Jason X had continued a commercial decline for the Friday the 13th franchise that had begun in 1985 with A New Beginning and had divided the opinions of the fans; some of whom enjoyed the space location and comic tone, whilst others were disappointed by the lack of a summer camp setting. The priority for the series since New Line Cinema had purchased the rights from Paramount a decade earlier had been to produce their long-awaited crossover Freddy vs. Jason, which was to see its antagonist, Jason Voorhees, going head-to-head with A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger. In many ways, this recalled a trend that had started in the 1940s with Universal Pictures, who had attempted a similar method with both Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula. When Paramount Pictures had first expressed interest in the project as early as 1987 the Friday the 13th movies had begun to show signs of struggling at the box office, whilst New Line’s Elm Street franchise was at its commercial peak, yet since obtaining the rights to Friday the 13th in 1992 New Line had worked hard to make the concept a reality.
The final shot of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday had shown Jason’s infamous hockey mask lying in the sand, when suddenly Freddy’s hand burst through the ground and dragged it below. This premature promise had excited fans into believing that Freddy vs. Jason was soon to come but they would have to wait another decade for it to be released. In the months following the release of Jason Goes to Hell, New Line’s Michael De Luca had actively pursued the prospect of featuring both Freddy and Jason together in a movie, but the main problem had been that they were unable to work up a satisfactory premise. Following an unsuccessful pitch from Demon Knight writers Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff, Sean S. Cunningham – who had directed the original Friday the 13th in 1980 – had turned to his regular collaborator Lewis Abernathy, who had scripted both DeepStar Six and House IV, neither of which had performed well commercially.
Unimpressed with Abernathy’s concept proposal, De Luca would spend several years entertaining countless writers who would either focus too much on prior characters from either respective series or would disregard the mythologies all together. Having eventually passed on screenplays by Star Trek: The Next Generation writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore and special effects artist Rob Bottin, De Luca turned to a young writer called David Schow, who had performed uncredited rewrites on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and had scripted Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. By Christmas 1999, just a Jason X had commenced pre-production, New Line had hired Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who had come to the attention of the studio with their script Danger Girl. But over the next two years New Line would undergo significant changes, with De Luca leaving the company and Freddy vs. Jason seemingly no longer a priority. In a surprise move, however, it would be New Line boss Robert Shaye who would resurrect the project shortly after and finally launching Freddy vs. Jason into production.
Cunningham had remained in contact with A Nightmare on Elm Street creator (and his Last House on the Left director) Wes Craven throughout development, who had been preoccupied with his successful Scream trilogy and had offered advice and support to the project. Although the studio had finally agreed upon a script there was still the question of who would direct. Over the years there had been an array of filmmakers who had pitched their visions to both Paramount and New Line, with Friday the 13th veterans Tom McLoughlin and John Carl Buechler being amongst the first. During its time with New Line, the studio had met with directors such as Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Mimic) and Stephen Norringon (Blade), before eventually settling on Ronny Yu. Having first gained acclaim in his native Hong Kong, Yu had made his Hollywood debut with the 1998 postmodern horror flick Bride of Chucky, which had reinvented the fledging Child’s Play series for the Scream market. Unaware of either the Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Yu’s lack of knowledge was enough to convince the studio that he would be capable of giving the project a fresh approach.
Following speculation on who would be handling the special effects – with fans once again demanding the return of Tom Savini – the task of creating both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees fell to Bill Terezakis. Having landed his first break working on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989, Terezakis would build a reputation through his effects on Deep Rising, Cats & Dogs and the cult James Cameron show Dark Angel, whilst his Vancouver workshop WCT Productions would handle FX on Final Destination 2 and House of the Dead. Freddy vs. Jason would be budgeted at $35m, more than twice that of Jason X and significantly more than the earlier Friday the 13th movies, whilst – unlike many of the previous installments – it would be an in-house production as opposed to a negative pickup. Hype had been building around the project for over a decade and in that time the genre had changed, with the post-Scream slasher boom coming to an end following countless derivative clones and sequels.
With the exception of the occasional stand-in or stuntman, Robert Englund had been the only actor to portray the character of Freddy Krueger since the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Through seven movies, a TV spinoff and various music videos, Freddy had become a pop culture icon and Englund himself had enjoyed tremendous success. Unknown to the actor at the time, however, Freddy vs. Jason would prove to be his swan song, as the franchise would later be resurrected with the obligatory remake. The most controversial aspect of casting would be that of Jason Voorhees. Kane Hodder was first cast in the role for 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and had quickly become a fan favourite, taking the role to a new level with his passion and dedication for the character. Jason X had been his fourth time behind the infamous hockey mask but New Line, in an effort to launch Freddy vs. Jason as a new stand-alone franchise, would choose to recast the role. Canadian stuntman Ken Kirzinger had made a brief appearance in Jason Takes Manhattan as a cook who is thrown over the bar of a diner and had since worked on a variety of projects that had included Look Who’s Talking and The X Files. Despite a backlash from fans, Kirzinger would be cast opposite Englund for the physically demanding role.
In keeping with the tradition of both franchises, Freddy vs. Jason would feature a teenage heroine, who has some kind of past link to one of the killers. Twenty-three year old New Jersey native Monica Keena had enjoyed minor roles in several successful movies earlier in her career; including While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and the horror flick The Devil’s Advocate, which starred Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. For the role of Will Rollins, Keena’s on screen love interest, Yu had originally cast Brad Renfro, a former child actor who shot to fame following his impressive performance in Joel Schumacher’s 1994 drama The Client when was just only ten years old. Renfro continued to gain acclaim for his appearances in Sleepers and Apt Pupil, but soon his career began to suffer due to a much-publicised drug addiction. Proving unreliable during the first week of shooting, Renfro was eventually fired from Freddy vs. Jason and continued in a downward spiral until he was found dead from a drug overdose in January 2008, although his death would be overshadowed by that of Heath Ledger one week later.
Yu and his casting agents began to frantically search for a suitable replacement, giving brief consideration to Ian Sommerholder, who would later become known for his role as Boone Carlyle in the hit TV show Lost. Despite reservations after his first audition, the producers finally settled on Jason Ritter who, ironically, already had a loose connection to Yu; his father, the late John Ritter, had appeared in Bride of Chucky several years earlier. With the supporting cast including Destiny’s Child star Kelly Rowland, Katharine (Ginger Snaps) Isabelle and Christopher George Marquette (who would later appear in the comedy The Girl Next Door), principal photography commenced in Vancouver and various regions of British Columbia on September 9th 2002. The fifty-three day shoot finally came to an end on November 22nd and then the film was rushed into post-production, to be overseen by editor Mark Stevens, who was most known for his work with Schumacher on two Batman sequels, 8MM, Flawless, Tigerland and Phone Booth.
To the surprise of the fans, Harry Manfredini would not return to compose the score, with New Line wanting to avoid too many comparisons to the previous Friday the 13th movies. Aside from Jason Takes Manhattan, Manfredini’s name had been listed on all of the Friday the 13th films, although his input on each had varied greatly. Whilst the score would be composed by Graeme Revell, the soundtrack would also feature songs by a variety of metal acts, such as ll Niño, Spineshank, Type O Negative and Machine Head, as well as DJ Junkie XL. Freddy vs. Jason was released in North American on August 15th 2003 and became a phenomenal success, making over $36m on its first three days, eventually earning in excess of $80m, far surpassing any of the Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. After a sixteen-year wait, fans had finally seen both iconic killers facing off in a movie but what direction the franchise would take from there remained unclear.