Always, They Come Back
Why Stephen King wants to see Freddy vs. Jason. And why the movie makes him want to confess his secrets.
By Stephen King
Published in Entertainment Weekly #724/725.
I’ve got a confession, okay? I know that some of you will laugh when I tell you this, and some will sneer. I can take it; that’s why they pay me the big bucks ($25 a column, and buddy, that ain’t hay). My confession comes in three parts.
(A) I’ve seen all the ”Nightmare on Elm Street” movies.
(B) I’ve seen almost all of the ”Friday the 13th” movies.
(C) I’ve seen all the ”Halloween” movies. In the ’80s I even had a button suggesting that Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis would make a hell of a presidential ticket. Do you want to tell me—seriously—that Saddam Hussein would have kept rattling his saber once he started hearing that creepy John Carpenter piano music?
Now here’s something that may seem to have nothing to do with the above, but trust me, it does. One of my favorite moments in Rob Reiner’s ”Stand By Me” (based on my short novel ”The Body,” although this isn’t in my story) comes when Vern and Teddy—not the brightest bulbs in the Great Light Fixture of Life—are discussing who’d win a battle between Superman and Mighty Mouse.
Teddy opts for Superman, because everybody knows Mighty Mouse is a cartoon, not a real guy.
Vern thinks this over, very carefully, and then (with a heartbreaking look) says, ”Yeah, it would be a good fight, though!”
You see where this is going, don’t you? Sure you do.
Our parents didn’t have Freddy, Jason, and Michael; they were stuck with Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. But it’s always been the same idea: The first movie comes along and scares the bejabbers out of everyone. Then come the sequels. And as any horror-movie buff will tell you, sequels are almost never frightening.
The trouble with the return engagements is that the scary guy becomes your pal. You actually start to root for him. (Frankie, Drac, and Wolfie eventually even appeared in that great Halloween fave ”Monster Mash,” sung by Bobby ”Boris” Pickett and his vocal group, the Crypt-Kickers.)
That’s what happened to Freddy (bogeyman of Elm Street), Jason (bogeyman of Camp Crystal Lake), and Michael (bogeyman of Haddonfield, Ill.). One of my sons went trick-or-treating one year in a Freddy Krueger hat he carefully distressed himself (although his mother drew the line at allowing him to dismember several pairs of scissors in order to make ”Freddy fingers”). My other son had a Jason Voorhees action figure. He would even take this to bed with him, explaining that Jason could beat up ”the really bad guys” in his closet.
These three franchises have generated over two dozen feature films, and it’s hard to remember how genuinely scary these guys were in their debuts. I’m case-hardened to horror, but ”A Nightmare on Elm Street,” ”Friday the 13th,” and ”Halloween” all scared the hell out of me (although I believe that ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a film to which there have also been a number of paltry sequels, is still the all-time champeen when it comes to pure fright). With the exception of the ”Dream Warriors” entry in the ”Freddy” series, not one of the sequels has raised a single goose bump on my arms. So why do these pictures keep on appearing for a week or so at the local 10-plex on their way to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video?
The answer is simple: because schmucks like me keep going to see them. And why? Because the fear generated by a good horror picture is a drug, and as any junkie will tell you, you go on chasing the high long after the high is gone. Sure, ”Halloween: H20” sucked, we tell ourselves, but maybe the next Michael Myers flick will be made by someone who really understands and loves the genre, and we’ll get a jolt of the original terror we felt when John Carpenter actually put us behind the mask, or when Jason came surging out of Crystal Lake to grab the girl in the rowboat after we thought he had to be dead.
When it comes to horror franchises, the second-to-last gasp is almost always the ”combo movie,” and this summer we have, for better or worse, reached that point with ”Freddy vs. Jason.” And I’ll be first in line. I mean, in my heart I know it’s gonna be terrible, but I’ll still be there. After all, it’s not the final twitch in this evolutionary process: That’s the comedy. Eventually someone may convince Tom Green or Adam Sandler to square off against Freddy or Michael Myers. That one I think I’ll be able to skip; some things are so shameful and ugly we should avert our eyes.
But that debacle is for later. Now we have Jason versus Freddy. Everyone who goes will be like me, forking over for the ticket while knowing that the very idea is ludicrous, a setup job only a studio accountant could love (and probably only then by looking ahead to the foreign grosses), and yet…
Maybe it’ll be good.
Even if it’s not, remember what Vern Tessio said in ”Stand By Me” about a Superman—Mighty Mouse confrontation: No matter who wins, it’ll be a good fight.