, Tommy would lose it and become the new killer. It's heavily implied at the end of the film when the famous music motif of "Kill, kill, kill... Ma, Ma, Ma" becomes "Kill, kill, kill... Ta, Ta, Ta". Although it turned a nice profit, it was met with immediate disapproval from fans and critics alike, but is Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning really that bad?
Well, yes and no. For me personally, it comes off like a black comedy, or almost a spoof of Friday the 13th (despite spoofs like the Sleepaway Camp series or Saturday the 14th popping up around this time). It wasn't intentional, but because it's so poorly-made, it feels that way to me. The entire plot revolves around an ambulance driver named Roy being driven to kill using Jason's appearance to hide his identity. The kills are mostly random people: two greasers with a broken-down car, Tommy's ambulance driver & girlfriend and Reggie's brother & girlfriend. The teenagers in question don't even get it until towards the end of the film. I guess if you're going to go insane and start killing people you probably would have a target, and not just murder everybody in sight the way Jason did. It would have made a little more sense if they had just made Tommy the killer from the very beginning instead of Roy, but oh well. That's the direction that they chose to take.
The kills themselves are pretty lame as well, for the most part. The most impressive one is actually Roy's death, when he lands on a bed of spikes (why there's a bed of spikes near that barn, I'll never know). The rest are pretty unimaginative and poorly executed. The characters themselves don't really have any depth to them either. There's an attempt to have the stuttering kid have a crush on one of the girls and be rejected by her, but it just feels useless more than anything, and doesn't come in until the third act anyway. The film is visually uninteresting as well. It all just stinks of sloppiness, which seems to be the case. They just seemed to have rushed through it quickly just to get another Friday the 13th film into theaters the following year.
The things that make the film funny are the unintentional things, like Junior and his mother, who are terrible people, but unintentionally hilarious. Their entire existence in the film is wanting to see the teenagers at the nuthouse next door killed if they ever set foot on their property, meanwhile bickering amongst themselves. Other things like the two pot-smoking, sex-crazed teenagers (including a very healthy Debi Sue Voorhees, who apparently got the job for her name and not just her assets). The two just want to have sex all the time and act fairly normal, making you question just how crazy these teenagers really are. Doesn't seem like it to me. But the best laugh in the entire film comes when Pam, Tommy and Reggie are driving down the road to see Reggie's brother at a nearby trailer park. The ride there is completely uneventful and needlessly takes place over the course of about 30 seconds, but they underscored with threatening horror-type music, for no apparent reason. It makes me laugh every single time I see it.
There are also lots of missed opportunities with this sequel. We have the opening with Tommy's nightmare where we see him as a kid, watching Jason come out of his grave and kill him (with a reprisal by Corey Feldman, who shot the scene on his day off from The Goonies), but the question is never answered about what happened to Tommy's sister. They were both alive at the end of The Final Chapter, but yet again, the filmmakers retconned the story into saying that Tommy's entire family was killed by Jason. They also didn't bother to dig any deeper into Jason's or Tommy's backstories, which judging by the direction they took, didn't even cross their minds. I think that it's a safe bet to say that when they decided to make Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that they chose to just totally ignore the events of the previous film. If you think about it, the entire plot about Tommy going crazy, taking up Jason's mantle and Jason's body being cremated were entirely abandoned, and neither film before or after it depends on it at all. In that way, it's very much like Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The entire story involving Michael Myers was dropped in that film for a completely different story about something else. That's the way that A New Beginning feels to me, despite still being enjoyable in a 'so bad that it's good' kind of way. Danny Steinman (who also directed Savage Streets, as well as having a history in pornography, and it shows) may have gone in with good intentions, but the overall product is ultimately left out of the Friday the 13th pantheon.
Released on March 22, 1985, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning certainly made a profit for the studio, but was an enormous let-down for fans of the series. When the dust settled, this disapproval was later felt by the studio as well, although I don't think it should be overlooked just because it doesn't fit into the series as snugly as it should. Hell, the first film doesn't. It can be very entertaining if you look at it from the right perspective. In all honesty, you probably won't get the humor on your first time through, but after it settles with you and you see it again, you can begin to see a lot of the unintentional ironies in it. For good or bad, the series continued on and went in a much more satisfactory direction afterwards.
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives
After the disapproval over the final product of A New Beginning, Paramount decided to resurrect Jason with a sixth sequel. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives would have a slightly bigger budget, a better director, a better story and more interesting actors. With director Tom McLoughlin at the helm, the series took a more apparent humorous direction than an unintentional one like in the previous film. McLoughlin wanted the film to have more entertainment value, and included allusions to other movies for film fans. He ultimately got what he wanted and Jason Lives wound up being the most popular sequel, up to this point anyway.
Instead of sticking to the gratuitous Friday the 13th formula of the previous films, Tom McLoughlin decided to completely rework the formula, making it not only satisfying and entertaining to fans of the series, but to newcomers as well. It honors the series and even other horror films of the past with visual references abound, including the electrifying rebirth of Jason ALA Frankenstein's monster. This was also the film where Jason became the superhuman zombie we all know him as today.
It was also decided to bring in a fresh roster of camp counselors and a group of kids, as well. Adding kids to the dynamic really raised the stakes, and made what Jason was doing in an around the camp more threatening. At the same time, comedy was thrown into the mix and both aspects managed to work well together. In retrospect, the whole thing could have been a real disaster. Making enormous changes could have spelled real doom for the series if it hadn't been received well, although I don't think it would have stopped Paramount from making further sequels. They seemed secure enough to release whatever they wanted to at this point.
There are also some great performances from the actors as well, including Thom Matthews as Tommy (replacing Corey Feldman and John Shepherd from the previous films), David Kagen as the town Sheriff and Jennifer Cooke as his rebellious daughter Megan. It's also interesting that they dropped Crystal Lake as a name. In the film, the Sheriff explains to Tommy that they renamed the town to Forest Green because they wanted to forget about what Jason did there. Now I've always assumed that Crystal Lake was the name of the camp and not the entire town, but they really drive it home in this film that Crystal Lake and Forest Green were not just the names for the camp site, but the entire town as well. It's not that big of a deal, and it's something that the audience doesn't really think about, but it does leave a slight hole in the overall scheme of things. Not that continuity between films has never been a problem before or since, but this was always one aspect that bothered me specifically for some reason.
As I stated when talking about A New Beginning, they also decided to retcon all of the events of the previous film. In the beginning of Jason Lives, Tommy is fresh out of an institution, but instead of beginning his life anew, he decides instead to dig up Jason's resting place and cremate him. Unintentionally, he resurrects Jason and, for the rest of the film, is on a mission to stop him. So Tommy inadvertently causes the deaths of a number of people. Whew, that's got to make you feel bad about yourself, huh?
Anyways, the film also benefits from a slightly higher budget than the previous films. Everything looks and sounds so much better. You can tell that a strong effort was really put into the look and sound of the film. They also decided to go out and get Alice Cooper to do a song for the film, which became a modest hit when the film opened. The special effects and the kills were also much better, much more imaginative and more fun this time around. Look no further than Jason stabbing a guy at the wheel of a motor home in the side of the head and causing the thing to crash and burn. We had never seen a stunt this big in a Friday the 13th film before, which made the film seem even bigger and more sophisticated than it was. Attention to detail was vital for this crew of filmmakers, and it really shows.
Opening on August 1, 1986, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was a big hit, and a welcome return for fans who had been let down by the less than mediocre film before it. Of all of the sequels, this is the one that has the most entertainment value to it, and coincidentally ties with the second film as being my favorite. It's a near perfect sequel that makes you wonder why they didn't just go in this direction in the first place. In retrospect, I guess they had to make a bad follow-up sequel in order to follow through and make a really good one, but it's a shame that it had to happen that way. I'm still grateful though, because this is a great film, and really the last great film of the series. It's too bad that they couldn't repeat this level of fun and quality.