A Storytelling Autopsy: Jason Goes To Hell - The Final Friday

What follows is not a review, or even a proper critical evaluation of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY. Instead, I'll try to peel back the storytelling mechanics to explain why this body-snatching entry in the franchise still haunts us.

(warning: spoilers (and homo-erotic S&M shavings) follow, in the improbable case you haven't seen the film.)

When we last saw Jason Voorhees, sewage waste had seared away his evil, leaving behind only the innocent child he'd once been. Or something. At any rate, forget all that, because as JASON GOES TO HELL begins, there's no attempt to connect the new film with the previous installment. That's perhaps understandable, considering how wildly off-course TAKES MANHATTAN had gotten.  Recognizing that fans had rebelled against outlandish concepts like Jason taking a cruise, a timeline-busting back-story for PART VIII's heroine, and (well...) that toxic waste purifying bath, the producers of the new film surely wanted to return the series to its stable roots. GOES TO HELL opens with a conformation of this. An attractive, buxom young woman drives out to Crystal Lake, immediately decides to take a shower, and is pursued by our favorite unstoppable killing machine.

Don't worry, Friday fans, things are back as they should be. What could possibly go wro---

An FBI S.W.A.T. team hit on Jason- complete with what appears to be a missile strike (it's not altogether clear)- seems to end Big Jay's reign of terror inside the first few minutes. There's no way for him to survive this one.  He's in pieces.  Nothing in any previous installment suggests that he has any--

Oh.  Body jumping.

Well, it's not like there's some magic trinket that can destroy him that's never been mentioned befo--

Oh.  Magic sword.

The key to comprehending JASON GOES TO HELL, and even enjoying it, is to divorce it from the franchise.  THE FINAL FRIDAY doesn't ignore JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, no, it ignores the entire series.  Never once does it attempt any sort of real continuity with the previous entries, other than the vaguest notions of  Jason and Camp Crystal Lake.  While fans tend to point out the similarities this film shares with THE HIDDEN, in truth it bares more similarities to THE FIRST POWER, FALLEN, and Wes Craven's SHOCKER..  All of these films take the premise of a serial killer who is escapes certain death by taking possession of other people's bodies.

None of them are particularly good movies.

Body snatching films, a subgenre that has straddled the horror/science fiction fence since the 1950s, have traditionally wrapped their stories around social and political metaphors.  The original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was a meditation on Communist idealism's reach into the American middle class; the 1978 version substituted materialism for Communism; Abel Ferrara's somewhat misguided '93 adaption concerns itself with post-Gulf War jingoism.  The three films that FINAL FRIDAY most resembles-- FIRST POWER, FALLEN, and SHOCKER-- all play on the growing fear in a true-crime obsessed culture that anyone could be a serial killer.

JASON GOES TO HELL's inspiration is not social or political in any conventional sense.  In fact, it's anti-intellectual in nature and a long-standing literary standby inside the horror genre.  Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher and H. P. Lovecraft's The Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family are probably the best known examples, but it is not difficult to find novels and short stories detailing family discretization.  Put simply, these are stories about a younger member of a family uncovering horrible details of an early generation (usually this involves incest (or in Lovecraft's case, bestiality) and murder, although neither Poe nor Lovecraft's stories, due to the times they were written, makes the sexual aspects explicit).  The implication is that one generation's evil  must, as a matter of genetic certainty, affect all those that follow.

In JGTH:TFF, Jessica discovers her family's sordid history only after the murder of her mother, very much in keeping to the themes of the film's literary predecessors, and spends the remainder of the running time trying to protect her infant daughter from her genetic inheritance.  The theme of an older generation destroying its offspring materializes physically here, culminating in the film's most horrifying image: Jessica's daughter held up in the arms of Deputy Randy, possessed by baby Stephanie's great uncle.  The image recalls Goya's terrifying painting Saturn Devouring His Son.  It's also the (excuse the unintentional-but-obvious pun) heart of the movie.

Jason's quest to be “reborn” is ultimately fulfilled, in an act that can best be described as necrophilic incest, when he impregnates his dead stepsister.  The resulting offspring, Jason reborn, is now technically Jessica's brother, allowing Jason to have jumped not just bodies, but a generation as well.

Early on in the film, the movie's Hero, Steven, picks up a trio of hitch-hikers and delivers them to the woods surrounding Crystal Lake.  He asks, jokingly, if they're planning on having pre-marital sex, doing drugs, and getting murdered.  It's at this moment that New Line cinema, new distributors of the series, and Sean Cunningham, throw down their challenge to the viewer: abandon the themes of the Paramount films and accept a new path.  That the deaths of those three campers has become most fan's favorite sequence of the film, suggests that not many accepted  New Line and Cunningham's dictum.  For the vast plurality of FRIDAY THE 13th fans, the series already had built a successful identity, and that formula was sacrosanct.

What would have come had fans embraced the change suggested here?  Would literary themes have dominated later installments (assuming, of course, that there was never any serious thought to this being the FINAL FRIDAY)?  We'll never know.

Ironically, it was the tremendous success of the early films in the series that destroyed any chance of a new generation of films being allowed to define themselves.  The evils of the past dominated their offspring.  As it stands, barring future re-evaluation, JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY is a lonely, leafless branch on the FRIDAY THE 13th family tree.

Then again, sometimes children have dreams that parents cannot imagine fulfilled.  Some want to be superheroes.  Or movie stars.  Or Astronauts.

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