HORROR ICON: The man behind the mask

Actor discusses new biography, life and death as Jason Voorhees

By Zach Davis
Courtesy of Toledo Free Press

Kane Hodder

During the Halloween season, few images are as iconic as the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees, the murderous character portrayed in the “Friday the 13th” horror franchise.

In “Unmasked: True Life Story of the World’s Most Prolific Cinematic Killer,” actor Kane Hodder talks about what it was like to live as the man behind the mask in four of those movies.

When Hodder entered the motion picture industry, he never envisioned the success he would have with the “Friday the 13th” franchise. Hodder originally planned on just being a stuntman.

“I went into this business with the idea of being a working stuntman,” Hodder said. “I loved the idea of doing stunts for a living and that’s all I expected to do. I never thought in a million years that I would be in the position that I am now with the Jason character and the notoriety.”

The 56 year old had a small part in the 1988 movie “Prison,” for which he also was the stunt coordinator. In the movie, Hodder was dressed up in prosthetic makeup as a rotted corpse, a costume which took three to four hours to create.

Hodder’s performance made an impression on Special Makeup Effects Coordinator John Buechler, who later that year was named the director of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.” After Buechler got the job, he wanted Hodder to follow him and take the iconic role of Jason.

“[Buechler] liked how I worked in the makeup,” Hodder said. “It’s not easy to work in full prosthetics. First of all, it’s very physically tough but it is also a challenge to make facial expressions read properly when you have all that stuff on your face. He just liked how I worked in the makeup and thought I did a good job.”

Hodder went on to star in the next three “Friday the 13th” movies, the only actor to play Jason in more than one film in the series’ history.

“I feel very fortunate and very lucky to be in this position,” Hodder said. “I always considered putting that hockey mask on as an honor. I had watched the character for years. I just wanted to do whatever I could to bring something new to the character and make it believable and evidently I did.”

Hodder soon found out that the challenges of acting in full prosthetic makeup, however, were nothing compared to playing Jason. While in his previous role he needed to exaggerate facial expressions in the makeup for them to be apparent, Jason’s mask hid all expression on a character who already didn’t speak.

FUTURE OF FRIGHTENING: Hodder grew up on an island in the South Pacific known as Kwajalein. Even as a child, Hodder loved to scare others. Whether it was pranks or stunts, Hodder enjoyed fear and instilling it in others. (Courtesy photo)

“If you ask any actor the two main tools that you use in your performance are your voice and your facial expressions,” Hodder said. “If you take both of those away and then say ‘Now I want you to be scary‚’ it is intimidating. It’s like, ‘How?’

“I was able to be convincing enough that people said ‘Wow, that’s what we have been looking for‚ and they kept me around for a while.”

The road to becoming a stuntman

Hodder grew up on an island in the South Pacific known as Kwajalein. Even as a child, Hodder loved to scare others. Whether it was pranks or stunts, Hodder enjoyed fear and instilling it in others.

“I love [scaring people], I have always done it,” Hodder said. “I mean really scare them to where they thought I was going to do something crazy. I love doing it, I really do. Even scaring an audience with something I shot months before is pretty satisfying.”

Once, while Hodder was on a trip to Hawaii with his high school basketball team, he and a group of teammates were climbing the stairwell of their hotel, which had a balcony at each level. When Hodder and others got to the 35th floor, he decided to scare the rest of his group.

“We were up so high that everybody was a bit nervous,” Hodder said. “I said ‘What do you mean? What’s so scary?’ To prove that I wasn’t nervous about the height I went over to the railing on the outer side of the railing. My feet were still on the outer deck of the railing and my hands were on the railing but I was on the outside.

“My friends started getting scared. They started saying ‘Don’t do that‚’ so I would briefly take my handsoff the railing and put them up in the air [gesturing] as I said ‘What? What’s the matter? They about s— themselves. They went back into the hotel and didn’t want to watch anymore.”

That experience was not only a look into Hodder’s future of frightening others, but also demonstrated his lack of fear. He quickly realized that it was something he could capitalize on.

“That was not only fun, but the danger part of it was exciting,” Hodder said. “I realized that people get paid a lot of money to do that type of thing and I do it for fun. That’s what made me start thinking about doing stunts.”

Severe injury sidelines stunt career

Hodder’s career got off to a rocky start. In his first year as a stuntman, he worked on a fire stunt which required his body to be engulfed in flames. The stunt went out of control and Hodder suffered third-degree burns on about 50 percent of his body.

“The pain was ridiculous,” he said. “I know there are other pains that are as severe, there’s a lot of painful stuff that you can go through, but most of the time the pain is localized in one spot. With burns you have that same pain over such a large area of your body.

“Here I was, 22 years old and thinking that even when I get through this horrible pain then I have to carry those terrible scars for the rest of my life. It’s really hard to mentally get through knowing that even when the injury is healed you are not done yet. You have to deal with people staring at your scars and stuff like that. It has got to be one of the worst things a person can go through.”

Hodder was hospitalized for the next 5 to 6 months. He still wears gloves on occasion to cover up the scars on his hands. Despite that experience, however, Hodder would not give up on being a stuntman. He even returned to fire stunts during his career.

“I still carry the scars from it,” Hodder said. “That was my first year in stunts but I still went back to it and still went back to fire stunts because I just loved the business so much.”

As for his stunt career, Hodder has had 93 roles as a stuntman or stunt coordinator. Among the features he has been involved in are “Batman Forever,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Lethal Weapon 3,” “Se7en,” “Spawn” and “Under Siege.”

“I love every aspect of doing stunts, I always have,” Hodder said. “It’s such a great job because every day you go to work it’s going to be something different. You certainly never get bored doing stunts. You may get killed, but you don’t get bored.”

Early troubles with bullying

Burns weren’t the only obstacle he would have to overcome before stepping into the shoes of one of the most intimidating characters in the history of horror.

When he was a young boy, Hodder was bullied.

“It’s so prevalent and so horribly destructive to a kid’s psyche,” he said. “It wasn’t the physical pain, even though I was getting beaten with fists, it was the humiliation and how you feel about yourself not doing anything to stop it. That’s what drives kids to suicide sometimes.”

Hodder still remembers the names of the kids who beat and abused him so long ago. He has not forgotten what they did and is not ready to forgive them for it anytime soon.

“One day I would love to run into them,” Hodder said. “I have a job where my criminal record has no bearing on my success. If anything, it would probably enhance my career.”

Passed over for ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

After starring as Jason in installments VII through X of the “Friday the 13th” franchise, Hodder was set to once again don the goalie mask in the 2003 feature “Freddy vs. Jason.”

New Line Cinema chose another actor, Ken Kerzinger, for the role instead.

Hodder’s biggest problem with the decision was how it was handled. He said he had a lunch meeting with a New Line Cinema executive who told him, “We are finally doing this,” and handed him the script for “Freddy vs. Jason.” The studio then hired director Ronny Yu and Hodder said they began ignoring his phone calls before he discovered they gave the part to Kerzinger.

“If they didn’t like the performance, if I was difficult to work with or if it was about the money then I would say ‘I kind of had a hand in being replaced.’ There was nothing like that,” he said. “I still haven’t been given a reason … the fans weren’t happy (either). They had grown to like how I played the character, so it was kind of a slap in the face to them too.”

Regardless, Hodder still would jump at the chance to play Jason again in any future films.

“If it was offered to me again I would absolutely put that mask back on because I wasn’t done wearing it in the first place,” Hodder said. “Even though I think I was slighted, I would still do it. That’s how much I love the character.”

New roles, new challenges

As far as films, Hodder is planning to resume his role as Victor Crowley in the third installment of the “Hatchet” franchise in early 2012. He also finished shooting “Robin Hood — Ghosts of Sherwood” in Germany over the summer, in which he was cast as Little John.

With future “Friday the 13th” installments now in question, Hodder has focused on his biography, “Unmasked: True Life Story of the World’s Most Prolific Cinematic Killer.”

“The burn story in itself is a book,” Hodder said. “Then you have 35 years in the motion picture business with all kinds of cool, funny and ridiculous stories on the sets. That’s almost another book in itself. I always knew I had an interesting story, I had just never ran across the right author to help me tell the story.”

That changed when he met author Michael Aloisi, who agreed to write the book in the way Hodder wanted the story to be told.

“I’m very happy with the final product,” Hodder said. “It’s just exactly how I want it to be. A lot of reviewers are kind of saying the same things, that at one point they had tears in their eyes and had to put it down, which means it’s pretty powerful, and then later they were laughing out loud. To me, that sounds like a pretty good effect to have on a reader.”

Hodder’s performance made an impression on Special Makeup Effects Coordinator John Buechler, who later that year was named the director of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.” After Buechler got the job, he wanted Hodder to follow him and take the iconic role of Jason.

“[Buechler] liked how I worked in the makeup,” Hodder said. “It’s not easy to work in full prosthetics. First of all, it’s very physically tough but it is also a challenge to make facial expressions read properly when you have all that stuff on your face. He just liked how I worked in the makeup and thought I did a good job.”

Hodder went on to star in the next three “Friday the 13th” movies, the only actor to play Jason in more than one film in the series’ history.

“I feel very fortunate and very lucky to be in this position,” Hodder said. “I always considered putting that hockey mask on as an honor. I had watched the character for years. I just wanted to do whatever I could to bring something new to the character and make it believable and evidently I did.”

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