by Tom Vidovich
Nearly twenty-five years ago, enigmatic creature effects legend Rob Bottin was ready to make the long awaited Freddy vs. Jason his directorial debut and it seemed like a match made in the Inferno. Horror fans couldn’t wait to see what the monster maker who created the various incarnations of the title beast for the greatest monster movie of all time- John Carpenter’s The Thing, and spent the rest of the decade leading his crews to invent one iconic character after another(the definitive devil- Darkness from Legend, RoboCop, Kuato from Total Recall) would bring to Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Way back in 1983, Bottin’s most frequent collaborator, Joe Dante, told Fangoria “Rob’s credo of course is that if it’s already been done he doesn’t want to do it.” So, how was Bottin going to breathe new life into these film franchises that had ruled the eighties but had “been done” to death by 1997? He was going to reimagine the slashers, giving them an upgrade while merging them- from story origins to designs with possibly the greatest reinvention the casting of an actor who would create this new version of Jason Voorhees- the man of a thousand faces who would play the man behind the mask: Ron Perlman.
Freddy vs Jason had already been stuck in development hell for most of the nineties with multiple drafts from screenwriters and teams of screenwriters produced before Rob Bottin’s decision to direct the film appeared to give the eagerly anticipated team up forward momentum. Although characters and ideas overlapped through all the various drafts, each script had a wholly different narrative and Bottin wrote an original 28 page treatment. Two teams of screenwriters were hired to flesh out the treatment, first David Goyer and James Robinson(whose script was rejected by Bottin and New Line Cinema), and later Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Bottin, who evoked Walt Disney to describe the revelatory horrors of The Thing in the classic Cinefantastique cover story and wore Mickey Mouse t-shirts on the set of The Howling, regularly drew inspiration for his work from animation and hired Aibel and Berger off of the writing staff of Mike Judge’s King of the Hill(the writing team have subsequently had a career scripting animated films for the Kung Fu Panda and SpongeBob franchises).
Aibel and Berger’s script begins with Freddy Krueger chasing the final girl, Lizzie, throughout her house. Freddy tauntingly implores Lizzie to wake up right before he murders a home security guard in front of her. The cops arrive, billy club the supernatural slayer into submission, handcuff him and remove the killer’s mask- revealing him to be a copycat. The sequence is not so dissimilar from the opening fake outs of De Palma’s Blow Out or Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse(or the pretty brilliant “movie within a dream” double fake out from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) except instead of those benign twists we are witness to a surreal killing, just not from the killer we’re expecting. This pre-credits intro kicks off a script that traffics in doppelgangers, misdirection, and reversals.
The copycat killer named Dominic Necros is inspired by Freddy, not the serial killer but the slasher from the series of films. Freddy and Jason would’ve existed as famous monsters of filmland in the world of Bottin’s film. In the mid-nineties, Wes Craven had just made his New Nightmare(which David Goyer cited as an inspiration for his draft) and Scream, and Craven’s self-aware horror that bled the line between cinema and reality was reinvigorating the dormant slasher genre. But this script isn’t really meta or interested in any horror or slasher movie commentary even in a satirical sense. It’s all about recreating a dream experience: two movie monsters are trying to kill you and your friends who keep morphing into these monsters.
After her first nightmare where the actual Freddy stalks her until Jason intervenes, Lizzie awakens in a sleep disorder clinic where doctors prescribe a drug they say will induce a cathartic sleep state, and one of the side effects causes those who take the drug to participate in each others’ dreams. A psychiatrist tells Lizzie the Freddy vs. Jason conflict is her subconscious playing out the traumatic stress of Necros’ attack and that she’ll have to learn to control her dreams to stop them. This is actually what the movie is and according to Dustin McNeill’s account of the decade long development of Freddy vs. Jason, Slash of the Titans, the Goyer/Robinson draft was revealed to be entirely a dream(the scene with the psychiatrist is not unlike the salesman at Rekall advertising Quaid’s Martian spy adventure prior to Total Recall unfolding in exactly that way). Lizzie and her friends(including her boyfriend, also named Jason) then venture off to a Camp Crystal Lake-like getaway to raise hell where the rest of the script unfolds.
One of Lizzie’s friends gets ahold of her dream drug(the appropriately named, Somnambulene), slips it into the alcohol, and the teens enter a waking dreamland, unable to trust their senses. Whether they’re real or delusions, Freddy and Jason(plus Necros, the escaped copycat killer) arrive to do battle and dispatch the teens. No one is experiencing reality. This even extends to Jason Voorhees who, the script establishes through a sequence of POVs, sees all of his victims as incarnations of Freddy he needs to annihilate. Lizzie enters Jason’s nightmare and witnesses a retconning of his origin story that combines the franchises’ mythologies. The boy Jason, clad in a toy hockey mask with plastic machete in the dream, was drowned by Camp Crystal Lake counselor Freddy Krueger who describes the undead Voorhees as a “mindless sleepwalker” doomed to play out his eternal revenge fantasies.
All of the previous drafts of Freddy vs. Jason featured a variation on the “Freddy creates Jason by killing him” plotline but the most recent draft prior to Bottin’s version, written by Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, was the first to make Krueger a murderous camp counselor. Legendary creature effects artist Bart Mixon(best known for creating the iconic Pennywise makeup for the classic miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It, Mixon also collaborated with Bottin when he applied Peter Weller’s makeup and suit on the set of RoboCop) was involved with this version and developed some concepts for the film in early 1997. “Freddy was more traditional. Jason was more Elephant Man inspired,” Mixon told me. However, a director was never attached to this version and the project didn’t coalesce before Rob Bottin decided he wanted to direct the film later the same year.
Jump forward to 1999 and Bart Mixon is working on a TV movie titled Primal Force(“…it was about mutant baboons and I built the baboons for it.”) that stars Ron Perlman. While on set, Mixon decided to approach Perlman with a rumor he’d heard. “We were shooting in Mexico and Ron stars in it and at some point during the shoot I just brought it up that I had heard he was going to be Jason in FvJ. He said that’s right- that Rob Bottin was a friend of his and that he was happy to do it for Rob.”
Even prior to Hellboy, Ron Perlman had established a career out of portraying the humanity in characters perceived to be monstrous(he was widely known for Beauty and the Beast where he was adorned in the creation of Rob’s mentor, Rick Baker) and clearly Rob Bottin wanted to harness that talent for Jason Voorhees. Like Bottin’s frequent collaborators Robert Picardo and Don McLeod, Perlman had shown he could not only tolerate the often painful physical demands of a makeup transformation but he could thrive and craft a performance while buried under layers of prosthetics. And this incarnation of Jason Voorhees would require a performance beyond stoically murdering his way thru the campgrounds: his face is exposed after most of his mask is destroyed soon after rising from the lake, he repeatedly roars with rage throughout the script, and eventually, he gets a line of dialogue(after delivering the death blow by ramming his machete through Freddy’s back but before succumbing to his own wounds, Perlman’s Jason would’ve delivered the film’s final line: “Freddy’s Dead!”).
From at least the August ’97 announcement that Rob was going to direct the film to the third draft script from Aibel & Berger dated December ’98, the film was actively in preproduction with Rob already casting Perlman himself and a studio full of some of the greatest sculptors and concept artists to ever work in the medium, who contributed to the Bottin crew’s creations in films like Seven and Deep Rising, designing the film’s effects sequences and redesigning the iconic movie slashers. And decades later, none of this work has been seen.
But of course the script provides a glimpse of what could’ve been in terms of FX set pieces in a film finally directed by the FX master: The teens witness each other melt(with a nod to The Wizard of Oz) when the Somnambulene hits, Lizzie must contend with a living, writhing “nightmare chamber” with doors that move when she tries to exit, and Freddy manifests as “a swarm of thick, translucent, BOSCH-LIKE EEL CREATURES“. The Jason described in the script resembles the waterlogged, maggot-infested behemoth of the later sequels, a variation on the character that Friday the 13th Part VII director, John Carl Buechler, referred to as a “Meat Terminator”. This is purely speculative, but it’s entirely possible a concept sculpt of Jason’s face was created from a mold of Ron Perlman’s face.
Bart Mixon and Ron Perlman would go on to work together on both of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films, Freddy vs. Jason would be directed by Ronny Yu, and much to the disappointment of his fans, Rob Bottin would recede from the rock star limelight he’d attained at the height of the monster effects craze of the eighties. When Freddy vs. Jason was finally released without credited contributions from either Rob Bottin or Bart Mixon, former New Line exec Mike De Luca told the LA Times that Bottin’s version was going to cost more than the budget ceiling New Line gave the project, but he could’ve simply said the creature effects legend’s ambitions were greater than the studio’s. In fact, Rob Bottin’s entire career had been about going farther and doing more than the other guy. New Line wanted to meet fans’ expectations and Rob wanted to exceed them, always adhering to what Wes Craven(who was very happy Rob was going to direct Freddy vs. Jason) referred to as Bottin’s “general sense of excellence”.
I think I speak for everyone when I say I’d like to visit the parallel universe where Bottin’s Freddy vs. Jason was made so I could get a glimpse of Ron Perlman and Robert Englund going toe-to-toe as the classic movie monsters. Many, many thanks to Bart Mixon for speaking to me for this article.
Slash of the Titans: The Road to Freddy vs. Jason by Dustin McNeill
Fangoria #30, “Joe Dante on Twilight Zone” by David Everitt. 1983
Cinefantastique Vol 13, No 2 No 3, “The Thing” by David J. Hogan. 1982
Fangoria #178, “The Slay’s the Thing” Interview with David Goyer by Bill Warren. 1998
Fangoria #226, “Freddy & Jason Go To Development Hell” by Anthony C. Ferrante. 2003
Movie Crypt Podcast 303: John Carl Buechler & Kane Hodder. March, 2019
Fangoria #169, “Quoth Wes Craven, “Nevermore”?” by Marc Shapiro. 1998
LA Times, “Sunny Side of Horror” by Patrick Goldstein. 2003