I still remember it vividly. It was August 13, 1993, and I was with my friend and about 200 other horror fans for the city's first showing of Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday - the first Friday film I got to see theatrically after wearing out most of them on VHS. The movie was mostly a disappointment to me even then (I rank it near the bottom now), but one thing saved the experience - the final shot, of Jason's mask laying on the ground before being pulled under by Freddy Krueger himself. I turned to my friend and we said in unison: "JASON VS FREDDY!" Ten years (and a flip of the title) later, almost to the day (August 15th, 2003) that promise was finally realized*, as Ronny Yu delivered the fight horror fans had been demanding to see for a lot longer than the decade since it was seemingly set in stone.
Yes, the idea of pitting these two against each other goes back at least as far as 1987, when the series were basking in the glow of the respective quality of Jason Lives and Dream Warriors. I'm not sure who approached who first, but the idea was that the next film in ONE of the series would borrow the other one's killer - naturally, the film fell apart when Paramount (who owned Jason) and New Line (aka "the house that Freddy built") couldn't agree who'd be the one left on the sideline while the other controlled the film that would likely be the biggest hit in either series. New Line clearly came out ahead in the fight - their next installment, Dream Master, was the series' top grossing entry yet, while Paramount's New Blood (featuring a telekinetic teen that replaced Freddy as the source of a supernatural element) tanked. It wouldn't be until after Jason Takes Manhattan, when Paramount gave the series' rights up and they were later bought by New Line, that it would be legally/financially viable to have them kick each others' ass in a movie.
So now it was a possibility - all we needed was for the conversations primarily held on playgrounds and horror chatrooms to gravitate toward a screenwriter's word processor. Drafts for a Freddy vs. Jason film date back to the mid '90s (such as Peter Briggs' draft that is painfully dated by naming several supporting characters after '90s rock gods like Cobain and Reznor), but the film never really seemed even close to actually happening until it finally did - unlike say, the recent (now defunct) Halloween sequel that was weeks away from filming when the plug was pulled. I guess you can consider it a relic of a bygone era of studio filmmaking, in that the movie never even really had an official green light until the script was more or less agreed upon - which didn't happen until 2002.
Let that sink in for a bit. A movie with zero purpose beyond letting two horror hero characters whale on each other was kept from that magical "GO" sign until the script was perfect - a far cry from today's blockbusters which usually start with a release date (and an MPAA rating) long before worrying about things like any script at all, let alone a "perfect" one. Pretty much every known horror screenwriter from the era probably at least pitched a take on the movie if not actually wrote a draft, and you can find many of them on the internet. None of them are particularly good (including the one they went with), though they all have their entertainment value in one way or another, if only for the sheer insanity some of them proposed. As goofy as the finished version (credited to Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, though heavily rewritten by others including David S. Goyer) often is, it's borderline Oscar-bait serious compared to some of the other ideas that, for all we know, could just as easily have been the one they went with.
Curiously, a lot of them involved cults and the like that were resurrecting one killer to deal with the other. Considering how Halloween 6 had neither been a critical or fan hit (or much of a box office one) I don't know why anyone would have thought pulling the cult shit with another horror icon was a good idea. I'm not a fan of the finished movie but I'll give it credit for at least keeping the plot fairly simple, with Freddy using Jason to strike fear into the hearts of Springwood teens who had forgotten about him, in order to get his power back (when a teen dies in Springwood, no one's going to suspect anyone but Freddy Krueger, after all). Briggs' draft didn't have a cult that I recall, and was more fan-friendly - it united Alice from the Nightmare series and Steven and Jessica (from Jason Goes To Hell), but it had an idea that was just as insane as the cult stuff from other writers. Here, Jason and Freddy were both just pawns working for the Devil for some millennium-driven (again, this was the '90s) master plot, and had the two of them battling down in Hell during the climax.
Hell-set finales were pretty common in these unused scripts, in fact - one of them would even have them keeping up the fight they had started on Earth, only for Pinhead (!) to break them up, asking what the problem was. A decade before Avengers, I love that they were toying with similar ideas albeit with these low-budget R-rated horror movies, and it's a shame that they couldn't ever work out the various legal entanglements, because it probably would have been a lot of fun before all of these characters were ruined forever by those same studios. Anyway, another version had them working as "Hell's Assassins", competing to bring the Devil the most souls (winner gets to return to Earth, loser is vanquished forever), and still another had them fighting in Hell with various infamous real-life monsters egging them on, like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy (that idea is in such poor taste I remain secretly disappointed that New Line never said "Fuck it" and actually spent money on something so offensive). Another idea (I forget whose) proposed that Freddy was one of the camp counselors that let Jason drown, and had also molested him prior to that, resulting in Jason seeing Freddy as the face of every single horny teen he's ever killed. I mean, JESUS.
But the one I really would have wanted to see is a post-New Nightmare take on the story, which was set in the world where the Friday the 13th series was based on the real-life murderer Jason Voorhees, who would be on trial for his crimes (man, nine movies and they still hadn't gotten the guy in the chair?). I'm not sure how Freddy factored into that one, but one of the few things I liked about Jason Goes To Hell was the idea that the rest of the world really did know about Crystal Lake's infamous murderer, and this one seemingly would have taken that ball and ran with it. Also, as someone who is far more of a Jason fan than a Freddy one, I liked the idea of a movie that focused on him - my biggest issue with Freddy vs. Jason is that even though Jason racks up most of the film's kills (I think Freddy only actually kills one person?) it has the slickness and style of a Freddy movie through and through, making it feel like "Nightmare on Elm Street 8 with special guest star Jason Voorhees" than a true combo film.
Of course, perhaps some of that feeling would be deflated had Kane Hodder been wearing the mask. Throughout the film's endless development, he was the biggest champion of the concept, bringing it up at every appearance and keeping fans' hopes alive. His reward for his commitment was being unceremoniously dumped from it, never even getting a real reason for it until years later (sort of; the Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories documentaries more or less get to the bottom of it - Ronny Yu didn't really care, and the execs wanted someone taller to give it a David and Goliath kind of feel). With Robert Englund slipping on the razor glove once again (and for the final time), the Nightmare fans got the connective tissue that Jason's fans were denied - we got a new guy as Jason (with a not-great makeup design to boot), in a movie that was primarily set in Springwood and contained several nightmare scenes (and even a shoutout to Hypnocil, the dream suppressant drug introduced in Dream Warriors). There was also flashback footage to earlier Nightmare entries, but not a single one of previous Friday films - the only real fan service for us Jason-heads was the brief appearance of Mrs. Voorhees, played (of course) by a different actress instead of Betsy Palmer.
Long story short - they spent a decade getting the story right and they still bungled it. The film was a huge hit, but outside of the big showdown most fans were disappointed with how it turned out overall - Freddy didn't get to kill enough people for his fans, and Jason fans felt like their guy wasn't given equal treatment in the narrative or setting. New Line perhaps didn't think much of it either; they never really attempted a sequel (one idea, where they'd meet up with Evil Dead's Ash, was bandied about and eventually turned into a comic book), opting to reboot both characters and turn this into the original incarnation's swan song. And poor Jason is once again in the same boat, with Paramount and Platinum Dunes seemingly unable to come up with a script to follow their successful 2009 relaunch of the series - it's now been longer than the period between Freddy vs. Jason and that film, so theoretically they have reached the point where another reboot would make more sense. I don't know where the people calling the shots on these things got the idea that its fans want complicated and masterful screenplays for the films, but the sad fact is that their endless second guessing ultimately proved to be more interesting than the film itself, and it wouldn't surprise me if the same was true about whatever Friday sequel we eventually do get. As for Freddy, the 2010 remake seemingly killed him for good - no sequel to that film was ever seriously threatened, and New Line doesn't seem particularly interested in doing anything else with him in the near future (unlike the other big horror series, whose next installments are seemingly always in some stage of production, I can't find ANY real movement on a new Freddy film). But if you long for more team-ups between these two titans, the film's endless development history - and the lawlessness of the internet - can provide plenty of imaginary options for you. Pick any unused script and use your imagination to see the sequel we never got - because it'll be a long time before we see either of them again for real, let alone together.
* The funny thing is, as presented the scene isn't really promising a fight - if anything it's more of a reminder that Freddy is still in Hell, and is doing Jason a solid by retrieving his mask.