2 out of 5 stars

Adam Marcus was 23 years old when he made Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. This fact answers every criticism and compliment laid at the feet of the writing and directing of this, his debut feature. For the ninth Friday the 13th, franchise co-creator Sean S. Cunningham entrusted Marcus, the apprentice editor of Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981). Your maths is correct, Marcus would have been 11 at the time. He was likely hired because he was friends with Cunningham’s son.

Fast bloomer Marcus was fresh out of film school and already producing My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), written by his friend Dean Lorey. Walt Disney Studios balked at hiring a first-time director but Cunningham ignored them and gave young Marcus the latest Friday the 13th to cut his teeth on. A lifelong fan of the series, Marcus strove to surprise audiences and critics with an innovative sequel, but while Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) contained meta self-aware comedy a full decade before Scream (1996)… Final Friday hewed closer to Scary Movie (2000).

A lone woman arrives at Camp Crystal Lake with a car-load of cliches in tow; the broken bulb, wind-shook doors, and obligatory shower nudity. Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is drawn to her like a moth to a flame, but this towel-wrapped undercover agent has actually led him into a trap. Armed commandos stun Jason with floodlights, a hail of bullets, and then bomb his ass to Hell. Or did they?

Jason was doomed from the start. Marcus’s initial pitch had Jason’s brother dig up his corpse and inherit his supernatural powers to continue the massacre. A write-up of Marcus’s idea by Jay Huguely was said to be an “unintelligible […] hodgepodge of a script”, so Dean Lorey was asked to write a whole new screenplay in just four days. One early concept of Jason interrupting gang warfare in Los Angeles didn’t get studio approval, but one detail endured as it’s alleged by Marcus that Cunningham mandated to “find a way to get rid of that mask”. Although Cunningham called Marcus a “fucking liar.”

Phil the Coroner (Richard Gant) consumes Jason’s still-beating heart, whose soul now wears him like a meat puppet, slashing his way back home. Forecast by smart-ass dialogue, three teens hike to Crystal Lake “thinking about smoking some dope, having some premarital sex, and not worry about getting slaughtered.” This Friday the 13th microcosm in which they do exactly that and then get slaughtered serves no narrative purpose other than to satiate audiences expecting this throughout. This facsimile fails as the nothing characters blatantly come in for quick kills that are totally censored in the theatrical version. Bucking tradition yet still paying desperate homage only takes precious time away from making sense of the actual narrative.

Jason’s fiery demise has made national news and Final Friday pre-empts social themes of Halloween Kills (2021), but instead of mass hysteria there’s only mild curiosity. Crystal Lake was never a morbid tourist trap, but now his infamy brings celebrations of “Jason is dead! 2-for-1 burger sale.” This diner promotion wasn’t enough to draw the FBI and SWAT teams back, who never respond to any of the mayhem after the opening sting sequence.

To Marcus’s credit, the direction in establishing the cast in long takes with overlapping dialogue is commendable. The two leads even show how charming such unpredictable writing can be; Steven (John D. LeMay) saves ex Jess (Kari Keegan) from her Jason-possessed new boyfriend only to get beat up because she thinks the father of their child has gone insane. You would go nuts if the ghost of Jason needed a blood relative to be reborn and you had a child with his niece while suspected of murdering his sister/her mother.

Steven, blamed for these deaths, should immediately spur his run from the cops, except the pacing slows down as Jess arrives in town. Steven is thrown in jail and meets Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a famous bounty hunter who’s been on TV boasting about how to send Jason to Hell for good. Duke was last seen harassing people at the diner and so spending the entire second act behind bars is a clumsy coincidence for the two to meet. Duke breaks Steven’s fingers in exchange for his intel on Jason because Reservoir Dogs (1992) had just come out and Marcus was a film student.

In 2017, Marcus ‘revealed’ Duke’s backstory; “he was out on Crystal Lake with his girlfriend,” Jason drags her down, and “from that moment on he spent his life in the study and pursuit of Jason.” This simple motivation doesn’t explain how he knows Jason’s weakness, why he never approaches Jessica or her mom until this last minute, or why he would throw himself in jail when Jason is about to succeed!

The mind boggles when watching Final Friday. Why does Jason strap a cop down naked and shave him? A young director trying to be provocative, he even proclaims it a brave interracial kiss in a horror movie. Camp cook Pamela Voorhees now owns a mansion, which is pointless since Marcus sets every scene in exactly one room. The peak of Marcus wrestling his own story is directing every Jason vessel to act like Jason, but to cheat one moment of suspense, the last Jason vessel walks and talks like a regular dude.

And this is arguing over silly Jason logic. Cunningham trusted Marcus so much that the only person to check dailies during shooting was poor editor David Handman. Almost 50-minutes of Marcus’s material was worth saving, which left only 43-minutes or so to re-shoot. There’s a diner shootout with copious slow-motion shots of gunfire and squibs, as the entire 8-minute scene was filmed in slo-mo.

Marcus had his priorities on cramming in self-serving references to his favourite movies:

“Pamela makes a deal with the devil by reading from the Necronomicon to bring back her son. This is why Jason isn’t Jason. He’s Jason plus The Evil Dead, and now I can believe that he can go from a little boy that lives in a lake, to a full grown man in a couple of months, to Zombie Jason. That, to me, is way more interesting as a mashup.”

Ignoring the obvious that in Friday the 13th (1980) little Jason was a nightmare, the teens theorise that Part 2‘s Jason survived drowning, and that Part 6 used straight-up lightning to reanimate Jason, connecting it to The Evil Dead (1980) is plain dumb. Marcus doesn’t even try to mimic Sam Raimi’s style or typical Deadite behaviour in any way. I, too, dreamed of a slasher cinematic universe… but I was a kid. As an adult, this is a sad attempt at getting recognition from a more successful director.

Marcus didn’t achieve the same runaway success as his inspirations. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday made $15.9M on a budget of $3M, making it the second-worst performance after Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). The belated next sequel, Jason X (2001), only did worse thanks to its much higher $14M budget. Marcus once said he made the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) of the Friday franchise, but this is more Ant-Man and the Wasp in Quantumania (2023).

It’s an arbitrary sequel, only significant for setting up a more hotly anticipated event… as Final Friday ends with a familiar bladed glove grabbing Jason’s mask…


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Cast & Crew

director: Adam Marcus.
writer: Jay Huguely & Dean Lorey (story by Jay Huguely, Adam Marcus & Dean Lorey; based on characters created by Victor Miller).
starring: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Allison Smith, Steven Culp, Erin Gray & Kane Hodder.