The lukewarm reception that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan had received at the box office in 1989 had been the final nail in the coffin for Paramount who, after almost a decade of success, had laid the character of Jason Voorhees to rest and would eventually cancel their small screen spinoff the following year. New Line Cinema’s once-profitable A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, which had in part been responsible for the decline of interest in Friday the 13th, had also ground to a halt the same year as Jason Takes Manhattan, as had the popular Halloween series. The heyday of the slasher cycle had long since passed and fans had grown weary of the formula, instead turning their attention to more sophisticated thrillers such as The Silence of the Lambs. 1990 saw both Psycho IV: The Beginning and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III follow suit and studios were finally convinced that the slasher had lost all popularity.
As a last desperate attempt to revive their Elm Street franchise, New Line Cinema released Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare which, much like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter seven years earlier, was intended to bring some closure to the series. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who had worked in a production capacity on the earlier installments, the movie was noted for boasting a 3-D finale that saw Freddy Krueger defeated by his previously unheard of daughter, Maggie. The script was conceived by Michael De Luca, who had risen through the ranks of New Line in just a few short years to become Head of Production. An avid horror fan, De Luca expressed interest in obtaining the rights to the Friday the 13th series from Paramount and, by 1992, had contacted Sean S. Cunningham, who had directed the first movie twelve years earlier and had since struggled to find similar success with his House franchise. Despite having distanced himself from the slasher genre, Cunningham decided to return to the world of Friday the 13th to take control of the series that he had helped to create.
Paramount had bled the franchise dry but now New Line had taken over Cunningham felt that the time was right to finish what he had started. The finale to Jason Takes Manhattan had been somewhat anticlimactic and fans had been left disappointed with the fate of Jason, thus prompting Cunningham to disregard the events of the previous six movies and create a story independent of the sequels. The concept for what would become Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was first conceived by Adam Marcus, who as a child had spent time on the set of the original Friday the 13th and had become close friends with Cunningham’s son, Noel. Marcus had studied at NYU Film School and had landed a position working for Cunningham in Los Angeles, where he was able to pitch his story for the ninth Friday the 13th. Whilst the eighth movie had seen Jason revert inexplicably to the young boy who had drowned in Crystal Lake decades earlier, neither Cunningham nor Marcus had any interest in explaining how he had once again become an indestructible zombie.
Despite finally owning the rights to both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, New Line were unable to commit to a concept for their highly anticipated crossover, Freddy vs. Jason, that they felt would live up to the expectations of the fans and so Cunningham instead decided to create a new sequel, although he had no intention of simply producing Friday the 13th Part IX. The task of resurrecting Jason fell to Jay Huguely, another close friend of Cunningham’s who had gained minor acclaim for his work on the hit show Magnum P.I. during the 1980s. But the script that he would submit to New Line would fail to meet the approval of Cunningham, Marcus and De Luca and so Marcus contacted his former NYU classmate Dean Lorey. Having first come to the attention of Cunningham with his script Johnny Zombie (later re-titled My Boyfriend’s Back and released in 1993), Lorey was brought onboard to rewrite Huguely’s screenplay.
Marcus had suggested a story that saw Jason body-hopping from one victim to another by way of a parasite that he spews into the mouth as he searches for a way to be reborn. The basic concept bore a close resemblance to The Hidden, an underrated science fiction action movie released by New Line in 1987 and directed by Jack Sholder, previously known for his work on Alone in the Dark and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Lorey rewrote the script for what would become Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday over one weekend and, whilst keeping Marcus’ basic outline, felt that a Friday the 13th script without Jason would disappoint the fans and so included scenes both at the beginning and the end of the script where Jason would make an appearance. Both Marcus and Lorey would agree that, unlike the previous sequels, the existence of Jason was acknowledged not only by the local community but the entire country to the point that even the nation’s most popular reality TV show, American Casefile, had dedicated an entire episode to his capture.
Having already worked on sequels to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, KNB EFX were brought onboard to take care of the elaborate special effects, which would not only feature the traditional gruesome murder set pieces (including, in the unrated cut, a young woman sliced in half whilst straddling her partner and a police station massacre that rivaled The Terminator) but also the parasite that jumps between hosts, the decomposition of the bodies as Jason leaves his hosts and the visual effects required for the final showdown. Whilst Kane Hodder would return to the role once again, several other actors would portray Jason throughout the movie, albeit in different forms. Hodder, in a subtle in-joke, would also cameo as a security guard who refers to Jason as ‘nothing but a big old pussy.’ Lorey would also land a small role as an assistant coroner, although he had not written the part with himself in mind. Due to nerves, he was unable to remember his dialogue during filming and so ad-libbed several comic lines, including referencing taking a mango-sized crap on Jason’s mask.
What would set Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday apart from its predecessors would be the casting, which would avoid the typical teen victims and instead focus on older characters. For the heroic lead role, the producers decided to cast John D. LeMay, who had also starred in the first two season’s of Paramount’s Friday the 13th: The Series. The other principal roles would go to Steven Williams (21 Jump Street and later The X Files, in which he would portray one of Agent Mulder’s mysterious informants), Erin Gray (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Billy Green Bush (The Hitcher, Critters, the latter also distributed by New Line) and Richard Gant (Rocky V). In the supporting role of Officer Randy Parker, Marcus would cast his younger brother, Kipp, also an alumni of NYU. The remaining supporting cast would include Steven Culp (later seen in season 2 of 24), TV regular Leslie Jordan and Julie Michaels (Point Break), whilst the role of the ‘final girl’ would go to Kari Keegan, who had previously appeared in a minor role in the 1988 Keanu Reeves flick The Prince of Pennsylvania.
Principal photography would take place in Los Angeles in the summer of 1992 on a budget of approximately $7m, which made it the most expensive Friday the 13th movie at that time (later surpassed by Freddy vs. Jason). Although Marcus had avoided the traditional summer camp location, test screenings would convince him to shoot a sequence in which three young campers are slaughtered whilst out in the woods, believing the area to be safe now that Jason is dead. This scene would prove to be the film’s most brutal and graphic and would be heavily censored by the MPAA, who had proven to be a thorn in the side of the franchise over the last decade. Released on August 13th 1993, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday would become the least successful entry in the franchise until Jason X nine years later and would receive a backlash from fans, who were frustrated by the lack of screen time for Jason and the confusing plot.