Apr 20, 2012


Kane Hodder was the first actor whose career you could say I "followed," this being when I was very young and after I had gotten into the Friday the 13th series. Hodder, who played Jason in Parts 7-X, immediately became my favorite incarnation of the character. For whatever reason, his name became embedded in my brain. I began to keep an eye out for him like someone else would keep an eye out for movies starring George Clooney or Al Pacino. This continued for years, recognizing him in his brief roles in Daredevil and Monster and becoming almost giddy, wanting to poke someone next to me and ask, "Do you know who that is??" Because of my young age, and because I had barely scratched the surface of everything the entertainment world had to offer, Kane Hodder at that time had become my favorite actor. And I don't intend on demeaning him by implying I just didn't know any better or have more knowledge of film. Rather, it's that I was young enough to avoid all the baggage that I would later affiliate with the Friday the 13th series (the critical thrashings; the cynicism of the producers who saw the films only as cash cows; the studio who was embarrassed of the series and its success; that "normal" people looked upon the series as a joke) and just enjoy the films on their own merits...and because whoever this guy was that was playing Jason Voorhees scared the shit out of me. That was enough to get me to pay attention to his career.

In less-informed communities, horror movie actors develop a reputation as being sick, depraved, or completely out of their minds, due in no small part to the roles they play or the films in which they take part. And the exact opposite of this has been stated so much that it's almost become a cliche that the people who work in the horror genre are among some of the nicest and most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. They have problems, fears, and weaknesses just like everyone else. It could be easy (and maybe simple-minded) to think that the guy who has murdered legions of teenagers in his four performances as Jason Voorhees has no fear or weakness. How wrong you would be to think that.

In Unmasked: The True Story of the World's Most Prolific Cinematic Killer, Hodder lays it all out on the table. He gets into the deepest, most painful experiences of both his life and his career. And you get the mask, the machete, the whole damn thing. The book is very much conversational in tone, thus making it an easy read, but don't take that to mean there isn't an awful lot of content. Unmasked begins with his childhood, ends at Hatchet 2, and includes everything in between. He talks about the burn that ravaged much of his body. He talks about the disappointment of being denied his role in the long-gestating Freddy vs. Jason (which featured a very Frankenstein-like performance from new Jason Ken Kirzinger). He talks about the severe beating he suffered as a child at the hands of a bully, something that remains with him to this day, and how it shaped him into the person he is. He talks about his family, friends, career, Jason Voorhees, and Victor Crowleyhe leaves no stone unturned.

It's easy to "get to know" a celebrity by seeing the projects in which they star, reading about them in interviews, and observing them in on-set situations on DVD supplements. And if you're really intrigued by any specific person, there are multitudes of ways to find out even more. Sitting down to read Unmasked, I was curious as to how my view of him would change, if it even would. I'm happy to say that while the book delivered largely what I suspected I already knew about Kane Hodder, the other layers to his personal life didn't so much change my view of him as they did enhance it.

Kane Hodder, the man who has strangled you (and me) at horror conventions, is a human being. "No shit," you say. But no, I mean it. He's a living, breathing, fucking human being. He has his likes and dislikes, his moments of darkness and light, and very real fears and life-changing traumas. This becomes painfully evident when he relives the day of his horrendous burn incident, which occurred early into his career as a stunt man. In Unmasked, he explains that he had lied for years about how that incident came about, blaming it on an on-set incident while shooting a television pilot he had completely made up. In Unmasked, he confesses to his years of lying about the incident and for the first time ever lays down the real story behind what happened. Out of respect, I won't reveal the "real" story here, but I do want to share with you one specific and powerful part from Kane's painful recollection of the incident (which makes up a large bulk of the book's second act):
Though it was less than a second, it was like a giant steaming hot, wet blanket was wrapping around my entire body, pinching and pulling at my skin. The haze from the heat blurred my eyes and forced me to shut them tightly and bring a hand over my face—instinct I guess. The same reason I didn’t do the one thing you are told to do when you are on fire. Stop, drop, and roll is a good theory, and great for kids to know. But I’m sorry; your first and only instinct when you are suddenly on fire around your head is to run. Of course it’s not the correct thing to do, but it’s a reflex. Not a decision. If your body is the only thing on fire, you can have the presence of mind to stop, drop, and roll. When your head and face are on fire, everything is different. You hear your face burning. You hear your hair singeing. You are breathing in the flames. There are no words to describe how terrifying it is.
Kane's play-by-play of his burn is deeply disturbing, unsettling, and graphic. Seeing people catch fire in movies, no matter how graphic it may seem, cannot hold a candle (that's not a pun, believe me) to reading about it in explicit detail. He pulls no punches when he relays the incident, as well as his nightmarish four-month stay in what must have been the most incompetent hospital since the days of Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, and Dr. Howard. The incident left Kane with some psychological issues, which he again reveals in Unmasked for the first time. All the credit in the world goes to him, as the details he shares about his personal life will definitely give readers pause. What he admits to in this section are things most people would rather bring to their grave than ever utter aloud.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Those reading Unmasked to find out about his Jason-oriented career will not be disappointed. Myself a Friday aficionado, I thought I'd learned everything there was to know from Peter Bracke's Crystal Lake Memories, the His Name is Jason documentary, the deluxe editions of the Friday the 13th DVDs, and Fangoria Magazine. Unmasked will provide you with even more information and anecdotes you have never heard, and pictures you have never seen.

He shares a lot of stories from his non-Friday career, from on-set mishaps to celebrities he enjoyed working with, to ones he did NOT enjoy working with. Additionally, he pulls no punches in presenting himself as an over-masculine "guy." He likes to drink, curse, fight, and piss in your dressing room. But none of this ever comes across as forced. If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting him in person, and feeling his strong hands gripping your throat, you know he's the real deal bad-ass he presents himself as in his book. Lastly, he's pretty damn funny.

One anecdote in particular made me laugh, which occurred a year or so after his burn incident:
...later that night, someone asked me about how they replaced my nipples after I got burned. I didn’t know what they were talking about so I asked them to repeat the question. They said that this guy, who will remain nameless, told them how they had to reconstruct my nipples with skin from my anus. I was shocked and pissed. Where did this guy get off making up these fucking stories about me? Especially crazy ones like that. Everyone at that party thought I had ass nipples!
The book also includes "intermissions," each which detail particular fights Kane found himself in throughout his life. Some he won, some he lost; some were amusing, some were most definitely not. It's an odd choice to include these stories in Unmasked, but I can only imagine it's because he's been asked about them repeatedly over the years.

The book is co-written by Michael Aloisi, who does an admirable job of putting down Kane's words into a chronological and coherent narrative. The year-long project was obviously one driven by passion, and that is reflected in the pages. Not one sentence of Unmasked is ever superfluous or boring. Any personprior fan of Hodder or notwill find something to like, and most assuredly find Kane's battles especially inspiring.

Lastly, Unmasked has a marvelous forward by Adam Green, director of the retro-slasher Hatchet, in which Hodder plays the killer Victor Crowley. It's a great opening to an even greater book, and while the two men are technically colleagues, what comes across more is that they are friendsand that Green grew up idolizing Kane much in the same way we all did.  

I learned an awful lot about Kane Hodder from reading Unmasked. I've learned that he is passionate, talented, kind of a dick (which he freely admits), incredibly fearless in particular aspects, and as broken and damaged by life as many of us are. But once you read the last page, you'll also feel inspired to go out there and achieve what you always feared was unachievable. Because it's not.
...one day I heard that [Friday the 13th] Part 8 was going to go into production and that they were going to cast a new Jason. Pissed could not explain how angry I was. I had become Jason, he was a part of me, and I wanted to do it again. That night I went home and called Barbara Sachs who had been a producer on Part 7 and worked at Paramount. As calmly as I could, I straight out told her that I wanted to play Jason in Part 8...she responded with a surprised tone. "Really? I had no clue you would want to play him again..." We set up a meeting for me to come in and get the particulars. During that meeting, I was hired to play Jason once again...

There was a major lesson I learned from that phone call. If you want something in life, go after it, go get it, and don’t wait for it to come to you. If I hadn’t made that call, I would not have gotten to play Jason again, and my entire life would have been different. Ever since then, I made sure to not sit around and wait, hoping I would get called back—I went out and made my future.

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