Slicing Toward Completion: Part Two

Posted on: October 1, 2003 at 12:01 AM

The evolution of Freddy vs. Jason continues through more writers, more plots and multiple endings.
By Anthony C. Ferrante

Published in Fangoria #227.


In Part One of Fango’s extensive examination of the long genesis of Freddy vs. Jason, we learned that there were over 10 scripts developed and 18 writers (many of them in teams) working on various drafts of the horror icon matchup.

As New Line developed the project, everything from Jason Voorhees on trial for his crimes to Freddy Krueger turning out to be a Jason-molesting camp counselor at Crystal Lake found their way into the myriad disparate plotlines. The unifying factor: None seemed to be able to bring the two evil characters into the same storyline successfully enough to convince New Line to greenlight the movie.

Part Two of our story picks up in 1998, as director Rob Bottin’s 30-page treatment has been turned into a full screenplay by old pal David Goyer and his writing partner James Dale Robinson—only for them too to hit the road.

1998: KING OF THE KILLS

After Goyer and Robinson turned in their draft, the scripter-shuffling game began again. This time, King of the Hill writer/producers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger were brought on board to lighten the movie up considerably.

Like previous writers before them, the duo worked from initial ideas dreamed up in the 1993 take by Lewis Abernathy and a subsequent rewrite by David Schow. Those drafts contained the kernel of an idea of a Freddy cult (later dubbed the Fred Heads) led by an enigmatic leader who became known as Dominic Necros. In many of these attempts, Necros had a link to Freddy in the dreamscape and was intent on bringing him over into the waking world with his powers intact. Throughout these screenplays, a girl named Lizzie (who started off as 13 and aged to 17 by the time of the Goyer/Robinson version) was the heroine. Her powers (depending on the draft) included a psychic link to Necros, while her boyfriend usually ended up dying, his heart used to resurrect Jason from his Crystal Lake grave.

Aibel and Berger very closely followed the template laid down by Goyer and Robinson, but took the movie into a greater self-aware direction. “This one had a little bit more of a Scream feel,” says screenwriter Damian Shannon, who wrote the final Freddy vs. Jason screenplay with partner Mark Swift. “It also included the idea that Freddy and Jason were movie characters first.”

As the story picks up, the now lingerie-wearing Lizzie finds herself being terrorized by an attacker whom she believes to be Freddy Krueger. It’s not Freddy, though, but a copycat kid named Dominic Necros who is obsessed with the Nightmare on Elm Street movies so much that he tries to emulate his favorite screen killer. The police nab Necros in the nick of time, but Lizzie is haunted by nightmares of Freddy and Jason, so her doctor gives her the drug Somnambulene to help her sleep better. Along with her boyfriend (named Jason, as he was in some previous editions) and her friends, she heads to Camp Crystal Lake to get a little rest and relaxation. Soon Necros has escaped from an asylum, however, and heads out for revenge on Lizzie for putting him away. Necros murders her beau, pitching his heart into the lake—which resurrects Jason Voorhees.

Soon we learn the link between the two maniacs: A teenaged Freddy “allegedly” molested Jason (who even as a tyke liked to wear hockey masks) and drowned him when Jason fought back with his machete. By the end, Freddy and Jason duke it out, ultimately flying into a ravine to meet their demises. “This script was a little lighter on its feet,” says Swift. “It’s really the same story [as the Goyer/Robinson draft]. One thing people don’t realize, even the fans who are into the development, is that most of the drafts were just tweaks on the same story started by Abernathy.”

1999: THE NIGHT THEY CAME HOME

Most of the ’90s were spent formulating variations of a Freddy vs. Jason script in which Necros and his followers worship the imaginary Krueger so much that they’re willing to duplicate his heinous deeds to be like him. Then, in April 1999, the world changed forever when two Colorado teens shot up their high school, with video games and violent movies claimed as inspirations. It’s no surprise, then, that this long-lived subplot is suspiciously absent from the draft completed by Mark (The Mask) Verheiden in December 1999. In fact, the writer himself questioned the necessity of adding another serial killer to the story in the first place.

“I remember when I came in, I said, ‘I don’t know why you have this Necros character,’ recalls Verheiden. “‘I don’t understand—you have Freddy and Jason, you don’t need anyone else.’ And that was the one thing they said they didn’t want to do anymore either.”

In Verheiden’s contribution, Lizzie aged yet another year and is now 18, as she and her friends put on a serial-killer haunted house for Halloween. When she starts hallucinating, thinking Freddy really is coming to life (and people start ending up dead at the rec center), she starts dropping Somnambulene and heads to Crystal Lake with her buddies. Once there, the scenario plays out very similarly to the Goyer/Robinson and Aibel/Berger efforts. The big difference: Freddy snuffs Lizzie’s main squeeze Jason (but his heart still resurrects Voorhees). The two slashers’ backstory is also verbatim from the Aibel/Berger draft, with Freddy drowning Jason as part of his “nightmare game.” The notion of acknowledging the Nightmare and Friday movies is abandoned, and there’s even a reference to Rod Lane, the boy who hangs himself in a jail cell in the original Nightmare (his brother shows up in this storyline).

“Most of the Friday the 13ths are very predictable and fun to watch, but frankly my favorites are Final Chapter and Part VI,” says Verheiden. “I like Final Chapter because it works up a real head of steam toward the end, and VI was a good story and the best-directed of the bunch. So I wanted to find a way to get some of that energy into the script—the screaming, chaotic running through the woods, ‘How the hell can we get out of the way of these guys?’ vibe. I also liked the whole concept of Freddy having abused a young Jason at summer camp. I thought it was a neat, clever way to introduce Freddy into Jason’s world. It was incredibly dark, but cool.”

While the two villains have a battle royal before the script is over, it was Verheiden who first devised the concept of two different endings, with the scribe penning separate final five pages—one where Freddy wins, the other where Jason lives. The idea was that audiences would see a different character emerging victorious depending on which theater they saw the film in. “We had a pretty knock-down, drag-out fight at the end,” says Verheiden. Still, his work, while getting things back to basics and focusing on the titular killers, proved to be the last gasp for this variation of the Freddy vs. Jason story.

2000: THE MYTH OF BLOODY FINGERPRINTS

For the first time since the mid-’90s, Freddy vs. Jason took an entirely new direction that wasn’t steeped in loose ideas left over from previous drafts. Mark Protosevich, fresh off scripting New Line’s The Cell, was brought into the mix in 2000 and started from scratch.

“I got a call from [studio exec] Mike De Luca during postproduction on The Cell, and he asked a favor, saying that [producer] Sean Cunningham was getting extremely antsy about Freddy vs. Jason getting made and wanted to go do another Friday the 13th movie, which ended up being Jason X,” Protosevich recalls. “New Line felt they didn’t want to have another Friday come out, because it would be detrimental to Freddy vs. Jason, and so De Luca asked if I could write a draft in four weeks.”

After perusing one of the previous screenplays, Protosevich agreed to the tight deadline, with De Luca making only two requests. “He said, ‘I want it to be smart and I don’t want it to be what people are expecting,'” Protosevich reveals. The end result plays on Freddy and Jason lore and how beliefs can somehow summon evil into reality, as this script’s protagonist, psychology student Rachel Daniels, discovers. Her thesis paper on myths and legends focuses on the bloody duo and gets put on the Internet, where so many people read it that it literally works as an incantation and brings the stalkers to life.

“I wanted to get into the whole idea of how the mind creates monsters,” says Protosevich. “It was very mythic and surreal. It dealt with dreams, repressed memories and monsters being figures of evil or vengeance, all amidst the trappings of a group of young people who end up in a cabin in the woods.”

While the screenplay itself has the kind of eerie waking-nightmare feel of the first Nightmare on Elm Street, the movie soon ends up focusing on Jason, with the over-sized killer helping Rachel save her unborn child. “It gets into this whole idea of two kinds of monsters,” Protosevich explains. “Freddy is a figure of actual pure evil and Jason is more like a figure of vengeance who punishes people he feels don’t deserve to live. Ultimately, the two of them clash and Jason becomes an honorable monster.”

The link between Freddy and Jason also ends up being tied to Rachel. Freddy was a counselor at Camp Crystal Lake and was having sex with Rachel’s mom when they should have been watching Jason at the time of his drowning. The sleeping drug also returns, this time as Somnazac—an experimental treatment that encourages dreams instead of suppressing them. “It helps generate dreams to help stop dreams,” says a doctor in the script. “Rachel also doesn’t realize that she has the power to be a demon killer in the dream world—she was born to it,” says Protosevich.

After Protosevich put in his time, his endeavor didn’t dissuade Cunningham from proceeding with Jason X, and the teamup film was put on the back burner. “I don’t know if it would have been as viscerally satisfying for hardcore gore fans, but there were some really interesting ideas in there,” says Protosevich of his vision. “It was probably a bit more intellectual and psychological while still trying to be scary and entertaining. It would have surprised a lot of people, and maybe it was too surprising, because it sort of got into strange territory.”

OCTOBER 2000–PRESENT: FREDDY VS. JASON – REALLY

Drafts. Delays. Dead. After nearly seven years of work on Freddy vs. Jason, the project seemed deceased. Even when Jason went to space in Jason X, the finished movie sat on New Line’s decided on a release date. Meanwhile, young screenwriters Shannon and Swift, who previously worked with New Line on an adaption of the comic book Danger Girl, were asked by executive Brian Hickel to meet with De Luca and discuss their notion of a Freddy vs. Jason movie.

“We initially thought it could be real cheesy,” Shannon recalls. “We knew it was in development and we thought, ‘What if we just got around it and made a good movie—is it possible?’ So we challenged ourselves and banged out a pitch. We watched all the movies, and talked for days and days.” After ample preparation, they went in to talk with De Luca and pithed away. “We sat down with him and 15 minutes later, he was laughing and very excited, and he hired us,” says Shannon. “Then he was gone two months later.”

Heading for a new position at DreamWorks, De Luca left the studio that made him famous, not to mention a project he had been nurturing for years, forcing Swift and Shannon to fend for themselves and convince New Line that the film was still worth making. “After Mike split, there was a regime change and we needed to get everyone re-excited,” says Swift. “Not only about us, but about Freddy vs. Jason in general. After we did that, there were still a couple of hiccups, particularly the release of Jason X. That killed Freddy vs. Jason for a while, and it had to be resurrected because they lost a lot of faith in it.”

Swift and Shannon’s vision eventually won out at the end of the day. Starting from scratch, they came up with a very clear mission statement (see below) for what would make Freddy vs. Jason succeed. One of the keys was not altering the mythologies. “We didn’t think it was necessary,” says Swift. “Our perspective was that we wanted to do two things. We didn’t want to change the mythology of the characters at all. We wanted to stick to the rules that were set down in the early films of each franchise. We didn’t want to cross their backstories, because we didn’t want to say to fans, ‘Hey the storylines you’ve come to believe in these films weren’t really real.'”

The other self-imposed mandate was to make both characters scary once more. “It was difficult trying to make Freddy frightening again after he had killed somebody with a Nintendo power glove,” laughs Swift. “So we had to go back to the dark Freddy and return to the roots of who he was and his reason for being.”

The final element: how to bring the horror heroes together in a manner that made sense. “We felt we needed to understand what the friction was between these two guys,” says Shannon. “How do you really make it a vs. film? Why are they trying to kill each other without making Freddy the one who raped him?”

The other thinking, much like in the previous screenplays, was finding the lesser of the two evils, but Swift and Shannon did not want to make Jason a hero at all. “From our perspective, Freddy is a victimizer,” says Swift. “If you think about Jason’s backstory, he was a victim. He drowned. They weren’t watching him. So that set up their dynamic. We did not want to make Jason any less scary. He’s still a brutal killer. In all of the prior drafts, Jason was basically a hero, driving a Camaro in one script, and they’re giving him commands like ‘Hey, Jason, pick this up’ in another. We never wanted to put them in a situation where Jason is a hero. They’re both villains to be equally feared.”

The movie begins right after the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, where Jason’s mask is pulled underground by Freddy’s razor-glove. The storyline ignores New Nightmare and, of course, the futuristic Jason X, and abandons almost all of the arcane lore formulated for Jason Goes to Hell—the magic dagger and the plot device that Jason’s spirit can hop bodies. “Jason is an unstoppable force of nature,” says Swift. “He’s a shark and can’t be controlled, and Freddy tries to control him, but ultimately can’t—that’s why they’re battling.”

The duo completely dropped the thought of tying Jason and Freddy’s previous adventures in to this incarnation, their only link revolving around present events. “Every curve ball that is thrown Freddy’s way is because of who Jason is and what his history is,” says Swift. “Jason is the driving force of the story—all the events revolve around his actions and Freddy’s inability to control him.”

While Swift and Shannon’s screenplay successfully got director Ronny Yu attached to Freddy vs. Jason, there still was one more writer enlisted to do a one-week rewrite: the returning Goyer. “He was hired to do a production polish and ended up revising pages as they were starting the film because of his deal with New Line,” says Swift.

The two writers, though, were pleased with Goyer’s involvement. “He made a lot of smart cuts,” Shannon admits. “They were great, editorial changes. He was really brought in to lower the page count, because Ronny wanted to keep the movie very short and very tight. Goyer probably dropped six or seven pages, but the great thing he did was to lose them without cutting any scenes. However, some great Jason highlights at Crystal Lake were lost, as well as an epilogue that really wrapped up the characters of Lori and her father.”

The suggestion of alternate endings was not something that existed in Swift and Shannon’s drafts, though the filmmakers tinkered with the conclusion throughout production. “There have been a tremendous number of endings for Freddy vs. Jason, both on the page and filmed,” says Shannon. “One of the original ones had Freddy and Jason winding up in hell, still battling each other, and Pinhead [from the Hellraiser movies] comes out and breaks it up. They didn’t want to use a non-studio character, though. The last scene in most of our drafts was not used because it was too expensive: There was a giant coliseum in hell with Freddy and Jason battling to see who is baddest. Then Goyer wrote a new epilogue which was shot, involving a sex scene where one of the characters turned into Freddy, but it wasn’t received favorably by test audiences and was cut.”

In fact, New Line head Bob Shaye was the one who finally came up with the film’s satisfying coda, according to the scribes. “No one out there really knew how this movie ended, except for a few people,” says Swift. “The stuff in the draft was not the ending. The test screening [version] wasn’t the ending. But Bob Shaye came up with one that is great, because there is a more definite winner, yet an argument can be made that perhaps there isn’t. That’s why the ending is really brilliant.”

Now that the film has been released, Swift and Shannon are happy that after all is said and done, the credits read: Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift based on characters created by Wes Craven and Victor Miller. “It’s amazing that they made this movie,” says Shannon, and Swift seconds, “New Line did it right. They weren’t going to make this film until they had it right, and they put more money behind it than they have into any installment of any previous franchise.”

Shannon is excited that Freddy vs. Jason is out at last and glad that audiences are thrilled as well, adding, “Please don’t blame us if there’s an explosion of ‘vs.’ films.” As for Swift, he just hopes the fans get what they’ve been waiting a decade to see. “Honestly, I hope other people like it, but I really hope the fans like it because that’s who we were working for,” he says. “They’ve had to wait around for 10 years. I hope they’re satisfied.”

FREDDY VS. JASON: THE RULES

When Damian Shannon and Mark Swift were first brought onto the Freddy vs. Jason project, they prepared a mission statement of rules they weren’t going to break in order to bring the property to the big screen. It was designed both for them as writers and for the buffs they didn’t want to disappoint. The following is an abridged version of those eight golden rules:

  • This movie will take place in the FICTIONAL UNIVERSE, not the real world of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
  • The MYTHOLOGIES of Freddy and Jason will remain true to the other movies. They should not be changed to suit a crossover. The original bibles of both series should not be violated.
  • The TONE of this movie will be scary and fun, not campy and absurd. Freddy and Jason should be scary once again, with the comedic relief coming from our teenage characters. Cheap gimmicks should be avoided and self-referential humor kept to a minimum.
  • The STORY STARTS where the last installments ended. Freddy and Jason are both dead and buried, in hell.
  • The characters other than Freddy and Jason will be NEW TEENAGERS, in the spirit of their respective series. Some characters should be in the tradition of the Freddy movies (strong-willed, independent, outsiders), while the others should be in the vein of the Jason films (young, dumb and fun).
  • The PLOT will come from Freddy and Jason. Fans want a story about Freddy and Jason, and one that is real… not a dream within a dream.
  • The KILLINGS will be inventive, unexpected and satisfying. Some of them will be done in the style of the Friday the 13th series (brutal, shocking, bloody) while the rest will be done in the tradition of the Nightmare on Elm Street series (suspenseful, supernatural, character-based).
  • This movie will strive for BALANCE. We want to keep the incredibly partisan fans of both series happy. [It’s also] extremely important that Freddy and Jason fight in both the dream world and the real world.