“I’ve been away from my children for far too long.” – Freddy Krueger
In 2003, that quote couldn’t have rung more true. It had been nearly a decade since everyone’s favorite dream master Freddy Krueger had appeared on the big screen in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and less than a year since the hockey-masked behemoth Jason Voorhees graced theaters in the underrated Jason X. Both franchises had seemingly worn out their welcome, with New Nightmare grossing a mere $19.7 million in 1994 and Jason X faring even worse with $17 million in 2002. After teasing the icons’ death match in the closing moments of 1993’s disastrous Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, fans suffered through a 10-year wait while Freddy Vs. Jason sat in development Hell. By now, fans know all to well about the issues that plagued Freddy Vs. Jason during those 10 years, but we here at Bloody Disgusting thought we would reach out to Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the duo who ended up writing the final version of the Freddy Vs. Jason script that was filmed (they would go on to write the 2009 Friday the 13th remake as well), and dig a little deeper into the production of the film. Some of the questions I asked had been asked before and others are brand new, but we thought it would be a fun way to celebrate Friday the 13th!
So how do you bring two of the most infamous slasher icons together on the big screen? It turns out that the answer wasn’t an easy one. Here’s a little backstory on the production of Freddy Vs. Jason. The idea was first considered by each franchise’s respective studios (New Line Cinema for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Paramount for Friday the 13th) way back in 1987, right after the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Unfortunately, both companies wanted to license the other company’s character without giving up their own, so an agreement was never made. This led to the productions of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 1988. Plans were abandoned again until the box failure of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989. After that film was released the rights to the franchise reverted back to the original financiers of the original Friday the 13th (Phil Scuderi, Steve Minasian and Bob Barsamian), who promptly sold them to New Line Cinema so that franchise creator Sean S. Cunningham could begin work on Freddy Vs. Jason.
Unfortunately Cunningham waited too long to get the ball rolling on Freddy Vs. Jason. By the time he was ready to start, Wes Craven decided to return to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise at that same time, thereby putting a halt on any Freddy Vs. Jason plans. While Craven decided to work on New Nightmare, Cunningham began working on a new Friday the 13th film that would lead into a Freddy Vs. Jason movie so that New Line Cinema would pretty much have to make the film. As mentioned above, New Nightmare disappointed at the box office and Jason Goes to Hell, while profitable, still earned the second lowest box office gross in the franchise’s history (at the time). It seemed that the world (and New Line Cinema) was finally ready for Freddy Vs. Jason. Alas, such was not the case.
New Line Cinema would go on to spend roughly $6 million on several unused scripts from over a dozen screenwriters. Tons of ideas were tossed around. From plots that ranged from the implausible (Freddy was once planned to be a camp counselor at Camp Crystal Lake who molested Jason) to the ridiculous (Jason on trial for his crimes), New Line Cinema just couldn’t manage to nail down a premise as to why these two icons of horror would just so happen to be in the same film together. It wasn’t until longtime Nightmare and Friday fans Swift and Shannon produced a treatment that everyone involved, including New Line Cinema Head of Production Michael DeLuca (who also wrote the screenplay for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), agreed would work that it looked like Freddy Vs. Jason might actually happen.
DeLuca was Freddy Vs. Jason’s biggest supporter. The problem was that he had so many ideas but didn’t exactly know what to do with them. One rumored idea had the film going the Clue route, filming multiple endings and screening a different one in different theaters so that audiences never knew which ending they were going to see. “Mike may have thought about that version before we came onboard,” Swift and Shannon said, “but we never discussed having multiple endings like that. Personally I think that would have been a terrible idea. It would have sent the message that we didn’t care about the ending and were just looking for an extra cash grab.”
The good news (for fans of the film at least) is that Swift and Shannon’s original pitch to DeLuca is nearly the same film that ended up in theaters (and no, no characters from previous Nightmare or Friday films were present in any of their drafts because they felt those characters would detract from the titular foes’ stories). “We had a very strong take from the beginning on what the movie should be (and what the movie should not be). So [Michael] got the full pitch: characters, story, action set pieces, everything,” Swift and Shannon said. “DeLuca had explored so many different ideas at that point…[that] he was really lost as to where to start. We came from a place where we didn’t want to change their backstories at all; we didn’t want to ‘throw out’ the other movies. We wanted everything to ‘count.’ We pitched what we as fans would want to see. DeLuca loved it, and hired us pretty quickly after the pitch.”
Unfortunately for Swift and Shannon, DeLuca was eventually fired from New Line Cinema before they got deep into pre-production on Freddy Vs. Jason. All of a sudden the film’s biggest supporter was gone, and Swift and Shannon were left to their own devices to get it made. When asked if they were nervous after DeLuca’s departure, they exclaimed “Of course! It was a disaster! You have to understand, this is around the same time that Jason X came out and bombed at the box office. DeLuca had been the champion of that movie, and he was the champion of Freddy Vs. Jason…and now he was gone. We had to re-convince New Line that even developing Freddy Vs. Jason was a good idea, and believe [us], it took some convincing. We had to re-pitch a whole new set of execs, write summary documents about how and why Freddy and Jason were in the same movie and what they were fighting about. We had to do a beat sheet. We gave them a list of rules about things Freddy and Jason should and shouldn’t do. On and on. All this before we even wrote the script.” It almost seems hard to believe that there was a time when a Freddy Vs. Jason movie didn’t seem like a viable business venture, but that was most certainly the case.
New Line Cinema, once known as “The House That Freddy Built,” had lost all confidence in their prize franchise. At the behest of Swift and Shannon, New Line began reaching out to audiences to see if they would even be willing to see Freddy Vs. Jason. According to them, “the studio hired a consultant to test the concept with the public, to see if there was any interest in the movie….they sent teams to malls with a questionnaire. They found that there was indeed some interest, but recommended that it be rated PG-13. When we heard this, we wrote an impassioned email to the head of marketing at the studio, begging him to not only to back the movie, but to keep an R rating.” Thank God for that. Can you imagine a world with a PG-13 Freddy Vs. Jason? It would have marked the first entry in each respective franchise to obtain the rating and most certainly would have shifted the horror genre into a very different direction today. Plus, look at what happened with Alien Vs. Predator…
All of their convincing paid of, and New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye and production executive Stokely Chafkin gave them the greenlight. Swift and Shannon’s original script was around 120 pages, which would have resulted in a two-hour film. “Most studios like their horror films to be around 90 minutes,” they said, “but we always felt this was an epic matchup that required a little more time. [The studio] disagreed. Subplots and characters were cut and combined at the request of the studio.” The duo worked with Ronny Yu to condense the script, but after some time the studio brought in David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Dark Knight) to trim down the script even more.
The team went through about three different drafts of the script before Goyer arrived on the scene. “David did an excellent job of trimming every ounce of fat from the movie, but he also had to cover up what was cut. So in the end, you had characters explaining the plot to each other, rather than talking like real people, which is a real pet peeve of ours. It made for a shorter movie, but one filled with some hilariously bad dialogue and glaring holes.”
That “hilariously bad dialogue” is perhaps most evident in Lori’s (Monica Keena) now infamous line “Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How can we use that?” Smith and Shannon defend that particular line though, saying “we will cop to writing that line, but it certainly worked a lot better in the context of the original uncut scene. Moreover, it was clear that this whole conversation took place within a dream. The conversation was longer, and followed dream-logic. But sure, it was a silly line…” It may have been a silly line, but it adds to Keena’s growing repertoire of delivering hilariously random expository dialogue.
Regarding the plot holes, no hole was more glaring than Jason’s fear of water in Freddy Vs. Jason. Fans cried in uproar over the plot decision, since Jason had been submerged in water multiple times throughout the course of the previous 10 Friday the 13th films. Smith and Shannon retorted, saying “The intention was — if Jason has any fear at all — it would be rooted in his drowning. This is what Freddy exposes — Jason’s memory of his childhood at Crystal Lake. However, the way it was shot, it could be interpreted that Jason is afraid of water. After all, he doesn’t cross the water stream, right? But remember, this is taking place in Jason’s psyche. In his dream. Ronny was being symbolic.” This is along the lines of what Swift and Shannon stated in the superb documentary Crystal Lake Memories, though they maintain that their original idea for that particular decision was muddled because of the cuts made to their script.
It was apparent that the duo was tired of addressing this issue, as they threw a little shade my way regarding the question: “It’s interesting, the casual fan is usually the one who brings up this ‘fear of water’ thing. But the more serious hardcore fans usually get that it’s ‘fear of drowning’ at issue and not water.” Forgive me, guys. I swear I’m not just a casual fan! I’m just not 100% I buy into this theory, but I’ll let bygones be bygones.
One harmless, if obvious plot hole also involved the time it takes the characters to travel from Springwood to Camp Crystal Lake, a trip that should take roughly 8-9 hours. Of course, it’s not fun to see your characters on a road trip for a whole scene, is it? The speed of the trip did not escape Swift and Shannon either, who had the kids driving all night in their original script. “This really bugged us the first time we screened the movie (and Jason got to Springwood pretty quickly in the beginning, too) but hey, what are you going do? They wanted the movie to fly by and boy does it fly!” Again, this was something addressed in Crystal Lake Memories, but I felt like poking the bear and asking the question again.
When asked if there was a particular sequence that they wish hadn’t been cut, the pair recounted an awesome-sounding fight scene in a construction trailer. “One of the kids was trapped inside with Freddy,” they said, “but then Jason was on the outside, stabbing his machete through the thin metal walls, trying to kill everything inside. So then Jason gets in, and our kid is trapped in an enclosed space between Freddy and Jason, who are going at it. The trailer is on wheels, and during the fight, it becomes unmoored, and starts rolling and bouncing down a hill as they continued to fight. It was pretty crazy and would have been spectacular on screen.” Spectacular indeed, but in the essence of time, the scene was cut.
One of the biggest controversies surrounding the production of Freddy Vs. Jason was New Line’s decision to recast Kane Hodder (a fan-favorite Jason who played the hulking monster for Friday the 13th 7-10) with newcomer Ken Kirzinger. “We were as shocked as anyone when Kane wasn’t brought back. After all, Kane played Jason more times than anyone else, and kept the torch of the franchise alive between movies.” While they lamented Hodder’s absence, they also admitted that they were pleased with Kirzinger’s performance. “We also think Ken did a great job in the role, and we like the fact that there have been many interpretations of Jason Voorhees throughout the years. (Personally, our favorite is Derek Mears, but we’re pretty biased.) It’s a fun thing for fans to debate. But obviously, we feel bad for the fans who fell into the ’no one but Kane’ camp. Our goal was to deliver for the fans, but you can’t make everyone happy.” Truer words were never spoken.
While they may not know exactly why the casting decision was made (“You would have to ask the director and the studio,” they replied), Swift and Shannon were happy to debunk some of the rumors flying around the internet: “No, Kane wasn’t brought back because he didn’t have ‘sympathetic eyes.’ That was a strange rumor that got started because someone wrote that description on a casting sheet. No, Kane wasn’t brought back because he was ‘too precious’ with the character. Kane is a pro, and he would have been great in the role. If I had to take an educated guess, I would say they probably felt that Ken matched up better visually with Robert (Ken is a bit taller) and maybe they saved some money. But again, you’d have to ask them.” That does seem to be the popular theory. Supposedly New Line wanted an actor who would tower over Englund’s already above average 5’10” height.
A similar controversy that emerged after Freddy Vs. Jason‘s release was fan backlash over Kia (Kelly Rowland) calling Freddy Krueger a faggot. As a gay horror fan myself, I was certainly taken aback by the use of the word in the film. It was a puzzling thing to include, considering that the horror genre has a very large gay following. Granted 2003, while not that long ago, was still a very different time. It was more acceptable to use the word then than it is now. Swift and Shannon have denied taking any part in the film’s use of the word, but I thought I would ask again just to see if their answer had changed over the years. It did not, as they repeated: “All we can tell you is…we didn’t write it, and we were really shocked when we heard it in the movie. We complained about it after the first screening, but it was never changed. It’s a real stain on the movie, in our opinion.” It looks like we will never know if it was improvisation on Rowland’s part, the work of some shady film executives or some other mysterious reason.
After nearly two decades of planning, Freddy Vs. Jason opened on August 15, 2003 with a record-breaking $36.4 million dollars ($47.1 million in 2016 dollars) and would go on to gross $82.6 million domestically ($106.9 million in 2016 dollars). “When it finally came out, and with very little advertising (we didn’t even get billboards), Freddy Vs. Jason had the biggest horror opening of all time.” It was actually the best R-rated horror opening of all time until Swift and Shannon’s next film, Friday the 13th hit theaters in February of 2009 and broke that record.
As much of a moneymaker as Freddy Vs. Jason was, it was not without its detractors. While the film was meant to be a love letter to fans all across the globe (and to some fans it was), there were some who just weren’t happy. A common complaint is that the film doesn’t marry the two franchises together seamlessly, but instead feels like a Friday the 13th film that Freddy just happens to be in (he only gets one kill in the entire movie). Others feel the opposite. “We usually hear from people ‘It’s more of a Nightmare film than a Friday the 13th film,'” they said. “Our answer is that yes, Freddy is the one pulling the strings of the plot. He’s the one in control, manipulating events, and dominates the story. Jason is more of a ‘tool’ in that sense. However, Jason cannot be controlled. As you rightly point out, Jason gets most of the kills. Again, this is rooted in their respective franchises. The Nightmare series has never been about body count, like the Friday series. Therefore it was only natural that Jason would have most of the kills, but Freddy would be driving the story.”
Whether you agree with them or not, you have to admire their passion. These two guys clearly put a lot of thought into this product and aimed to create the best film that they believed these franchises deserved. Since Robert Shaye was (and still is) a part of New Line when A Nightmare on Elm Street was released, it is understandable that he was more of a Freddy supporter. Swift and Shannon believed that they needed to ensure that Jason was given just as much of a spotlight as Freddy was to receive, which was a delicate balancing act. “From the very beginning, we strove for balance,” they said. “You have to fight for this balance and these decisions through every step of the development process. It’s a miracle it came out as balanced as it is, though of course, fans of each character always want their favorite character to have more.” That’s for damn sure, isn’t it? But whether they over-defended Jason and gave him too much to do is up to the viewer to decide.
Some fans even accused Swift and Shannon of painting Mr. Voorhees as a tragic figure (just look at Monica Keena’s interviews in Crystal Lake Memories, though she was probably just joking). A victim of the circumstances, if you will. They are understandably defensive on the subject (you would have to be when going toe-to-toe with Friday and Nightmare fans), exclaiming “How dare you…Jason was never presented as ‘redeemable’ or as an ‘anti-hero.’ The way we portrayed Freddy and Jason in the film was always closely rooted in their respective backstories and mythologies. Freddy was a ‘child killer’. That makes him, at his origin, a victimizer. Jason drowned when the Camp Counselors weren’t watching him. That makes him, at his origin, a victim. Therefore, those identities needed to be carried over into the story, and be at the core of their dynamic. However, that doesn’t mean that Jason is ‘good’ or ‘redeemable’ or even an ‘anti-hero.’ Jason is a remorseless killing machine. But the fact that he has more layers than that only makes him a more interesting character in our eyes.” So Jason may not be a sympathetic figure in their eyes, but he had more emotions to play with when compared to the irredeemable Freddy. Maybe it’s because he couldn’t speak.
The big question on everyone’s mind when they were going to see Freddy Vs. Jason was: “Who would win?” The ending that was used, which New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye came up with, featured Jason walking out of the lake holding Freddy’s severed head as Freddy winked at the camera before the credits rolled. Some believe a clear winner was never declared. To that, Swift and Shannon disagree. “We don’t think the ending plays like a stalemate or a copout,” they said. “The intention was always for the ending to be a Rorschach test for fans: Freddy fans would think Freddy won, and Jason fans would think Jason won. Having talked to hundreds of fans since the movie came out, I’d say we were mostly successful in that goal. We loved the idea of fans leaving the theater debating who won, and clearly, that still goes on to this day. But if you ask us? We would say that Jason won the fight, but the war continues. We think it’s the perfect ending, but obviously others may disagree. Again, you can’t make everyone happy.”
In their very first draft, Swift and Shannon had included Pinhead, and while “New Line liked it…[they] didn’t like the idea of having to get the rights.” Other drafts had Freddy and Jason fighting in Hell. “How they got to Hell was something that changed probably a dozen times. In one version, the lake drained, leaving only Freddy’s severed glove at the bottom of the dry lake. Will goes to pick it up, and he gets yanked down (in a nod to the original Nightmare on Elm Street ending). Another: Ronny had an idea about a giant hand rising up out of the lake and pulling Freddy and Jason down. We tried all kinds of things; we wrote a ton of drafts for this movie. But in the end, we lost the idea of Hell altogether. The studio said something that stuck with us, and that’s ‘Hell never looks good onscreen.’ They’re probably right about that. Hell is more powerful in our imagination. When you try to actually shoot it, 9 times out of 10 it looks cheesy. So we have no regrets about not ending up in Hell.”
How about that alternate ending that is on the DVD? “We didn’t write that ending, and we were so happy when test audiences hated it, because we hated it more. To this day, we have no idea what the intention of that scene was. Will is now a killer? Freddy is inside him? It made absolutely no sense to us, and we never stopped complaining about it. Thank you test audiences!”
After Freddy Vs. Jason was released, talk of a sequel was inevitable. 13 years later and we still don’t have one, but there are certainly people who still want it to happen. The big one that people are still talking about to this day is Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash (which was actually incarnated as a comic book). It’s a match that never really made much sense, since Ash’s doesn’t really fit in Freddy’s and Jason’s universe. Still, “the plan was always to make standalone movies with Freddy and Jason if Freddy Vs. Jason was successful, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what they did.” New Line Executive Jeff Katz was the only person at the studio who seemed to be interested in bringing Ash into the mix. Swift and Shannon are adamant that Ash’s inclusion “is not the way [they’d] go with a direct sequel.”
That doesn’t mean a sequel is out of the question. While the pair admits that they have many ideas for a sequel and that they have had general discussions with New Line about them, there just isn’t a need for a sequel at the moment (though one could argue there is never a need for a sequel, but then we wouldn’t have either franchise, would we?). The pair were mum on their ideas though, since there is still a chance that one of them may come to fruition in an actual Freddy Vs. Jason 2. Once thing is for certain though, and that is that they would “really push for that 2 hour running time.” Call me crazy, but I would love a two-hour Freddy Vs. Jason film!