There are (must-see) full-length documentaries on the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series (Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories, respectively), both of which tackle each film in the series in detail before moving on to the next. And they don't play favorites - the docs are several hours long and each film gets about 25-30 minutes of the overall runtime, rather than spend more time on the fan favorites while glossing over the lesser entries. But since Freddy vs. Jason belongs to both series, it gets the treatment twice, with new interviews and revelations (some of which contradict each other, but that's to be expected when working actors and crew are talking about a job they did a decade before) allowing an even more complete history than the two documentaries can offer for the standalone entries. So you could be forgiven for thinking that there's nothing else to learn about the ten year long journey to bring this crossover to the big screen - but you'd be wrong.
The new book Slash of the Titans, by Dustin McNeill, goes into extensive detail about the film's troubled pre-production history, from its early days as a possible sequel in the 1980s, to its seeming promise at the end of Jason Goes To Hell, through the laughable number of scripts that were considered in the 1990s, and finally the magical greenlight it got to produce a movie for 2003 - almost ten years to the day after Hell's release. The film's actual production (casting, shooting, etc.) is covered as well, but not in as much detail - the real focus here is on trying to answer a question* many fans have asked for years: why did it take so long to make this movie? By interviewing nearly every writer as well as some of the execs and other talent involved (including Sean Cunningham, Robert Englund, and Ken Kirzinger), McNeill provides ample context for each stage of the film's development, and it all starts to make total sense why the film was stalled for so long. By covering each step of the process (and going into detail about all those unused scripts, most of which I previously knew little about) you almost feel like a New Line exec yourself, agreeing with every rejection. Indeed, by the end of the book even I, no big fan of the finished film, felt that the one we got is the one that should have been made.
No, you didn't misread that. Would any of these other scripts have made a better movie? Possibly; there's obviously no way we can ever be sure because even the script they went with sounded better on paper than in execution (the rewrites by David Goyer, which pared it to the bone in order to keep the runtime down to the usual 95ish minutes, seem to have reduced a number of things I would have enjoyed), but most of them sounded more exciting and interesting to this long-time, continuity obsessed fan. But that's the exact problem, one I never quite gave much thought to until I read this book - they couldn't justify making the movie for people like me, because too much time and money had been spent on developing the film. Maybe if they got it off the ground right away they could take such risks, but it took a decade - safe had to be the way to go. As the years went on, the film's final budget (said to be $30m, more than the cost of Fridays 1-9 combined) kept going up, as it included the money spent on these other drafts (not to mention things like a ShoWest teaser in 1997, promising that the film would be out the following year). And history has shown that the longer fans have to wait between entries, the less they like seeing them go too far off course - waiting 3-4 years for the likes of Jason Goes To Hell or New Nightmare proved to be a sore point for the hardcores, and they certainly didn't attract many new fans. Not to mention that a bad film would be killing two series at once, as both were already running on fumes and needed a win to remain lucrative.
And so all the craziness of the older drafts - Freddy cults, Jason being a protector for the teens, medieval prologue sequences, Ted Bundy cheering on their fight in the depths of hell itself - really couldn't fly as the the years went on since either monster had been on-screen. The closest the film got to finally going ahead was Rob Bottin's concept from the late '90s, which was tackled by three separate sets of writers (all going off Bottin's own treatment) and went largely back to basics, but still had some odd flavor to it, such as a meta quality that suggested both Freddy and Jason were fictional characters from a series of popular horror films. Otherwise, I never really realized until this book that every major draft that was considered (meaning, we're not talking about Joe Nobody's fan spec script that no New Line exec ever read) was way high concept - Damian Shannon and Mark Swift seemed to be the only ones that had the novel idea of making a Freddy vs Jason movie about Freddy and Jason killing teenagers for little other reason than that's just what they do, and that general audiences wouldn't give a shit about some new, third villain.
But I stress "general audiences", because *I* would be all for a crazy concept. I particularly like Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore's idea, which had a real life Jason Voorhees on trial for his mass murders, which served as the inspiration for a series of films titled Friday the 13th. But it would be set in the traditional Nightmare on Elm Street universe (meaning, Kristen Parker, Nancy Thompson, or even Freddy himself could go to the movies and see Friday the 13th Part 2 or whatever, same as we did), which allows for Jason (well, "Jason") and Freddy to have a shared past - a common trait to pretty much every draft but Shannon & Swift's - without it actively retconning the Friday movies as we know them. Sure, it would be a bit of a cheat to promise a clash between these two titans and then offer up a real-world counterpart for one of them, but they had a good defense of their decision - by grounding "Jason" in the real world, it allowed the supernatural elements Freddy brings to the table to carry that much more weight (as opposed to asking the audience to believe that a world had TWO supernatural boogeymen wandering around). And even if it wasn't the real guy, it was still very much in the same vein, so you could look at it like a Freddy vs. Jason movie (actually, their script was titled "Jason vs. Freddy" - the only one to put ol' Hockey Mask first) that just opted for Roy Burns instead of Jason Voorhees. As I've said plenty of times in the past, I'm more of a Jason fan than a Freddy one, so any script that favored the former is obviously going to attract more of my approval, even if it's not the direct sequel to Jason Goes To Hell that I originally envisioned when I saw Freddy's glove burst through the ground at the end of that film.
Peter Briggs' script (the only one I've ever read, and it was 20 years ago so my memories are next to nil) did offer up more of a direct sequel to Hell by bringing back Steven and Jessica from that film, while also roping in Alice and Jacob from The Dream Child (the surviving Freddy's Dead characters are thankfully left unmentioned, all due respect to Yaphet Kotto). This made for a more fan-service-y entry than most other drafts, but it also had the same cult stuff that plagued so many other drafts from this era, and also involved a Y2K plot that would have, at least, given End of Days a lifelong double feature partner. But his take also curiously didn't bother all that much with the titular promise, only offering the briefest of skirmishes in a plot that had Freddy pulling Jason's strings (and Jason not really having trouble with that, unlike the 2003 film). It also went with a bit of a stretch with the obligatory "how they first met" back-story, suggesting that Jason was an Elm Street kid and Pamela and Elias were among the angry mob of parents that burned Freddy to death. To be fair, this is better than most of the reveals (most of which, disturbingly, involve Freddy molesting Jason as a boy and being directly responsible for his drowning death), but I still think blending their histories was a bad idea, and am thankful the finished film didn't include it (as was, presumably, Sean Cunningham, who offers a great quote on the matter in his interview).
Another funny thing about Briggs' script is that it actually had the right ending for what ultimately happened to the two series. Whereas the film that came out more or less promised another sequel (together or standalone) by showing that neither of them were actually dead, it proved to be the series finale for their original incarnations. By the end of the decade, both series were "rebooted" by Platinum Dunes with remakes, neither of which got their own sequels (and likely never will), so the Robert Englund version of Freddy was never seen again, nor was zombie Jason. This sad fate would have been easier to swallow had they gone with Briggs' script, as it ended on a pretty clever twist - via the dreamworld, Amanda Krueger somehow manages to send the film's protagonist (an FBI agent named Cobain, because the '90s) back to the 1960s, where he quickly realizes exactly when in history he has arrived - the day of Fred Krueger's arrest. As Nightmare fans know (and the draft reminds us) the reason Krueger had to face an angry mob instead of traditional justice is because someone forgot to sign a search warrant, and Cobain, when we first meet him, is known to forge signatures in order to make sure justice gets served when technicalities might prevent that from happening. So he signs the judge's name on the warrant where necessary, allowing Freddy to go to jail and Jason to never be murdered by him in retaliation. No Freddy the dream stalker, no unstoppable brute in a hockey mask - the ending keeps them from existing as we know them. This may be a bit goofy (time travel?) but since the series ended up dying for good anyway, I can't help but wish they actually used it.
There are bits and pieces I like from other concepts, but the one thing I kept coming away from after each chapter is that they were overthinking it. Too many retcons for the history, too many new characters taking screentime away from the titular heroes (a guy named Dominic Necros appeared in so many different drafts that I ultimately lost count), and too much damn PLOT seemed to be the order of the day, without anyone seeming to realize that bigger did not mean better. To be fair, this was a New Line production and they, being the "House That Freddy Built", were more likely to go after bigger concepts (and accompanying flashy visuals) that were commonplace in the Nightmare films, as opposed to the blue-collar simplicity of the "other guy's" series, but most of these made even the craziest Nightmare films seem relatively subdued. Conceptually there was always a giant problem to work around (how can they meet when Jason doesn't seem like the type to suffer from nightmares), but the storytelling gymnastics that a dozen writers came up with were always far more elaborate than they needed to be - with their ideas only adding more zeroes to the film's budget.
And that leads me to the other issue that I never gave much thought to over the years, whenever I'd catch some of the film on cable and wonder again what exactly drove them to pick this particular script over all the others: money! New Line started off as a scrappy little studio largely focused on horror films, but was branching out into action, comedy, etc. Those kinds of films demanded bigger budgets than the average Freddy adventure, and their big risks had a habit of not paying off (in 2000 alone: Thirteen Days, Little Nicky, Dungeons & Dragons all tanked, their combined grosses not even breaking even with the cost for one), forcing them to rely on their cheaper horror movies to balance the books. As Cyrus Voris (co-writer of the draft known as Millennium Massacre) puts it in the book, Freddy vs Jason was like holding a dollar in your back pocket, knowing it was always there in an emergency, but never wanting to actually use it. The massive anticipation and low cost (even with the development costs, which surely stung a bit) meant they had a guaranteed hit on their hands, so while they were happy to hear pitches and keep the ball rolling, there was never much of a deadline to get it done by. Voris even suggests that the film got made not because the script was perfect, but merely because New Line's accountants decided that they needed an absolute hit in the 3rd quarter of 2003 and finally pulled the trigger because they knew it would deliver.
If that's true or not, I don't know (it's certainly conjecture on Voris' part, and he is the only one that brings it up as a possibility), but if so it's a stroke of pure luck that their then-current script was one that could easily attract a mass audience. No cults, no doomsday scenarios, no third antagonists - it was refreshingly straightforward: Freddy has no power because no one could remember he existed, so he tricks Jason into going to Springwood and killing people in the hopes that he'll get the credit and be reborn with this fresh new fear of the dream stalker. But Jason can't be controlled, and steals a kill from Freddy, and therefore now they're enemies - that's about it. There's some stuff with Hypnocil (a callback to Dream Warriors, one of the few direct references to either franchise) and a minor mystery about the death of the heroine's mother, but otherwise the plot is directly focused on our two "heroes" and what puts them at odds with one another. At times it might go a bit too far in the opposite direction from the "smart" takes by Braga and Moore (or Mark Protosevich, whose script included Aboriginal rituals and Jason performing an inverse C-section!), but I still remember being one of the older audience members on opening night - clearly I was no longer exactly part of the target audience.
In fact, the other big realization I had reading the book was that maybe the reason I never shined to the movie is because it made me feel old. I was still going through puberty when it was "promised" in Jason Goes To Hell, and at the time I assumed it'd be out in the next two or three years. At this point I was still in middle school, I did not have a job, girls were still a mystery, and the only reason I was seeing the movie is because my friend's mom was a teacher and thus had the summer off and could drive us to opening day matinees. By the time the film finally came out, I was out of college, working a 9-5 job I did not like, driving an actual old man car (a Grand Marquis!), and dragging my disinterested girlfriend (now wife) along because none of my friends wanted to see it. The ideas that resonated with me (Moore/Braga's, Protosevich's, Briggs') all focused on adult characters instead of teens - I think I subconsciously wanted a movie that had "grown up" the same as I did, rather than focusing on teens I could no longer as easily identify with (even if they were played by actors who were older than me). It was like, "Fuck you, we're the ones who demanded this movie, why are you catering to kids who weren't even BORN when New Line and Paramount first tried making this thing in the '80s?!"
But as we know, New Line was right to worry less about the types who'd cheer at the Hypnocil reference and more about the teenagers who were, like I once was, dropped off by their parents to see this blockbuster (or even older fans who were, unlike me, smart enough to never let the continuity shit get to them). For whatever faults the film may have in my eyes, I'm first to admit that nothing in the film actively went against previously established history - it simply wasn't utilized to tell the story. Many of the scripts (Bottin's trio in particular) just had Jason "dead" at the bottom of Crystal Lake, which means they were ignoring Hell and Manhattan (and even New Blood, if you wish), so I like that bringing them back to life from hell was an actual plot point. And the movie didn't betray their general concepts as characters, either - neither of them developed any new superpowers or abilities (some scripts had Jason speaking or Freddy easily invading the real world, neither of which happens here), so makeup changes aside they were the same old guys we loved. Even the things that seem like errors actually aren't - Springwood and Crystal Lake appear to be in close proximity, but there was a line in the script where a character refers to "driving all night" when they make their way from one to the other. The movie didn't make me *angry* the way Halloween Resurrection or Freddy's Dead did - it just wasn't really for me. But that's fine; I have to accept that if they made a movie *I* loved, it probably would have tanked, and you don't spend ten years on a sequel hoping to appease the guy who liked Freddy's Revenge more than The Dream Master.
Luckily, the book caters to people like me who are more entertained by the film's development than the finished project, so it's like a fine consolation prize. I may not love the movie, but at least reading about the endless fight to get it made gave me several hours of entertainment. I was impressed how many writers McNeill was able to interview (often quite candidly!) with their take on their own draft, the finished film, etc., and I also quite liked how he offered context (usually via interviews with execs) for the film's overall development in between the writers, who obviously didn't keep tabs on the job that they didn't get. Without these exec interviews, the book would lack important parts of the picture, and it would also get mighty repetitive. For those like me who haven't read every available draft, there are thorough synopses, as well as McNeill's take on what they each got right/wrong. And since it's been over twenty years in some cases, there's a refreshing sense of "Water under the bridge" to just about everyone's thoughts on the whole affair - no one seems angry that their draft didn't get used or whatever. As the WGA heads toward a possible strike, it's nice to see a book give these unsung heroes their due - this is certainly not the only movie that had a lot of writers put time and effort into something that got tossed out by executives who didn't get their own properties anyway. I'd love to see others in the same vein - someone get all 35 Flintstones screenwriters together, stat!
*Another question about this film is Kane Hodder's recasting, and the book does shed a little more light on it. Most of the stories fans have probably heard (they wanted someone taller to contrast with Freddy, they didn't want to pay Kane what he wanted, etc.), but there are two theories that, if I HAD heard them before, I've forgotten. One is that Ken Kirzinger is Canadian, so that gave him a leg up (a certain number of cast members HAD to be Canadian as it was a Canadian production), and the other was that the failure of Jason X had them wanting to distance themselves from its memory. Freddy was always Robert Englund, but Jason was, for all intents and purposes, always replaceable, so ultimately there were just too many things working against Hodder's involvement, with simple "tradition" being his only playing card.