Although Friday the 13th Part 3 had proved to be yet another box office success for Paramount Pictures, the slasher boom had already begun to show signs of slowing down, with 1983 producing far fewer efforts than the previous year. With the exception of The House on Sorority Row and Sleepaway Camp, it seemed that interest in the so-called slice-and-dice or ‘dead teenager’ flicks had waned, prompting the studio to make the decision that the Friday the 13th franchise should finally come to an end. With director Steve Miner declining the chance to return for a third movie, the producers were forced to search elsewhere for a filmmaker who could give Jason Voorhees a suitable swan song. Joseph Zito had initially studied psychology and economics at New York’s City College, where his interest turned to producing short films with money borrowed from close friends. Taking a production reel to the Cannes Film Festival in France, Zito made the acquaintance of a man called Carl Kaminsky, who upon returning to the United States introduced him to two of his clients.
The first meeting would lead to Zito’s breakthrough movie, the stylish 1981 slasher The Prowler, which would become notorious due to the extremely graphic special effects from Friday the 13th‘s Tom Savini. Another of the clients that Zito had spoken to was Phil Scuderi, who had been involved with the Friday the 13th franchise since the very beginning. Zito was promised that if Friday the 13th Part 3 was a hit then he would be hired to direct the next sequel. True to his word, once the box office takings were tallied and it became obvious that another installment was in demand Zito was offered the movie. Determined to not only remain faithful to the fans but also add a new element that would keep the formula fresh, Zito watched all three of the previous films and began developing a story with the assistance of Bruce Hidemi Sakow, an alumni of NYU who had worked on a script with Zito entitled Quarantine. Zito had proposed several elements that were considered suicide for a low budget feature: to set the story at night, in the rain and to feature a young child as the protagonist.
With the story slowly taking shape, Zito then contacted a young screenwriter called Barney Cohen, a former copywriter who would work extensively on the script with Zito in a small apartment in New York. With Zito having initially been hired as both a director and writer, only to bring Cohen on board to develop the script, Zito was forced to pay his collaborator out of his own salary. With Zito having been informed by the studio that this was to be the last Friday the 13th he decided that the whole story should revolve around the death of Jason, even opening with his corpse after being killed off at the end of the third film. Despite this, he instructed Cohen that his focus when writing was not the graphic murders but the development of the characters, which would be the complete opposite to the priorities of the writers of Part 3. This being Jason’s final showdown, however, Zito knew that the gore had to be plentiful, particularly after the relatively blood-free second installment and the 3-D gimmick of the third. Zito was determined to bring back Savini to kill Jason once and for all, having played a significant role in the birth of the character, only to decline the chance to return for the previous sequels. But Paramount had already hired renowned special effects artist Greg Cannom, who had first begun as an assistant to Rick Baker on such classics as The Howling and Michael Jackson’s acclaim music video Thriller.
With Cannom eventually out of the picture, Savini – who at that time had been working on a haunted house in North Carolina after a string of popular gore movies such as Creepshow and Alone in the Dark – made his way down to the set and began to design the various gags that would be required for what was intended as Jason’s last bloodbath. Assisting Savini in the proceeds was an army of up-and-coming artists that included Kevin Yagher and John Vulich, the latter of which would continue to work with Savini on Day of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. With the story’s protagonist, a young boy called Tommy Jarvis, being a make-up and special effects enthusiast, the character’s bedroom would be filled with various masks and props taken from the workshop of Savini and his collaborators. Amongst the various graphic set pieces that the crew would create for what would become Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter were the throat-slitting and head-twisting of an arrogant orderly, the face-crushing of a horny young teen and Jason’s own demise, which would result from Tommy driving a machete into his face, causing his head to slowly slide down the blade.
Unlike Part 3, the group of young actors that would make up the cast of The Final Chapter would include several rising stars who would later enjoy various degrees of success. The role of Tommy would go to twelve-year old Corey Feldman, who would ultimately become one of the biggest teen stars of the 1980s with roles in Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand by Me and The Lost Boys. The Final Chapter‘s ‘final girl’ and older sister of Tommy, Trish Jarvis, would be played by Kimberly Beck, who was fifteen years older than her co-star. The Californian native had relocated with her mother and stepfather, Tommy Leonetti, to Australia when she was eleven, where she would enjoy a minor hit with the duet Let’s Take a Walk, before moving back to America four years later. Having been picked up by Universal, Beck would enjoy a two-year stint on a soap opera called Capitol and, having recently split from her husband, was desperate for work and reluctantly auditioned for the lead in The Final Chapter.
Peter Barton had already enjoyed being a teen sensation and had been featured on countless magazine covers. Having lost interest in his newfound celebrity status, Barton considered retiring from the industry when he reluctantly accepted a part in Tom DeSimone’s gothic slasher Hell Night, which was released in 1981 to modest success. Prior to auditioning for The Final Chapter, Barton had landed the title role in the TV series The Powers of Matthew Star and was convinced by co-star Amy Steel (who had portrayed the heroine in Friday the 13th Part 2) to audition for The Final Chapter. Another young star who was less than enthusiastic about appearing in the movie was Barbara Howard, who had recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and had read for a role in The Final Chapter at the insistence of her agent. Arguably the most important piece of casting was that of Jason, who had become something of an iconic symbol after the innovation of the hockey mask in Part 3. The role eventually went to veteran stuntman Ted White, whose impressive résumé had seen him work as a stunt double for screen legends John Wayne, Clark Gable and Rock Hudson.
Principal photography on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter commenced around Halloween 1983, with the majority of the filming taking place in Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. Intending on continuing the story from the final moments of Part 3, Zito returned to the location where Miner had shot the third movie to film a sequence in which Jason’s body and the corpses of his victims are taken away by ambulances to the local hospital. This scene would be achieved by a steadicam operator being lowered down on a crane and then walking slowly through the action to the site of the massacre in one shot without cutting away. Awakening later in the morgue of the hospital, Jason returns to the lake where he finds a summer house full of teenagers that he begins to slaughter one-by-one. Adopting the method acting approach, White would remain in Jason make-up and away from his co-stars throughout the duration of filming in order to draw an authentic reaction from the young cast.
Unlike the second sequel, The Final Chapter would feature a fair amount of nudity, most notably from nineteen-year old Judie Aronson, who would be murdered by Jason whilst skinny-dipping. Having protested against Zito about appearing full frontal, Aronson had reluctantly agreed to go topless on screen, although the unpleasant sequence would see the young actress standing in freezing cold water wearing only a wet suit from the waist down to create the illusion that she was nude. Disgusted with the conditions which Zito was forcing his young cast to work under, White became frustrated with his director and protested against Aronson having to act naked in cold waters for long periods of time. Despite his young age, White would praise Feldman’s performance in the movie, although he would later admit that he found the child very annoying during filming. Feldman would later reprise the role of Tommy for the opening sequence of the inevitable sequel Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, released the following year.
Post-production on The Final Chapter would be completed in record time due to an impending release date, with Zito cutting the movie whilst producer Frank Mancuso Jr. created a montage made up of footage from the previous films for the opening sequence (much to the disapproval of the director). Resident composer Harry Manfredini would once again return to the series, although the majority of the score consisted of material taken from the first three Friday movies. Released by Paramount Pictures on April 13th 1984, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter matched the success of its predecessor, earning over $11m on its opening weekend and eventually taking a US total of almost $33m. Although fairing better than Part 3, The Final Chapter would do little to convince critics that the slasher film had not past its prime, although Paramount soon began to regret killing off their franchise so successfully.