The Friday the 13th franchise is a bonafide cultural phenomenon, containing extensive literature in the forms of comic books and videos games in addition to the famous film series. Inspired by John Carpenter’s celebrated and vastly influential slasher masterpiece Halloween, the Friday the 13th films have achieved commercial success on a global scale and have racked up worldwide box office earnings of more than $460 million.
While looking back on the conception of the project, co-creator Victor Miller reflected: “Friday the 13th was an absolute mistake of nature. An error in my fate. It was one of those things that you have to be very careful what you pray for. I had set out to be a famous writer, and I forgot to specify comedy, and unfortunately, the fates took over. I had done a whole bunch of screenplays for Sean Cunningham because he lived nearby.”
Out of all the films that the franchise has produced to date, the most acclaimed edition remains the 1984 sequel directed by Joseph Zito. Often called the quintessential Friday the 13th experience, The Final Chapter is undoubtedly the best instalment in the entire series because it manages to incorporate all the good elements of its predecessors and improves on them drastically. It features the exciting premise of the resurrection of the infamous Jason Voorhees from the dead, sending him on yet another terrifying killing spree.
Initially billed as the conclusion to the famous franchise, The Final Chapter’s success kept the series alive and spawned more sequels. Featuring the stellar cast of Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover and Kimberly Beck, the film actually managed to erase those who had doubts about the relevance of Friday the 13th films after the first three productions. Unlike some of the films that came before as well as after it, The Final Chapter is so effective because it is actually scary for a change. While the inevitable fate of Jason’s victims are already known to literally everyone, the manner in which he executes them are chilling, contributing immensely to the experience.
Despite the overwhelming consensus of critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who dismissed The Final Chapter as “an immoral and reprehensible piece of trash,” the film took the mainstream consciousness by storm because it used the formulas that audiences loved and subverted their expectations simultaneously. The director Joseph Zito explained: “This is one of the things that directors really have to wrestle with: the subject of death. It’s something directors really have to wrestle with making any film- you need to decide how real it is. And grieving families is not something we’d seen in slasher movies or even often in horror films. And it’s real.”
Adding, “It’s not just the fun of the beast going after the victim, or the victim going after the beast; it’s real people who’ve died. And that’s a very difficult decision, and I know when you look at the scene in the film, it’s a throwaway and most people don’t even pay attention to it at all, but it was more real than had been done in Friday the 13th [films] before. You know that when you’re making a Friday the 13th, you’re in a deep fantasy world, but I wanted the movie to be different. I wanted the movie to be particularly different. So the whole effort was to make a movie that was more real, and characters that were a little more real than the rest.”
Just like Zito intended, The Final Chapter was different indeed. Yes, the film still revolved around teenagers being chased around by a psychopath, but it was also more than that. Zito designed the film as a meditation on death and psychosexual politics, which is strange enough for a commercial thriller, but it somehow all comes together. The filmmaker shifted the focus from invincible antagonists like Michael Myers to Jason Voorhees, who has been reduced to the status of nothing more than a zombie. It is almost a self-aware reflection on the expectations associated with a character like Jason, one who is supposed to go through the motions of everyday life by mindlessly committing atrocities. The idea of evil is so entertaining that the audience won’t let it die.