Hell to Page: Jason Versus Leatherface
1995 was an interesting time for both the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises. Just a few years earlier, Jason Voorhees had apparently been put to permanent rest in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Yet that film had ended with the tease of something much bigger: a crossover between two of the biggest icons in horror history, Jason and Freddy Krueger. While director Adam Marcus has insisted that the shot of Freddy’s claw reaching up from the earth to drag Jason’s mask down to Hell was not intended to tease the eventual matchup, that nonetheless marked the point when New Line became interested in making it happen. The first draft of Freddy vs. Jason was turned in in 1993, the same year the supposed Final Friday was released. By the end of 1995, two more totally unrelated scripts had been written (and passed on) as well.
Leatherface, meanwhile, had just starred in a brand new movie—sort of. Meant to mark the franchise’s 20th anniversary, directed by original co-writer Kim Henkel, 1994 saw the filming of The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a movie that would not actually see release until 1997 under the title Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Both icons were stuck in a rut, more or less. Jason had a movie stuck in development hell, while Leatherface had a completed film that felt like it would never see release. Both, however, had recently made a successful transition to comics.
In 1993, Jason made the transition into comics thanks to a licensing deal with Topps. This was naturally kicked off with a three-issue adaptation of Jason Goes to Hell. Jason also made an appearance in the original Topps book, Satan’s Six, in a very blunt attempt to promote his new adaptation. Leatherface had made the leap to the printed page in a 1990 adaptation of Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, which was sought after by fans as it adapted the much gorier script. While Topps promised more Friday the 13th action right on the heels of their Jason Goes to Hell book and the team behind Leatherface planned to go back to basics and adapt the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, neither of those things really happened.
But with both properties now in house at New Line—the same convenience that allowed Freddy vs. Jason to get off the ground in the first place—Topps easily got ahold of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre rights to make a new comic book crossover a reality. And thus, Jason vs. Leatherface as we know it was born.
While the two icons were no doubt mentioned in the same “Who would win?” conversations that led Freddy vs. Jason to get off the ground, they certainly weren’t discussed with the same frequency. Nothing topped the hunger to see those two duke it out on the big screen, but the idea of horror characters crossing over into one another’s territory is endlessly appealing no matter what. Leatherface himself had been no stranger to match-up discussions, either. In 1986, when Cannon Films briefly owned both the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween properties, they considered a potential Michael Myers vs. Leatherface before Dennis Etchison and John Carpenter came in with their first take on Halloween 4.
Jason and Leatherface are perhaps better matched. There’s a crossover potential between the two, not just in terms of strengths and weaknesses but in overall dynamic, that is entirely different than what we get between Freddy and Jason. Jason is, after all, a victim of childhood trauma and neglect, whereas Freddy is the ultimate child predator. There’s a natural contempt between the two at the deepest possible level. One is brain, one is brawn, one is a manipulator, one is easily manipulated. You don’t get any of that from Leatherface. But, as this comic proves, that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
The dynamic between Jason and Leatherface is totally different, because there are similarities between them. Both are victims, both were abused, both are in many ways stunted in childhood. On that level, everything about this fight is different from Freddy vs. Jason. In that, there’s a clear better of the two. Jason is evil, but Freddy is worse. But Jason vs. Leatherface is almost entirely told from Jason’s perspective, and it explores both characters through Jason’s eyes, enough to ask if either Jason or Leatherface are actually truly evil, or products of their horrific lives and environments, or somewhere in between. Even in terms of the basic plot and structure this could not be more different from Freddy vs. Jason because when Jason sees Leatherface, he doesn’t immediately see an enemy, he sees a friend. He sees a potential brother.
This is such a unique angle to explore the concept of a monster mashup through, it’s almost like Gregg Araki’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Here we have two monsters meeting each other for the first time and recognizing their inherent similarities. And that, if anything, is why I love it so much. Because it’s the last kind of story anyone would expect. It’s a story of two of the biggest icons in horror history bonding over shared trauma.
Because of this, we get to see a lot of sides of Jason we’ve really never seen before, which is an impressively achieved balance because he never really feels like he’s breaking character or doing something impossible for him to do. First and foremost, the comic breaks new ground by providing us with our first-ever glimpse of Jason’s father, Elias, who was first name-dropped in Jason Goes to Hell. Unfortunately, it also refers to his mother as “Doris.” But to be fair, if you watch the original film, her first name is never uttered once. At this point in time, before the Internet really took off, one couldn’t really Google “Mrs. Voorhees name” and get “Pamela” as the first result. To do that, they’d really have to pay close attention to her headstone in The Final Chapter, which most writers probably weren’t apt to do.
Jason’s flashbacks of his father paint him as a deeply abusive figure toward both young Jason and his mother. These memories are still rattling around Jason’s brain, still dreams that haunt him on the rare occasion he decides to sleep. And even after recognizing the Sawyer family as being like him in a couple of fundamental ways, he immediately recognizes these traits in Leatherface’s brother, the Hitchhiker. There’s a fantastic moment when Jason catches Hitchhiker being abusive toward Leatherface and nearly kills him because of it.
Yet there are also quieter moments. Because these people have no context for who Jason is, he has to reach back into his memory bank to remember how to write his own name, things that were supposed to be social skills he was learning at a young age that he unfortunately never wound up having the chance to use. There have been dozens of Friday the 13th novels and comics, but none of them have ever done something like this. Only one of them finally attempts to craft a story about Jason finally finding somewhere where he can fit in. Away from neglectful camp counselors and bullies, away from people who recoil in fear when they see him, somewhere he can be at home with people who are just like him.
For Leatherface, the prospect of having Jason introduced into the home is just as enticing. From his perspective, it’s not just that level of “Oh, here’s someone who understands me,” because Leatherface does belong to a family of killers while Jason has been very much alone. No, for Leatherface the appeal also lies in the fact that here is someone much bigger, nearly indestructible, who his older brothers do not screw around with. It’s a wish fulfillment big brother for someone like Leatherface. Even though he himself is a powerhouse, he can never stand up to his family, but Jason always intervenes on his behalf.
Unfortunately, those threads are also what lead to the eventual showdown between the characters. Here we have another striking contrast to Freddy vs. Jason. In that, the fight is the main event and there’s something gleeful about watching those characters square off. But in Jason vs. Leatherface, there’s so much surprisingly layered ground work beforehand that the fight between the two is actually kind of tragic. These are people who, for a brief time, came to deeply understand one another. They are not characters designed to ever really have friends, and they had that opportunity with each other, and on some level they’re both kind of aware that this opportunity will never come again.
But Leatherface is and has always been completely tethered to the bonds of family. Jason is ultimately an intruder in a household that is defined entirely by inbred blood. They—especially the Cook—can see that Jason’s presence has taught Leatherface a kind of independence that they very much do not want him to learn. And as abusive as they might be, when they are threatened, when they could be killed, Leatherface always stands with his family.
The actual fight is surprisingly evenly matched considering that it should honestly be completely one-sided, given that Jason is an overtly supernatural presence while Leatherface has always been portrayed as a flesh-and-blood man in a skin mask. When they initially fight before the Sawyers realize that Jason is basically one of their own (although they’re admittedly off-put by the fact that he doesn’t eat) Jason defeats Leatherface fairly easy, taking his chainsaw from him and thus pretty much taking his power. The big fight at the end, though, sees Jason caught a little off guard by what’s happening and Leatherface fighting for his family, so he’s much more determined. While Jason is able to take Leatherface one-on-one, he is actually defeated by the united Sawyer clan. After they dump him back into the water, Jason essentially realizes his mistake in thinking that he could fit in with these people and decides to go home.
Naturally, that brings up a larger plot issue of how exactly Jason even got to Texas to begin with. And on that, I’ll admit that the mini-series plays it fast and loose with continuity. There’s not a thought put into the how and why of it, that’s plot stuff that just exists to get the two characters together, where the intention and enthusiasm are much more placed on exploring these two characters in the same environment and seeing how they react to one another.
Jason, for example, looks very similar to his appearance in Jason Goes to Hell, which makes sense as it was the most recent movie up to that point. But when we’re first introduced to him, he’s chained to the bottom of the lake, which heavily echoes Part VI and Part VII. It’s not outright stated where Crystal Lake is, but if we’re led to believe it’s in New Jersey, it’s a long haul for Jason to happen to stumble onto a chainsaw massacre, as he does. I like the idea that the lake is being drained because it’s full of trash and corpses. This really supports the theory I like to maintain, that Jason is more of an elemental thing, that his hatred is drawn less toward people having sex on his land than people coming in and polluting and just in general being alive on his land. Naturally, when the lake is drained, Jason is drained right along with it. The train goes off the rails in Texas, which would be a nice metaphor for this silly concept if it weren’t honestly executed so well.
Meanwhile, Leatherface and co. make just as little sense, continuity-wise, because this is the crew from the original movie, one of whom (Hitchhiker) died before the credits even rolled on that film. This would have to be set before the first, which is time stamped as happening in 1973, but would also have to happen around Friday the 13th Part VI or VII, so I think the message to be gathered here is “Don’t give a shit about continuity and just go along for the ride.” Thankfully, that’s easy to do.
Nancy A. Collins is no joke of a writer, a tremendous prose and comics talent who’s worked for both of the Big Two companies. She gets what makes both of these characters work. Even if there’s no sense of continuity to either franchise, this could only ever exist as a standalone anyway. She’s much more interested in actually exploring both Jason and Leatherface as characters, which is refreshing this early on in their respective comic book careers and would pave the way for later flashback comics like Friday the 13th: Pamela’s Tale and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: About a Boy. Jeff Butler does a strong job with the interior art as well. It’s exaggerated, more poppy than you’d expect, but never cartoonish. His style is perfectly catered to the over-the-top gore one would expect from a book like this.
The highlight, however, is the phenomenal painted cover work by Simon Bisley. A legendary artist, probably best known for Judge Dredd, Heavy Metal, Conan and a host of others, Bisley painted the covers for all three issues and they’re just dynamite. As Shock Waves co-host Ryan Turek noted when discussing this comic series on the podcast, it would be amazing to see these covers reprinted as posters, because they’d look amazing on the wall. And it would be a nice consolation prize, as there’s almost no way we’ll ever see this series back in print, considering the shambled rights issues with Friday the 13th and the fact that New Line no longer owns Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But if you can track them down, these comics are an amazing find and incredibly worth the read for fans of either franchise. In fact, amazingly, even if you don’t love Jason or Leatherface I think there’s enough in there to give new insight into both characters. I’d like to think this made new fans in kids picking these comics up in 1995, years before their crossover dreams would be brought to the big screen in Freddy vs. Jason. This technically beat that match-up to the punch, which is a minor claim to fame but no small feat, all the same. Still, even as it’s become harder and harder to find over time, Jason vs. Leatherface is a hokey idea that’s done tongue in cheek, yet as earnestly as possible when it comes to the title characters. Even if it never gets reprinted, that’s not a bad legacy to have.