‘Crystal Lake’: Previewing the ‘Friday the 13th’ Prequel Series, and Explaining Its Legal Struggles
After years of waiting, Friday the 13th is finally returning! We take a look at the upcoming Peacock streaming series Crystal Lake and the years of legal issues that led to its creation.
On October 31st, 2022, fans of the Friday the 13th franchise were treated to some very welcome news: a new Friday the 13th streaming series, titled Crystal Lake, is confirmed to be coming soon! Horror fans rejoiced, but the news also came with a lot of confusion.
For years, the Friday the 13th franchise had been tied up with behind-the-scenes legal battles. With the specifics being rather complicated, few people could fully explain exactly what those battles would mean for any new project. Read on for an overview of what we can expect from the newest entry in the Friday the 13th franchise, along with an examination of the long and confusing road that led to making the new series a reality.
‘Crystal Lake’ Has Full Access to the Friday the 13th Universe
Before things get too complex, let’s begin with the answer to the question most people have. Since the rights to the Friday the 13th stories and characters have been the subject of lawsuits for years, what can actually be used in the new series? The quick answer: everything can be used. Jason Voorhees, his mother, the hocky mask, even ideas from the later sequels like eating hearts and going to space appear to be fair game. This information comes directly from series showrunner and writer Bryan Fuller in an exclusive interview conducted by Fangoria. More on that later, but first let’s back up and look at the various players bringing Crystal Lake to life.
Who is Making ‘Crystal Lake’?
As reported by Variety and Deadline on October 31st, 2022, a series titled Crystal Lake was given a straight-to-series order (meaning, an entire season is committed to rather than having a single “pilot” episode created before a commitment is made). The series will air on the Peacock streaming network, and A24 is the producing studio.
So first, what can the fact that Crystal Lake will be streaming on Peacock mean for the series? When taking a look at the collection of Peacock Original programming at the time of the Crystal Lake announcement, there isn’t a lot of horror to speak of. The movie They/Them is one of the only titles among Peacock Originals categorized specifically as horror, and They/Them was not met with a particularly good response. That, combined with the chairman of entertainment content for NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, Susan Rovner, referring to Crystal Lake as a “drama series” in the Variety announcement may be cause for concern for people wanting/expecting a slasher series similar to what we’ve seen for decades in the Friday the 13th movies.
On the other hand, A24 producing Crystal Lake may be a very good sign. Some people have preconceived notions about a particular style of “smart” horror associated with the company, but the truth is A24 has a history of giving filmmakers a lot of creative control to tell the stories they want. So, being produced by A24 will likely make the people directly involved with the creative side of the project more influential than the service it’s streamed on. Also, Peacock released the original horror movie Sick in 2023, and that is a great slasher flick.
Executive producers for Crystal Lake are Marc Toberoff (producer of 2022’s Prey & Hellraiser), Robert Barsamian (president of Horror, Inc.), and Victor Miller (writer of the original Friday the 13th screenplay and creator of its characters). Bryan Fuller, as mentioned above, is the showrunner and will write the series. Adrienne King, Alice in the 1980 original, has been cast in the series in an unknown role. No official word has yet been made about anyone else associated with the project.
What Can We Expect from ‘Crystal Lake’?
Bryan Fuller has worked on numerous highly-acclaimed television shows. He wrote for and created and/or developed series including American Gods (2017-2021), Dead Like Me (2003-2004), and Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present). He was the creator and writer of Hannibal which ran from 2013 to 2015, and Hannibal may give us a clue as to how he will approach Crystal Lake.
Hannibal remains mostly faithful to the movies and novels about Hannibal Lecter, but the show reimagines the characters and stories to make them different from anything that came out previously. In his interview with Fangoria, Fuller refers to Crystal Lake as a “pre-remake-uel” series. Though he declined to explain that statement any further, it almost certainly means that the show will take place (at least initially) before the first Friday the 13th film, but it won’t technically be within the same continuity. That will allow the makers of the series freedom to go in any number of different directions with the story.
Fuller has said that he fell in love with Friday the 13th when he was about ten years old, and it was what helped instill a love of storytelling in him. He worked with special-needs children when he was young, so he quickly developed a strong affinity for Jason and his mother Pamela Voorhees, a woman who would go so far as to commit murder for her son. By going out of his way to mention that, it’s a good guess that the first season of Crystal Lake will focus on the relationship between Jason and his mother.
Fuller went on to say that Crystal Lake will “be recognizable for the hardcore Friday the 13th fans, but will also have an appeal to people who are simply interested in top-shelf TV storytelling.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but it’s good to know there is passion behind the project. A lot of this does sound like the series may be moving more towards a drama/thriller style rather than the slasher fun we’ve come to expect from Friday the 13th, but Fuller does suggest that there will be a lot of murder. Let’s hope so.
To speculate, the first season of Crystal Lake could focus on Pamela Voorhees during her time working as a cook at Camp Crystal Lake. As we learn about Pamela’s state of mind and her overprotective tendencies towards Jason, we also get to know the summer camp’s counselors. Tension builds as Pamela feels the counselors are treating Jason poorly, and the first season ends with Jason’s supposed drowning (though he survives, naturally). But again, this is just a guess. With everything from the franchise available to Fuller and his team, anything is possible.
Cancelled Friday the 13th Projects
Crystal Lake isn’t the first time a Friday the 13th TV series has been attempted. Of course there was Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990), but that was unrelated to the continuity of the movies. Rather, in 2013 news of a new in-continuity series titled Friday the 13th: Crystal Lake Chronicles was unofficially announced by Sean Cunningham, the director of the original 1980 film and producer of multiple films in the franchise. The series was actually first brought up by Cunningham as far back as 2005, but it would be nearly a decade before solid information was released to the public.
Cunningham’s series was confirmed to be in development in 2014. The series would have been written by Bill Basso and Jordu Schell, both filmmakers known more for their work in special effects and art departments rather than writing. The “hourlong dramatic series” was reported to be about the “characters that inhabit the small town of Crystal Lake.” It was also to feature Jason in multiple time periods, presumably through the use of flashbacks. In early 2015, Cunningham announced that The CW was interested in airing the series. But before too long, the project vanished.
At around the same time in 2015, news of a new Friday the 13th movie was also circulating. Michael Bay was set to produce the new movie which likely would have been another reboot of the series. Nick Antosca (Hannibal, Brand New Cherry Flavor) would write, and David Bruckner (The Night House, 2022’s Hellraiser) would direct. The movie might have been found-footage in style, though this is disputed, but it would have taken place at a camp in the 1980s. However, as Nick Antosca recounted a couple of years later, changes in Paramount Pictures at the time led to the project being cancelled. Movie studios getting cold feet weren’t the only things keeping Jason Voorhes away from our screens. Beginning in 2016, lawsuits made it seem like fans would never return to Camp Crystal Lake. However, after the announcement of Crystal Lake, news that Cunningham may be attempting to make a new Friday the 13th movie came out.
Friday the 13th’s Legal Drama
The legal battle for the rights to Friday the 13th is the main reason we haven’t seen any movies or shows related to the series in many years. It’s also the reason why the franchise is coming back as a TV show and not a movie. It gets complicated, but here’s a brief rundown of the major events.
In 2016, Victor Miller attempted to use a section of United States copyright law which allows the author of a work to regain the copyright of that work 35 years after they sell it. Miller is the only writer credited for the original Friday the 13th script, and his argument was that he was the original copyright owner of that script. Therefore, he should be entitled, by law, to regain the copyright.
Not surprisingly, Miller’s actions were challenged. In August of 2016, Sean Cunningham’s company, Manny Company, and Horror, Inc., the rights holder of the copyrightable elements of the Friday the 13th franchise at the time, filed a lawsuit against Miller. Their claim was that Victor Miller wrote the script while acting as an employee for Manny Company, and as such he never owned the script’s copyright to begin with. To simplify, the case would be decided on whether or not Miller wrote the Friday the 13th script as work-for-hire, or if he was considered an independent contractor at the time.
In September of 2018, the court ruled in Victor Miller’s favor, and Miller was declared the sole owner of the copyright to the Friday the 13th screenplay. There were caveats in the “sole ownership” status, including the fact that Miller admitted to not writing the scene in which Officer Dorf arrives on a motorcycle and talks to the counselors. Miller didn’t own anything in that scene, but he owned every copyrightable item in all other scenes.
Horror, Inc. and Manny Company of course appealed the decision, but in September of 2021 the Court of Appeals affirmed the previous ruling. Officially and without question, Victor Miller owns everything he created in the original Friday the 13th script. But this is where it gets really complicated.
Victor Miller’s court ruling only applies to the original script’s copyright in the United States. Each country throughout the world has their own copyright laws, so just because Miller can theoretically do whatever he wants with his creation in the United States, that may not be true internationally. Additionally, Miller wouldn’t be able to use anything copyrightable that was created for any of the Friday sequels. Those rights still belong elsewhere.
Additionally, the rights to the movie side of Friday the 13th, as Bryan Fuller puts it, are “super, super messy.” To be as succinct as possible, Paramount Pictures originally owned the distribution rights for the Friday movies. Around 1989, certain rights were sold to New Line Cinema, though the Friday the 13th title wasn’t among them. Years later, New Line would trademark the title, and the rest of the movie copyrights presumably went to New Line. New Line is the current owner of the rights to Friday the 13th movies.
Because of the messy movie rights, Victor Miller’s only reasonable option for a Friday project was to make it a streaming series. But even with Miller being able to use elements from his original script, apparently it would be difficult for him to do nearly anything resembling what we know as Friday the 13th without the approval of the owner of the rights to the content of the sequels, Horror, Inc. Thankfully, as mentioned above, Robert Barsamian is an executive producer of Crystal Lake, and Barsamian is the president of Horror, Inc. Bryan Fuller relayed the information that A24 and Miller’s lawyer, Marc Toberoff, “excruciatingly assembled all of the Friday the 13th rights.”
Have we seen the end of complicated legal struggles in the Friday the 13th universe? Probably not, but it does look like the worst of it is behind us. It still remains to be seen when or if we will get another Friday the 13th movie, but for now, at least things are settling down on the legal front. All we can do now is wait and hope the Crystal Lake series can reignite enough interest in Jason Voorhees for a triumphant (and bloody) return to film.