How Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Tommy Jarvis Made a Man Out of Me
As I watched Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, I desperately wanted to be Tommy Jarvis. Hardly the most shocking of confessions, I know. After all, Tommy’s the character with whom we’re supposed to identify. It’s his bespectacled eyes that we view the film through, and it’s him that we cheer when he finally brings the big, bad killer from Crystal Lake down to his knees.
What may surprise, though, is that unlike Tommy and much of the original audience for the film, I wasn’t pubescent, prepubescent, or anywhere near my teens. I was 24, and it was my first time watching a horror film.
Let’s backtrack a bit. No one can exist for over two decades without encountering a little bit of horror. I wasn’t that sheltered! But the horror I saw growing up was always at some slumber party, viewed through the cracks of my fingers covering my eyes as I huddled in the corner with my earphones on so as not to hear the screams of the myriad victims hacked or hurt, beaten or bludgeoned, or worst of all… mutilated (man, did I hate that word!) Even as a self-styled cinéaste, I never consciously sought to watch horror. Truth be told, I hated horror.
Now’s about that time when you’re probably asking yourself, “Self, how could a bloke who hated horror with as much passion and vehemence as this guy end up writing a piece for Dread Central?” Perfectly valid question, and one I’m glad to answer, even if it means revealing more about myself to the vast denizens of cyberspace than I do to even my therapist.
A child of divorced parents at a time when it was actually rare to have parents no longer conjoined in wedded bliss, I had enough fears and neuroses bouncing around my fragile-as-a-Faberge-egg psyche without adding ghouls and ghosts and sundry slashers and stalkers into the mix. My constant companions were feelings of abandonment and unworthiness, and they were quite enough, thank you. I certainly didn’t need to add any new fears to the raging maelstrom that was my mind.
So while my friends went to our local mall’s theater a dozen strong to enjoy the latest exploits of everybody’s favorite child killer turned lovable, quipping cartoon character Freddy Kreuger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, I wiled away the 93 minutes reading the menus in the food court. When my favorite magazine Mad parodied Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, just reading that was enough to give me nightmares for weeks. Let’s repeat that for emphasis. It wasn’t Poltergeist the film that scarred me; it was the bloody (figuratively, not literally: Mad was ostensibly for kids, after all) cartoon parody that gave me sleepless nights. No Gorezone pull-out posters adorned my wall, that’s for darn sure.
So what changed? How did this kid who was afraid of not just his shadow but other peoples’ shadows as well end up with a body adorned with horror tattoos and whose life’s passion is horror and horror culture?
It was Tommy Jarvis and the fourth Friday that did it. You see, in my early twenties, I started working at this weird Frankenstein’s monster of a video store whose back catalogue consisted mainly of cassettes acquired and cobbled together from other mom-and-pop shops that had sadly gone out of business. There were so many “important” titles we didn’t carry, and forget about full series. You wanted to rent a Star Wars or an Indiana Jones? Sorry, better find another shop – we had none of those. But how about a Friday the 13th film? We had a couple of them. And as long as Parts 4 and 9 (the much maligned Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) were all you wanted, you’d be satisfied because that was all that we had. (Notice a pattern here: The Final Chapter; The Final Friday. In the world of horror, the word “final” carries about as much weight as the promises made by that Nigerian prince in those myriad electronic missives clogging up the junk folder in your inbox.)
Feeling it was time to finally put away those childish fears, I nervously took home our well-worn copy of The Final Chapter and, with much trepidation, allowed it to unspool in my VCR. In broad daylight, mind you! There was no way I was going to sit down and consciously watch my first horror film after the sun went down. I may have been bravely facing my fears, but I certainly wasn’t foolhardy.
And there he was: Tommy Jarvis, the kid I had wanted to be and wished that I was! As played in his big-screen debut by future Lost Boy and Michael Jackson impersonator Corey Feldman, Tommy was a kid who loved monsters. He had an impressive collection of creature masks adorning his bedroom. He was brave, precocious, and didn’t take any excrement from anyone. Like me, Tommy was raised by a single mom and had one sister. Unlike me, Tommy was around 11 or 12, but it mattered not. I had found my new cinematic hero.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a great film. Ably directed by Joseph Zito, who also made the fantastic The Prowler, The Final Chapter also features the return of the prodigal son – makeup and effects wiz Tom Savini, who returned to the fold after sitting out parts 2 and 3, in the hopes of helping to kill off his malevolent creation for good. And in a sense they did. Jason, portrayed indelibly and menacingly by uncredited stuntman Ted White in his sole turn as the Crystal Lake bogeyman, was never quite as human in the films that followed in the franchise. He was still fun, sure, but this was the last time he was truly scary.
But back to Tommy. When he repeatedly yells “Die!” while swinging that machete, making sure that Ms. Voorhees’ baby boy was pushing up the proverbial daisies for good this time (and this following the incredible gore gag where Jason’s unmasked face slides down his own machete and gets sliced like an overripe avocado), something changed inside him, and something changed inside me as well. There was a look in Tommy’s eyes in the final frame which suggested that this young boy was fundamentally and forever altered from his experience with Jason. He was transformed, and so was I. Incredibly, I was now a horror fan! Sure, my sofa was soaked with a sweat stain so large and deep that even after it dried, it left a ring that never fully disappeared and no amount of fabric cleaner could get rid of, but it didn’t matter. I had just endured my first horror film! And not only did I survive the experience, I liked it… hell, I loved it! And like those deranged mad scientists in all those 50s creature flicks, I wanted more, more, more!
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was my first baby step toward becoming a horror fanatic, a marvelous journey that’s been an absolute pleasure to take. There are so many more sights I’d like to show you and so much more that I’d like to share, but for now, let’s just save a little something for the sequel.