Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Once in a blood moon, a franchise will come along that redefines a subgenre and takes it to the next level. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise, which essentially created the horror subgenre of slasher flicks as we know them to this day. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new installment in the series any time soon, now’s still the perfect time to review this franchise as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have released The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-ray! As such, I’ll be reviewing not only the movies in this franchise but these new Blu-ray releases as well. After more than a decade in development, and piling up countless bodies in their own right, the two legendary major screen slashers go head-to-head in Freddy vs. Jason (2003)!
These days, we live in a glorious era of entertainment in which what fans want to see ends up on the screen. The occasional toxic fan bases aside, I think that fandom having a significant influence on the movie industry can be a good thing. Then there’s the other outcome akin to the recent release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). That may be the critical difference between fan musings on the playground and musings that rapidly become arguments on the internet. In any event, the movie in review is no doubt largely a product of fans’ desire to see two slasher horror icons battling it out on the silver screen. Add to that the audience’s wish for a studio to see the potential to revitalize not just one but two franchises, and you have the long road from both Camp Crystal Lake and Elm Street to Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
Development on this crossover movie began back in 1987 when Jason Voorhees was arguably entering a slight downturn in his popularity. Meanwhile, the newest killer on the block, Freddy Krueger, had hit a sophomore slump with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and was a few years and sequels away from reaching the apex of his popularity. Even still, both New Line Cinema founder (and Nightmare producer) Robert Shaye and Friday‘s Sean S. Cunningham saw great potential in making a match-up movie. Unfortunately, though, while New Line owns the Nightmare series, the Friday the 13th franchise was owned by Paramount Pictures. As you might expect, the two studios couldn’t come to agreeable terms regarding profit shares. Thus, New Line moved forward and successfully revitalized Freddy with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). In turn, Paramount essentially made Jason vs. Carrie with Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988).
Thankfully, the hold on the project didn’t last long as Paramount finally threw the Friday franchise overboard following the disappointing box office returns for Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). Unsurprisingly, New Line immediately snatched up the franchise rights and once again actively began developing Freddy vs. Jason in earnest. At the same time, the studio wanted to keep the slashers fresh in the audience’s minds. So they did the most “logical thing” and prematurely killed Jason off with Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993). The following year, Fred Krueger’s creator, director Wes Craven, killed off his monster by deconstructing the franchise in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). After those entries, New Line Cinema found itself in a complicated position. On the one hand, they were committed to finding some version of Freddy vs. Jason they could make. On the other hand, the horror genre was on life support by the mid-1990s, and the slasher subgenre was all but dead.
Luckily, though, these beloved genres were revived thanks to a little movie called Scream (directed by Craven!) in 1996. After that, all of horror was hot again; and more effort was put into getting Freddy vs. Jason made. The prospects were looking solid enough that Freddy himself, Robert Englund, signed on to the project in 1999. At that time, it looked like New Line was going to move forward with producing a screenplay by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Bulletproof Monk) entitled Freddy vs. Jason: Millennium Massacre, which also would have seen special effects master Rob Bottin (John Carpenter’s The Thing, Robocop (1987)) making his directorial debut. But like many other attempts at Freddy vs. Jason both before and after it, Millennium Massacre never made it past the page. Ultimately, it took a decade and numerous drafts of seventeen different screenplays (from an untold number of screenwriters) at a reported cost of $6 million before New Line settled on the version written by duo Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Baywatch (2017)). Well, that is after the writer of numerous DC Comics movie adaptations, David S. Goyer, did uncredited rewrites on the final screenplay to condense it.
The studio finally had a complete and producible screenplay for Freddy vs. Jason. Alas, they still needed a director since Bottin had long ago exited the fray. Thus, the flick was offered to and turned down by nearly every potential helmer in Tinseltown — including A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) director Stephen Norrington and Rob Zombie (3 from Hell). Finally, one of the producers on FvJ saw The Bride with White Hair (1993), directed by a formerly Hong-Kong-based director named Ronny Yu. He recently found massive success in the States with Bride of Chucky (1998) and an offer was made for his services. To his credit (or discredit, depending on your perspective) after accepting the opportunity, Yu was up-front in admitting that not only was he not a genre fan, but he had never seen a Friday or Nightmare movie. And frankly, I’m not sure the director made an effort to watch one before proceeding with production. I mean, why would he as that would be sensible? Furthermore, the studio didn’t seem to care about his lack of knowledge in the respective lore of either series.
What did seem to concern the studio was putting more of the movie’s focus on Freddy Kreuger. After-all, New Line Cinema was also known internally and in the movie industry as “The House That Freddy Built.” In regards to Jason, the only concern seemed to be that he be played by someone who would tower over Robert Englund as Freddy. As a result, the man who had played the hockey-masked killer in the previous four Friday installments, Kane Hodder, was dealt a blow when he was not asked to reprise his role for a movie that he, along with Englund, had championed for years.
Many fans — myself among them — were none too keen on Hodder’s dismissal. Particularly once we found out that the studio recast Jason simply because they wanted him to be taller and the director envisioned him “like Frankenstein.” Instead, the titular role went to a stuntman who had previously played Jason for the car crash scene in Jason Takes Manhattan. I’m, of course, referring to Candian stuntman Ken Kirzinger, who’s a giant at 6’5″. In fairness, though, Kirzinger’s casting is efficient as it not only gave the studio what they wanted for the contrast to Freddy; but it aided their plan to shoot much of the film in Canda. Despite this practicality, it is worth noting that Kirzinger was hired a scant two weeks before shooting commenced.
Freddy vs. Jason finds the two titular slashers no longer posing a threat to their respective communities. Jason Voorhees (Kirzinger) is taking the perpetual dirt nap. Meanwhile, Freddy Kreuger (Englund) is stuck in Hell with no escape as he’s become nothing more than a nearly non-existent memory in the small town of Springwood, Ohio. The kids of Elm Street are now sleeping safe and sound as they no longer dream thanks to the anti-dream drug, Hypnocil — a concept which originated in Dream Warriors, but was not utilized often in the proceeding Nightmare(s) on Elm Street. Seeing as Freddy can only exist as a dream demon powered by kids fear his presence, he needs something that can generate that fear in a new generation of victims.
Being ever so resourceful, Freddy invades the dreams of Jason. Once in Jason’s head, Freddy takes the guise of the fellow killer’s mother and instructs Jason to leave Camp Crystal Lake, New Jersey, in favor of Springwood. Once on Freddy’s turf, Jason creates enough terror to bring Freddy back into the fold. But a wrinkle forms in Freddy’s plan when Jason starts killing teens that would have belonged to the razor-bladed glove. Thus, the two supernatural killers are soon at odds with one another as a group of high schoolers become intent on defeating them both!
Before I delve further into my review, I should clarify something. Considering I’m covering the entire Friday the 13th franchise here, I’m reviewing Freddy vs. Jason based mainly on how it works as a part of this franchise. Should I ever review the Nightmare on Elm Street series for this column, I will review this movie again through that prism.
Alright, now that I’ve dispensed with the disclaimer of sorts, let’s get into it!
Right off the bat, I have to give this to the screenwriting team of Shannon and Swift: any story or screenplay for Freddy vs. Jason would be challenging to make work on any logical level (Well, the amount of logic that needs to be applied to this genre, anyway). Let’s face it, though, as much as we all want to see these characters slash-and-clash, their respective settings and mythologies don’t fit together all that easily without putting in some serious effort to make such a crossover happen. Thus, if you can accept that Jason has dreams and travels from Jersey to Ohio with relative ease, then the basic plot works quite well.
It also makes for a reasonably entertaining flick packed with some likable teenaged victims (a first in a while for a Friday movie!) and some fantastically memorable kills. Beyond all that, it helps that you can tell the writers are indeed fans of both these franchises. However, Freddy vs. Jason also has two problems that I imagine began in small doses on the page and became more prominent in the finished film: tone and focus. Both of these issues are equally as problematic, and neither of them land solely at Shannon and Swift’s feet.
Instead, I feel Yu has much of the tone wrong here. Don’t get me wrong, all the horror elements work well enough, but this flick is not the least bit scary (Then again, not many of the later sequels in either series have been). It seems the director is more interested in making an action-comedy than a horror movie; wire-work and all. While such an approach worked on his previous horror hit, Bride of Chucky, it doesn’t land nearly as well this time. Sure, this focus on action fits for the final act brawl for all. Unfortunately, though, it feels like Yu can’t help but apply these other genres to any scene containing violence. A prime example of this is the pinball and cartoon sound effects during the boiler room battle scene.
Then, as mentioned earlier, there’s the focus of this crossover picture; one which I think is due to New Line’s mandate to keep the direction of the film more on Freddy than anyone else. Granted, more Freddy gives one more to work with than Jason does. I also understand making Jason the “hero” of the two horror villains as it is, frankly, the only choice. There’s just no way to make Freddy — a former-child-murderer-turned-teen-slaying-dream-demon — the good guy. As expected, and as film and Nightmare franchise history proves, the villain generally steals the show from the hero anyway; and Englund does so in his eighth performance as Freddy Kreuger, which also proves to be one of his strongest appearances in the role.
This focus on Freddy would be fine if it didn’t slowly, but surely push Freddy vs. Jason away from being a balanced crossover. In watching this flick it quickly becomes evident that it’s primarily A Nightmare on Elm Street movie that merely features Jason as a plot device, albeit a driving one. As a result, Freddy vs. Jason can’t help but be somewhat of a Franchise Implosion as it feels more a part of the Nightmare than the Friday franchise. I think the only area in which Jason outshines Freddy is in the makeup department. Jason’s makeup design is some of the best yet, whereas Freddy’s makeup looks to be on the cheaper, more pronounced side of the latex makeup spectrum.
Mind you, my deeming Freddy vs. Jason a Franchise Implosion is not the same thing as me saying it’s a bad movie as a whole. Despite its flaws, as mentioned earlier, it’s a decent flick that delivers on the promise of seeing the two titular mass murderers on-screen together. The film also proves pretty entertaining and reasonably well-paced, even if it doesn’t possess much of a rewatchability factor. As I mentioned earlier, the cast is also solid; the only weak link in it being singer-turned-actress Kelly Rowland, who should stick to her music career. As far as Kirzinger is concerned, he does a competent job as Jason, despite my maintaining that he’s too darn tall for the part.
Freddy vs. Jason was highly successful from a financial and audience reception standpoint. All the effort to get the movie made paid off as it was produced for $30 million (the most expensive entry in either franchises to date) and grossed $116.6 million worldwide theatrically. It also proved a hit on home video as well. Such box office returns are unsurprising when you consider the fan following and the fact that the studio spent so much on prints and advertising that they surpassed the marketing budgets of every prior installment in both the Friday and Nightmare franchises. Despite this success, Freddy vs. Jason never did get its expected sequel as New Line, and the creator and rights holder of The Evil Dead, Sam Rami, could never come to terms. However, the script for the scrapped sequel, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, was adapted into a comic book series published by Wildstorm Comics from 2007 to 2008. That comic spawned a sequel the following year, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors (2009).
Unlike all the previous discs in this set, there’s absolutely nothing new on this Blu-ray. Instead, it’s simply a repackaged version of the original Blu release from 2009. All extras listed below are also recycled from this initial release, serving as a decent document of the history of Freddy vs. Jason. If you’re looking for more recent retrospective material on the movie, check out the segments covering it on both the respective releases of the documentaries Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) and Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013). It’s worth noting that the one new thing that this box set release provides the disc is a reversible cover.
- Commentary With Director Ronny Yu, Actors Robert Englund And Ken Kirzinger — The director and actors provide a very entertaining and informative commentary track. Better still, it’s one of those commentaries where it just sounds like these guys are buddies hanging out. Granted, Englund alone is chatty enough that he could easily do a solo track on his own.
- Genesis: Development Hell — This 10-minute featurette, which features all the film’s key players, traces the tumultuous decade-plus long development period that it took to get the movie made finally.
- On Location: Springwood Revisited — Here, we get a promotional featurette originally produced as an episode of the Starz On the Set series which runs fourteen minutes in length. As with most fluff pieces, this one features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, clips, and cast and crew interview snippets. All of which are used to give the audience the lowdown on the movie to garner interest. (As if that needed to be done.)
- On Location: Cabin Fever — six minutes of relatively dry behind-the-scenes footage centering on the making of the cabin scene, or at least, the portion of it that occurs before the big dookaroo.
- Art Direction: Jason’s Decorating Tips — The eleven-minute featurette — featuring interviews with Yu and film’s production designer, John Willett — delves into the production design of Freddy vs. Jason. I found the most interesting bit of information in this featurette to be that the boiler room’s design was inspired by the architecture of a city in China.
- Stunts: When Push Comes To Shove — In this extensive featurette, running twenty-one minutes in length, the movie’s stunts are discussed in detail by various members of the stunt team. I’m always interested in how stunts are executed, but I must say that I found this documentary to be a little on the long side.
- Makeup Effects: Freddy’s Beauty Secrets — This six-minute featurette covers one of the essential aspects of any slasher flick: makeup effects. As such, it features interviews with the film’s makeup artists and Robert Englund, which is fitting since he’s always wearing makeup and appliances. Sadly, though, I feel this particular makeup looks more like a latex mask than it does Freddy’s fried face.
- Visual Effects Exploration — Visual Effects Supervisor Ariel Valesco Shaw and Visual Effects Producer Kevin Elam provide commentary over thirteen (how fitting) of the movie’s big VFX scenes. Now, I must admit that I don’t generally find VFX-focused content to be terribly interesting; nevertheless, these explorations proved to be an exception as I came to legitimately appreciate the craft and effort poured into these scenes.
- My Summer Vacation: A Visit to Camp Hackenslash — Here, we get nearly 4 minutes of footage of a camp for both franchises’ fans. While I’m sure it was a load of fun to attend the camp, I didn’t find it very fun to watch this footage.
- 21 Deleted/Alternate Scenes, Including The Original Opening And Ending With Optional Commentary By Director Ronny Yu, And Executive Producer Douglas Curtis — As much as I enjoy these sixteen minutes worth of deleted and cut-down scenes, all of them were, evidently and appropriately, cut for time. An obvious fact which the commentary reinforces.
- Music Video: Ill Nino, “How Can I Live”
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Pre-Fight Press Conference At Bally’s Casino In Las Vegas — This three minutes of footage taken from the faux press conference reeks of being the epitome of an early-aughts marketing stunt that it is. Admittedly, though such a gimmick hasn’t aged well due to how ridiculous it is, I couldn’t help but enjoy it a little.
The Friday the 13th Collection is currently available on Blu-ray!
The movie I just reviewed serves as the final entry based on this (and the Nightmare) franchise’s original continuity. Next time, we’ll see Jason get the remake treatment with Friday the 13th (2009)!
The Franchise’s Body Count Thus Far-
Friday the 13th (1980):
Friday the 13th: Part II (1981):
Friday The 13th: Part III in 3-D (1982):
Friday The 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985):
Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986):
Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988):
Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989):
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993):
Jason X (2002):