Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: Killing the 80’s Slasher
Crossover films have always existed, but they seem overwhelmingly present, and sometimes almost expected, in today’s mainstream film market.
But in 2003, the phenomena of a crossover film was still relatively untapped potential; pre-the oversaturation of comic book movies and Dark Universes, the most popular crossover films were Abbott and Costello pictures from the 30’s and Scooby Doo shorts. And yet, this is the year that brought us Freddy vs. Jason, a concept that had been workshopped and advocated for by fans since 1987.
First teased in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, in 1993, with the film’s end revealing Freddy Krueger’s glove as it pulled Jason’s mask into the ground, it still took studios another Friday the 13th and ten more years to finally make due on that tease; because of licensing, writing, finding the right director, etc. etc.
Jason Goes to Hell also features Evil Dead’s Necronomicon, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
When Freddy vs. Jason opened in August of 2003, it became the highest grossing film in the Friday the 13th franchise, and the second highest grossing film for Nightmare on Elm Street. With over $100 million under its belt, a sequel seemed inevitable. It’s Hollywood, after all.
I wanted to write this article because of what’s become a continued fascination with the death of this sequel. As time has passed, it felt to me like it was becoming a forgotten relic of almost-history. But I’ve found instead that a desire for it to come to film is still alive, and is still brought up every time these franchises come back into the spotlight.
How did the combination of two titans of 80’s horror suddenly fall apart when a third was introduced? And what does it reflect about the place of these franchises now?
Before the “final form” of the sequel was decided, other avenues to other crossovers were explored by writers.
Most notably, filmmakers considered a different ending for Freddy vs. Jason, which would more directly lead into a sequel. In this alternate ending, both titular characters would end up in hell, and would reveal them to be in the clutches of none other than Pinhead, before the cut to black.
Ultimately, that fell through because nobody seemed to want to wrestle with Dimension for the rights to Pinhead, for what would only be a few seconds of screentime. And I tend to agree with their decision; though I’ve watched only two Hellraiser films, I’ve come to the conclusion that they take themselves far more seriously than Elm Street and Friday the 13th do. It’d be kind of weird, to either try to make those two latter series more serious again, or to try and make Hellraiser more playful. They weren’t a tonal match.
So other horror icons of the 80’s were considered- Myers from Halloween, for one, and possibly Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw- but none materialized into a close-to-final project.
That’s where Evil Dead came in.
If you know me at all, you know that Evil Dead has become one of my favorite franchises in recent years. And while I’m indifferent at best to Friday the 13th, I would easily be able to put the Elm Street franchise up as my second or third favorite horror series.
All three have a twisted sense of humor to them, all known for being bloody and sick and, most importantly, are iconic to the 80's.
Better yet for filmmakers, there was no studio to grapple with for rights. Sam Raimi owned the rights to Ash Williams, and that’s all they needed.
If you look online, you can find the script treatment for this proposed sequel- Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash- from Bloody Disgusting, and you can read the course that the film would take: 5 years after the events of Freddy vs. Jason, Freddy, Jason, and Ash Williams are all in Crystal Lake, each looking for the Necronomicon for their own personal reasons (Ash wants to destroy the book once and for all, Jason wants to use it to bring his mother back and become intelligent, and Freddy wants to take over the world, naturally). Once the threat is discovered, Ash teams up with a young group of S-Mart employees, all culminating in a three-way showdown on the frozen Crystal Lake.
Before we get into the details of why this film never made it past a script treatment, it feels important to note that this story does, technically, exist in a more public and completed form. Four years after the release of the original Freddy vs. Jason, the sequel came to fruition as a 6-issue comic miniseries, that itself later spawned a sequel, subtitled The Dream Warriors, which I have not yet read and thus cannot discuss.
Still titled Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, the story of the comic is, with the exception of some small, ultimately inconsequential details, exactly the same as the script treatment I laid out two paragraphs ago: all three titular characters fight to claim ownership of the Necronomicon for their own reasons, which results in slapstick, violent slaughter, and enough one-liners to kill a person. I will admit, comics are usually a hard sell for me; I tend to read too quickly for much of the story to sink in, and the quality of the artwork often distracts me more than it does emerse (especially in the longer running series I’ve read, where the art style changes dramatically between issues).
But in this case, it’s not like there’s a movie to fall back on. And as a sequel, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash is still pretty good.
I will not say perfect, because of course it’s not. It’s flawed in ways specific to its medium- I just simply find the art of the comic unappealing as hell, covers notwithstanding- and in ways that would’ve existed no matter the medium. It’s clunky, as well as being pretty sexist and racist. But those things are also descriptors for Freddy vs. Jason.
And that said, the comic still manages to deliver what it promises. One of the criticisms commonly lobbed against Freddy vs. Jason was a distinct lack of that titular fight; sure it eventually got there, but much of the film is instead dedicated to following teenagers around to catch up to what the audience already knows. When Freddy and Jason eventually throw down, it’s awesome, but the wait time for that was too long for many.
No problem in Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash. While Freddy and Jason strike up an allyship of convenience, there is by no means a shortage of carnage between the titular characters. Ash Williams being there helps tremendously; while it once again takes a while for the villains to turn on each other, they each have their moments of going after Ash man-to-man. Those fights are also amazing, and the eventual three-way showdown is everything one could expect and dream for with these characters.
The comic is evidently still in high demand — I can’t figure out if it’s still being printed, but the collection is going on Amazon for upwards of $250. It’s so outrageously expensive that I’ve started using it as a benchmark; if I can afford to drop hundreds of dollars on a horror comic, I’ve made it.
Ultimately, the film died on one stupid detail: New Line Cinemas didn’t want Freddy to die.
The fact that this sequel was halted on the concern of somehow losing Freddy forever- when his character has died and come back in every single sequel - makes the whole thing even more frustrating. And it’s not like New Line has been pumping out Elm Street movies since then; Freddy vs. Jason remains Robert Englund’s last film as the titular character, and everybody is better off ignoring the 2010 attempted remake. Null reboots, Freddy vs. Jason is still the last film in either franchise’s overall, canonical story, almost 20 years later.
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have both been pretty vocal about why this sequel died, though several reasons for the failure to produce a sequel have been tossed around. But creative differences on the ending have been the prevailing theme of them all.
Sam Raimi wanted Ash to win ... Which I thought was a great idea. New Line Cinema was against it because I had just had my ass kicked by Jason; they were afraid, ’cause I was the most successful of the three franchises. ‘We can’t have Freddy killed twice in a row.’ And I was like, ‘Wait a minute, guys. You revived me, you resurrected me with dog urine! It’s real easy to bring Freddy back. Come on. That’s not that hard to do.’ — Robert Englund
If nothing else, the passage of time cemented that we’d never see the likes of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash in all its gory glory that it was conceived as. Both Bruce Campbell and Robert Englund have retired themselves from playing their respective characters, with Englund specifically citing his age as the reason he’ll likely never go into the makeup chair for Freddy again. Jason would be the only character unaffected by issues of casting, but one third of a three-way versus battle does not a crossover make.
Which is a shame, because fans continue to clamour for a Bruce Campbell-helmed crossover with Ash Williams and another icon of horror. When the TV series spinoff, Ash vs. Evil Dead, had entered its second season, people began to speculate that this new addition could be the avenue with which Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash could finally happen. Unfortunately, Bruce Campbell shut down any speculation on the possibility, and the show was canceled one season later.
The other day, my family and I were going through cheap horror movies on Amazon Prime. We found Sadako vs. Kayako, a 2016 film pitting the villains of The Grudge and The Ring series against each other. That’s what got me thinking about Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash again.
The franchise crossover film will probably never die, and I have no particular hard feelings about that. When done well, crossover films are endlessly enjoyable; even when they’re bad, there’s still a fascination surrounding the combination of two separate entities that manages to draw people in. Crossovers will exist for as long as franchises do.
Right now, crossover in horror cinema is a mostly low budget affair. If we cut the cinematic universe out of the definition, cheap B-movies have been dominating that market in the 2010’s. Sequels to low budget, minor cult hits like Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong and Puppetmaster vs. Demonic Toys (yes, really) have been the most notable entries into the recent catalog. Or if you look to the Syfy channel, you can find an endless list of terrible movies that pit monster against monster (Sharktopus vs Whalewolf, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, etc.)
You can find article upon article about all the crossovers they almost made with larger horror icons, and yet only a handful exist.
Instead of films, comics have become the larger home for crossovers in horror. To look at Evil Dead alone, comics have brought Ash Williams up against (or had him team up with) Dracula, Martians, Jack the Ripper, Barack Obama, Herbert West from The Re-Animator, and Hitler (yes, really). And that’s just to name a few.
While crossovers will never die, and crossover events within horror franchises still thrive in different mediums, it’s a shame and a wonder that Hollywood has not tried their hand at more mainstream efforts. Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator are, to date, the most recent and most of-note of their attempts. It’s just strange and unfortunate, especially considering how lucrative other crossover films have and continue to be. The likes of the MCU and such have had ripple effects on blockbuster cinema, and most of them are bad, but I wish one of the consequences of crossover and shared universes was the inclusion of horror into that.
There’s been a distinct lack of new horror franchises going into the 2010’s, while most of the ones popularized in the 80’s and 90’s are still going. Off the top of my head, I can only think of The Conjuring, Insidious, and Final Destination series as the ones that had the legs to get more than one sequel. And meanwhile, Child’s Play, Hellraiser, Halloween, and, allegedly, Scream, all continue to pump out sequels, or at least have plans to do so in the near future.
From the financial standpoint that Hollywood always gazes out from, it feels equally insane to ignore the desire that still remains for these films and for their respective icons. And while I naturally want us to have new horror and new chances for franchises to thrive, I am not immune to the intense desire to see Freddy and Chucky fight it out over who the best serial killer is. I want to revel in the stupidity of classic horror, damn it, and not just read about it in an article on ScreenRant.
If you’re a fan of horror, and Freddy vs. Jason and it’s comic book sequel have somehow flown under your radar, I give them both my highest recommendations, as long as you’re familiar with the films involved and know what to expect. Both are creations that aren’t exactly high art, nor are they probably even good, but they’re works that reinforce my love for the horror genre at large, and I would consider that an accomplishment.