The Making of Freddy vs. Jason

Posted on: August/1/2003 12:01 AM

Two heavyweights. One final battle. And a lot of unlucky bystanders along the way.
By Marc Shapiro

Published in Freddy vs. Jason: The Official Movie Magazine.

Freddy Krueger is of the dream world. Jason Voorhees is of the real world. And never the twain shall meet-until now. “A lot of people have been asking for a Freddy vs. Jason movie since they were in the fourth grade,” says Friday the 13th creator and Freddy vs. Jason producer Sean S. Cunningham, his tongue planted firmly in cheek. “Over the years, we thought it was going to happen on several occasions, but then something invariably came up.”

“I’ve always felt this was going to happen,” says star Robert Englund. “But it seems like I’ve been saying that forever.” “I believe New Line was always serious about doing a Freddy vs. Jason,” adds executive producer Doug Curtis. ”There was never any doubt in [company co-chairman/co-CEO] Bob Shaye’s mind that they were going to do this movie.” But the trick was always how to do it. Upon its release in 1980, Friday the 13th re-energized the horror genre. The premise was straightforward and, yes, formulaic: An unstoppable, largely unseen killer takes violent revenge on just about everybody in sight. The equation of sex and violence was never more apparent (the murderer was a mother avenging a camper who drowned while his counselors were having sex). But the simplicity of it all struck a nerve and led to a stream of Friday the 13th sequels in which Jason arose from his watery grave to rack up an ever-increasing body count.

Four years after the release of the original Friday the 13th, Wes Craven introduced A Nightmare on Elm Street to moviegoers. The premise was as ambitious as the Friday films were simplistic: A maniac who lives in the dream world, draws his strength from fear and snuffs his victims in their sleep. Freddy Krueger’s bloody exploits, also targeted primarily at teens, represented a different take on the slasher theme, one that found a fan base in rebellious youth who saw nightmares in their every waking hour. Even more than Jason, Freddy Krueger became a horror icon, appearing in a line of movies that stretched into the ’90s. Fan and Internet chatter often debated about who would win a battle between Freddy and Jason. By the late ’80s, studio executives joined the speculation. At one point, a Leatherface vs. Michael Myers movie was briefly considered in Hollywood, as was an Alien vs. Predator (now in preproduction at Fox). But at the end of the day, a Freddy vs. Jason battle royal in the finest tradition of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or, to a lesser degree, King Kong vs. Godzilla seemed like the ideal situation.

As always, the first major undertaking was sorting out the rights. New Line Cinema owned Nightmare on Elm Street, while Friday the 13th resided at Paramount. And while both studios considered a match-up a good idea, the cinematic death duel did not become a real possibility until the early ’90s, when Paramount sold the rights to the series and its hockey-masked villain to New Line for an undisclosed figure. With both players under its umbrella, New Line began to gradually set the stage for a possible team-up. In 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the boiler room fiend’s ongoing mission to torture every teen in Springwood had seemingly come to an end, freeing him up for possible new misadventures.

And in New Line’s first stab at Crystal Lake carnage, 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell—one of the more polished Friday the 13th entries—the studio made its intentions clear when Freddy’s razor-gloved hand reached up from the bowels of hell to snatch down Jason’s coveted hockey mask at the film’s rousing conclusion. By 1995, the gears were in motion to make Freddy vs. Jason a reality. One of the first to take a rather informal shot at the idea was Craven, who acknowledged those attempts in a 2002 interview with TV Guide Online: “I was given the opportunity to come up with something about eight years ago. But I just couldn’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t be laughable,” he said. But nobody wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie to be funny; they wanted a balls-to-the-wall bloodbath. and a series of writers and story ideas would come and go over the next eight years. More than the laugh factor, a big logistical problem remained to be solved. Cunningham, in a recent Cinescape interview, described the Freddy vs. Jason challenge as “being like a stool with only two legs.” Quite simply, Freddy was of the dream world while Jason was of the real world; making it possible for both monsters to logically function on equal footing in both areas was the key to unlocking the puzzle.

In 1995 and 1996, the names of writers and directors for the project began to be tossed around in earnest. One of the first to throw his hat into the ring was special FX wizard Rob (The Thing) Bottin; among the initial scripters to take a serious pass at a Freddy vs. Jason script was comics-turned-screen scribe Mark (The Mask) Verheiden. In the coming years, James (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) Robinson, David (Blade) Goyer, David (The Crow) Schow, Peter Briggs, Ronald (Star Trek) Moore, Mark (The Cell) Protosevich and several others would all take their shots. At that point, two storylines were being tooled and retooled by these scribes.

The first centered on a group of cultists called “Fred Heads” who are attempting to resurrect Freddy by sacrificing a virgin. In that storyline, Jason is brought back through the use of a girl’s dead boyfriend’s heart. The second concept concerned a woman who has written her PhD on serial killers; the document, which includes Freddy and Jason as subjects, ends up on the Internet and is subsequently read and downloaded by a number of people. This acts like an incantation that brings the duo back to life. Needless to say, neither idea ultimately passed muster. Adding to the project’s up-and-down nature was the fact that New Line underwent a regime change around that time, and Freddy vs. Jason’s supporters were faced with having to convince a whole new group of executives that the concept could work in a big way. Englund recalls that he had “been hearing about this movie happening for at least 10 years,” but that “I wasn’t really privy to a lot of what was going on. All I knew was that every director and special effects guy who I would hear about being connected to this film was somebody I wanted to work with. But, for a variety of reasons, it was never coming to pass.”

During this time, New Line continued to keep its main bogeymen employed. 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare made a serious statement about monsters and media, and took place in a different landscape than the Nightmares of years gone by. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Jason X launched into production. On the surface, its gambit of placing Jason far in the future and in outer space seemed like an easy gimmick, but the 2002 film also served as a subconscious safety net allowing further Friday the 13ths, and the hoped-for confrontation with Freddy, to be made without disrupting continuity. “Jason X could be the start of a whole new franchise,” Cunningham told FANGORIA at the time.

Bottin continued to hang in and still looked like the frontrunner to direct Freddy vs. Jason. Midway through 2000, Protosevich turned in a screenplay draft considered promising enough to lead to a tentative announcement being made about Freddy vs. Jason starting production in December 2000. Obviously, that did not happen, and the problem continued to lie with the script. And the person most left dangling was Englund. During 2000, he dropped out of a promising European film to rush back to the States for a makeup test, only to see the latest attempt at getting Freddy vs. Jason in play fall apart. To say the least, Englund was frustrated. “I wasn’t privy to a lot of what was going on with the scripts at the time,” recalls the actor. “I did know there was constant tweaking going on, trying to get it to the point where everybody was behind it. In fact, I got some of my best information at that time during a trans-Atlantic flight, when I was talking to a story editor from the TV series King of the Hill, who had done a draft. He was the first one to tell me that they were considering two different endings. “It was a rough time,” he continues. “While I was waiting for Freddy vs. Jason, I was trying to keep busy with projects in Europe. But it was getting to the point where I was having to turn down stuff because it kept seeming like Freddy vs. Jason was going to happen at any minute, but it never did. I was all set to do this movie in the year 2000. In fact, I had visions of 2000 being in the title. So yeah, it was getting a little frustrating.”

By April 2001, the rumors were flying thick and fast. After years of being on the hook, Bottin apparently got tired of waiting and left the project. He was replaced as the flavor of the moment by director Guillermo del Toro, who would eventually find greener pastures at the helm of Blade II. The hype had barely settled on this announcement when Englund, in August 2001, announced that Freddy vs. Jason was finally a go and that Steve Norrington (who, coincidentally, helmed the first Blade) was now attached to the film. However, the script remained in a state of constant flux, with no one writer nailing the storyline to everybody’s satisfaction.

By August 2001, Freddy vs. Jason was back to square one. But at that point, new writers Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift, who had come aboard midway through 2000, were already into a number of drafts of the screenplay. ln no time at all, it became apparent that the duo had found, to paraphrase Cunningham, the third leg of the stool. “When we came in, they had thrown out every other story idea,” Swift recalls. “The old concepts they had were kind of dead, and they needed a new one.” Shannon remembers, “New Line never gave us any marching orders. They just said, ‘Come in with what you guys think the movie should be,’ and we did.” The springboard for the duo’s take on Freddy vs. Jason began with their memory of the final moments of Jason Goes to Hell. “We started imagining where the story should go from the point where Freddy grabs Jason’s mask. We asked ourselves what that meant—why was Freddy grabbing the mask?” Their scenario unfolds in an indeterminate period, although chronologically, it would also seem to take place after Freddy’s Dead, with the gloved one banished to hell. He is unable to get out because the residents of Springwood have taken extraordinary precautions to make sure nobody in the town, especially the teens, can dream, essentially rendering Freddy impotent. Freddy decides that the only way to break out is to get another monster into the mix to frighten the teens and cause them to dream, which will allow Freddy to do his thing. Jason Voorhees is summoned from his own personal hell and let loose in Springwood, going on a murderous rampage. Events lead to teens entering Freddy’s sphere again, and the body count piles up both there and in reality. But like any Dr. Frankenstein, Freddy begins to lose control of his monster, which sets up the long-anticipated tussle between the scream greats at Camp Crystal Lake.

“There were things we wanted in the story,” explains Swift. “We wanted the fights to take place in the real world and in the dream world. But the trick was making that happen without violating established mythologies and backstories of the characters.” Shannon offers, “A lot of the stories in the past had kind of crisscrossed their backstories. We wanted to maintain what had been created originally for these characters. We wanted to take Freddy and Jason back to their roots. We wanted to see these characters restored to their former glory.” Through what would ultimately be nine drafts, Shannon and Swift poked and prodded their story though the wounds to the characters became less severe as they continued. “The script definitely wound up less gory as we went along,” Swift admits. “We started off writing what was probably the bloodiest film ever made, and that was because Bob Shaye at New Line told us to make it as violent as possible. It became less bloody, but it stayed essentially the same story all the way through.”

In March 2002, New Line approved the script. Not long after that, Englund got his first look at it. “I really liked it,” the actor recalls. “I really felt that we had to have some fun and screen time in Jason’s nightmares. There’s not only one incredible scene of that, but also incredible exposition and backstory. We venture into Jason’s dreams several times. Freddy literally gets into Jason’s head. And that’s what I wanted.”

Ronny Yu likes a mystery. And so he was intrigued in May 2002 when the phone rang in his Australian home, and his agent passed on a rather cryptic offer. “He said, ‘New Line would like to fly you to Los Angeles to talk to Bob Shaye, because he has a project for you,’ ” the director remembers. “I said, ‘Sure. What project?’ My agent said, ‘Well, it’s a good one. This is a real American movie.’ He was pretty insistent that I go to America and take this meeting.” So Yu hopped the next flight out and, days later, found himself sitting in Shaye’s office. “When I got there, I realized that this ‘American movie’ was Freddy vs. Jason,” Yu continues. “They gave me the script to read. I was told that they had been waiting nine years to make this movie and that they didn’t want to wait anymore. Bob Shaye said he wanted to start prepping the movie in a month.” Yu took the screenplay back to his hotel, read it, made some notes and returned to New Line. “I said, ‘Thank you, but I’m going back home.’ I told them that I was not so sure about the script and that it still needed some work. I also pointed out that in the script it did not indicate who wins, and I wanted to know that. Bob told me to do whatever I needed to do to make it right and comfortable. I could not resist the idea of having that kind of freedom, so I said I would do it.”

Yu began doing his homework. He had only seen the first Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th and, admittedly, was not familiar with the overall franchises. “At that point, I was just looking to make a fun movie,” he recalls. “I wasn’t sleeping. All I was thinking about was how I was going to make this to meet everybody’s expectations.” Years previously, Englund had run across the director and his talents at a European film festival. “John Landis and I were on a jury, and one of the movies in contention was [Yu’s) Bride of Chucky,” the actor recalls. “We just adored it. We fell out of our seats and pissed our pants. Ronny won an award for Bride of Chucky, and I realize now that it was kind of an omen. When I heard Ronny was on board, I began to get real excited-again.” But while all the elements were seemingly in place.

Freddy vs. Jason was, at that point, still not a slam dunk. There was that nasty old monster called Budget to deal with. Curtis, while not a genre specialist, jumped at the opportunity to work with Yu. As on his previous New Line assignments, Curtis was charged with devising a budget that would make everybody happy. “Ronny came over from Australia and the two of us sat in a room for about two weeks, just going through the script, literally line by line,” Curtis reveals. “I was asking him how he saw certain things. I was trying to get a handle on how big he saw this movie being. When we first talked, it was twofold: for him to get a feel for the script and for me to get a feel for what this movie was going to cost. After a couple of weeks of really intense brainstorming, I arrived at what I thought was a number that was satisfactory. Then it was just a matter of waiting to see if New Line would say yes to making the picture for that amount.” Curtis, who does not acknowledge the production’s final cost (rumored to be in the $30-35-million range), recalls that the project was still tenuous at best. “I gave New Line a number that was higher than they had anticipated,” he says. “We had a period of about three weeks where the studio was wavering and did not know if they wanted to make that kind of commitment to this movie. They knew they wanted to make it but it was a lot of money. But they wisely agreed that this was what they should do.”

Freddy vs. Jason was green-lighted to begin filming September 9, 2002 with a 55-day shooting schedule. Next stop on the road to this slasher smackdown was casting. Normally the easiest part of preparing a Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th movie, the process was anything but in this case. Yu had specific notions from top to bottom, and his impact was quickly felt. Originally signed to play the male lead Will, Brad (Apt Pupil) Renfro was almost immediately dismissed for what have been described as “creative differences.” “What Ronny really wanted was to find kids who you could truly say were real people with real emotions,” says a candid Curtis. “And Ronny just didn’t think that Brad brought that quality.” In short order, Jason (Swimfan) Ritter was hired to replace Renfro and, after a 12-week, 200-girl audition process, Monica (Dawson’s Creek) Keena was signed to play heroine Lori. Kelly Rowland, of the pop group Destiny’s Child, seemed a logical choice for the street-smart Kia, while Katharine Isabelle, already a cult horror favorite for her role in Ginger Snaps, landed the role of Gibb. Supporting parts were filled out with Brendan Fletcher, Christopher Marquette, Kyle Labine and Shaye himself in a cameo as a high school principal. But easily the most controversial casting choice was to replace longstanding Jason actor Kane Hodder. Casting was done in both Los Angeles and Canada and, at one point, Brad Loree (who had portrayed Michael Myers in Halloween: Resurrection) was considered before the studio decided to go with Canadian actor stuntman Ken Kirzinger. Yu has remained largely mum on the issue, saying only that Kirzinger “had the background as a stuntman and he knows about, so it would be very easy to communicate with him and ask him to do certain things.” A longtime acquaintance of Hodder, Englund says he isn’t quite sure why the four-time Jason was not chosen. “I believe that Ronny had a different concept of Jason’s physical nature in mind. I just think he was looking for a tall, skinny, Anthony Perkins kind of character.” Curtis, who feels that Hodder could have done a fine job as the latest Jason, says that the consensus was that they should look for somebody sleeker and newer to play the role.

As he led the cast and crew (including cinematographer Fred Murphy from Stir of Echoes) through the early days of shooting, Yu’s main concern was “how to satisfy both the fans of Freddy and Jason,” he recalls. “If one or the other definitely won, the other side would be upset.” It was midway through the shooting of Freddy vs. Jason that the all-important and highly anticipated final fray between the two bad guys was filmed. Wirework and other larger-than-life Hong Kong-style techniques have become the norm in recent U.S. action films, but on the days when Yu put Freddy, Jason and their respective stuntmen through their paces on the Camp Crystal Lake location, Yu found himself reverting to old-school methods. “I felt I should go back to the basics and have them really chop each other up rather than resort to wirework and things like that,” he explains. “In a sense, I used the World Wrestling Federation as a model of what I was trying to do with the battles between Freddy and Jason. I wanted this fight to be very raw.”

Much of the fisticuffs were shot during a series of very cold rlights in September and October. As handled by Yu, stunt coordinators Monty Simons and Scott Ateah and fight choreographers Chuck Jeffreys and Leslie McMichael, it was a seesaw struggle that saw first Freddy and then Jason get the upper hand as they fought through the remains of Camp Crystal Lake. Freddy’s stunt double Doug Chapman took most of the heat, but there were times when Englund himself had to step in; for one shot, the actor had to repeatedly roll off a building and onto a strategically placed mattress. ”There are some pretty big thrashings,” Englund relates. “Fortunately for me, the stuntman took most of it.” Englund continued to tough it out on another night when it became necessary for him to get into an icy cold lake and swim for close-ups. “The Freddy outfit, especially the boots and the sweater, got waterlogged pretty easily,” he notes, “and I had to keep swimming through a lot of takes. Fortunately, I knew those scenes were coming and did a lot of swimming before filming began so I would be in shape.”

One of the more spectacular Jason kills, in which an unsuspecting teen gets a rather unpleasant taste of cold steel, required hours of preparation, but Yu remained enthusiastic yet in complete control as the crimson goo flew. “I was very happy with the way that scene came about,” raves Yu at the memory. We used a lot of blood that night. But then, we used a lot of blood every night. The body count on this film was so big that I lost count.” The moviemakers wound up combating the elements at every turn. Vancouver in fall and winter was a near constant cycle of rain, frigid temperatures and still more rain.

And while the actors doggedly toiled through all kinds of weather, the special FX teams would occasionally run afoul of the special FX of the gods. “In prep it would be perfect,” grouses visual FX supervisor Ariel Shaw. ”Then we would go out and shoot it and it would be pissing rain on vs. Well, it wasn’t supposed to be raining, so we had to figure out a way to work around that. Then we would have to do it all again in post because we’d realize that. because it was raining on us, we didn’t know how to get from here to there.” Throughout lensing, the mystery remained: Who would win this heavyweight confrontation? The rumors once again began flying when Goyer was brought in during filming to do a quick screenplay polish. Anyone privy to the shooting script knew that there was, in fact, an ending. But was it the true climax? There was persistent gossip that there would, in fact, be two different ones shot. Word began to leak out regarding a mysterious last-second epilogue that had been added and then discarded. More and more, the chant on the set of Freddy vs. Jason was, “Who wins?”

Freddy vs. Jason wrapped on December 10, and the consensus was that Yu had done his job and then some. “What Ronny brought to this is so much more than horror,” says Curtis. “Yes, it has humor and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But because Ronny has made the whole thing so stylish, it’s also very scary. He knew how to get a scare out of each scene. He saw every one differently. He looked at every moment like a potential highlight that everybody was going to remember.” Yu spent many months in postproduction, incorporating live action with the film’s many physical and visual FX. And even at that point, the final story and its outcome were not set in stone. As late as June 2003, an actor whose character had one fate in the original filming was called back to loop and reshoot a sequence that would totally change his/her outcome. More than 12 years in the making, and it all boils down to this: Freddy vs. Jason has been made. And the victor is? “It’s debatable who actually wins,” says Swift. “I believe there’s an actual winner, but Damian disagrees with me. It’s certainly not a draw, but I can tell you this much: The ending is different from all the drafts of the script we’ve written.” “The ending is not cut-and-dried at all,” says a cautious Curtis. “It’s a very clever one that leaves you feeling that this has yet to be resolved. I would hesitate to say that there is a clear victor, but the conclusion is a very satisfying one.”

Always one for the last word. Englund sees things a little bit differently. “We’ve got a new ending now,” he asserts. “The one we had last September has changed. That was sort of like the battle goes on and on. The ending now is sort of like a baton has been passed. To me, it means there really is a winner…

“But I can’t say who.”