Finally Cutting In

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

By: Kier-La Janisse

Published in Fanorgia #221.

Like many heavily anticipated and formidable dream projects—from John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London to Stuart Gordon’s Shadow Over Innsmouth (which finally materialized as Dagon)—the inevitable Freddy vs. Jason (opening August 15 from New Line) has had fans frothing at the mouth for a good decade or so. While the film has, to a certain extent, been touted as a contemporary counterpart to the ’40s monster matchups and correspondingly promises to be pretty heavy on the action, director Ronny Yu wanted to add a decidedly more human touch to the showdown between the two iconic supervillains. “That is my own sort of feeling,” Yu explains. “I always see something good in the bad guys.”

But Robert Englund, who returns as the fearsome Freddy Krueger, adds that any sympathy is reserved for his misunderstood nemesis. “If anybody has a backstory, or sympathy, it’s Jason, not Freddy,” says Englund. “But that also helps set up a really interesting triple ending.”

Taking their cues from the epilogue of Jason Goes to Hell, the creative team (including scripters Mark Swift and Damian Shannon) was challenged not only to come with a means to pit two horror icons in an intensely violent game of quid-pro-quo, but to develop a stable of human characters cognizant enough to engineer the two into mutual self-destruction. Yu feels confident that they succeeded.

“We’re dealing in a surreal nightmare world, which is Freddy, and with the Jason world, which is realistic,” he explains. “The trick is, how do you marry these two together? So the kids have to figure out how to get Freddy into the real world, and how to make Jason see that Freddy is manipulating him.” Among the actors playing the fresh crop of Elm Street kids are Monica (Dawson’s Creek) Keena, Jason (Swimfan) Ritter, Canadian starlet Katherine (Ginger Snaps) Isabelle and Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland, making her acting debut.

If anything holds promise for Freddy vs. Jason’s potential, it’s Yu’s track record. Beyond his stunning Hong Kong efforts such as The Bride With White Hair and The Phantom Lover, one need only examine how, with Bride of Chucky, he took a tired franchise about a possessed doll and transformed it into an action-packed, incredibly entertaining work that is easily the best of the series. As with that film, Yu had no great familiarity with either the Nightmare or Friday series prior to being hired by New Line.

“When the producer asked me to do [Bride of Chucky], he said, ‘Do you know anything about this Child’s Play?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s OK. You can catch up later, or you can just forget about it and start fresh.’ So I’m using the same sort of philosophy here—and the plus side is that we have Robert Englund, which is great. After working with him, I don’t think anybody else can play Freddy. He’s Robert Englund; he knows everything—the timing, how to deliver a line. He is Freddy.”

Conversely, he had no misgivings about replacing Kane Hodder with former stunt coordinator Ken Kirzinger for the coveted role of Jason Voorhees—though Yu acknowledges that by taking on the latest installment in a pair of series, he has a certain responsibility to their established devotees. “I have to respect hardcore fans who have grown up with these two franchises,” he admits. “I can’t just say, ‘This is my way, that’s it!’ No, because I’m making mainstream entertainment. I’m not making a personal statement. So that’s why I have to be very cautious and cover all ground.”

Although it has been suggested that there is no incentive to make a really impressive Freddy vs. Jason movie, since a bad one would do just as well at the box office, Englund fervently disagrees, citing that a mediocre project wouldn’t attract the major talent that buttresses Freddy vs. Jason—aside from the cast and Yu, these include Stir of Echoes cinematographer Fred Murphy and Vancouver FX wiz Bill (House of the Dead) Terezakis. Englund also gleefully notes that Freddy will still have room for some “quality time” with his Elm Street extended family, despite the superhuman obstacle known as Jason Voorhees. “There are some nasty moments,” he promises. “I get an Elm Street mother—so I get a mother-daughter sandwich.”