I ended up writing FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 9: JASON GOES TO HELL (hereafter referred to as JGTH) because I was friends with the friend of the son of the guy who directed the first one. Yeah, I know. But you have to believe me when I tell you that those kinds of loopy coincidences are how most people end up getting their start in the movie business.
My friend was Adam Marcus and I knew him from New York University where we were both film majors.
Adam holding Jason’s heart
His friend was Noel Cunningham, the son of Sean Cunningham, the director and producer of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH (and many other horror movies.) Adam brought Sean a script I had written in college called JOHNNY ZOMBIE (later made into the movie MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK, which you can read about HERE.)
Adam was hoping to get a job directing MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK. He didn’t. What he got instead was a job directing JGTH — sort of a consolation prize. Didn’t matter, he was just as excited to be working on it.
While I was involved in endless rewrites for Disney on MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK, Adam was working on the story for JGTH. He laid out a plot that involved Jason getting destroyed in the opening scenes and then body-hopping throughout the second act, trying to get “reborn” into his original body. I had some concerns about this plot because I figured that people would want to see Jason the entire movie, not the bodies he hopped into.
Eventually, a writer was hired for JGTH and the first draft finally arrived. It was not received warmly and panic set in. Here’s why – Sean had already started spending money on pre-production. Locations were scouted, sets were underway — the money train was, in other words, rolling down the tracks. The problem was that New Line had not yet given the project a greenlight, so it was Sean’s (the producer’s) personal cash on the line. The first draft arrived on a Thursday and New Line expected to see the script the following Monday. If they didn’t greenlight it, there were going to be serious financial repercussions.
So, here’s where I come into the picture. That Thursday, Sean comes into my office and tells me that I need to rewrite JGTH so that they can have a new script to give to New Line by Monday – four days away. I immediately start writing, full of exactly the kind of foolish, youthful arrogance Sean was counting on me to have.
Certain elements of the movie are already set in stone: the body jumping, many of the locations, several major characters and a variety of action sequences. One of them is “The Diner Sequence,” which is going to be a huge fight in a diner with a tremendous amount of killing. Another is “The Police Station Sequence” which involved, you guessed it, more killing in a police station.
The diner – pre-slaughter
I work on this draft with great zeal, even though I’m still not crazy about the body-hopping premise. We deliver a script on Monday, which Michael DeLuca (the New Line exec in charge) thought was pretty bad, but they greenlight it anyway, maybe because they figure they can’t really lose money on it. In any event, another writer (Les Bohem) is brought in after me to do a rewrite and I go back to work on JOHNNY ZOMBIE.
Les does a good job. He clarifies some things that needed clarifying and the movie goes into production. Even though much of the story was locked in before I started working on it, there are a few things I can claim as my own. I’d invented the character of Creighton Duke (originally called Anderson Duke, but we weren’t allowed to use that name for some reason). He’s a veteran Jason Vorhees bounty hunter who conveniently makes his first appearance in the eighth sequel of the series. I like him because he’s quirky and has a strange and dark sense of humor.
I also give our female lead an infant, which ultimately is the vessel that Jason requires to reclaim his body. I think that a mother fighting to protect her baby will really up the stakes and elevate the movie. This was a stupid idea and, to Adam’s (the director’s) credit, he resists it. Adam feels it makes her less sexy and, therefore, less appealing to the core audience. He’s right and, frankly, a mother protecting her child is just a cheap gimmick that has no business being in the movie — but that’s the version we’re going with.
Finally, the script is done and casting is completed.
Some of the choices I understand. Some baffle me.
Billy Greenbush has been hired to play the sheriff who is also the love interest of Erin Grey — the mother of the female lead. I like him as an actor but he appears old enough to play Erin’s father, if not grandfather. I‘m thrilled, however, with the casting of Erin Grey who I’ve had a crush on since I was a kid, watching her on TV every week in BUCK ROGERS.
One word: Spandex
The part of the female lead goes to Kari Keegan, a terrific actress who is, nonetheless, my and Adam’s second choice. We’re pulling for our good friend Laurie Holden, who delivers an audition that, we think, knocks it out of the park. Sean tells us to forget it and accuses us of casting with a particular member of our anatomy. If you’re interested, you can see her now in THE WALKING DEAD — the number one cable show on television. She did okay for herself.
Finally, shooting starts.
I could probably fill a novel with anecdotes from the set, but Adam and I did a commentary for the DVD a while ago and covered a bunch of them. We recorded it at a sound studio in Los Angeles called “Margarita Mix,” named for the beverage they kept bringing you during the session, which is why the end of the commentary is slightly more “relaxed” than the beginning…
Anyway, one of the anecdotes that got edited from the DVD involved shooting the opening sequence…
A woman (who turns out to be an FBI agent) drives to a remote house in the woods.
The lady in question, with Jason
She’s awfully pretty and I’m a geeky 23 year old kid. They need a car for her to drive and the production asks me if they can use mine — a black Toyota Celica convertible, the first car I’d ever bought. I thought it made me look extremely cool.
We do a couple takes of the actress driving down a winding, wooded road. When we’re done, she gets out of the car, walks up to me and says — loudly — “Your car sucks. It has no pick-up.”
Public humiliation from the incredibly hot woman was not what I was hoping for. But she’s right — the car has terrible pick up.
John D. LeMay is cast as the male lead. Adam is upset that my script has not allowed him to be more aggressive and manly in the movie. This leads to a shouting match between Adam and I. He wants to know why I haven’t written John more tough guy lines, like Bruce Willis had in DIE HARD. I shout back that I would be happy to write lines like that, but that John D. LeMay — who is a nice guy and a good actor — is no more Bruce Willis in DIE HARD than Richard Dreyfuss is Arnold Schwarzenegger in THE TERMINATOR. Ultimately, Sean, the producer, intervenes and cooler heads prevail. Movies are pressure-cookers and it’s easy to lose sight of reality.
I’d always enjoyed acting and, for my sins, I get the opportunity to play the small role of the Assistant Coroner who gets killed by Jason.
Notice the hair
Shooting that scene redefines the word terrifying and gives me new respect for the difficulties of being a professional actor. First of all, I’m so nervous that I can’t remember my lines, so I make up new ones. This is tolerated because, after all, I had written the lines to begin with. At one point, the Coroner (Jason) lifts me in the air and slams my head through a surgical grate. It’s a weird setup with me on a camera dolly. As he slams me down, I never put my hands out to try and stop myself from hitting the grate — probably one of the most basic human reactions on the planet. To this day, it still bugs me to see it in the movie.
But that small role leads to one of the biggest discoveries of my young life.
While watching the dailies of my performance, I realize I’m going bald. One setup involves a high angle shot of me walking down a hallway. As I see myself onscreen, I can clearly see that I have no hair on the top of my head. This is a shock because, in the mirror, I can’t see the very top of my head and so I never realized that there was no hair there. I turn to my friend, Noel, and say: “did you know I was going bald?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Didn’t you?”
Luckily, this impending baldness does not prevent me from meeting my future wife. Her name is Elizabeth Hill and she works in the art department on the movie. I think she’s really hot and I’m blown away to discover that she knows the entire FRIDAY THE 13th series intimately – she’s seen them all and is a big fan. She’s just not a big fan of me, it turns out. In fact, she spends much of the movie really mad at me.
I’d often get a call to come to the set to rewrite something. Usually, I go during lunch, so at least I can get some free food. The problem is that parking is limited and I don’t have my own parking spot, which makes me crazy. So, I usually just take the first free spot I see — the one reserved for the art department runner.
The runners are given spots close to the stage because they constantly have to run out, pick up props and then get back to the set ASAP (in fact, she’s the one that picked up the surgical grate that my head was smashed through as the Assistant Coroner). Apparently, it makes Elizabeth insane that I keep taking her spot, although I don’t know this at the time.
Eventually, during the wrap party, I ask her out and we have a terrible first date. The top of my convertible is broken (the crappy one with no pick up) and I can’t close it. Even though this is LA, it’s still winter and pretty chilly out, which means we’re freezing as we drive around. Also, at the time I have to wear prescription glasses. Unfortunately, I’d lost my regular pair, leaving me with only prescription sunglasses, which I have to put on so I can see well enough to drive — which makes me look absolutely ridiculous and pretentious because it’s night time.
Finally, I take her to see the director’s cut of BLADE RUNNER — which is not her favorite movie — and I put my arm around her in the theater. Unfortunately, my arm falls asleep and I can no longer feel it, which is a real problem after the movie as I try to snake it into my jacket sleeve. It’s like dressing a corpse.
Even though the date is rocky, we already have tickets to see the play CATS in a couple days. We both go to it somewhat grudgingly and end up having a great time because we’re utterly mystified by the plot. So, everyone’s a cat… and there’s a spaceship or something and… the cats are singing and… what’s happening here?
We bond over our bafflement and ultimately get married. Still are.
But back to the movie. After a period of editing, we test a cut of JGTH and it tests pretty badly. I don’t remember the actual grade it got but I know you could not have graduated from any school in the country with a score that low. The most common complaint – where are the naked campers?
So we write a naked camper scene and shoot that, as well as some additional footage of Creighton Duke in a jail cell trying to explain the truly insane rules of the movie, which have something to do with Jason trying to be “reborn” through the blood of a Vorhees while not being killed with the “magic dagger” — which also conveniently makes its first appearance in the eighth sequel of the series. The only thing I like about the scene is that, in exchange for the information, Creighton insists that he be allowed to break John Lemay’s fingers. It’s a lunatic request and Steven Williams, the actor playing Creighton, makes it even crazier by adding a homo-erotic element to the scene. Love it.
So… the movie finally comes out and make a couple bucks, although it’s by no means a smash. The critics are not kind, and they have no reason to be. I look back on it now with some amusement – it’s the work of such a young guy.
The female lead with the baby — what was I thinking?
The set of rules so complex you need a decoder ring to understand them – what was I thinking?
Long, dull passages of exposition; a Jason movie without Jason; the “magic dagger” – what, on God’s green earth, was I thinking?
And yet, to this day, I still like the absolutely loony Creighton Duke being interviewed at his “secret” compound (which was actually the back of the stage) talking about how he often thinks of “a little girl in a pink dress, sticking a hot dog through a donut.” I couldn’t begin to tell you what that means, but it makes me laugh. And I like that I met my wife, the mother of my two kids, on this screwy production.
And I also met a lot of other great people:
Kane Hodder, who played Jason, used to love to stand there in his Jason getup, still as a statue, to make people think he was a prop — and then leap out at them! He loved the screams.
The KNB effects guys were fantastic and fun to watch and learn from. When I had my head cast done for my death scene, they covered me in goop (which hardened) and stuck straws in my nose so I could breath. There are few experiences in life more claustrophobic than having your entire face encased. In the darkness, while I was waiting for it to dry, I remember one of them asking if I was okay and patting me on the shoulder. That simple human touch was so reassuring.
The final prosthetic
Sean Cunningham and family were very welcoming. They’d often host barbeques at their house and took us on a couple of ski trips to Sun Valley, Idaho (where they convinced me to wear a pink ski outfit — wow.)
Once, we went with Sean to Disneyland and he swept his arm out at the masses of people swarming around us and said: “You see this — this is the audience for your movie.” It was eye opening, mostly because I’d never really thought about real people ever going to see it.
The actors were fun. Al Magliochetti who did the optical effects was very cool. And I enjoyed seeing my pal Adam go from being a film student to a pro director. In fact, during the shooting of the movie, Adam, Noel Cunningham (a great buddy) and I shared an apartment in Venice, CA. We loved it, although the neighbors absolutely hated us and for good reason — but I’ll save those stories for another time.
JGTH may not be a great movie, but some great things did come of it. Some FRIDAY fans really hate it, but others like it and I’ve learned that, once you finish a movie, it sort of takes on a life of its own. Your feelings about it are colored by the experience of making it. For me, it’s a win!