20 Years Later, Why Is Freddy vs. Jason the Only Film of Its Kind?

Movies Features horror movies
20 Years Later, Why Is Freddy vs. Jason the Only Film of Its Kind?

We’ve been living in the age of constant IP-farming at major film studios for some time now. As shared movie universes have risen fallen, and risen again, we’ve learned that there’s really no property Hollywood won’t attempt to revive if they think they see dollar signs. Horror is no exception: In the past decade alone, we’ve seen revivals of Halloween, Scream, Child’s Play, Predator, and Black Christmas, to name just a handful, with resurgences of properties like The Exorcist still to come. Even the long-dormant Friday the 13th franchise is getting a revival in the form of Bryan Fuller’s Crystal Lake series, all of which raises a fascinating question 20 years in the making: Why haven’t we seen any more movies like Freddy vs. Jason?

This month marks two decades since the much-anticipated, years-in-development slasher crossover hit screens, seemingly opening a door to more crossover action that just never materialized. Sure, Alien vs. Predator arrived the next year, and Universal Pictures has tried its hand (more than once) at reviving its classic monster franchises, but despite the box office success of the Friday the 13th/A Nightmare on Elm Street crossover 20 years ago, we’ve somehow never seen another clash of two slasher titans on the big-screen.

So why, particularly in today’s IP-crazy climate, hasn’t it happened again? It’s certainly not because the original film was poorly received. Reviews were mixed, but the box office returns were robust, and if you’re a slasher movie devotee, the movie is at worst an interesting mash-up of two different horror mythologies, and at best thoroughly entertaining. Two decades later, despite dated jokes and more than a few turn-of-the-millennium R-rated tropes (gay slurs being thrown around, that sort of thing), Freddy vs. Jason is still a blast. More importantly, it’s a blast that feels special, despite the gimmicky premise.

The absence of further slasher crossovers can’t be blamed on a lack of trying. At various points over the ensuing decades, writers and producers have floated everything from Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash to Helloween (a mash-up of the Hellraiser and Halloween franchises that would’ve pitted Michael Myers against Pinhead) to Candyman vs. Leprechaun (yes, really). There was even an alternate Freddy vs. Jason ending that featured the cliffhanger arrival of Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, though New Line Cinema didn’t want to pay the licensing fees to get the character, so that was scrapped early on. It’s clear that Hollywood had ideas, but for one reason another, they couldn’t execute, leaving Freddy vs. Jason as the only slasher crossover standing.

To get to the why of that fact, we need to go way back in time to 1986. Both franchises were relatively young then, especially Nightmare (just two years out from the original film, while Friday was working on its sixth installment in as many years). According to Dustin McNeill’s book Slash of the Titans: The Road to Freddy vs. Jason, Paramount head Frank Mancuso Jr. was among the first to float the idea of his golden boy, Jason Voorhees, facing off with New Line’s newly minted monster, Freddy Krueger. Apparently, the powers that be at New Line agreed that it was a good idea, but only if they could be the distributor, licensing Jason from Paramount and making the film themselves. Paramount, of course, wanted the opposite, and so a stalemate between two studios forced the project into limbo for years. When New Line finally got hold of Jason’s rights to make Jason Goes to Hell in 1993, the crossover reared its head again in that movie’s final shot of a hellbound Jason dragged away by Freddy’s glove — only to be pushed back by Wes Craven’s return to Freddy for New Nightmare. With that project out of the way, development continued in earnest, but writer after writer couldn’t crack the script. McNeill’s book counts 16 screenwriters credited with drafts in the decade leading up to Freddy vs. Jason‘s release, and those numbers add up. By the time the film made it to theaters, millions had been spent on scripts that never saw the light of day.

All of which is to say that, by modern Hollywood standards, at a time when tentpoles often get a release date before they get a script, movement on Freddy vs. Jason was dauntingly glacial, as both franchises jockeyed for continued relevance in a horror marketplace that underwent a lot of changes in the 1990s. Of course, by the time the film did hit theaters, Scream had ushered in a slasher revival, and the Dark Castle horror remakes at the turn of the millennium had made audiences more receptive to over-the-top spooky fun. Against all odds, Freddy vs. Jason arrived in the right climate to earn some real money, but it only arrived after nearly two decades of struggle. Any executive contemplating horror crossovers would almost certainly look at the film’s lengthy saga as a cautionary tale.

Then there’s the problem of marshaling the resources of individual franchises together into something new. The various other potential crossovers that were floated in the slasher world often fell victim to simple disinterest from one or more major party. Tony Todd shot down the Candyman vs. Leprechaun idea, while Bruce Campbell balked at Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash simply because he didn’t want to be fighting for position in such a packed room of major players in front of and behind the camera. As for Helloween…well, that one fell apart even before Freddy vs. Jason got made, because it was just too strange.

All of these issues were present 20 years ago, but paradoxically for our era of IP farming, they’re actually amplified now. Studios and media conglomerates want to hold on to their little fiefdoms within the genre world, even the ones they’re not doing anything with at the moment. If you have a brand, you hang on to it for dear life until you can figure out the next way to make money with it, because if you don’t, someone will. It’s hard enough having actors and directors jockeying for position in a single production, but throw in two different studios trying to do it, particularly with an unproven crossover concept, and you’ve got a potential mess. Then again, some of these horror icons are already near crossover territory – Chucky and Michael Myers have both fallen under the NBCUniversal umbrella in recent years, for example – so maybe it will happen again someday.

In fact, as much as we’ve just talked about all the pitfalls of such a crossover effort, another slasher showdown does feel bizarrely inevitable, even if it takes 20 more years. Freddy vs. Jason is a rarefied artifact of a different time in the horror world, yes, but it’s also a case study in determination, and refusing to let a good idea die. Horror producers knew even back in ’86 that audiences would turn up to see this fight, and they turned out to be right, even if it did take 17 years to prove it. Someone else will prove it with something different one of these days, whether it’s Michael Myers vs. Leatherface, or Ghostface vs. Chucky, or Freddy vs. Dracula. For now, though, we have Freddy vs. Jason, a perfect storm of dollar signs and decapitations.

Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin