Film Review: Freddy vs. Jason

Another cool cover.

After 17 films and thousands of words over the last three weeks and three days, I am finally at the crossover event of the 21st century: 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. I thought it proper to get through all the films in the respective franchises before getting to the crossover. I’ve now done that and here we are.

I’m not sure if this was the first horror movie I ever saw in theaters — the re-release of 1973’s The Exorcist in September 2000 might take that title — but it was one of the earliest. I was only 13 at the time, but I distinctly remember going to the theater with my dad and brother and how hyped we were to see this. It wasn’t just a movie, it was an event. So, much like 2002’s Jason X, this film holds a special place in my heart, even if it doesn’t hold up as well as it did then and compared to earlier entries in both respective franchises.

The backstory is extensive, and from my understanding, something Sean S. Cunningham, the man behind 1980’s Friday the 13th, had been trying to do for years: What if we brought Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees together in a film? I believe 1987 was the first year that idea was floated about. At the time, though, New Line Cinema, which distributed the Nightmare films, had no interest in the concept because they were making a killing with Freddy Krueger. Eventually, when sales went down for Paramount, which distributes the Friday the 13th films, they sold the rights to New Line Cinema. Despite that being the case in 1993, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994 slowed the progress on the crossover. Still, there was a tease at the end of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday where Freddy Krueger drags Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask down to hell, it would still take another 10 years of development hell and a detour to outer space for Uber Jason to bring these two horror icons together.

When I say development hell, consider: New Line spent $6.8 million — which is more than most of the budgets for all the movies in each respective horror franchises — to develop 18 different scripts — 18! — by more than dozen screenwriters over 10 years. That’s a sign of a concept that’s hard to translate to paper, and I’m sure, an issue of how to capture the essence of both horror icons in one movie. Or maybe I’m overthinking it more than they did. Or at least, not thinking of it in that way.

Michael De Luca brought in Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff to try their hand at writing the script. If you remember, De Luca was the screenwriter for 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. I don’t know anything either have done, but apparently 1995’s Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight was enough to get De Luca curious. Cunningham also tried bringing in Lewis Abernathy, who did 1989’s DeepStar Six, another film and writer I’ve never heard of. Eventually, someone I am quite familiar with, David S. Goyer, who I didn’t know until recently was involved, was tapped to do a re-write. At that point, the two biggest films Goyer had written were 1998’s Blade and 2002’s Blade II. But he would become best known for writing and helping with the stories for the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy in the 2000s.

A number of other writers would get a chance to write the screenplay, including Mark Verheiden, who has also written episodes of another thing I’m binging at the moment: Smallville. Small world! He also did 2011-2012’s Falling Skies, which I liked quite a bit, and is credited with the story for 1994’s The Mask. If his script had gone through, it could have been the follow-up to that film: The Hockey Mask (I mean, Jason Goes to Hell is essentially the “mask” concept anyway).

All of this is according to the blog We Minored in Film.

Ultimately, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift are credited with the screenplay. This was Shannon and Swift’s first screenplay, and their next screenplay? The remake of Friday the 13th in 2009. They also did Baywatch in 2017. I couldn’t even make it through the latter.

In the director’s chair is Ronny Yu, most known prior to this for 1998’s Bride of Chucky. He hasn’t done a whole lot since that film or this one. The peculiar thing about Ronny Yu? He’d never seen any prior films in either franchise and that was seen as a positive by the producers. THAT MAKES NO SENSE!

This is already a fan service film, meaning, this is a film you’re intentionally making to please the fans of these franchises. Why wouldn’t you get someone familiar with the franchises who can do justice to both the Freddy Krueger character and the Jason Voorhees character, as well as their particular franchises? That’s baffling. With that many years of development hell, they should have entrusted the property to someone who was a fan of these franchises, and who would therefore take care of it.

“Oh yeah. See, I think of this as the first film in a series, not the 20th. We’re kind of forgetting everything that’s happened before and starting from scratch while at the same time showing flashbacks… like a refresher. Everyone knows who Freddy and Jason are so we wanna make a film for the masses, not really the hardcore fans who might remember some details from a sequel 10 years ago. There’s no mention of Jason X, that’s for sure.” Ronny Yu

Rue Morgue magazine in 2003

Again, that makes no sense to me. Why ignore all of that history? Why do something that started out of fan service buzz and then try to appeal to the masses? It’s hard to argue with the producers in the sense that the box office was the best of any film in either franchise in non-adjusted grosses, but still. Story-wise, it seems they left a lot to be desired intentionally.

In front of the camera, Robert Englund is back for one final time as Freddy Krueger (they sure weren’t going to recast him), and unfortunately, Kane Hodder is not back as Jason Voorhees, despite playing the role in the prior four Friday the 13th films. Instead, the role went to Ken Kirzinger, who you may remember as the diner cook in Jason Takes Manhattan. He was also in 2007’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, another favorite horror franchise of mine.

This cast is a bit more “star-studded” than a normal film from either franchise. At least, I recognize some of the name. For example, Kelly Rowland, who was hot at the time with the band Destiny’s Child, plays Kia Waterson, although she didn’t do much film work after this. Jason Ritter, who plays Will Rollins, has gone on to do a lot of film and TV. Same with Monica Keena, who plays Lori Campbell.

I also recognize Katherine Isabelle, who plays Gibb Smith, because she had a role on Smallville. Another Smallville connection! She was also on Supernatural, another show I’ve talked a lot about. Brendan Fletcher, who plays Mark Davis, is yet another Smallville guy! Interestingly, Kyle Labine, who plays Bill Freeburg, also had a small role the year prior in Halloween: Resurrection. Crossover on crossover action.

Two other interesting casting points: 1.) Evangeline Lilly, most known for the show Lost a few years after this, had a walk-on role as a high school student. I’ll see if I can spot her later; and 2.) One of my favorite wrestlers and one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Rey Mysterio, whose real name is Óscar Gutiérrez, apparently was the stunt double for Englund during a scene with Freddy Krueger in the boiler room. I never knew that!

The premise is about as basic as you can get; they didn’t even try with this one on Amazon, “Freddy Krueger, of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, and Jason Voorhees, of the Friday the 13th movies, meet face-to-face in the ultimate horror movie standoff.” (I also realized that I’ve been calling them the Nightmare films and others call them the Elm Street films. I think Nightmare sounds way cooler.)

I was about to say, that the concept itself … sells itself, but apparently New Line Cinema didn’t think that as they spent $25 million just on marketing the film. Again, it was an event, and they darn sure were going to make it come across that way.

Most of the films in these franchises, with the exception of Jason Takes Manhattan and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (both of which get closer to 100 to 110 minutes), hit about that 85 to 95 minute mark. Given the script issues and how much time it takes, you would think, to set up the conceit of the film, that this only clocks in at 97 minutes is impressive.

Since it was 17 years ago (ew), it’s hard to remember how I would have reacted to the opening credits where you hear the classic Nightmare music spliced together with the classic Friday the 13th music. I bet that had people whooping and hollering!

Now that I know they were trying to appeal to the masses (and again, I can’t fault them for that, they are trying to make money after all), the opening monologue by Freddy Krueger where he essentially gives us the rundown of who Freddy Krueger is for those who may have never seen a previous Nightmare film makes a lot of sense. We even seen a montage of scenes from all the films in the franchise.

The premise of the film beyond that vague synposis is that Freddy Krueger is frustrated, to put it mildly, that people seem to have forgotten him, so he’s going to bring Jason Voorhees out of hell to help make people remember him, fear him, and bring him back.

“He may get the blood, but I’ll get the glory.” – Freddy Krueger about Jason Voorhees.

As an opening sequence in the film, hard to do much better than Jason Voorhees killing a random skinny dipping girl, and then the girl, as she’s impaled on the tree, turns into different faces, and Jason Voorhees even hears his mother, Pamela Voorhees. In other words, Freddy Krueger is messing with Jason Voorhees. It’s well-done. Freddy Krueger makes it seems like Pamela Voorhees is the one telling Jason Voorhees that he needs to go to Elm Street and MAKE THEM REMEMBER ME! MAKE THEM REMEMBER WHAT FEAR TASTES LIKE!

If nothing else from this film (and there is more), I will always remember Pamela Voorhees (played by Paula Shaw) shouting those lines at Jason Voorhees.

As with a lot of the latter films in the franchises, the killer, in this case Jason Voorhees, does us a favor by killing the obnoxious character, in this case Trey (played by Jesse Hutch). He’s a chauvinistic jerk the entire time to Gibb, and that’s all we really know about him before Jason Voorhees, in one of the more memorable kills of either franchises, stabs Trey multiple times with a machete, and then folds up the bed he’s in, crushing Trey.

While he’s being killed, Gibb is in the shower naked. Apparently, Yu wanted Isabelle to do a nude shower scene, but she refused. He replaced her with a body double for that scene, but her refusal created friction between the two on set, according to trivia of the film. Yet another example, and not exactly that long ago, of the rot in Hollywood. An actress shouldn’t be expected to do a nude scene and she shouldn’t be looked down upon for refusing. Ugh.

When Gibb finds his body, she screams and everyone runs out of the house in terror. It’s weird that Jason Voorhees would go upstairs to kill Trey undetected, and without killing anyone else, leaving the house undetected. But I suppose if you go with the idea that Freddy Krueger is trying to instill fear in people again, then one kill and done (for now) is good enough for that purpose.

A great visual scene is when Lori falls asleep at the police station and has a nightmare about Freddy Krueger. The entire station is empty and she starts following disappearing blood splatters on the ground. She walks past a wall of missing children posters, and the children on the posters turn and look at her as she walks past. Quite neat!

Can I just say, I love Fletcher in this? He plays the disturbed, manic character so well. Along with Keena, they are the two standouts from the film.

With the help of better special effects in 2003 (although, that’s also a curse, as a lot of late 1990s and early 2000s films look outdated with those early computer-based special effects), there are some great sequences in this film. I already mentioned a few. Another good one is when Dr. Campbell, Lori’s dad (played by Tom Butler), apparently is trying to drug her through her orange juice approaches her. But Lori waves it off, nods off, and sees her dad momentarily turn into Freddy Krueger.

I love the underlying story there: Both Dr. Campbell and Sheriff Williams (played by Garry Chalk) know exactly who Freddy Krueger is, having presumably dealt with him in the past, but they are trying to cover up any possible mention of him as being responsible for the new murder of Trey, Blake (played by David Kopp) and Blake’s dad (played by Brent Chapman, who also appeared in Halloween: Resurrection).

I already praised Fletcher and that was before he comes in and helps Lori finish the famous:

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you;
Three, four, better lock your door;
Five, six, grab your crucifix;
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late;
Nine, ten, never sleep again.

He plays that so well, and it’s also a nice callback to how Nancy finishes the song for Kristen in Dream Warriors.

Also during that sequence is when you see Evangeline Lilly in the background. Wild to think only a year after this film she would be one of the most known stars in the world in Lost, and here she is barely noticeable in the background of a horror movie.

Yet again, another fantastic scene is when Freddy Krueger pops out of the beauty magazine to grab Kia’s nose, and says, “Got your nose!” I usually don’t like those ham-fisted cheesy lines, but I liked this one. It worked. And again, the effects look good. I’ll be honest, I went into this film thinking a lot of it would look outdated like Jason X, and so far, it doesn’t!

There’s another good-looking scene when Freddy Krueger seems on the cusp of having his full strength back, so he’s stalking Gibb (who has fallen asleep in the cornfields at the rave party) in a boiler room. He’s about to slice her up, but Jason Voorhees has killed Frisell (played by Alex Green), a raver who is trying to take advantage of a sleeping Gibb and also Gibb. In other words, Jason Voorhees messed up Freddy Krueger’s first kill by getting to her first. It’s a great sequence because Gibb’s blood splatters on Freddy Krueger’s bewildered face.

Speaking of great sequences, one of my all time favorite scenes in any horror movie period is when Jason Voorhees comes upon the rave in the cornfield that the high school students are having. With these horror icons, as I’ve mentioned before, you almost never see them take on an entire group of people at any one time. It’s always stalking and taking one victim at a time. The only other instance of this was when Freddy Krueger attacked all the students at the pool party in Freddy’s Revenge. It makes for such a fun, chaotic visual. The cornfield is also a great setting for horror.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, that during the initial sequence, JASON VOORHEES IS ON FIRE, and then kills Shack (played by Chris Gauthier) by tossing a flaming machete through his chest. Again, the visuals are shockingly holding up well!

“Who cares about some f*cking dream guy, okay? Psycho in the hockey mask was real!” – Charlie Linderman (played by Chris Marquette) to the group after they escape the cornfield in another memorable line

Deputy Scott Stubbs (played by Lochlyn Munro), at about 54 minutes in, stumbles upon the group’s “hideout,” and is the one who gives us the monologue backstory on Jason Voorhees, in case those watching didn’t know his backstory. It’s an inventive way to get to some exposition because Stubbs is defying the Sheriff’s edict to hush up about everything. Stubbs is new to town, though, and doesn’t like what’s going on. Given how the Sheriff and Dr. Campbell know what’s going on, and how they try to stop Stubbs and Lori, it is weird how they disappear from the second half of the film.

Unfortunately, it’s Lori who brings up the, “Freddy died by fire, Jason by water, how can we use that?” idea. That’s an idea much derided by the fans of the franchises for being too basic and also … wrong? Jason Voorhees isn’t afraid of water. We’ve seen him go in water plenty of times in past films. The mythology was that the way to kill him is to take him back to his “burial place,” aka, Camp Crystal Lake, but he’s not “afraid” of water. And Freddy Krueger literally uses fire in this one to kill Mark, so he’s not afraid of fire, either, despite dying that way.

Let’s be honest, Bill is another one we don’t care about getting slaughtered by Jason Voorhees. First, he was making jokes about Trey’s death, which Gibb overheard (and granted, he immediately apologized, but still), and then once he knows TWO PSYCHO KILLERS are after them, he decides to take a marijuana smoke break at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. He’s a lame stoner being stupid. Bye. It’s also the first time one of the special effects doesn’t hold up. Playing up the high thing, Freddy Krueger comes in as a freakish caterpillar and then possesses Bill. The special effect doesn’t look as good here.

But it’s through Bill how we will get the first sequence that lives up to the title: Bill, as possessed by Freddy Krueger, tranqualizes Jason Voorhees. On the other hand, the special effect when Bill gets sliced in half by Jason Voorhees after being tranqualized does hold up and look cool.

Seeing Jason Voorhees in Freddy Krueger’s boiler room is awesome. You have to love that! But then we go back to Jason Voorhees being afraid of water. There’s a waterfall between him and Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees was about to slash his machete through it, but stopped once he realized it was water. That sucks. He’s not afraid of water! I do love the concept and visual of Jason Voorhees, in Freddy Krueger’s nightmare construct, turning into a shivering, scared younger version of himself (played by Spencer Stump) again. But you could have gotten there without making Jason Voorhees afraid of water.

It’s also smart that Lori and the gang want to bring Jason Voorhees back to Camp Crystal Lake to give Jason Voorhees a home field advantage, with the thinking that, well, all things considered, Jason Voorhees is the “lesser of two evils.” That is, at least he’s in the real world, whereas dealing with somebody in the dream world is a lot more difficult.

One of the cooler visuals in either franchise is when Lori goes into the nightmare world to, uh, rescue Jason Voorhees from Freddy Krueger, and when Jason Voorhees does wake up, and Freddy Krueger realizes it, he launches out of the water at Lori. The color scheme is red and black, and it just looks great.

Oh man, when Lori is able to bring Freddy Krueger into Jason Voorhees’ world (a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake) and that heavy metal music kicks in; it gets me pumped for the showdown! LET’S GO!

Worth pointing out that while most of the special effects have held up, Kia’s character chiding Freddy Krueger by calling him a “f*ggot” definitely does not hold up well. That makes me cringe to hear now. Swift and Shannon both said that wasn’t in the script, so I don’t know if Rowland came up with that themselves, Swift and Shannon are lying to save face, or the producers told Rowland to say it. Regardless of how it happened, it’s bad.

After more than dozen “final girls” up to this point, surely Lori has to rank up there as one of the best? First, she volunteers to go in and pull Freddy Krueger into Jason Voorhees’ world. But when she accomplishes that, instead of running away, she defiantly sticks around because she wants to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of Freddy Krueger. That turn from scared at the beginning to determined at the end is done well by Keena.

She’s also the one who decapitates Freddy Krueger, screaming, “Welcome to my world, b*tch!” What a great scene and moment for that character.

I’m not sure how anyone couldn’t be satisfied with that final action movie-like battle between Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. It’s a lot of fun. Granted, it does seem like Jason Voorhees wouldn’t have been able to get the upper hand on Freddy Krueger if Lori and Will didn’t help him. Freddy Krueger getting impaled with his own knives-gloved hand is an awesome visual, though.

Then of course, Freddy Krueger gets decapitated, and we get the fun visual and teaser of Jason Voorhees walking with his decapitated head, and Freddy Krueger winks.

Bob Shaye, who took over the main production of the film from De Luca, was obviously more interested in the Freddy Krueger side of things since that was his character, not Jason Voorhees. He and New Line Cinema only inherited the latter. That said, Jason Voorhees did get to “win” the war between the two of them.

Honestly, if you take out the homophobic slur, the behind-the-scenes rot of Yu trying to get Isabelle to go nude, and the stupidity of Jason Voorhees being afraid of water, and you take into consideration the development hell of this film for 10 years, all the scriptwriters, re-writes, Goyer taking a two and a half hour script and gutting it to 90 minutes, I’m not sure what more you could ask for out of a Freddy vs. Jason film. The special effects hold up well, the action sequences are good, the kills are creative, the story makes more sense than some of the alternatives (like cults bringing both horror icons back to fight, which is way too on these nose), and we get one of the best final girls of either franchise in Lori. Besides Trey, Bill, and Kia (well, she’s unlikable for the slur, but she did save Lori and Will), all the characters in this are likable and well-acted.

I can see the criticism of wanting more Jason Voorhees/Camp Crystal Lake vibes in this, but overall, as a crossover film, I think it delivers and holds up 17 years later, much better than Jason X did. I’m impressed, to be honest!

The film would go on to make $116 million globally at the box office on a $30 million budget, with $82 million domestic. Why didn’t this get a sequel?! As mentioned, Yu seemed to have more in mind, and they did have Freddy Krueger wink. Granted, I don’t know where you go with a sequel, but I’m shocked it didn’t happen. The development hell was … hell getting this one out, so maybe they didn’t want the hassle of trying to do another, but it was popular.

And not that critical response matters much to these films, but as far as they go, a 41 percent on Rottentomatoes makes it one of the higher rated films of either franchise.

If you haven’t seen this film in 17 years, I promise you besides the slur line and some of the nudity, the film holds up well, and as a horror nerd, I loved the showdown of the two horror icons. They weren’t my guys since Michael Myers was and is, but then and now, I still geeked out.

Welp, that’s a wrap, at least on the original 18 films from these two horror franchises. I’ll be back soon to go over the respective remakes … I’m hoping they hold up better than I remember, too.

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