Jason Arnopp tracks down Friday The 13th mastermind
IT'S OCTOBER 22, 2005: a momentous occasion. Friday The 13th is 25 years old, and LA's excellent annual Screamfest event is celebrating with a party at Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Universal Studio's garish Citywalk complex. A big fella dressed as Jason appears, clutching a screaming blonde and cuts his cake, while a veritable horde of Friday alumni grin, clap and cheer. Among the pack is the man who started it all, Sean S Cunningham. After producing Last House On The Left, he produced and directed the first Friday The 13th, then oversaw the rest of that fine slasher series.
Sean S Cunningham at LA's Screamfest event...
Right now, Sean looks like he's enjoying himself but is also faintly embarrassed. He's telling anyone who'll listen - which is most people here, let's be frank - that the birthday proceedings are "so silly", with a big modest grin on his face. He has a good laugh about it all with the amiable composer Harry Manfredini. I'm intending to interview as many Friday folk as possible during this evening (stay tuned to this very site for more, including Manfredini), but Sean is my Number One target. There's so much information that we need to know - particularly as regards the future of the Friday franchise.
I approached Sean earlier, while he was signing endless copies of Peter Bracke's weighty new coffee table tome Crystal Lake Memories and he didn't seem overjoyed at the prospect of an interview, noting that he wasn't sure how long he'd be staying. So shortly after Mr Voorhees hacks his birthday cake to mush, I leap upon Cunningham with the furious gusto of a prize lion. Or, in reality, politely approach him again. And this time, the man, he speaks! There's noise, music and excited banter all around us, but Sean S Cunningham is speaking to Slasherama and the gods are smiling...
Slasherama: How much control do you personally have over how the Friday The 13th franchise proceeds from here?
Sean S Cunningham: "It's a consensus and it's always a question of getting stuff going. Whoever puts up the money - and it's a lot of money these days - has a lot to say about it. So if the distributor doesn't want to do what I want to do, then I'm in trouble. But if I don't want to do what a distributor wants to do, then it's my choice. So it's a kind of mutual veto."
Slasherama: Do you have any idea of what we're going to see next: will it be a Friday The 13th film or a Freddy Vs Jason?
Cunningham: "Jason's coming out of the closet in the next movie. Jason is a cross-dresser. There's been an overlooked audience in this whole thing, and I think we finally found it."
Slasherama: All of Jason's macho flannel shirts were clearly just a front.
Cunningham: "Exactly. Tommy Hilfiger, look out!"
Slasherama: Back to reality now... will it be a Friday movie or a Freddy Vs Jason, good sir?
Cunningham: "I don't know. I doubt that a Freddy Vs Jason movie would involve Freddy and Jason alone: it would need some other element, like a wrestling cage match! But I don't know what that element is. I really want John Waters to direct."
Slasherama: No you don't, you silly man! But can you imagine that?
Cunningham: "No I can't, but I think it'd be fun! So either Freddy Vs Jason with a new element, or Jason by himself. I think Jason by himself could be done effectively again. It's also likely that we'll be working on a Friday The 13th television series - very different from the one that John D LeMay was in. It will be called Crystal Lake Chronicles, set in a town with all this Jason history."
Slasherama: Would it actually involve Jason?
Cunningham: "Jason would be there, but just occasionally. He's part of the background. The whole town is kind of living under his cloud, while people deal with coming-of-age issues. It'd be a young adult thing, similar to Buffy, Dawson's Creek or Smallville. It's not about campers being chopped up in the woods each week, though. It has to be dramatic."
Slasherama: Does it have a network yet?
Cunningham: "We're in development. We don't have a network, but we have a bunch of people saying they'd love to do it. Television is very hard to predict, but there are several different possible homes. It could be anything from The WB to FX."
Slasherama: Would certain characters from the Friday movies make guest appearances?
Cunningham: "I would hope so, but that all would have to be worked out, on a one-on-one basis."
Slasherama: Obviously, there was a rumour about Quentin Tarantino directing a Friday The 13th movie...
Cunningham: "That was a rumour that Tarantino started. (Ironically) His career was on skids, and he figured he could get back up! It would have been so much fun, but no: Quentin Tarantino's not gonna happen."
Slasherama: What about the idea of Jason's nemesis Tommy Jarvis (from The Final Chapter, A New Beginning and Jason Lives) making a comeback?
Cunningham: "People talk about that. Maybe, sure. I like Tommy Jarvis."
Slasherama: What elements would a Friday The 13th sequel need? Should it go back to basics and press the 'reset' button, with Jason back in the woods?
Cunningham: "I think that's quite possible. That would be the next feature. I mean, if we did Jason alone, it would be pretty much back to that. Or something that we can't even imagine right now. If it's a big New Line picture on a healthy budget, they're gonna need a whole bunch of elements together to solidify the audience."
Slasherama: And do you see those elements coming together at present? Or is a new Friday movie years off?
Cunningham: "Yeah, it's years off."
Slasherama: So Freddy Vs Jason 2 is more likely?
Cunningham: "I think it's more likely, but who knows?"
Slasherama: In terms of a new element for FVJ2, there was talk of pitting the two killers against Ash, Bruce Campbell's character from the Evil Dead flicks...
Cunningham: "That was my favourite. But we haven't been able to put the rights together. Obviously, we have Freddy and Jason, but the rights for Ash depend on whether they're going to do another series. Sam Raimi doesn't need the money and doesn't want anybody messing with his characters, which is something I'm very sympathetic with. So New Line hasn't been able to make a deal and I don't think they will. So we can forget about that. I don't think Michael Myers is a good idea, but there's talk about that. There are characters, but I think if you could find a character from the New Line library then you might have something. One of the Blade pictures, or something!"
Slasherama: As we're in the age of remakes now, what are your thoughts on remakes of Friday The 13th or Last House On The Left?
Cunningham: "We're going ahead with the remake of Last House On The Left, but probably not Friday. If Friday The 13th was going to be remade, it certainly wouldn't be done by me. I would be delighted if it were done, but it would have to be someone who takes a different view of it, in order to make it fresh. There'd be no point of duplicating something that exists: you'd have to find some new way into the material. I wouldn't know how to remake Friday The 13th."
Slasherama: So you're producing the Last House remake?
Cunningham: "Yes. Wes (Craven) and I are going to do it."
Slasherama: So do you know who's going to direct?
Cunningham: "Not yet. This week, we're talking to a guy named David Slade who did Hard Candy."
We take a brief break as someone approaches Sean for an autograph. "What?" he barks, thankfully grinning so that the nervous fan knows he's kidding. "No! How much? This'll cost you a lot of money." Then he signs the offered poster, turns back to me and barks, "WHAT?!". I think he's kidding...
Slasherama: Even today, Last House is strong stuff. How will you equal that intensity and unpleasantness in today's climate?
Cunningham: "Well, we're setting it in Saudi Arabia."
Slasherama: No you're not, sir. I'm English, so you can't fool me with irony.
Cunningham: "Ahhhh, you know me too well. Yes, the original's one of the most unwatchable films ever made. It's totally disturbing and only a truly sick person would either see it, be interested in it or remake it!"
Slasherama: But do you feel nervous about doing it again?
Cunningham: "Nah. We have a terrific script with a different take on it. It's much more tuned to the modern taste and we'll be hiring someone who has a unique take on the material. Wes had a very specific take when he directed it in the first place, so anyone who directs it now will hopefully have an equally strong feel for the material."
Slasherama: Have you thought about Haute Tension's director Alexandre Aja, who remade The Hills Have Eyes?
Cunningham: "I haven't seen The Hills Have Eyes remake yet..."
Slasherama: I'm sure a Last House remake would be Aja's dream project.
Cunningham: "Then I should call him up. Tell him, 'Your film is terrible, but I can save your career!' (laughs)."
Slasherama: Will we ever see Kane Hodder behind Jason's mask again?
Cunningham: "I hope so."
Slasherama: You've been quoted as saying that you didn't necessarily agree with the decision to replace Hodder with Ken Kirzinger for Freddy Vs Jason.
Cunningham: "I didn't. It wasn't my decision and I would love to put it up on net for a popular vote. Kane has been such a faithful supporter - he's very good with the fans at conventions and he's a very big asset. I was unhappy that he wasn't used, but there's always a bunch of different compromises you have to make along the way. I hope he comes back."
Slasherama: Would you ever direct another Friday movie?
Cunningham: "I don't think so. I'm too old. You have to stay up late and it's terrible."
Slasherama: You're directing a supernatural-horror anthology movie named Trapped Ashes, though, aren't you?
Cunningham: "I am. How did you know about that?"
At this point, a young blonde lady confusingly chimes in with a question of her own. Honestly, as if this is some kind of open forum!
Young Blonde Lady: What advice would you give to aspiring film makers?
Cunningham: "You've gotta make movies, in order to learn. Keep making them and learn what you're doing. With any luck, if you're talented... Steven Spielberg shot Super 8 movies in his basement, which was probably much more expensive than buying digital equipment today."
Slasherama: Tell us about Trapped Ashes, sir.
Cunningham: "It's one of the sickest scripts I ever read. It makes Last House On The Left look like The Partridge Family! And if you quote me on that, I will kill you. (Switching to serious tone) It's a very ambitious project written by Dennis Bartok, in anthology form with segments directed by great people like Joe Dante and Ken Russell. They asked me to do a small section of it."
Slasherama: Excellent. If you had to pick your two favourite Friday The 13th sequels, what would they be?
Cunningham: "I don't know... I haven't seen 'em in a while..."
Slasherama: You just don't want to upset anybody!
Cunningham: "Oh, I don't know... Jim Isaacs did a real good job on Jason X - I love the reprise of Part VII's sleeping bag. (At this point, I realise that Sean's misheard my question, thinking I said 'sequences', but I'm fine with this). That was a fun moment. I always loved the fun that came out of Jason jumping out of a lake, too. It seemed to work so well, and since then it's been done a lot and kinda becomes like repeating a magic trick."
Slasherama: Tonight at Screamfest, the screening of your 25-year-old Friday The 13th packed the house, perhaps more so than any new movie during the week.
Cunningham: "(Smirking) Well, it is by far the best movie!"
Slasherama: Good day to you, sir. You're a very kind man.
Cunningham: "Thankyou. Have a good evening."
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© Copyright Slasherama 2005. No part of this interview, or the photographs, may be reproduced without permission.
Or Jason'll get ya. And we don't just mean Arnopp. The Freddy Vs Jason DVD sleeve is copyright New Line Cinema.