I was 13 the first time I met Kane Hodder. He was the guest of honor at Spooky World, a local attraction in Berlin, MA that opened for the Halloween season. The main draw was a haunted hayride and a few other mazes, but there was also a "museum" featuring posters, props, and of course, a celebrity signing autographs for the fans who opted to wait in line. I had brought along my Jason Goes To Hell official magazine, which was already falling apart despite only being two months old, and I still have it to this day - my very first celebrity autograph! I'm not a big autograph guy (partially/probably due to the fact that folks used to sign for free and when they started charging - no judgment! - I opted to spend my convention budget on DVDs and such), but I still smile whenever I see that "Kane 'Jason' Hodder" scribble on my now 25-year-old magazine. Thirteen-year-old me thought just standing there and saying "Hi" to him was the coolest thing in the world; twenty years later we'd share a few IMDb credits.
OK to be fair it's nothing exciting; my side job as a credit designer just meant I did the titles for two of the Hatchet sequels. But my other OTHER job as a guy who moderates horror movie screenings has allowed me to cross paths with Kane several times, at screenings of the Hatchets and Friday the 13th movies that he was able to attend (he's constantly working, so lining up his availability with the nights the movies are shown isn't easy). The thing is, those are movies I already knew well before agreeing (or begging) to moderate the Q&As, so I could prepare questions in advance and know what I was in for. However, last fall I was asked to moderate the premiere of To Hell And Back, something I don't usually like to do as I obviously can't prepare too much for a movie I haven't seen (and also, as anyone who knows me can attest, I may very well fall asleep during the movie and be at an even further disadvantage). Plus, what if the movie was crap? I'm not an actor, and I can be a bit of a dick even about the things I DO like, so there'd be no way for me to hide my disappointment if I had to instantly run up on stage after and start talking about the movie.
Luckily, the movie was quite good, and I'm glad it's finally being released so everyone else can enjoy it. That's the thing about festival films - there's no guarantee they will see the light of day again; I've seen several films over the years that just disappeared, either because no one wanted to pick them up for distribution, or the filmmakers priced themselves out of that chance, or they DID get picked up and the distributor ended up shelving it indefinitely. Luckily I wasn't too worried about To Hell And Back's chances of finding a home; not only did it have Kane himself, but director Derek Dennis Herbert assembled a terrific roster of talking heads - Robert Englund, Bruce Campbell, Cassandra Peterson, Danielle Harris, etc - practically guaranteeing someone would nab it, even if it was a documentary instead of a traditional narrative featuring all these horror legends.
But even if those folks didn't want to take time out of their lives to talk about how much they love and respect the guy, it'd be an easy sell, as Kane's story is kind of a fascinating one. For a guy who is famous for killing more people on-screen than anyone else in history, you might be shocked to know he was kind of a little scrawny kid who got bullied throughout his adolescent years. It wasn't until his teen years that he started becoming the sort of guy that had the right "look" to play the likes of Jason Voorhees and Victor Crowley, and thanks to a trip to a stunt show, he found his calling in doing stunt work, and got a gig working on the '70s Kevin Tighe show Emergency! However his career was derailed after a horrible burn accident when he was only 22 years old, the details of which he used to lie about but are laid out in excruciating detail in the doc*, a sequence that may cause more nightmares than any of his on-screen appearances.
Honestly, this could have been a film all on its own. We hear everything that led up to the accident; it was actually a do-over for a successful stunt that Kane himself was dissatisfied by, and after a location right by the water proved to be difficult because it was so windy, they did it in the desert instead. Making matters worse, the wrong kind of cement was used, and the reporter who Kane was performing the stunt for didn't even realize anything had gone wrong right away, because the guy was supposed to be setting himself on fire! His skin was literally falling off his body, and if not for a good Samaritan who let him into her home and jump into their tub, he probably would have died. Worse, the hospital he went to was ill-prepared to properly deal with his injuries, and skin graft attempts were not only failing, but he was getting closer to death than recovery. It would be months before he was finally moved to a proper care facility and started getting better, now dealing with the added depression and other health issues that sprung up as a result of the first place botching the job so badly.
He obviously survived his injuries (and continues to do fire stunts), but the experience clearly molded much of who he is today. One of the many side effects was that he developed OCD, terrified of being infected (one of the first doctor's many failings was that he never wore gloves or even washed his hands before touching the skin that was having enough trouble healing was it was), to the point where he'd make his own family members shower and wash their clothes upon arriving at his house. He admits that it sounds crazy and stupid, and he's embarrassed by it, but he shouldn't be - not only is OCD a horrible thing to deal with on its own, but he went through an incredible trauma and then was nearly killed by the people who were supposed to be saving him. It's a testament to his strength that he was able to even function after all that, let alone get back on his feet and return to stunt work. Plus, he continues to visit burn victims, talking with them and boosting their spirits, and the scene in the doc where he visits the doctor who cared for him at the second location is quite moving. The movie could have just been wall to wall anecdotes about shooting the Friday the 13th movies, but it's this very personal and terrifying ordeal that makes it a must-see.
Kane also opens up about Freddy vs. Jason, which he says made him feel as low as he did when he was burned, and you can't really blame him. As the only actor who played the Jason role more than once, whose film set it up in the first place (in fact he played Freddy's arm when it dragged the hockey mask under the dirt in Jason Goes To Hell), it was pretty much as unthinkable to replace him as it would be to replace Robert Englund at that point. Kane was the one really keeping the movie alive via convention appearances (somewhere in my collection is a printout of one of the unused screenplays for the film, which Kane signed at a Fangoria con after a panel where he optimistically spoke about the film's future), and being replaced so unceremoniously when the movie was finally made really crushed him. As we see here, an episode of the TV sitcom Holliston allowed him to finally let go of that anger (he played himself, suicidal over being replaced and worried he'd be stuck making Hatchet movies instead), and he's been openly supportive of Derek Mears' turn in the 2009 remake, so it seems he's moved past it and giving his successors his blessing.
But us F13 hardcore fans know he did get to briefly reprise his legendary role thanks to the video game, where he performed the motion capture work for all of its Jason variants (models based on Jason from parts 2-9 - yes, even Roy the impostor - are in the game, along with a new design from Tom Savini). It adds immensely to the experience, especially when you're playing as one of the models he played originally (I quite like using Manhattan's version), and I think it also helped him feel better about the whole FvJ thing, knowing that fourteen years and two Jasons later, he's still the one the game designers wanted for the role. Alas, the segment on the game was deleted from the film's final cut, but it's on the Blu-ray along with another hour or so of excised/extended footage, helpfully broken down into categories (like "Extra Comments on the Friday the 13th films" or "Bonus Burn Memories", the latter of which I didn't watch since I was unnerved enough by what they left in).
Just as our parents/grandparents had Lugosi and Karloff, or Cushing and Lee, we have guys like Kane, Englund, Tony Todd, and Doug Bradley that have given us so many horror movie related nightmares. But unlike the others I mentioned, Kane's most memorable role has been behind a mask, and mute to boot, so even though it took a while I'm glad filmmakers started giving him unmasked/speaking roles so he could be as familiar to us as so many of his peers. And I'm equally happy To Hell And Back gave him his due not just as a horror icon, but as someone who didn't let being nearly killed by fire stop him from doing what he loved. The next time you watch New Blood and get to the part where Tina sets Jason on fire, think about how damn committed you gotta be to willingly go through that sort of thing again - and then think twice about complaining about the five seconds of discomfort you'll feel when Kane performs his trademark "choke" on you at the next convention!
*He also told the story in his 2011 autobiography Unmasked, but hearing it really sells how horrifying it was, and it's harder to skim past the details like you can with the book. That said, the book is a fine companion to the documentary, and his co-writer Michael Aloisi appears several times in the film.