You can see our other Nightmare on Elm Street lists here, and you can see our other Friday the 13th lists here. Today, it’s time for Freddy Vs. Jason (2003), aka, the bastard child of a thousand re-writes
I saw Freddy Vs. Jason at a sold-out, opening night screening which felt more like a sporting event than a movie. Large portions of the raucous crowd regularly erupted into competing chants (“Freddy, Freddy, Freddy!” vs. “Jason, Jason, Jason!”) and regularly talked back to the screen. It’s one of my most cherished filmgoing memories. Such a shame, then, that Freddy Vs. Jason isn’t really worthy of such a response.
But it could have been a lot worse, especially considering how long it took to finally happen and the truly crazy directions it almost went along the way. In fact, Freddy Vs. Jason‘s development is one of Hollywood’s most infamous cases of development hell.
1. Paramount first approached New Line about doing Freddy Vs. Jason in 1987
In 1987, Paramount owned Friday the 13th, which was coming off of Part VI: Jason Lives. The franchise was still profitable but on the financial decline whereas New Line, a relatively new independent film studio, had just hit big with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Paramount thought it could just push the new kid around, strong arm New Line into licensing Freddy to them so they could make and completely control a Freddy Vs. Jason movie. All New Line would get out of it would be the international distribution rights. That was a sucker’s deal, and New Line knew it. So, the talks ultimately went nowhere.
2. New Line spent $6.8 million to develop 18 different scripts by more than a dozen screenwriters over 10 years
By the early ’90s, Friday the 13th had crapped out at the box office, causing Paramount to walk away and New Line to scoop up the film rights on the cheap. Original Friday director Sean Cunningham and New Line’s Head of Production Michael De Luca worked together to finally make Freddy Vs. Jason happen, but Wes Craven’s unexpected return to the Freddy franchise with New Nightmare (1994) put all of that on hold. Cunningham then rushed out Jason Goes to Hell (1993), but it as well as New Nightmare set respective franchise lows at the box office. Still, Jason Goes to Hell did sneak in this ending:
Michael De Luca was enthused enough to invite Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight‘s writers Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff take a crack at a Freddy Vs. Jason script while Sean Cunningham did the same with Lewis Abernathy (Deepstar Six, House IV). No one loved the competing scripts. So, De Luca commissioned others from writing partners Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek: First Contact), and eventually gave David J. Schow (Nightmare on Elm Street 5) a shot because he quite literally just happened to walk by his office one day.
They were finally getting somewhere when David S. Goyer (Blade) and James Dale Robinson (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) re-wrote Voris and Reiff’s script, which special effects guru Rob Bottin (The Thing, Legend, Total Recall) was briefly attached to direct.
Anything they had before was junked. Over the next couple of years Mark Verheiden (Timecop, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica), Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (King of the Hill, Kung Fu Panda), and Peter Briggs (Hellboy) would all get a shot.
3. The unused scripts included concepts like “Fred-heads,” Jason becoming O.J. Simpson, and Freddy having molested Jason at Camp Crystal Lake
The screenplays De Luca kept ordering were wildly different, often bordering on batshit crazy, the most extreme of which was Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore putting Jason on public trial ala the then on-going O.J. Simpson trial. The box office failure of the equally strange New Nightmare completely killed that concept.
The most consistent elements throughout all the scripts actually came from the first two which were commissioned: Voris and Reiff proposed Freddy and Jason fight because an adult Freddy had raped Jason as a kid at Camp Crystal Lake, and Abernathy created a cult of Freddy worshipers, dubbed “Fred-Heads,” whose goal was to resurrect their “spiritual leader” at any cost. To the dismay of many at New Line, the “Fred-Heads” stayed in the scripts for quite a while, gaining a leader who would be in the film as much as either Freddy or Jason.
Less consistent across the scripts was the inclusion of prior characters from the respective franchises. Some drafts included the likes of Tommy Jarvis, Tina (aka the Carrie rip-off from New Blood), and Alice (from Dream Master and Dream Child) whereas others completely ignored any prior Friday or Nightmare film. You can read the unused Aibel/Burger, Briggs, Braga/Moore, and Abernathy scripts at NightmareOnElmStreetFilms.com.
4. The project almost died for good when Michael De Luca was fired as New Line’s Head of Production
Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, writing partners with no prior screen credits, were finally the ones to produce a Freddy Vs. Jason story treatment which finally received the green light at New Line. The pair had grown up as huge Nightmare/Friday fans, and had won Michael De Luca over with their pitch of returning to the franchise roots and trying to emulate the best elements of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. De Luca actually began his career as an associate producer on Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and secretly wrote Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. So, he was Freddy Vs. Jason‘s biggest fan at New Line.
Then New Line fired him, and none of the newer executives at the studio wanted anything to do with Freddy Vs. Jason. Sensing as much, Swift and Shannon penned a 40-page executive summary explaining exactly what should and what should not be in a Freddy Vs. Jason movie as a way of sort of re-pitching their idea for the film to the higher ups at the studio. This managed to win over New Line boss Bob Shaye and Production Executive Stokely Chafkin.
5. Shannon/Swift’s original 130-page script translated to a 2 hour, 28 minute running time and $60 million budget
With Michael De Luca gone but Bob Shaye on their side, Shannon and Swift finished a highly ambitious script, but two months prior to production Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) would only agree to direct if he could make whatever script changes he wanted. Shannon and Swift tried their best to follow Yu’s notes, but David S. Goyer was ultimately brought in as a script doctor, cutting out all the fat so the running time could clock in at around 90 minutes and the budget top out at $25 million.
Goyer cut out multiple backstories among the non-Freddy/Jason characters, created a new ending, actually gave Freddy far more dialogue, and dropped a bunch of characters while combining others into new, composite characters. Goyer’s re-writes went on throughout filming, with certain lost scenes forcing other scenes to simply cut to the chase and have characters straight up spell it out for the audience, e.g., Lori’s regrettable line, “Freddy’s afraid of fire, Jason’s afraid of water. How can we use that?”
6. As a little girl, Monica Keena’s fear of Freddy Krueger resulted in her school teachers thinking she was being abused at home
So, of course Monica Keena would end up playing Lori, Freddy Vs. Jason‘s final girl. In Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, she explains how she reacted upon seeing the first Nightmare on Elm Street when was just 8-years-old
“I thought, ‘This is just too terrifying. I’ve never seen anything like that before.’ I hadn’t been allowed to watch horror movies before that. I was so traumatized I literally could not sleep for weeks, and it changed my physical appearance; I lost like 10 pounds. My teachers got so concerned they called my mother, ‘Is there something going on – is she being abused at home?’ My mother found a picture of Robert England the actor, and Robert Englund in the Freddy Krueger make-up, and pasted them up near my bedside table. So, every night when I’d go to sleep, literally for like a year, I’d have to look at it and think, ‘It’s just a movie, it’s just a movie, it’s not real.’ I remember thinking that I was going to grow up one day, and be an actress and never make a movie that scares little kids.”
When Keena told Robert Englund the above story on the last day of filming on Freddy Vs. Jason he simply laughed because what the hell else do you say to that?
7. Brad Renfro was originally cast as Will, but showed up to set so strung out they had to re-cast a week prior to shooting
One of those talented, but troubled young actors who ultimately died too young, Brad Renfro (The Client, Apt Pupil) was a mess when they hired him to play Will, the male lead in Freddy Vs. Jason. The casting directors had been assured Renfro, fresh out of rehab, finally had his shit together, but his agents lied. When he arrived in Canada to meet Ronny Yu, he was drunk and looked like a street bum.
They washed him up, and he kept it together long enough for Monica Keena to test opposite of him for the role of Lori, which she partially got based on their chemistry together. However, cruel mistress heroin came a calling, and Renfro disappeared for a full week, leaving Freddy Vs. Jason‘s producers scrambling to locate their leading man. No one knew where the heck he was until he popped up at a rehab facility in Arizona, supposedly preparing for his role in the film. When the producers decided to re-cast the role a week before the start of filming, Renfro’s agents tried to argue “breach of contract” to force them to pay Renfro his contracted salary. Not surprisingly, that didn’t go over so well with the Freddy Vs. Jason people.
8. Ronny Yu rejected casting future Vampire Diaries hunk Ian Sommerholder as Will because he was “too pretty”
Currently known as Damon Salvatore and probably staring back at many a teenage girl from posters and computer screens the world ’round, Ian Sommerholder had been in the running for the male lead in Freddy Vs. Jason before they cast Brad Renfro. When Renfro’s heroind-induced disappearing act forced them to re-cast a week before they started filming they re-visited the idea of casting Sommerholder, but Ru made a snap judgment: The guy’s just too pretty, arguably even prettier than Monica Keena. They ended up going with Jason Ritter instead, whose dad had just worked with Yu in Bride of Chucky.
9. It’s not 100% clear who made the decision to replace Kane Hodder as Jason
Kane Hodder, Jason in Friday the 13th Part 7-Jason X, remains to this day the only person to play Jason Voorhees in more than one film. Over the years, he always made time to appear at conventions, meet the fans, and speak on panels, broadcasting everywhere he could just how much he wanted to be in Freddy Vs. Jason. Unfortunately, Hodder only came to the franchise when it began its decline, meaning he’s the Jason in the some of the worst, least financially successful Jason films of all time. In fact, as Freddy Vs. Jason was finally nearing production Jason X came out to udder audience indifference.
New Line initially kept Hodder involved in the Freddy Vs. Jason process, sending him the script in early 2002 and offering an invitation to meet with Ronny Yu and some New Line execs. Subsequent to that, they offered him a contract with a lower-than-expected salary, and when he asked what was up – Was the salary so low because he was being given profit residuals on the back-end? Were they low-balling him to make him go away? – he was told they’d have to get back to him. After that, they started saying stuff to him about looking for someone with more expressive eyes, which they ultimately found with stuntman Ken Kirzinger, who had doubled for Kane in two shots of Jason Takes Manhattan.
Exactly who made the decision to ultimately go with someone else to play Jason depends on who you ask. Ronny Yu has maintained he had no problems with Kane, but the decision came from above him at New Line, a contention Freddy Vs. Jason producer Doug Curtis backs up. Several others involved with the production, however, claim the decision came from Yu because Kane didn’t fit the physical mold he had in mind of a sleeker, taller Jason who could tower over Freddy.
10. Very early on, they talked about doing a Clue ending
You might not know this if you’ve only ever seen Clue on home video, but the classic Tim Curry-starring adaptation of the popular board game did not run its 3 different endings together when it came out in theaters. Instead, there were three prints of the film in circulation – one for each ending – meaning you wouldn’t actually know which ending you were going to get.
Michael De Luca loved that gimmick, and before he was fired at New Line he was going to pursue that for Freddy Vs. Jason: film two endings (Jason wins, Freddy wins), but not tell audiences or theaters which one they were getting. To see both versions you’d have to see the film multiple times.
11. Proposed alternate endings included cameos from Pinhead from Hellraiser, a CGI Satan, and potentially Corey Feldman
The Pinhead cameo, to come during the final fight, was rejected before filming because New Line didn’t own the Hellraiser franchise (kind of a big obstacle). A CGI Satan would have cost too much. So, Swift and Shannon’s scripted ending involved a subplot about a housing development being built near Camp Crystal Lake, and among those protesting the construction would be Tommy Jarvis. These protesters would unwittingly come in-between Freddy and Jason during their final fight thus presenting even more victims for the two icons to slash through before getting to each other. This was cut prior to filming because Ronny Yu thought it made no sense to introduce so many new characters in the end when all anyone wants to see is Freddy fight Jason. He wasn’t wrong.
12. The ending (Freddy’s wink) was Bob Shaye’s idea
Throughout Freddy Vs. Jason‘s production no one could decide who should win, Freddy or Jason, or what to do with the remaining human characters.
The original filmed ending came from the mind of David Goyer:
Test screening audiences hated that nonsense because when the freakin’ thing is called Freddy Vs. Jason let’s not try and pretend we care about the human characters. Desperate for a new ending, Bob Shaye (possibly with assistance from Ronny Yuh) came up with the idea of Jason emerging from the Lake holding Freddy’s severed head only for Freddy to then wink at the audience.
13. New Line’s advertising budget for Freddy Vs. Jason surpassed the marketing campaigns for all 10 prior Friday the 13th films combined
New Line orchestrated a media blitzkrieg of Freddy Vs. Jason advertising, inundating television, radio, print, and the Internet with promotional material. All told, they spent $25 million on marketing.
The final damage
- Body Count: 20; 19 for Jason, 1 for Freddy
- Box Office: Opening in August 2003, Freddy Vs. Jason took in a surprising $36.4 million in its opening weekend, the biggest opening for a slasher movie to that point. It ultimately amassed $82.6 million in domestic gross, $114 million worldwide, setting Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchise records for domestic gross. That being said, the original 1980 Friday the 13th actually sold 1.1 million more tickets in its day, and had the lowest budget of any film in either franchise meaning it remains the most profitable Nightmare/Friday film ever.
Next time, we’ll ponder just why they made everyone except for the main girl and guy so utterly despicable in the 2009 Friday the 13th remake. Plus, no, they weren’t really having sex. If you’ve seen the movie you know what scene I’m talking about.
You can use the following links to check out all of our other “13 Things…” lists: Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Friday the 13th, Part 2, Part 3, The Final Chapter, A New Beginning, Jason Lives, New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, and Jason X,
Freddy & Jason’s Full Final Fight