In the wake of Jason Lives, the Friday the 13th franchise started to move in three different but complementary directions. Firstly, there was a movement towards a more cavernous, amorphous and cosmic sense of space, corresponding to the series’ increasing interest in delving beneath the surface of Crystal Lake after Jason was chained there at the end of Jason Lives. Secondly, there was a movement towards extravagant infernal imagery, dating once again from the wonderful climactic sequence in Jason Lives, in which Crystal Lake was set alight before Jason was sent to the bottom. Thirdly, there was a movement away from slasher horror towards supernatural body horror, a tendency that was particularly evident in The New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan, each of which frankly ascribed supernatural powers to Jason and moved away from elaborate kill shots to focus on his body and viscera as their primary spectacle.
In one way or another, all of those tendencies are taken to their logical conclusion in Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, making for a film that is extravagantly atonal, fragmented and ridiculous, and the culmination of everything camp about the later films in the franchise. As a result, it feels like something of a dead end, but a magnificent dead end, not least because of how different it is from the opening film. Placing Friday the 13th and The Final Friday side by side, it’s hard to believe that they belong to the same universe, and yet part of the achievement of the franchise is the way in which it manages to draw a gradual yet inexorable continuity between these two utterly different modes of horror. Whether or not Jason Takes Manhattan would have been a legitimate reboot if it had fared better at the box office is anybody’s guess, but with The Final Friday it feels as if the franchise has finally acknowledged the end of its lifespan and is determined to go out with a bang. In its own way, then, The Final Friday, is a canonical gesture, an affirmation of Jason’s place in the pantheon of slashers, which of course also means invoking that pantheon throughout the film, not only through a plethora of intertextual references but by way of a closing shot of Freddy’s claws emerging from the ground to drag Jason down to Hell, anticipating Freddy v. Jason some ten years later.
Speaking of Freddy v. Jason, it’s clear, by the end of The Final Friday, that the last couple of films in the wider franchise – Jason X, Freddy v. Jason and the remake of Friday the 13th in 2009 – are somewhat apocryphal to the franchise as a whole, even if they feel directly drawn from its preoccupations and concerns. Jason X, in particular, often feels as if it should have been made in the early 1990s, but the fact remains that The Final Friday is very much the end of the great Friday the 13th cycle – or the end of the second cycle, culminating Parts 5-10 just as Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter culminated Parts 1-4. Part of what makes Friday the 13th so unique amongst other 80s serials is how tightly the films were sequenced – on average one film every eighteen months – and the four year gap between Jason Takes Manhattan and The Final Friday speaks to a serial slackening that is quite new for the franchise, which is perhaps why this last film often feels as if it has internalised the serial impulse itself, presenting us with a series of horror episodes, tableaux and incidents that seem to be linked by seriality more than narrative continuity, resulting in the first and only film in the franchise in which Jason presents as a serial killer more than a slasher.
Before that new kind of serial killer is even unveiled, however, The Final Friday presents us with one of the most startling and original openings in the franchise. Where Parts 1-4 tended to open with a series of flashbacks and Parts 5-9 tended to open with Jason’s body being resurrected in some way, here we’re plunged straight into the action as a beautiful young woman arrives in a sport car at an upmarket cabin at Camp Crystal Lake. For the first ten minutes or so, it plays as a regular Friday the 13th scene, except with a more luxurious and languorous sense of space than any other film in the franchise. The twist is that this beautiful young woman is in fact an FBI agent who is working with a team to try and capture Jason. For the first time, then, the entire mise-en-scene is set up and staged for Jason’s benefit, as the lush, hyperreal aesthetics of early 90s cinema are brought to bear on creating just the right kind of atmosphere to draw him out. As the FBI agent consciously and deliberately opens up the kinds of looming spaces behind her that are likely to attract Jason, the film’s cinematography almost seems to be participating in the trap as well, setting up deep focus vistas that are usually anchored in some object placed right up against the camera. Drawing upon the tropes as much as the spaces of the franchise, softcore nudity, shower sequences and slightly ajar doors are all perfectly placed to ensure that Jason eventually makes his presence felt.
Given how inextricable Jason is from the camera in the first part of the franchise, there is something ingenious about how the camera now tricks him into identifying himself with its gaze and presence, as well as the way in which it tricks the audience in the process. Whereas Jason has previously seemed to bring the camera into existence and visibility, here it is the camera that brings Jason into existence and visibility, as the fluid professionalism of this early 90s “look” syncs perfectly with the FBI agent’s consummate control of what initially appears to be yet another testament to Jason’s invulnerability. When Jason is finally drawn into the open, then, and surrounded by a host of other FBI operatives, there’s a sense that his eerie complicity with the camera has been utterly imploded, which is perhaps why the Jason that we have known so far also ceases, in some sense, to exist. After being blown apart by gunfire, Jason’s head and limbs are severed from his torso, and for the remainder of the film he exists only as a series of body parts, with all his powers and attributes transferred to his heart, which “appears to be filled with a black viscous fluid” and continues to beat even after it has been entirely separated from the rest of his body.
It’s only at this point that The Final Friday starts to anticipate the resurrection sequences that occur at the beginning of the previous films, but in this case Jason doesn’t exactly come back to life so much as infiltrate and inhabit a succession of other bodies over the course of the film. During the coroner’s examination of Jason’s body, he is taken over by Jason heart, which feels more like an alien than an organ, or some prosthetic Thing out of a John Carpenter film (and in one critical scene an Arctic Expedition crate attributed to “Julia Carpenter” is placed pointedly in the background). As the film proceeds, the coroner transfers Jason’s heart to the local policeman by vomiting it into his mouth and into his chest, who in turns transmits it to a host of other people in the same way, producing a supernatural body horror film more than a straight slasher film, in which “Jason” – and his mask – bookend a succession of serial killers rather than taking centre stage themselves.
Of course, the fact that the coroner is the original recipient of Jason’s heart means that he is also in some sense the originator of these subsequent incarnations, just as the first kill in his laboratory sets the tone for much of the violence that follows, which tends to be somewhat grisly and surgical in nature and usually recalls the autopsy table in one way or another. The result is a nascent torture porn aesthetic that converges sex and violence as never before in the franchise, to the point where it almost feels as if the various killers – or “Jasons” – aren’t interrupting so much as fetishistically participating in the sex scenes they decimate, gesturing forward to the sleek sado-masochistic overtones of Jason X but also reflecting the franchise’s increasing dependence upon and dialogue with the Hellraiser series. At the same time, Jason’s emergence from the very medical processes used to classify and organise his remains makes it clear, from the very outset, that he is contagious in a new kind of way, as transmission scenes tend to replace kill scenes, and hisinsatiability becomes more viral and epidemiological. Less a single unstoppable body than an invasive presence capable of claiming any and every host, he’s more identified with the serial self-replicability of the franchise than ever before, to the point where it feels as if he’s managed to consume the franchise itself by the very last shot.
If the fact of the first host being a coroner sets a particular tone to the film, then the fact that he is also African-American gives The Final Friday an even more interesting position within the franchise, not least because Jason’s main nemesis – a bounty hunter hired by American Crimewatch – is also African-American. Throughout the franchise, African-American characters have danced around the fringes of action without ever being marginalised quite as you might expect from a mainstream Hollywood film, one of the luxuries of genre cinema being the ability to pull away from that kind of typecasting. To some extent The Final Friday is still luxuriating in this possibility, but there is an additional focus and emphasis on father-figures over the second stage of the franchise that makes this move towards African-American protagonists especially powerful and poetic.
While there certainly are various ways to delimit Parts 1-4 from Parts 5-9, one overwhelming difference is the proliferation of father figures in the second series of films, with Part 4 somewhat transitional insofar as it both presents us with the first suburban family in the franchise as well as a family that, in true suburban horror fashion, is devoid of a patriarch. Although we never find out why the Jarvis family are missing their father, their whole ability to deal with Jason is inflected through his absence, while the camper that Trish encounters in the forest becomes the first of many surrogate father-figures or temporary fathers that proliferate through the later stages of the franchise, from the head psychiatrist in A New Beginning to the supervising teacher in Jason Takes Manhattan.
It is in Jason Lives and The New Blood, however, that this preoccupation with father-figures become most pointed and most poetic, which is why it is these two films that shed the most light on the role of fathers in suburban horror as a whole. Among other things, Jason Lives is the first and only film in the franchise to possess a normal, stable and recognisable relationship between a father and daughter. The very presence of that functional rapport, however, is part of what turns Jason Lives into a comedy – or at least dilutes the horror with comedy – as the Crystal Lake police chief’s continual bickering with his daughter, whom he eventually rescues from Jason, sets the stage for virtually every other screwy exchange that occurs throughout the film. As if learning the lesson of Jason Lives, The New Blood introduces us to a very different kind of father figure, in the form of the abusive father that Tina sends to the lake at the beginning of the film, and whose memory haunts her when she returns a decade later.
What this succession of father figures gradually suggests is that Jason is in some sense the absent father who haunts each suburban tableau in the series. Indeed, 80s suburban horror was faced, as a whole, with the same paradox, as audiences were presented with families that seemed in desperate need of some kind of patriarchal or phallic authority only for that authority to come in the form of a slasher rather than a regular father-figure. In that sense, the slasher was less an affront to patriarchal authority than an exaggerated and hallucinated embodiment of paternal authority, which explains why the slasher – in his own impersonal and indiscriminate way – often seemed to embody some of the most conservative moral injunctions of the era, especially when it came to female sexuality and female sexual expression. At the same time, this vision of the slasher as an exaggerated father-figure – as well as the way in which he somehow stood as both threat and saviour – goes some way to explaining why even the most austere slashers weren’t invulnerable to camp, whether within a single film (as with Freddy Krueger) or over an entire franchise (as with Michael Myers). In “Notes on Camp”, Susan Sontag identifies camp as a “love of failure”, and some of the campiest moments in 80s suburban horror films occurred when the slasher failed to live up to his own exaggerated fatherliness, producing a bathetic impotence that often fused horror and comedy in seamless and startling ways.
While the premise of Elm Street – a suspicious loner done away by an ersatz Neighborhood Watch community – struck to the core of this conundrum more poetically than any other franchise, there is no better single scene that epitomises its contradictions than the moment in The New Blood at which Tina tries to raise her father from the lake and instead raises Jason. Trying to make peace with the past by invoking an inadequate father-figure only to instead invoke a monstrously over-adequate father figure, her actions mark the point at which Jason really feels starts like a moral vigilante – if an alien moral vigilante – a characterisation that continues into the last act of Jason Takes Manhattan, where he disposes of inner-city urban gangs in a matter-of-fact, Charles Bronson-like manner.
It makes sense, then, that most of Jason’s hosts in The Final Friday are fatherly figures of one kind of another, with one of the most virulent being a policeman who is in a relationship with a younger woman who initially presents as his daughter. At the same time, there is a particular fixation on lineage in this final film (“Only through a Voorhees can he be reborn and only a Voorhees can kill him”) that makes it feel as if we are witnessing a genealogy as much as a series of Jasons. The fact that the progenitor of all these Jasons is African-American, then, both clarifies and punctures the extent to which this suburban guardian figure is also a bastion of whiteness, as well as the extent to which suburban horror as a genre was haunted by the ways in which the whiteness of American suburbia might be compromised and tainted by the influence of “urban” – read ethnic – behaviours, atttitudes and types. That parodic element is all the more pronounced in that The Final Friday purports to return to the whiter-than-white version of Crystal Lake present in the first cycle of films only to populate it with African-Americans, a gestures that never ceases to comically and campily query everything that made Jason so sublime in the first place.
Stylistically, that tends to compound the film’s supernatural aesthetic with a particular brand of voodoo horror that was prevalent in 90s films made about African-American people for predominantly European audiences. Sandwiched between Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (which also deals with a possessed heart) and Clive Barker’s Candyman (itself more or less continuous with the Hellraiser universe), The Final Friday tends to be gory rather than gross. Driven by viscera more than violence, it’s interested in the limits of revulsion enabled by a new generation of prosthetic grotesquerie. As the opening dismemberment of Jason’s body might suggest, these tend to revolve around perverse conjunctions of different body parts, most spectacularly – and disturbingly – in the concluding scene, in which one of the “Jasons” uses his tongue to penetrate and impregnate a dead Voorhees matriarch, fusing cunnilingus and necrophilia in a tableau that utterly erases the distinction between sex and violence and forms a kind of pinnacle of camp bad taste for the franchise as a whole. It’s fitting, then, that this extraordinary spectacle reinstates the original masked version of Jason with all his limbs intact, and yet even then the grotesquerie isn’t over, as a piece of mobile flesh climbs out of the neck of the final victim – a piece of reptilian viscera that is light years beyond the monstrosity of Jason Lives and The New Blood, and a high water mark in prosthetic spectacle as it scurries around and tries to infect and infiltrate any body in its path.
While this final sequence may take place in the Voorhees mansion, in a kind of forerunner to Halloween: Resurrection, the film as a whole is more interested in the wider Crystal Lake landscape than any other in the second stage of the franchise. At the same time, however, this is not really a return to Crystal Lake, since what we’re presented with is more of a pastiche or simulacrum of those opening leafy tableaux than anything like a real renewal of their atmosphere or brooding naturalism. At the very least, if we are returning to Crystal Lake, then it’s a version of the town incapable of remembering a time before Jason – and indeed the town seems to have flourished and grown into a tourist attraction as a result of Jason, with the local media frenzy and visitor presence growing as the mounting trail of bodies suggest that he is heading home after escaping from the coroner’s office. Indeed, the only part of Camp Crystal Lake to remain is the camp, since In lieu of the campsites, trails and convenience stores of the earlier films, most of the action centres on the local diner, where an early cameo from Leslie Jordan cements the hyperbolic atmosphere and a special menu – a Voorhees Burger and a side of Jason Fingers – is offered as part of the “Jason is Dead 2 for 1 Burger Sale.” With Jason now graduated from a local legend to a national serial killer event, it’s impossible for Crystal Lake to retain even the most residual regionalist overtones, and it’s only a matter of time before the anchor of American Crimewatch descends upon the tone with a bounty hunter in tow, both of whom epitomise a film in which the search for justice – or even the search for basic safety – is subordinated to the search for a good story and a well-timed media flashpoint.
While that produces a new sense of comedy and camp in the series, there is a sense, by the end, that Jason – and Jason’s legend – has more than absorbed any further serial momentum, which is perhaps why this is the first film in the franchise that feels more like a straight-to-video or telemovie release, something to be watched late at night on television rather than requiring the dimensions and concentration of a classically cinematic experience. As with so much body horror at the time, the prosthetics gain a great deal of their impact by gradually converging on an actual child – the next Voorhees child – and while the contrast between artificial and vulnerably natural flesh may be powerful, it is the artificiality that wins out, giving the sense that the franchise has congealed into a single, prosthetic, plastic object, rather than leaving open the kinds of lineage and serial continuity that ensured such a tight succession of films earlier in the franchise. Certainly, Jason X may draw upon and continue many of these ideas, while Freddy v. Jason takes its cues directly from the last shot here, but nevertheless The Final Friday revels in its awareness of being the last film in the franchise proper. While camp can be about all kinds of failures, the failure to ensure longevity, progeny and genealogies is one that it finds especially precious, and there is a kind of genius in the way in which The Final Friday transforms its serial sterility into camp, making for one of the most enjoyable films – if one of the least consistent films – in the entire franchise.