By the time Freddy vs. Jason landed in theaters in 2003, fans had been waiting a long time for the two horror villains — from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, respectively — to clash, so the final fight couldn’t disappoint. For poetic resonance, the climax happens at Jason’s old stomping ground, Camp Crystal Lake (the two had previously battled inside Freddy Krueger’s dream world), and when they fight in the flaming cabin, it combines both monsters’ greatest fears.
“[The fight] starts on Elm Street, but we hit both of the iconic home turfs,” says Robert Englund, who played Freddy for the last time in the film, after seven previous appearances dating back to the first Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. “Freddy fears fire and Jason fears water, so those are real primal elements.”
Freddy and Jason themselves embodied physically opposite types (Englund describes them as “a little junkyard dog and a six-foot-seven looming nihilistic killer”), especially when longtime stunt coordinator Ken Kirzinger was cast as Jason. (Kirzinger was the eighth actor to take on the role of Jason Voorhees.)
“Jason’s so much bigger that you think, ‘How are they gonna do this?'” Kirzinger says. But director Ronny Yu, who’d cut his teeth on Hong Kong action films like The Bride With White Hair, had an idea. “Ronny has a martial-arts background, so he knows size doesn’t necessarily matter,” Kirzinger says. “He made Freddy smaller and quicker and Jason bigger and stronger, and made the fight look relatively even. I think it was exactly what the fans were hoping for, because the movie is all about that fight.”
For the all-important question of who would come out on top, Yu had a formula. “I sort of calculate: If I get maybe 30 seconds of the hero winning, then I have to add another 25 seconds of the villain fighting back,” he explains. “Do you feel bored to see the heroes winning, do you feel like it’s time for the villain to win the upper hand? It’s a balancing act.”
This required making Jason slightly more heroic than usual — “Fans got to see another side of Jason in this movie,” Kirzinger says — and he finally succeeds in decapitating Freddy with his trademark machete. But in the last shot, Freddy’s head gives a knowing wink to the audience. “So obviously it seems like Jason is the winner, but as Freddy’s head comes close to the camera, you see Freddy very cheeky have a wink, so it’s like, hey, maybe not. Maybe Freddy has something up his sleeve and then he’ll fight back. That’s how I found the balance,” Yu says. “I didn’t upset Jason’s fans, I didn’t upset Freddy’s fans. The fight continues.”
For his part, the actor says he’s satisfied with that ending to his legendary run with the character. “I’m too old to do another Freddy now,” shares Englund, 70. “If I do a fight scene now it’s got to be real minimal because I can’t snap my head for eight different takes and different angles. My spine gets sore. I can still be mean and scary, but I’m mostly relegated now to sort of Van Helsing roles, old doctors and s—. So it’s fun that the last moment of me ever playing Freddy is a wink to the audience.”
He adds: “It’s like, I had a good run, I had a good time. And no one plans for this in your career. When I was wearing tights and doing Shakespeare, I didn’t say I wanted to be famous for playing this boogeyman. Careers happen and one of the pieces of advice I give to people is I’m sure you’ll do a great pilot or you’ll do a little independent art movie and it won’t go anywhere and then you might do your Intern No. 3 on Grey’s Anatomy and that’s the one that becomes the huge hit. People just don’t know. And when you’ve survived as long as I have and you see that, you can be real happy that you got 20 years as Freddy Kruger, you know?”