Freddy vs. Jason. In the 1980s, the ideal Clash of the Titans wasn’t Godzilla and Kong or Perseus and the Kraken. It was between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees–two legendary connoisseurs of carnage.
Those names alone should bring up images of a hockey mask or a leather bound glove with knives for fingers. They simultaneously ruled the box office during the 1980s. Their demand was so powerful that those who haven’t seen the films should be able to recognize the horror film icons.
After 16 long years of development hell, those two murderous psychos finally stood toe-to-toe in a showdown. Legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer even hosted a promotional weigh-in.
Freddy vs. Jason: Titans of Terror
After the tremendous success of 1980’s Friday The 13th, Jason Voorhees made his debut in the 1981 sequel Friday The 13th, Part 2. Played by many hulking figures, most notably Kane Hodder, the hockey masked brute would star in eight more sequels!
Then comes the demonic Freddy Krueger. The man who infamously haunted his victims in their dreams with a clawed glove, first terrorized audiences in Wes Craven’s 1984 masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street. Spawning six sequels of his own, and his own TV series, Robert Englund and his cinematic alter-ego Freddy became a staple of pop culture.
New Line Cinema CEO Robert Shaye and Friday The 13th creator Sean S. Cunningham began discussions in 1987. Their goal was bringing these two horror juggernauts together, much to the delight of fans worldwide.
Although they couldn’t quite come to terms initially, the poor box-office returns of Jason Takes Manhattan (Friday The 13th Part VIII) prompted Paramount to sell the Friday The 13th franchise to New Line. With both star villains now under the same studio, the foundation was laid for their eventual showdown.
Building a Killer Buzz
Fans patiently waited for what was sure to come now the franchises were united under one banner.
Enter Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. The touted “final” installment of the Friday The 13th series debuted on August 13, 1993 and wasn’t particularly great nor memorable. However, it delivered a monumental cinematic moment.
Pre-dating Nick Fury recruiting Tony Stark into The Avengers at the end of Iron Man in 2008, the final shot of Jason Goes To Hell had horror fans ecstatic! Jason eventually gets dragged to hell at the end of the film. Some time later as the camera pulls away from Jason’s hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s infamous glove bursts from the ground to grab Jason’s mask. We then fade to black as Freddy wickedly laughs.
It was like a horror fan-fiction truly coming to fruition.
not so fast
Things weren’t easy as it seemed, despite the anticipation and swirling rumors since the late 80s. Cunningham was determined to get the film started. Then, Wes Craven decided to return to the Nightmare franchise with 1994’s New Nightmare. The crossover film was put on hold indefinitely.
In addition to the new Freddy film, New Line just couldn’t find the right script to make the showdown work. Over the next five years, the film saw eighteen different scripts from a total of 16 different writers! Plot points ranged from something as contemporary as putting Jason Voorhees on trial for his murders to a deranged Krueger cult hell bent on resurrecting the hockey-masked phenom. It wasn’t until Mark Swift and Damien Shannon wrote a treatment everyone loved did the film begin to find its footing.
After having David S. Goyer condense the original two-hour-and-28-minute treatment, New Line senior VP of Production Stokely Chaffin met with 60 different directors before finally deciding on Ronny Yu.
It was 15 years after initial discussions and a long nine years after Freddy dragged Jason’s mask into hell that Freddy vs Jason finally began production on September 9, 2002.
a deathmatch bloodbath
Freddy vs Jason debuted on August 15, 2003 to a nice $36.4 million dollar haul. Although marketing costs were at about $25 million, thanks in no small part to the high-profile weigh-in mentioned earlier, the worldwide gross totaled an impressive $116 million. Thus, making Freddy vs Jason the most profitable film in either franchise up to that point.
Per usual with any of these slasher sequels, critics were not kind, but let’s be honest…
The very premise of this film was predicated on the rabid fans of these franchises and this movie in and of itself is for better or worse that: fan service.
Although I personally would have liked a few more character tie-ins from previous entries, as a fan I thought the film served its ultimate purpose.
Bringing these two maniacs together amid the usual silly teen dramatics, we finally get to see them beat the living crap out of each other.
Fingers chopped off, eyes gouged, slashes, stabs, and a full on decapitation. For fans of gore and carnage, this film 100% delivered.
A lasting legacy
After the box-office success of Freddy vs Jason, New Line execs began exploring other possibilities for a sequel including a potential showdown with Ash Williams from the Evil Dead series that gained the most traction. Eventually due to character rights and more development concerns, the idea ultimately turned into a 2009 comic run but nothing more.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say Freddy vs Jason paved the way for something like Batman V Superman, but the success of the crossover definitely didn’t go unnoticed.
In 2004, we saw the popular sci-fi horror franchise Predator take on the likes of the terrifying Xenomorhs from the Alien franchise in Alien vs Predator. That film was successful enough in its own right to spawn a sequel in 2007.
Even horror fans in Japan got their own “Vs.” crossover with Sadako vs Jayako in which the ghostly apparitions from The Ring and The Grudge faced off.
Going back to the 1930’s heyday of monster movies when Universal Studios was king, the idea of horror villain crossovers certainly isn’t new. But the build and ultimate payoff of Freddy vs Jason was largely unprecedented. Even the sky-scraping behemoths in Godzilla vs Kong (who had a showdown slated for release this year but was delayed due to Covid-19) can’t quite match the same anticipation and luster of the 2003 horror landmark.
Freddy vs Jason never got its much-anticipated sequel and the rumor mill is spinning once again about yet another reboot for the horror legends, but one thing is for sure. Horror fans were given a cinematic treat–one we may never see again.