Unlike Alien vs. Predator, which sated fans with tons of tie-in merchandise during its years in development hell, Freddy vs. Jason never really had anything to hold the hungry fan base over during the ten-year period that it took to get made. All we really saw was a KB Toys exclusive “Jason vs. Freddy” set of the Movie Maniacs toys, but even that was incredibly exciting for a young fan like me. In some ways, this might have actually turned out better for the eventual crossover. One of the struggles of Alien vs. Predator was that, by the time it finally came out, fans had already seen multiple versions of the match-up in novels, comics, video games, etc.
It definitely worked out better for Freddy vs. Jason—at least in terms of box office—that fans had spent years anticipating the fight without actually seeing it depicted in any other medium. The crossover was truly the result of over a decade’s worth of build-up and anticipation. Fans were hungry for it. What is surprising, though, is that while the marketing campaign for the movie was on fire, we never really got many tie-ins when or even after it came out. There was a novelization, then the two Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic series’ several years later, but that was it.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying. While the film was entering what would turn out to be its last few years in development hell before the movie’s actual release, a tie-in video game was also attempting to get off the ground. David Bergantino came up with the concept for a game that would ideally start on arcades, with eventual platform releases on PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast, as well as PC. Xbox was also considered as a replacement once the Dreamcast went the way of the dinosaur.
Dustin McNeill’s incredible Slash of the Titans book, chronicling the entire history of Freddy vs. Jason, goes into detail about what this game would have looked like and why it didn’t happen. But when you step back even further and look at the time in which it was being conceived, the story of Freddy vs. Jason: Hell Unbound is also truly the story of how Grand Theft Auto III changed the world of video games forever.
It might seem hilarious now, but when the first two major horror franchise games were released, they caused an insane amount of controversy. Parents were horrified that games based on Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween allowed their kids to step into the role of the killer and hack up any random passersby. Of course, actually trying to see any of that violence within those games was like looking at a Rorschach test because the characters were barely recognizable blocks with little dots for eyes, as that’s what the technology allowed at the time.
The outrage of that time still had a lasting impact, affecting both the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street video games of the late eighties. As soon as those things were given the green light, it was made clear that under no circumstances were players allowed to take on the role of either Jason or Freddy. That’s why both games are about battling the respective icons, not being them.
Believe it or not, this still had a hold on Hell Unbound when it was being considered in 2001. David Bergantino was no stranger to these franchises, as he had penned the novelization of New Nightmare (one of the best horror novelizations out there, for the record) and several of the Freddy Krueger’s Tales of Terror YA books. Now working in video games, he knew that fans would absolutely devour a Freddy vs. Jason game. But he also knew the rules: no video game could let the player simply hack their way through unsuspecting victims.
Because of that, Hell Unbound was going to pick up directly after the end of Jason Goes to Hell. As either Freddy or Jason, players would have an encounter with Death itself, who would show them a glimpse of what the world would look like if either of them were to make it back at their full, indestructible capacity. Freddy would be able to manipulate the entire world with his dream powers, while Jason would be at the center of a post-apocalyptic landscape, slaughtering people by the hundreds. But they would have to work for it. Only one of them could make this vision a reality, and so the game becomes a race to the surface with both Freddy and Jason battling to beat the other out of Hell.
Given that the game would have taken place in Hell, players would have fought demons and monsters, not humans. When playing as either character, the boss of each stage would have been a different version of the other. Examples given in Bergantino’s treatment (and backed up in McNeill’s book) include things like fighting the Freddy Snake from Dream Warriors when playing as Jason, or fighting Pamela Voorhees and Part 2 Jason if playing as Freddy. The idea would be to almost fight chronological versions of the characters throughout the game, as they seemed to only get more powerful as the movies went on.
As can sort of be determined from the concept, the game was designed for multiplayer. Even two players, one as Freddy and one as Jason, would make for an exciting time. But with the advent of online PC gaming, people would have actually been able to play with up to 50 people at a time. Each version of Freddy or Jason would be totally customizable and would adapt to fit the gameplay of each player, with the idea in mind that every individual player’s selected Freddy or Jason would be unique to them.
Freddy vs. Jason: Hell Unbound was a solid set-up. Bergantino seemed to know exactly what the game should be, all of the necessary people involved with the franchises and the licensing signed off on it and it would have been a huge hit with fans. So why didn’t it happen?
Well, the answer’s pretty brutally simple: the movie didn’t come out fast enough.
Once again, unlike the several Alien vs. Predator video games that saw release throughout the nineties and early aughts, Freddy vs. Jason had to be released day-and-date with the movie itself. This one thing was absolutely non-negotiable. That proved to be tough when the game was being developed before the movie had any kind of green light.
Truth be told, even if the game was released when it was being developed in 2001, it might have been too late. It was designed for an era in which you simply could not have your players cutting down innocent people. It had to jump through hoops to get around that by having Jason and Freddy slash their way through demons and goblins and all sorts of monsters instead of depicting them actually killing human beings. That’s no fault of Bergantino or anyone else involved in planning the game, those were simply the standards of the time.
But then a little game called Grand Theft Auto III came out later that very same year and absolutely shattered the strict rules of censorship that had remained in place for decades, and they’ve remained shattered ever since. Adopting the Aleister Crowley principle of “Do what thou wilt,” players of GTA III were able to do virtually anything to anyone, whether it had anything to do with advancing the story or not.
The happy epilogue here is that because of that radical change from the same time as the attempted Freddy vs. Jason game was trying to get off the ground, fans are now able to play as both of the major icons in brand-new games. Friday the 13th: The Game is a love-letter to the franchise on every conceivable level, from the look and feel to especially the staggering variety of kills. Freddy may have to obey the rules of Dead by Daylight rather than starring in his own game, but the developers managed to recreate the dichotomy between the real and nightmare worlds within that franchise staggeringly well.
The point is, Freddy and Jason are at the center of video games at this very moment, and they’re killing a lot of people. The two icons have always been at the forefront of changing tides in film censorship, given their—especially Jason’s—frequent battles with the MPAA over the years. But the fact that they’ve even been able to track the evolving standards of video game censorship only goes to show what a long-lasting impact on pop culture they’ve truly had.