Friday The 13th creator Sean Cunningham knew exactly what he had on his hands when his initial installment of the popular stalk-and-kill series became the surprise box-office hit of 1980. “My ambition with this film was to provide entertainment,” said the producer/director in a 1980 interview. “I was not trying to make a great art.”
And while nobody is going to argue with the latter portion of Cunningham’s statement, the tale of an unseen killer gorily bumping off teens at an isolated summer camp touched a nerve with horror fans. The formula was repeated (without Cunningham) through seven subsequent sequels, each of which turned a profit for distributor Paramount Pictures. But after a run of eight films that generated more then $200 million, the series appeared headed for the horror retirement home. Shortly after the release of Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Paramount executives decided not to renew their association with the hockey-masked killer.
There were those who believed that, nonetheless, Jason was not dead. “My heart told me we would do it again,” relates actor/stuntman Kane Hodder, who played the villain in Friday Parts VII and VIII. “But, as we got further away from Part VIII, my gut started to tell me that it was really over.”
However, in early 1992, New Line Cinema, having effectively laid Freddy Krueger to rest, expressed the desire to do likewise with Jason. “We were definitely interested,” recalls New Line Cinema’s executive vice president Michael De Luca, “but only if Sean was involved. We thought it would be great to hook up with the creator of the original, and we were happy to discover that Sean was into the idea.”
But Cunningham’s attraction went beyond the appeal of returning to familiar ground. According to Adam Marcus, whom Cunningham selected to direct Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, it was a chance to put paid to both Jason and his own wrongheaded reputation.
“Friday The 13th has plagued him a little big,” says Marcus. “He only made the first movie, but he’s been labeled as the Friday The 13th guy ever since, and so has been limited in the kind of offers he’s had. But with this script and story, he feels like he’s going back to the scary kind of movie that the first Friday was and finally putting a lid on the series.”
Marcus, who as a child ran errands fro Cunningham on the original Friday the 13th, was asked by the producer to come up wit a storyline that would put Jason away for good. After he did, the first script drafts were whipped into shape by TV writer Jay Huguely. Ultimately, after a decision was made to change the film’s approach, Marcus’ friend and writer Dean Lorey was hired to finish the job.
“What we decided to do was take the series in a different direction,” explains Lorey. “In the past, Jason was this shadowy figure who hung out in Crystal Lake and killed a lot of people, and nobody seemed to know he was there. With this new script, we took the opposite tack and posed the question: What if everybody knew Jason existed?”
Consequently, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday opens with a very real Jason Voorhees, who is number one on America’s Most Wanted list, being blasted into oblivion by an army of FBI sharpshooters. But before you can say, “Drop the body at the morgue,” Jason’s spirit moves into a new vessel and begins to do his violent thing once again while searching for the key to his survival. Enter Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter of mass murderers, who has set out to destroy Jason and claims to know how do the job.
After viewing the entire Friday The 13th series of films in preparation for writing Jason Goes to Hell, Lorey didn’t believe he’d have too much trouble knocking out the script/ “But the reality was that writing it was very difficult,” he says. “We didn’t want to make a movie like the first eight Fridays, because people could just as easily rent those. But on the other hand, we wanted to find a new way to give people all the things they liked about the previous films.”
The writer, aided and abetted by Marcus and Cunningham, managed to overcome these obstacles. “We created a mythology that did not exist in the previous films,” he says. “We gave Jason some rules and a definite story. It’s not just Jason picking off teens. It’s the story of the Voorhees family and a whole lot of other people wanting and needing something. The story is dark and twisted, with a touch of humor, but its greatest strength lies with Jason. We didn’t give Jason much of a personality, because we felt that he was at his scariest when he was the hardest to figure out.”
Marcus adds that Jason, whom he describes as “real guttural and scary in this movie,” was only one consideration in crafting Friday’s final installment. “We designed the script so that we would not fall into the trap of doing the stupid, illogical things that happened in the other Friday films solely to advance the plot. Things had to happen in this script in as intelligent and logical a manner as they could in a Friday The 13th movie.”
Integral to this approach was the casting, which consisted primarily of adults as apposed to the usual array of good-looking, one-dimensional teenagers. This sequel stars John D. (Friday The 13th: The Series) LeMay, theater and film thespians Kari Keegan and Steven Williams, Erin (Buck Rogers) Gray, TV actress Allison Smith and Billy (Critters) Green Bush.
According to Marcus, the main goal in casting the film was to find real actors, rather then pretty faces with nothing behind them. “I went after people who could play the parts intelligently,” he says. “The body and the face were secondary.” As in-jokes, Marcus and Lorey both have cameos.
As surprising as it may be to find strong performances being one of the ambitions of a Friday film, the actors auditioning for the movie were equally startled. “I really was shocked,” says Keegan. “I knew enough about Friday The 13th to know that women in these films didn’t do much more than run, scream and take off their clothes. I read the script and thought, ‘My God! This is a person with a real life!’” “My character goes through real growth,” adds LeMay. “He goes from being an irresponsible kid to a real man.”
When it came to casting Mr. Voorhees in the final Friday, director Marcus says that there was never a question of bringing Hodder back for a third go-round behind the mask. “For my money, there is no other Jason but Kane,” the director praises. “He knows Jason. He knows what will and won’t work with this character. We would have been at a distinct disadvantage if we had hired anyone else. It wouldn’t have been right without him.”
On the other hand, the ambitious, less predictable and occasionally supernatural makeup FX and death scenes were executed by the KNB EFX Group, who had contributed to every major horror hero except Jason. The three-man team was eager to create both the Crystal Lake stalker and the damage he wreaks, yet were leery of working on just another mindless bloodbath.
“But we figured that with Sean involved, we would be safe,” says KNB’s Howard Berger. “We knew that there would be a lot more for us to do than in the average Friday The 13th movie.”
KNB’s initial challenge was creating Jason’s Look. They ultimately combined Carl Fullerton’s facial makeup from Part 2 (a larger-than-life, malformed head) with the bodily structure of Part VII (MMI’s exposed spine and bones), construction a state-of-the-art zip-up suit, clip-on mask and molded hands. Mechanical heads, squibs, bloodpacks, puppets, men in creature suits and the expected prosthetics comprise the roster of tricks used to bring off Jason’s slaughter scenes, as well as other storyline elements that the FX artist go mum about.
“All of our stuff is seen real quickly and is being used to bride the action.” Offers Robert Kurtzman. “Ours are the kind of kills that take things a little bit further than they’ve gone before.”
Jason Goes To Hell began filming on July 20, 1992 on a 40-day schedule, in various indoor and outdoor locations. The story starts off with a bang—or rather, a scream:
A young woman (Julie Michaels), dressed only in a towel, peers out of the bathroom in a deserted cabin near the town of Crystal Lake. She walks down a darkened hallway to the stairwell leading to the first floor. A moment earlier, the front door banging open had scared her out of the tub. There was nothing in the clothes closet, no scary reflection in the mirror. It must be the wind. She is relaxed. Everything is OK. She turns around - And runs right into Jason! He raises his machete. She shrieks and runs off into the night, with the unstoppable maniac in hot pursuit.
This sequence, shot on a cold, windy night in the woods just across the Los Angeles County line, harks back to classic, primitive Friday The 13th lore. Everyone knows that equation: Girl gets naked, girl dies. Writer Lorey cautions, however, that this traditional Friday moment has an unexpected punch line.
“That scene is just part of what we consider the ultimate Jason stalk scene, which we put together from a number of sequences from previous movies,” he explains. “But that kind of stuff is pretty much in the early part of the movie. Then we veer off into a whole other story that will take people totally by surprise.”
So will the capper of another early Jason Goes To Hell highlight. A morgue coroner (Richard Gant) stands alone, tape-recording his findings from the charred remains sitting before him on a stainless steel examining table.
“The heart is nearly twice the size of a normal heart,” he dictates. “Malformed. . .”
The evil organ beats. The coroner can’t believe his eyes and goes on. “It appears to be filled with a black, viscous fluid. Frankly, I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s not blood.”
The heart beats again. . .
“This is a more magical, supernatural movie,” says Marcus, hinting at the strangeness that both caps that chilling episode and informs that the movie in general. “It explains a lot about who Jason really is, and how he keeps coming back to life.”
The ambitious and unusual nature of this final Friday adventure was eagerly attacked by Marcus. As this is not only his first film, but also one that is horrifyingly important to the Friday The 13th legacy, one would expect the director to be a bundle of nerves on two legs. But whether he’s racing from AD to lighting director to wring the right shadowy look out of the aforementioned morgue scene; conferring with a dozen cameramen on just the right angles for what will easily be the biggest show of firepower in any Friday the 13th movie; or shouting out instructions on the cramped set of a massacre scene that will pay homage to one of the finest moments in the original Terminator, Marcus is bursting with enthusiasm.
“I’ve been lucky,” says the director during a free moment between setups on a windswept, action-filled night of outdoor filming. “For a first film, I’ve got real good people working with me. We’ve got some people with a long history in horror films, like Kane and the guys from KNB, and we’ve got a lot of people from a mainstream background who are doing their first horror film. That mixture is working very well.”
His positive sentiments are echoed by actor LeMay, whose tenure in the Friday TV series let him to think long and hard about the consequences of doing this movie. But, during a day of shooting when there was more talk then action involved, he admits to being thrilled at the physical opportunities Jason Goes To Hell has offered him. “In this movie I’m a bad-ass good guy, shooting semiautomatic weapons, fighting fist to fist with Jason and having him beat the crap out of me for nearly the entire movie. It’s been great!”
Jason Goes To Hell wrapped principal photography in late summer 1992, with reshoots to further punch up the terror quotient early this year. “We’re really excited about this movie,” says New Line’s De Luca. “We’ve got Sean back, and this movie is coming out 13 years after the original, which is a nice historical touch. But what we’re real happy with is that the film’s tone makes it something more than just another Friday movie. It makes this something special.”
But does it really mark the end of the series? De Luca insists that this is the final Friday The 13th, and Marcus has no doubts either. “Jason is beyond dead,” he laughs. “We designed this entire movie to be the end of him. Jason is killed and killed again. As far as Sean and I are concerned, this is the last Friday The 13th.”
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