Why It’s Been Over a Decade Since Freddy or Jason Killed Anybody
It's been more than a decade since Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees killed anybody.
Both were last seen in poorly received attempts to reboot their long-running horror franchises - 2009's Friday the 13th and 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street. But while one of these homicidal maniacs is still tangled up in a complicated court battle, the other may finally soon be terrorizing youngsters once again.
When Halloween brought the murderous Michael Myers back to theaters in 2018, it drew accolades from critics and audiences alike while grossing more than $255 million in worldwide revenues. Logic would only dictate that Krueger and Voorhees, who along with Myers make up the most iconic slice and dice trio in the modern era of horror, would be next to return. Instead, due to a mixture of lawsuits, copyright rules and disinterested studios, it’s 2020 and there’s still no concrete plan for A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th to reset more than a decade after each film last racked up a body count on the big screen.
One of the chief elements impacting the future of both franchises is a copyright law in the United States enacted in 1976 which says that after 35 years have passed, the author of the original work has the option to terminate any prior sale of their creation and have all rights associated revert back to them. When it came to A Nightmare on Elm Street, that was fairly cut and dry, as the late Wes Craven was the indisputable creator of the story who wrote and directed the original 1984 film.
Watch the Trailer for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
In 2019, Craven’s estate, run by his children Jessica and Jonathan, reclaimed the rights to both A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Freddy Krueger character and began hearing pitches and considering scripts that have built up since the eponymous “reimagining” came out in 2010. That film was a flop despite doing respectable numbers at the box office. Some chalked it up to missing Robert Englund, who played the wisecracking Freddy expertly in the previous eight entries in the series, along with the complete lack of involvement by Craven, who wasn’t even consulted by producers.
Whatever the reason, distribution company New Line Cinema took a big step back from Elm Street to assess next steps, briefly considered another reboot in 2015, but ultimately hitched its wagon to a fresher, shinier package of movies in The Conjuring franchise. Based on the cases investigated by real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, that universe has seen the release of seven highly profitable films to date, including The Nun and a trio of Annabelle entries, with three more currently on the docket.
Many hardcore fans have taken affront to New Line actively keeping A Nightmare on Elm Street on the back-burner, especially since the company got the nickname “The House that Freddy Built” from the massive financial success the films gave it in the '80s against. Still, there are rumblings that Freddy’s razor-sharp fingers could end up to clawing their way into a series at HBO Max, while director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep) took to social media late last year to express his interest in Elm Street.
One thing is for certain, no matter where the hideously burned child murderer ends up next, he won’t be played by Englund. “I’m a little too old for that,” he told Entertainment Weekly back in February. “I’m a little long in the tooth to play Freddy now. I think if I was doing it, it would be more like Freddy vs. Viagra.”
Watch the Trailer for 'Friday the 13th'
Friday the 13th has a much more complicated set of issues to deal with before even thinking about putting the popcorn on the stove. Like the Craven Estate, Victor Miller, who penned the screenplay for the original 1980 film, filed for the copyright to revert back to him a few years ago. That move was contested by Sean S. Cunningham, who directed and produced that movie and has produced the four most recent Friday films, including the 2009 self-titled reboot, which wasn’t terribly received and has even improved upon retrospection.
Cunningham claims Miller was an employee and therefore shouldn’t have any rights to Friday the 13th. The courts disagreed and awarded the latter the judgement in 2018. Cunningham and his company, Horror Inc., appealed the decision, not the facts of the case, but rather that the original judge made an error on the law itself. That appeal was heard in February, but a decision has yet to be rendered.
“I’m just waiting for the federal court,” Miller tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “There is an assumption that Covid has really flattened everything. I would imagine there are all kinds of things going on that have nothing to do with Friday the 13th. So, I’m simply doing what my attorney says, which is to sit and wait. Eventually they’ll come out with a decree.”
Further complicating matters is until a decision says otherwise, Miller holds the rights to Friday the 13th, but not to the Jason Voorhees character as we know it, since he didn’t appear in the first film - other than as a jump scare in the final moments. The hockey mask wearing, machete toting killer we all know and love doesn’t fall into the parameters of the case, but it’s still troubled waters, one that even a decision tomorrow wouldn’t necessarily calm.
“There are three ways the judges could go in the second circuit,” explains Larry Zerner, a Los Angeles-based copyright, trademark and entertainment attorney who also happened to play the lovable prankster Shelly in Friday the 13th Part III, the character from who Jason acquired the classic hockey mask after slitting his throat. “One, they could uphold the lower court, in which case we’re right where we are; Victor won, Victor and Sean have to make a deal.”
Watch Shelly's Death in 'Friday the 13th Part III'
Zerner adds that the two parties have had four years to come to a resolution, and if scenario one plays out and Cunningham decides he doesn’t want to make a deal, there may never be another Friday the 13th.
“Option two: Sean wins. Sean wins, they don’t need Victor’s permission, they can go and make movies. They don’t need to make a deal,” Zerner says, adding that Miller could appeal that and ask the Supreme Court to take on the case, which is highly unlikely. “The third thing, the court could say that the lower court was wrong in ruling without a trial that Victor won. The appellate court could say that was wrong…and now there has to be a trial. If they say that, it’s gonna be years; they (have to) send it back down for trail, there are no trials now, they’re backlogged like hell for trial because we haven’t had any trials since March, so there probably wouldn’t be a trial until 2022 – at the earliest.”
All of Hollywood is keeping an eye on the case as there has never been anything like it, so the outcome will invariably set a precedent. Particularly keen on it will be those looking to be involved in what will be a highly lucrative 13th entry in the series, including LeBron James, whose production company has been in talks to produce the next installment.
Also expressing interest have been Blumhouse Productions founder Jason Blum, whose white-hot company has reinvigorated the horror genre in recent years with franchises like The Purge and Paranormal Activity and standalone breakouts like Get Out and Ma. They also happen to be handling the Halloween series with next year’s Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends in 2020. Then there’s Tom McLoughlin, writer and director of fan favorite Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, who claims to have finished a spec script for a sequel. Even Stephen King lit up Twitter in June when he said he had an idea for a story told from Jason’s perspective, but ultimately conceded the legalities involved “makes my head ache.”
“I put out on Twitter the way that they should resolve the issue, since Victor and Sean can’t work it out, they should do an arbitration to have someone decide for them what the split should be in terms of the money,” Zerner says, maybe only half-jokingly. “And the arbitrators should be Stephen King, John Carpenter and Jordan Peele…I think that would be the way to go.”
“I would love to see [Friday the 13th] blossom and come back and get even more exciting and grab a new and even larger audience,” Miller says. “That would be my dream.”
Unfortunately, the courtroom drama between Miller and Cunningham will have to play itself out and the studios will need to get behind A Nightmare on Elm Street before we see Jason and Freddy back doing what they do best.