Freddy & Jason Go to Development Hell: Part One
The road to the monstrous marauders’ battle was a long and complicated one.
By: Anthony C. Ferrante
Published in Fanorgia #226.
The long-awaited Freddy vs. Jason is finally hitting theater screens, and it couldn’t have happened soon enough. Where else would this summer’s audiences get to see Freddy turn a girl into a gigantic lobster; or witness Jason driving a Camaro; or experience that major revelation that Freddy molested Jason and made him what he is today; or, most importantly, indulge in that epic battle where Freddy and Jason duke it out in a boxing ring with Ted Bundy as the referee?
What? You don’t remember any of these scenes from Freddy vs. Jason? It’s not surprising, since they’re just the tip of the iceberg of abandoned concepts that surfaced in the various script attempts at bringing the two terror titans together on the big screen.
While many movies have suffered torturous development, only a Freddy vs. Jason movie could live through and thrive on that kind of fire and brimstone and make it out alive and well. And sorting out the rumors, myths and reality of where the storylines ended up, which screenwriter worked on what and which script truly came first requires delving into the minds of the talented filmmakers and writers who took a hack and a slash at combining the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series into a cohesive film.
Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift, who are credited with the final screenplay, recall New Line topper Bob Shaye and former studio executive Michael De Luca having a very specific reason why the film hadn’t found the right script up to the point when they were hired. “De Luca told us, ‘We have a strong desire to make this movie, but I don’t think we have come up with a concept yet that gets these two characters into the same story successfully,'” says Swift. “He basically said, ‘We’re not going to make this movie until we get it right,’ and I always thought that was pretty cool.”
With the process lasting almost 10 years, perhaps only De Luca truly knows all the facts (he declined to speak to Fango for this article), as he and Friday creator Sean S. Cunningham continued to keep the project alive and hand-picked many of its scripters and writing teams. “There was the belief that we had 17 [previous] movies and we didn’t want to screw that up,” admits Cunningham. “On the other hand, you can look at these films and say, ‘They never had stories before, so why should we give this one a story now? It will just confuse audiences.”
Of course, getting the story right ultimately proved to be the most formidable obstacle in putting Freddy vs. Jason on the screen. Hence, Fango took on the monumental task of digging deep into the teamup’s script history, hoping to shed light on the process. In the end, we’ve compiled a detailed picture of where the storylines headed, where they stopped on the road to theaters and where they should never have gone, focusing primarily on the 10 key screenplays (and one treatment) that sum up the development of Freddy vs. Jason.
IN THE BEGINNING: SLASH & BURN
First, there were the individual franchises. In 1980, Cunningham made a mint for Paramount Pictures with a little slasher flick called Friday the 13th, in which a serial killer Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) murderously avenges the drowning death of her young, handicapped son. She was decapitated at the movie’s finale, and the now fully grown Jason (who somehow survived his watery demise) began to avenge his mother’s death in the first sequel. Donning his trademark hockey mask in the 3-D Part III, Jason rampaged through nine movies and weathered such plot devices as going to Manhattan and taking a trip into outer space.
In 1984, Wes Craven crafted the first A Nightmare on Elm Street movie for New Line, introducing scarred child-killer Freddy Krueger, who enters the dreams of young people and turns their worst fears against them. Over seven movies and an anthology TV series, Freddy went from murderous demon to wise-cracking comedian until Craven re-envisioned him as a “real-life” entity in his New Nightmare.
It’s not surprising that when New Line acquired the rights to the Friday the 13th property in the early ’90s, buzz immediately began about the possibility of bringing the two horror icons together. In fact, 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell (the studio’s first Friday movie) offered up a tantalizing coda of Freddy’s bladed glove reaching up from the ground to pull down Jason’s hockey mask. That would be the last onscreen combo of the modern monster legends for the next nine years, until a draft by Swift and Shannon snared director Ronny (Bride of Chucky) Yu and Freddy vs. Jason finally went before cameras last year.
“Honestly, New Line did it right,” admits Swift. “They’re one of the few studios that listen to or cares about horror fans. They weren’t going to make this movie until they had it the way it should be.”
1993–95: THE CULT OF FREDDY & JASON
The first official attempt at a Freddy vs. Jason script was undertaken in 1993, shortly after Jason Goes to Hell assaulted theaters. Both De Luca and Cunningham were evolving their own takes on this potential matchup, but it was one by screenwriter Lewis (DeepStar Six) Abernathy that got the ball rolling.
“I do believe there was a draft in development at New Line while I was working with Sean, who owned the Jason franchise,” Abernathy recalls. “Depending on whether I’m being paid or doing it for myself, I can be remarkably fast or remarkably slow, and it took a while to write it. Sean would get excited about it, which would give me the impetus to move the project along, and then it would sit in my desk drawer. It took me at least a year to move that project from conception to resembling something on a page.”
Dubbed Nightmare 13: Freddy Meets Jason, Abernathy’s script introduced lead protagonist Meagan, whose 12-year-old, slightly handicapped sister Lizzie is kidnapped by a Freddy cult planning to sacrifice the young virgin in order to bring the Big K back into the real world. Consequently, Jason is resurrected to combat Freddy as the film follows the dream template of later Nightmare films with wildly diverse kills. One particularly memorable setpiece sees a victim reduced to micro-size and placed inside Freddy’s nostril, where she fights something called “Boogerman.” She ultimately meets her end when Freddy sneezes and splatters her against the wall.
“I felt we should make fun of ourselves, but in a way where you don’t know we are, which, we figured would widen the audience,” says Abernathy. “I also felt that Jason should be a good guy. It’s almost like a comic book. Go ahead and turn him into Spider-Man. Make it into a PG-13 movie. Turn it on its head, but let’s not make the same old dark, dreary stuff about a guy in a basement with a hockey mask.”
This version established the notion of Meagan using the heart of her dead boyfriend to resurrect Jason at Camp Crystal Lake, and culminated in Freddy and Jason duking it out in a huge nightmare arena. “That draft was really nuts,” recalls Shannon. “It had a crazy battle at the end where they’re fighting in a boxing ring. Freddy also enters a satellite beam and is destroyed when the signal is shot at the sun.”
One key element that Abernathy brought to his narrative (which continued to be explored over the years) was an effort to combine the mythologies of both franchises. “The idea was that Jason was going on this murderous rampage to get back at the guy who drowned him, and that camp counselor was Freddy,” the writer says. After making a bid at directing (which included Abernathy’s longtime friend James Cameron meeting with De Luca at New Line to give his vote of confidence), Abernathy was turned down, finished his assignment for New Line and moved on.
Shortly thereafter, author/scripter David J. (The Crow) Schow tried his hand on a rewrite of Abernathy’s draft. Dubbed Freddy vs. Jason—Friday the 13th: Hearts of Darkness, the Schow draft (revised in February 1996) delved more deeply into the Freddy cult—which became known as the Fred Heads—and established enigmatic leader Dominick Cochran. The Meagan character became Michelle and her sister was no longer handicapped, but a very smart 14-year-old girl who is once again kidnapped for the purpose of bringing Freddy into the real world. This time, the heart of Michelle’s beau is thrown into Camp Crystal Lake, which revives Jason (a concept and execution that was kept surprisingly intact for most of the subsequent rewrites, even when literally everything else changed).
1995: LAW & ORDER – EVERY VICTIM’S UNIT
Before continuing with Abernathy and Schow’s ideas, New Line developed two distinct and wildly divergent takes on the material. First up were Star Trek writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, who had the most unique idea, which unofficially became known as the Law & Order spin on Freddy vs. Jason. “De Luca was worried about the smirk factor of Freddy vs. Jason,” Moore recalls. “It seemed like such a cheesy title, which made it important to do something more interesting and different, which is why we were able to take it in such a radical direction.”
Their approach posited that the Nightmare on Elm Street events actually happened, but that the Friday mythology is based on the movies, and the real Jason (who is captured at the beginning and put on trial) has not been known up until this point. “The hero is Jason’s defense attorney,” Moore explains. “This was coming hard on the heels of the O.J. Simpson trial, so we were playing on a lot of themes that were current at the time. The idea was insane, but that’s what attracted us to it. We wanted to go in a direction nobody else wanted to go in by capturing Jason, putting him on trial and playing it out like a courtroom drama. We were in love with the unexpected aspects of that.”
As the story continues, it is revealed that Freddy has been using Jason as a vessel to bring himself into the real world. Their tussle eventually takes them to a shopping mall, where the big blowout has them tearing through a variety of different stores. “We felt that we just couldn’t have two villains going at each other—you should have an interest in one of them so we could quasi-redeem him, so we gravitated toward Jason,” says Moore. “He seemed like a blank slate and we knew his backstory, but never really got inside his head. Here was a guy who had done these horrible things in that area and movies got made about him. So we were attracted to the perverse idea of making Jason into a guy the audience could root for.” This script also tied together the two series by having a young Jason watch his mom and Freddy have sex—only for Freddy to lash out at the young boy for peeping at him.
Some of the strongest gallows humor appeared here, particularly when the crimes Jason is standing trial for are read off in court, and the list goes on forever. The public defender’s name is Ruby Jarvis, a nod but no direct relation to the heroic Tommy Jarvis from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, New Beginning and Part VI.
Shortly after Moore and Braga departed the project, British writer Peter Briggs joined in after a popular spec script he wrote for a proposed Alien vs. Predator movie nabbed De Luca’s attention. Briggs’ contribution was the most ambitious and potentially expensive of any Freddy vs. Jason script: It began in the 17th century and established that Freddy and Jason are merely tools of the much bigger demon Thanos, Lord of the Underworld. As the Millennium approaches, Freddy and Jason arise once again to wreak hell on Earth.
“This is a movie about Freddy and Jason, so consequently you have to take the best elements; you can’t disappoint either set of fans,” Briggs told Fango in 1995. “There is a big, big slasher scene with the biggest body count in any Jason film within the first 20 minutes… and there are elements that go back to before New Nightmare, the big Freddy effects.” Briggs managed to adhere much closer to both mythologies than the previous scripters, using such survivors as Alice from Nightmares 4 and 5 and Steven and Jessica from Jason Goes to Hell.
1996–97: SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN
After dallying with the Braga/Moore and Briggs screenplays, New Line went back to the elements Abernathy and Schow had developed, revolving Freddy’s resurrection around the Millennium’s dawn. At this point, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight scribes Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris were enlisted to develop a draft extensively with Cunningham.
“They really wanted us to continue the idea of the Fred Head cult that worships Freddy,” says Voris of their variation they dubbed Millennium Massacre. Reiff adds, “The Fred Heads scarred the palms of their hands so they could pass as normal human beings, but if they committed heinous crimes, they would leave no fingerprints. It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You didn’t know who was in the Freddy cult.”
Heroine Michelle remains in this draft, but her abducted sibling Lizzie has now aged another year to a ripe 15. The leader has morphed into Dominick Necros, who uses a drug called Tetrocaine to induce a mass dream state. One of this script’s creepiest sequences occurs when Necros escapes from a mental institution by inducing a communal nightmare in 500 maniacs at the asylum. “The story was all tied in to the Millennium, and this drug allowed people to have shared experiences, so they could interact with Freddy and try to bring him over into the real world with all his powers,” Voris explains.
In order to combat Freddy and his followers, Michelle and her cohorts decide to unleash the most heinous serial killer ever—Jason. Perhaps the ultimate disturbing association between the two bad guys in any of the assorted drafts appears here: “We connected the backstory by making Freddy a counselor at Camp Crystal Lake who raped Jason,” says Reiff. “The concept was that Freddy had actually created Jason. He was a counselor who molested him as a kid, and Jason was going to tell on him, so he drowned Jason.”
Whitaker, another of this draft’s protagonists, was tied in to an element of the Nightmare films that had only been alluded to previously—he was the judge who forgot to sign the search warrant that set Freddy free on a technicality to continue his reign of evil. “Whitaker is steeped in the lore of Freddy,” says Reiff, “and has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to tracking him down and destroying him, because he had let Freddy go when he was first accused of the horrible child murders in the ’70s. Then the parents trapped Krueger in the basement and killed him. Everything had happened because Whitaker was derelict in his duties.”
JULY–DECEMBER 1997: DON’T GO IN THE LAKE
A major horror player joined the development process when special makeup FX genius Rob (The Thing) Bottin signed on as director in 1997. “He came in and wrote a 28-page treatment based more at Camp Crystal Lake.” Shannon explains.
This heavily detailed outline had a Scream-like vibe, focusing on a group of teenagers, some of whom go around wearing Jason and Freddy masks, playing practical jokes. A new dream-sharing drug called Somnambulene is slipped to all the protagonists and takes them into the dream world. Lizzie is still around, but now she’s psychic, and has previously fingered Dominic Necros and sent him to prison (later, he escapes and tracks her to the lake). Lizzie’s sis is now named Julie.
David (Blade) Goyer, a friend of Bottin’s and under contract at New Line at the time, took on the Freddy vs. Jason scripting challenge of fleshing out Bottin’s treatment with his writing partner, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s James Dale Robinson. Even more changes to the characters took place. Lizzie became the 18-year-old Samantha and her main squeeze now sported the name Jason (which makes it ironic when his heart is used to jumpstart Jason Voorhees’ rebirth from his Crystal Lake grave). “I don’t know if this was the correct way to go or not, but we tried to make it as highbrow as possible,” Goyer told Fango in 1998. “We had lots of blood and gore, but I always felt that the Nightmare on Elm Street movies are in a different universe than the Friday the 13th series.”
The idea established by Voris and Reiff that Freddy molested Jason remained intact, with the added dimension of why Jason’s so vicious: “The idea was that all these years, while he’s been killing teenagers, Jason has really been trying to kill Freddy,” admitted Goyer.
One drastic change was the way this take incorporated the reality of New Nightmare by acknowledging that the slasher kings are cinematic beings, but are somehow manifested in reality. “Freddy and Jason don’t exist in the world in which our screenplay took place, but the films do,” said Goyer. “So it was about a young woman who feels that they’re real, though everyone is saying, ‘No, they’re just movies; you’re crazy.'”
While the drug is used to induce a collective nightmare, Samantha’s ability to pull people into the same dream is exploited by Freddy, who wants to use her to spread a deadly dream virus. In the most ballsy ending of any draft, the events turn out to be nothing more than a dream caused by the sleeping drug. All the teenagers live happily ever after… until the next rewrite.
…continue on to Part Two: Slicing Toward Completion.