A lot of work goes into bringing your favorite horror films to life. Sometimes they start with one initial, great idea and it just takes a team of people willing to do whatever it takes to see it realized. Other times, the original version isn’t quite as spectacular as what we see on the screen, and it takes some great people to see past the mistakes on the page, to see what it could be.
Even some of the most beloved horror films have started out with major problems. All it proves is that there are a lot of great people with great ideas working on a single production, and sometimes they bring something invaluable to the table that can steer a movie in the right direction. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when it is really working or not until you actually begin the process. Ideas that are great on the page don’t always translate perfectly to the screen.
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That can be especially true in horror movies, which are usually made very cheaply and very quickly. Often, this can lead to losing that original vision and becoming a mess as it gets haphazardly put together. Other times, it can help a film be even better than initially conceived.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Jason Goes to Hell might divide fans, mostly because we only get Jason at the very beginning and very end of the movie, with the rest centering on the infamous killer possessing various victims, leaping from body to body. But what if I told you that, initially, it wasn’t even going to be Jason doing the body hopping? Jason Goes to Hell was first conceived under the title Heart of Darkness (which would have been better suited to the previous entry, as that had at least taken place on a boat) and then The Dark Heart of Jason Voorhees. Either way, we would have gotten this plot centered around Jason’s evil, long-lost brother Elias—later repurposed as the name of Jason’s father. I’ve heard but can’t substantiate that this was the version they even began shooting before it was totally restructured as the Jason Goes to Hell we have now.
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The early drafts of Scream 2 were insane. But the movie would really have pulled the rug out from under audiences had it happened as initially envisioned. In the original version, just about everyone in Sidney’s new group of friends is the killer. They’re all manipulating her and feeding off both her pain and her fame after being the survivor of the Woodsboro murders and the basis for the heroine of the hit Stab movie. The killer’s motivation in Scream 2 as we know it is so perfect that it’s hard to believe it was thought up at the last minute, but it was. The only reason we didn’t have that original version of Scream 2 is because the script leaked and they had to rush to change it.
There’s a lot of weird stuff that went on in the early drafts of Alien, stuff that really makes you appreciate how much H.R. Giger’s visual design defined the film as we know it. Because original versions of the creature looked much different, incorporating design elements from everything from lobsters to squids. Also, imagine the alien talking, occasionally, particularly to deliver the monologue at the end. That’s right, Ripley’s last message, which closes the feature, was initially meant to be delivered by the alien itself as it waits for a poor, unsuspecting rescue team to come.
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This one shouldn’t surprise too many people because there are some great videos online of the crew reminiscing about Jean Claude Van Damme’s very brief time playing the title character before he was replaced by Kevin Peter Hall. Originally, the creature was designed to look a lot more lizard-like until FX genius Stan Winston came in and redesigned the Predator to incorporate those reptilian elements into a much more unique design that has proven to be iconic in the years since the film’s release.
Okay, Halloween could still have been great, but even with a few changes it would have been very different from the classic we know and love. First of all, it was going to be titled The Babysitter Murders. Second, it would have been a totally different experience without the iconic white mask. Before production designer Tommy Lee Wallace found and customized the William Shatner mask, he considered several other options from a clown—an idea pitched to match up with the opening scene—to a weird old man mask. I’m not sure either option would have resulted in Michael Myers becoming the horror icon he became.
Gremlins started out as an outright, no-holds-barred horror film. While that sounds really interesting, I certainly don’t prefer it over the Gremlins we know and love. One of the most endearing aspects of the movie is that it is constantly changing tone and even genre, bouncing from being a family comedy one moment to horror the next and full-blown slapstick after that. I think that’s a huge part of its lasting appeal. While it certainly would have been shocking to see Billy’s mother’s head bouncing down the stairs, I prefer the smattering of genuine horror moments wrapped up in this larger production.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner’s original draft of Nightmare on Elm Street 3 would have been incredibly different and, for most people, probably incredibly off-putting as well. It was a disjointed, impossible to film script that featured Freddy at his absolute crudest, and just threw in everything plus the kitchen sink. The writing team of Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell were able to take Craven’s basic structure and plot and reshape it into the ultimate teenage survivor story. Craven came back to really show how well he can craft a Freddy story with New Nightmare and we got the best of the Elm Street sequels, so it turned out to be a win for everyone.