To countdown to this year’s Halloween, Luke Owen reviews a different horror film every day of October. Up next; the showdown of the Century – Freddy vs. Jason…
As mentioned in the Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare entry of Countdown to Halloween, there are times when a movie’s production is more interesting than the film itself. This is the case with Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason. Over the ten plus years of the movie’s Development Hell, it saw dozens of writers, dozens of directors and even more scripts. Robert Englund put it best in Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th – there is a documentary ready and waiting to be made about Freddy vs. Jason‘s tortured development – and it would no doubt be more entertaining than the final product we got.
The idea of pitting these two titans of terror was first pitched after Jason had been brought back from the grave in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, but with the rights of both characters in separate camps (Paramount and New Line), an agreement could not be made on who would distribute the movie. When Paramount sold the rights to Jason over to New Line (but not the title) after the failure of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, the idea of the showdown was now suddenly a possibility. With Freddy bring “killed off” in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Adam Marcus’ 1993 Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday supposedly being the hockey mask wearing psychopath’s last outing, Marcus gave audiences a scene they’d all been waiting to see. As the dust settles on an “epic” battle, Jason’s mask lies on the dirt only to be brought down to by an all to familiar knife-fingered gloved hand with a cackling laugh. It was a winking tease that told horror fans, the battle you’ve been waiting for is coming.
Over the next ten years, different ideas on how to bring these characters together bounded around the New Line office. There was a script that had a band of Freddy fanatics called Fred Heads, one script featured the remaining Dream Warrior Alice team up with the Freemans of Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday and there was even a draft in which the two had a boxing match that also featured the likes of Ted Bundy, Adolf Hitler and John Wayne Gacey in an almost slasher-like version of Celebrity Death Match. The script from Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore took a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare approach in which Jason (who in this movie a real killer that was fictionalised in Friday the 13th movies) goes on trial for his crimes but has Freddy (who is also real) attempt to use him as a portal to the real world. There was even a script that featured a cameo from Hellraiser‘s Pinhead, who acts as a peace keeper between the two. But, as Jeff Katz said in Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, the best script was the one that simply had Freddy as we knew and loved him, Jason as we knew and loved him and just pitted the two in a fight. Nothing complex. In 2003, some 15 years after the movie was first brought up, audiences finally got to see Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees have the showdown of the century.
But was the script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift really the right choice?
Directed by Bride of Chucky‘s Ronny Yu, Freddy vs. Jason sees the town of Springwood a quiet and peaceful one since Freddy lost all of his powers and could no longer haunt the dreams of the teenagers. However, the dream demon has a plan – to pose as Jason’s mother and convince him to rise up and kill again in order to make people think that Freddy is back. The more people remember him, the more powerful he can become. The problem with Kruger’s plan however is that once Jason pops, he can’t stop as he goes around stealing Freddy’s kills from underneath his nose. Meanwhile, the teenage targets realise that the only way to stop these two is too get Freddy into the real world and have the two fight to the death at Camp Crystal Lake.
At its time of release, Freddy vs. Jason was very well received by fans of both franchises, but as time has gone by many have realised that while the final act of the movie (the fight) is a whole lot of fun, the first two thirds leave a lot to be desired. The acting is so-so, the plot is a little boring and aside from the showdown, there really isn’t anything to write home about. Moreover, a lot of fans were annoyed at Shannon and Swift playing loosely with the mythology of Jason who their script claims is afraid of water. In Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, both Shannon and Swift claim that they never had that in their script and it was in one of the re-writes that made the plot overly complex. It’s not like Freddy vs. Jason is a bad movie, it’s just not a great one.
However, while the script played loosely with both character’s back stories (as well as the locations of their respective settings), there was one huge change that would anger a lot of Friday the 13th fans – the recasting of Kane Hodder.
The decision made by New Line to replace the man who had played the character since 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood with Canadian Ken Kirzenger (who had doubled for Hodder in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) was brought about because they wanted someone taller for the role to stand against the small and lanky Robert Englund, who was to reprise the role of Freddy. Fans may have reacted badly to this choice as the fight they really wanted was Kane vs. Robert, but fact remains that Hodder’s recasting did nothing to the box office takings of the movie, which were incredibly impressive and the highest of both franchises.
So while the movie is mostly bland and the script’s re-writes needlessly complicate the plot, the final battle between Freddy and Jason is just such a joy to watch. When these two finally go at it – they go at it. Yu’s frenetic direction and his ability to “have fun with the monsters” (like he did on Bride of Chucky) makes this probably the best cinematic showdown between two established characters in cinema history (Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man notwithstanding). It’s all out war and the final confrontation on the pier is a blood soaked brawl with Freddy stabbing Jason in the eyes, Jason ripping Freddy’s arm off and one of the slowest and beautifully shot machete stabs ever committed to film. The first two thirds may leave a lot to be desired, but even if they flat out sucked this ending would have made up for it.
So was Shannon and Swift’s script the right choice? Having read all of the rejected scripts, it was certainly the safest because it never bothered to take any chances. The Braga and Moore meta script was easily the most interesting, but it was also at the most risk of backlash as it didn’t feature Jason in the hockey mask and the final battle in a mall culminated in him talking. The idea of a Freddy cult was intriguing, but the addition of a third character to the Freddy and Jason mix named Dominic Necros was so unnecessary and would have only detracted from the main purpose of the movie (Freddy and Jason fighting). In a way, New Line did make the right choice with Shannon and Swift, but only because it was the safest option.
After the film became a huge hit, the idea of making a sequel was instantly banded around the studio with the idea of throwing Ash Williams from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series into the mix due to the Necronomicon’s appearance in Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. But seen as though it took them nearly 15 years to get two franchise players together, the idea of pitting three was too much and the sequel was shelved indefinitely. However, Jeff Katz (who dropped out of college to work his way up the ladder at New Line to get Freddy vs. Jason made) was able to bring the idea to life in the comic book series Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash which explored the 15-page treatment he wrote for the proposed movie sequel.
Overall, Freddy vs. Jason may not have lived up to the expectations of every horror fan, but it’s undeniably fun – even if it is just the fight scene that’s worth watching. Perhaps another round of drafts and some new writers could have churned out a script that was more interesting while remaining safe, but too much time had already passed and if New Line weren’t going to do it in 2003, they probably never would have.
It would also be the final big screen outing for Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger as he hung up the hat and glove for a new face in the 2010 Platinum Dunes remake. It’s a name that has cropped up more than once during this year’s Countdown to Halloween and tomorrow we’re going to look at why the Nightmare on Elm Street remake is your worst nightmare.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
Flickering Myth will be presenting a one-night only screening of zombie-comedy Stalled at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, London on Novemeber 14th 2013. For more information on where to buy tickets, click here.