29 May 2007

SUMMER OF BLOOD: IT'S OVER or DEADFUCK DEADFUCK DEADFUCK DEADFUCK

It is 1984. The first major wave of American slasher films is just about spent. In Britain, the "Video Nasties" panic in Great Britain was codified into law in that year, and in the United States, family groups were openly questioning whether the genre was actively immoral.

Not an unusual environment for Hollywood to find itself in, then, and yet in this particular case, Paramount - producer of the that most notorious of all slasher franchises, Friday the 13th - made the extraordinary choice to cave. The fourth film, they announced, would be the last.

In addition to being a terrible business decision - the series was at this point still a licence to print money - it wasn't necessarily all that sound aesthetically. The Friday the 13th films bore the brunt of the weight of the slasher genre simply for being the first and most successful, but the second and third installments weren't particularly gory, by choice (in the case of Part 2) or by MPAA censorship (in the case of Part 3). But be that as it may, here we are: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.

The film opens with the now-standard stock footage recap that works much better than before. Rather than just dropping the last five minutes of the previous film in as a block, we are instead treated to a rather carefully composed assemblage of shots from the story thus far over Paul's version of the Jason Voorhees legend from Part 2. No, it's not high art, but it's fairly effective and it really makes it clear that this is a summing up. Kudos to Barney Cohen, a screenwriter of no repute (after this, his most well-known work is a story credit on The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington).

Once the credits begin to roll, we get our second pleasantish surprise, and that is to see that gore maestro Tom Savini from Friday the 13th has returned for this entry; there is a pervasive rumor that it was because he felt that, after his role in birthing a series he despised, it was his duty to help kill it off. Oh, Tom. As optimistic as the rest of us.

Now, at some point I'll have to get to this, and it might as well be now: gore. Here and there in my Summer of Blood adventure, and elsewhere historically, I've probably made it seem like I'm a bit of a gore hound. I can't disagree with that assessment, although we should not make it seem like I am a zealot; I would never claim that for example L'Atalante is somehow less of a film because it lacks eye-gouging. And God knows, I'm sympathetic to the argument that elaborate, explicit gore effects are responsible for numbing our culture and making our young people inured to violence.

So how does a young, well-meaning liberal moralist come to sigh in delight that the patron saint of Fangoria is responsible for the makeup effects in The Final Chapter? There's not one answer. A part of it, certainly, is that certain movies are supposed to be brutal and vicious, such as Night of the Living Dead or The Hills Have Eyes or the Savini-designed Dawn of the Dead. All three of those have been called immoral, with a certain degree of justification, and all three are movies that I hold in great esteem. It is not a sin when art is brutal; life is brutal, when all is said and done. It's important to recognize that fact. There will never be a moment when I say of a film that it is flawed because of how hard it is to watch. Being hard to watch is an absolute virtue, and I share with Yoko Ono the belief that you can tell a great work of art because people walk out in disgust.

Obviously, though, the Friday the 13th films are not art. They are shitty. And this leads to my second reason: really high-caliber gore effects are often the only indication you will ever get that anyone cared about a film whatsoever. That's the hard truth of being a bad movie lover; bad movies are badly made, often by hacks who don't give a damn. In many horror films, and this one is no exception, the makeup designer is the lone craftsman who actually wants to work at the peak of his ability. Love and care goes into good gore, and that must be respected.

Last and certainly least, there is an undeniable human attraction towards violent death. No matter how much we protest, there is an animal core that wants to hear the story about the decapitated journalist, or catch a glimpse of the car crash out of the corner of our eye. At least slasher films allow us to fill that base need, and I'm not claiming I don't have it, without requiring actual human suffering.

All of that is as much to say: the name "Tom Savini" already demonstrates that this film will be a step above Part 3.

Happily, The Final Chapter is at least a step above Part 3 in every other way, as well. No mistakes: it's not a good film by any definition. It's quite stupid. But it's not so venally stupid as its predecessor, and that is because this is the film where the series got its feet, and stopped pretending that there was any actual story: this film exists only to show us victims and then kill them, and in that sense it has roughly as much narrative thrust as a dessert trolley. Which doesn't sound like a compliment, but after the buffet of ass that was the last film in the series, I am happy to take what I can get.

So...the credits end, and we find that it is the night after Chris left an axe in Jason's forehead, and the local authorities are loading that certain psycho's body into an ambulance (in this entry, Jason will be played totally without distinction by an uncredited Ted White). The cops prattle the expected prattle about how this evil dude killed all those people over the last three days.

We follow Jason to the hospital, and all that I just said about this not being a stupid buffet of ass goes away in the face of a scene that reaches Ed Woodian levels of inane behavior and dialogue and exploitative sex: the Ballad of Axel and Nurse Morgan. Axel (Bruce Mahler) is a smarmy morgue attendant, and Morgan (Lisa Freeman) is the hottie that he lusts after. He behaves as a smarmy morgue attendant must, setting his food on dead bodies and joking about the hot dead teen girls, and generally hitting on Morgan, who rebuffs his advances in revulsion (Dialogue of the Gods I: "Axel, I am not faking any more orgasms for you!"). Yet there comes a time, for no reason, when she jumps him, right on the edge of Jason's gurney. Can you tell where this is going? Yes, I thought you could. His hatred of consensual, if really inexplicable sex brings him verily back from the dead, and his cold hand falls upon Morgan's thigh, freaking out Axel something fierce (Dialogue of the Gods II: "Jesus jumping Christmas shit!"). Their tryst thus prematurely severed, Morgan goes to work while Axel whacks off to an aerobics program, and damn me but they had porny aerobics programs in the 1980s. Quelle surprise, Jason sits bolt upright and nicks Axel's head off with a bone saw, before wandering over to jab a scalpel into Morgan's rather oblivious gut.

Morning comes, and it brings with it the most tiring "Meet the Meat" sequence in the series so far. If the following seems tedious, well, that's what it's like to watch it.

First up, we see two middle-aged women hiking through the woods. They begin talking about their Dad, so we know that they're sisters, but then the older-looking one (Joan Freeman) begins talking about Dad missing her sexually, which the younger one (Kimberly Beck) confirms, and it gets very squirmy and awkward until we realize that, all appearances to the contrary, this is a mother and daughter: Mom and Trish Jarvis.

They get to their cozy home in the woods, where a little boy wearing a cute alien mask plays with an old-school video game box of some hideously archaic nature. DIALOGUE THAT IS ROUGHLY AS SUBTLE AS TYPING IN ALL CAPS reveals that the little boy built the mask himself. Anyway, Mom demands that he remove it, and we see that her son is a demonic little insane monster, by which I mean that he is played by Corey Feldman in a normal frame of mind. That Corey Feldman. His name is Tommy, and I pray that's a reference to the other mask-maker associated with this film. Mom tells her children that the cabin next door has been rented by-

-a truckful of unbelievably old teenagers! Who, like their counterparts in Part 3 have no knowledge of the Crystal Lake slayings, and yes, we do find out about this point that this is still on that fucking lake, with its ever-lengthening shoreline. This batch of Meat is unusually low on distinguishing personality traits, which is a shame, because it's also by far the best-acted in the series. To start, not only because he is the best-acted but also because he is introduced first, is Jim, the lonely and undersexed one with the shaggy hair, played by Crispin Glover. That Crispin Glover. Life is strange - not five days before I watched this movie, I saw Crispin Glover in the flesh, narrating Guy Maddin's Brand upon the Brain with full orchestra at the Music Box theater in Chicago. And I was keenly aware of that for every single instant of this film.

Jim is sitting in the back with Ted (Lawrence Monoson), the asshole practical joker, second of that name. Ted responds to Jim's bitching by air-typing data into an air-computer, and declaring that Jim's problem is that he is a "deadfuck," a lousy lay. Do you find the word "deadfuck" amusing? Because Barney Cohen did. We'll get to hear a lot of it. To mimic the effect, I'll just drop the word "deadfuck" into the rest of this review at random.

The rest of the car is filled by Paul (Alan Hayes), the apparent leader; Paul's girlfriend Samantha McSluttington (Judie Aronson); Sara (Barbara Howard), who is utterly guileless and sweet, and would almost seem perfect for our Final Girl, if only we hadn't already met Trish, and more importantly, Trish's little brother; and Doug (Peter Barton). Doug has the absolute minimum number of characteristics it takes to be a movie character, and maybe ten lines in the whole movie. All hail Doug.

Along the way, they pass two things: a graveyard with a nice shiny tombstone reading "PAMELA VOORHEES" (at last, a name!), and a fat hippie chick (Bonnie Hellman) hitchhiking. The hippy chick has a sign that reads "CANADA AND LOVE" on one side, and "FUCK YOU" on the other, and I want that as a T-shirt. Anyhow, they ignore her, for she is fat and a hippie, and for no good goddamn reason at all, Jason comes along to kill her just as she sits down to enjoy a banana. Deadfuck. She gets one of those classy "sharp object through the back of the throat" deaths that the F13 directors all seem to love.

No good goddamn reason describes most of the film. Even more than in Part 3, there is no earthly excuse for Jason Voorhees to do what he does in this film. They are nowhere near his home, and if he's gone this many years without butchering all of Crystal Lake, NJ, why start now? I digress.

Deadfuck. The kids get to the cabin, and Samantha gives The Talk to Sara, so she's officially off the Final Girl shortlist. Next, Samantha undresses in front of a window, and Corey Feldman ogles her. This is easily the creepiest moment in any Friday the 13th film thus far.

In the morning, the kids begin the loooong trek to Crystal Lake, where they meet the Whore Twins, Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey More). I do not fling around words like "whore" lightly, but it is worth it for these two, who when we meet them are doing that '80s "sweater on the shoulder" thing to a degree where it looks like their shirts are about to fall off. I honestly thought they were togas at first. The lot of them go skinny dipping, just as Tommy shows up to ogle them again (I mean, Jesus Christ), and Trish grabs him angrily away from the libidinous show.

Trish's car dies, and who should show up just then but Rob the Backpacking Hunk (Erich Anderson), who claims to be hunting bear (to Tommy's disbelief, strange given that in Part 2 the existence of bears was conclusively established). He starts the car, and at long fucking last, we have our entire meat tray laid out for consumption.

Deadfuck.

Having spent all that time on the frakking exposition, I'm in no mood to elucidate every moment of the killings, although I will say that they are all: a) unimaginative; b) well-designed. I will mention that this is sequence requires that all of the major players outside Trish and her mother be stone deaf. Also, Ted gets stoned and watches the longest homemade stag film in the history of pornography, sex is had, the most wince-inducing death in the series as it stands occurs when Paul is shot in the crotch with a spear gun, deadfuck, and director Joseph Zito gets one pretty fine image in the death of one of the Whore Twins (Terri, I think), whose death we only see in shadow, until she is pinned to the door with a spear gun. Where Jason gets these from, we are only permitted to guess.

Meanwhile, Rob has a Dark Secret: his sister died in the course of Part 2, and he's got revenge on his mind. He's also got a pretty impressive set of newspaper clippings for four days' work. The film unspools endlessly as Crispin Glover dances spastically, a dog gets thrown out of a window in slow motion, wagging its happy tail all the way down, we get a nice shot of Jason's corroded, waterlogged hands, even though we are meant to believe that he is not a resurrected lake zombie and we've previously seen his hands looking just fine, and a good dozen euphemisms for "have sex" are tossed around.

It's a cringingly bad forty minutes, livened only by Savini's great gore and copious nudity (hold on to that), but it finally ends up at the Final Girl sequence. And a doozy that is: running back and forth between the two houses, with Trish never quite sure of whether Tommy is safe or not. The editing is not always perfect, to be sure, and there is often some confusion as to where anybody is, but ultimately we get the Mexican standoff of Trish, Jason, and Tommy made up to look like Little Boy Zombie Jason (which makes fuck-all sense, but it comes after a legitimately exciting ten minutes and so I forgive it), and then Trish smacks Jason with a machete (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MACHETES IN THE NEW JERSEY WOODS?), knocking off his mask, and then she shoves it in his eye and then, drumroll please, for the most gruesome effect in all of Tom Savini's glorious, machete-riven career, as Jason falls to the floor, and his head slides slowly down the machete blade. Okay, he's fucking dead now.

Kind of. His hand twitches in a death reflex, and Tommy goes apeshit, grabbing the machete and chopping Jason into putty. Okay, he's totally fucking dead now. And Tommy has crazy eyes.

The film sucks, but it sucks much less than Part 3, for the simple reason that it is an unabashed exploitation film, moreso than any of its predecessors. Which is maybe not an objective good in your eyes, but I takes what I gets.

No, it doesn't make any sense that Jason isn't dead, or that he kills the teens in this go-round; but none of that matters, because there's really almost no sense that what's happening has narrative causality. People come, people go, nothing changes, except that they kind of die a lot. The ethos of the Friday the 13th series is finally complete: these films exist as an excuse for blood and boobs. Amen.

So, that's The Final Chapter. I have to admit, that was harder than I expected it to be, the films started running together after a bit and the last two were really stupid, although the third was much more retarded while the fourth was just kind of cutely dumb. But at least I survived it. And I got some memorable gore effects out of the bargain. I really feel that this was a rite of passage-

What?

Oh.

Fuck.

Body Count: 14, definitely including Jason this time, one death occurring off-screen, plus one dog.

The F13 Dating Controversy: Our first time vortex! Pamela Voorhees's tombstone clearly shows that she died in 1979, indicating that Friday the 13th took place on June 13 of that year, which was a Wednesday, not a Friday. But let's run with it, and that means that the second, third and fourth film take place in 1984, in which year July 13 was a Friday (if such a thing can be trusted at this point). Assuming that the deaths in Part 2 took place on said Friday, because why not, we have a timeline:

-Summer, 1957: Ten-year-old (I'm guessing) Jason Voorhees "drowns."
-Summer, 1958: Pamela Voorhees kills two counselors.
-13 June, 1979: Friday the 13th.
-August, 1979: 32-year-old Jason Voorhees kills Alice.
-Summer, 1982: Chris encounters the 35-year-old Jason in the woods.
-Thursday, 12 July, 1984: the first day of Part 2.
-Friday, 13 July, 1984: the second day of Part 2.
-Saturday, 14 July, 1984: the final morning of Part 2 and the first night of Part 3.
-Sunday, 15 July, 1984: the first day and second night of Part 3.
-Monday, 16 July, 1984: the final morning of Part 3 and the first night of Final Chapter.
-Tuesday, 17 July, 1984: the first day and second night of Final Chapter.
-Wednesday, 18 July, 1984: the second day and third night of Final Chapter.

In other words, Friday the 13th: the Final Chapter is the first film in the series to take place in its year of release. To reiterate, Jason Voorhees "drowned" 27 years ago, and is now 37 years old.

Deadfuck.

Reviews in this series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th, Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th, Part 3 (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (McLoughlin, 1986)
Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

2 comments:

Athelstan said...

The Axel/Morgan scene has another dialogue gem.

- "Where are you going?"
- "I'll tell you where I'm going - I'm going crazy!"

Good write-up, by the way.

Brian said...

Is it strange that I find Sara, the Final Girl who wasn't, the most fascinating character in the movie, and, hell, other than maybe Ginny, in the entire franchise?