There's really no good place for a person to meet Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, but the boiler room of an abandoned Vancouver lunatic asylum is quite possibly the worst. Wet, heavy steam fills the air. The walls squirm with wires that dangle from rusty pipes. In the middle of it all, Jason stands on a slippery steel catwalk--and he does not look happy. He's been dragged into the dreamworld by Freddy, who lurks on a platform above, taunting the hockey-masked killer.
As the camera dollies in closer to Jason, capturing his mute rage, director Ronny Yu's voice crackles over a walkie-talkie from outside, where he's watching the scene on a monitor.
"Yes. Eyes wide open, heavy breathing!" he commands, as Jason raises his machete ominously. "You want to kill that motherf---er!"
A few minutes later, Ken Kirzinger (Jason) and Robert Englund (Freddy) stand in the sunlight, watching the playback with Yu.
"Did you enjoy your steam bath?" Englund asks his sweaty costar, who's removed his deformed-Jason-head cowl and mask.
"I know," replies Kirzinger, a six-foot-five-and-a-quarter wall of a man with a warm smile. "I'm dropping weight."
What's this? Freddy and Jason engaging in pleasant workplace chitchat, with nary a drop of blood being shed? Chilling. Absolutely chilling. Then again, the two undead serial killers have had plenty of time to get acquainted: The big-screen matchup of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th baddies has been in the works for more than a decade. (Says New Line president of marketing Russell Schwartz, "I found a promo reel from 1995 that actually said, '...and next year, Freddy vs. Jason!'") Though the project languished for so long horror fans feared it would be condemned to development hell forever, Englund never lost hope. "Freddy vs. Jason," he says, "is just meant to be."
Maybe so, but if there's one thing New Line has learned from this clash of the teen-killing titans, it's that you can't fast-track fate. It all started in 1992, when New Line purchased the rights to the Friday the 13th series from Paramount. Then came the tantalizing teaser: Freddy's claw pulling Jason's mask into the fiery underworld at the end of 1993's Jason Goes to Hell. Now all that was needed was a workable script. And if this story were a scary movie, here's where the ominous music would kick in--because blending the bloody back stories of Freddy (a former child murderer who was burned to death by vigilante parents and returned to kill Elm Street's youth in their sleep) and Jason (a summer-camp drowning victim-turned-machete-wielding punisher of promiscuous teens) was a more nightmarish task than anyone had imagined.
"When you're [writing] a film like this you either have to have incredible inspiration or you have to put on your hack hat," says New Line cochairman and co-CEO Robert Shaye. "I think a lot of the writers that we brought on had less inspiration and a more 'gimme the paycheck' kind of approach." Over the years, 13 different scribes offered a variety of spooky scenarios--Jason is put on trial; Freddy is resurrected by Krueger cultists--but nothing clicked. One major problem: Most chose to rewrite history by asserting that it was actually a pre-bonfire Freddy who murdered Jason at Camp Crystal Lake. (That piercing sound you hear is thousands of horror purists shrieking in disbelief.)
"It's troubling when they say, 'Look, everything you saw in the other movies doesn't count,'" says coscreenwriter Damian Shannon. He and writing partner Mark Swift pitched a more fan-friendly plot in December of 2000, and cracked the Freddy/Jason code eight drafts later: After years of being drugged with a dream suppressant by their parents, today's Elm Street adolescents are blissfully unaware of their town's resident madman. A powerless Freddy fights back by sending Jason to drum up some bad dreams with a murder spree--but once the teens (Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, and Destiny's Child hyphenate Kelly Rowland) start having nightmares again, Krueger is enraged when he can't shoo the hack-happy lug out of his hood. "It's like watching those Discovery Channel documentaries on animals," explains Yu, who knows from homicidal maniacs, having directed 1998's Bride of Chucky, as well as several bloody Hong Kong flicks. "Everybody fights for turf."
Even with the plot in place, production brought its own set of challenges. There was the question of how much fake blood to order: "I told them, 'Go with barrels! Don't talk to me about gallons!'" recalls Yu. There were fears to overcome: "I was scared of the mask," confesses Rowland. Adds Keena: "I was afraid to read [the script] in my house.... I made one of my friends sleep over so I wasn't by myself." There were ghoulish stunts to be performed: "I had to dig myself out of my own grave," chuckles Kirzinger, who took over the role of Jason from longtime mask man Kane Hodder (explanations abound for the switch, and Hodder could not be reached for comment). "Let's just say I was happy to get out of that hole."
And there was nagging joint pain to deal with: "My arthritis is getting me," says the 54-year-old Englund, rubbing his right wrist underneath the killer glove. Smiling through his hideous makeup, he says, "This is geriatric Freddy."
Well, not to be rude, but Mr. Krueger and Mr. Voorhees are getting a tad long in the tooth (their movies debuted in 1984 and 1980, respectively). Franchise fatigue is beginning to emerge--1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare made $18.1 million and last year's Jason X grossed only $12.6 million--and it might be difficult to get a teen audience excited for a slasher smackdown if they've never seen the main contenders' movies. Then again, these characters do transcend the oft-crappy films they've been in. "Without seeing any of the Friday the 13th movies, I knew Jason was the guy in the hockey mask who goes around killing people," Ritter says. "You don't have to be a fan to see it."
As for the hardcore Fred-heads and Jason junkies, the decade of suspense is killing them: Who wins??? Don't go all homicidal maniac on us--you'll find no spoilers here. One tidbit we will divulge: The original coda--in which Ritter sprouted a Freddy claw and took a swipe at Keena--was scrapped after test audiences found it bloodless. Of course, whichever badass wins this round, it ain't over until the box office says so--and New Line is not ruling out a rematch.
"If this works out well, maybe," says Shaye. "Look at what Universal did with their stable of horror characters--it even went on to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. I'm not sure we're going to go that far, unless we get Will Ferrell and Chris Tucker to meet Freddy and Jason," he jokes. Pause. "That's not bad, actually." Even more enticing: Joe Wolf, who owns the rights to the Halloween franchise, says he's approached New Line about throwing Michael Myers into the murderous mix. We all know what that means: Friday the 13th, Part 18: A New Halloween Nightmare, coming to theaters summer 2013.
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