Anyone who thinks that all it takes to be a monster in a horror movie is to put on some latex and a mask – they're completely right. But those monsters are little more than extras. To be a great monster performer, that's a rare set of skills, and Kane Hodder is undoubtedly one of the greats.
Hodder may not be a household name on the level of Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff, but in horror circles he's seen as the closest thing imaginable to a modern Lon Chaney Jr. – not just a great performer, but also an astounding cinematic technician. His roles in front of the camera – the only man to have played Friday the Thirteenth's Jason Voorhees more than once, the only person to play Jason AND Freddy Krueger (a long and surprisingly bitter story), and one of the few gore performers to have an entire franchise built around him, in the Hatchet quartet. But he's also a phenomenal stunt coordinator who has built up an amazing reputation for keeping his actors safe (as regular co-star Danielle Harris puts it, if Hodder tells her she can do a stunt, she knows she can pull it off; if he tells her no, then she knows that's a hard no).
But for first time feature director Derek Dennis Herbert, what's really interesting is the man, not the masks he wears. In his new documentary To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story (on VOD and Blu-ray now), his focus is on a handful of pivotal events that shaped Hodder's relationship with pain: most especially, the brutal schoolyard bullying of his childhood, and a horrific on-set accident that nearly killed him – and then the botched medical treatment that almost completed the job.
That's part of what makes Hodder so instantly recognizable. A stocky barrel of a man, with short arms pushed out by muscle, and a writhing network of scars from that near-career- and life-ending accident. Herbert's subject is a surprisingly gentle man, but one with a deeper understanding of what the human body can endure with no lasting damage than most.
In his story, there's a trace of legendary wrestler Mick Foley, whose status as the hardcore legend of the four-cornered ring is counterbalanced by his Santa Claus obsession. Both have suffered horrendous injuries in pursuit of the art they love, and both have a superficial reputation of being immune to, or even addicted to pain. Worst of all, both have been written off because what they do is not 'real.'
But Herbert's surprisingly tender documentary not only allows Hodder to talk about some those intimate and traumatizing moments (the visit to the burn unit that ultimately saved his life is a pure tear-jerker), but also talk about the craft of scaring people. Having a peer like director Adam Green (who designed the Hatchet franchise for Hodder) or Robert Englund (the original Freddy Krueger himself) explain the details in his performances that set Hodder apart. It's not just that distinctive physique, it's in Jason's gulpy breathing, or Victor's bulldozer rush. It's character. This is Inside the Actor's Studio for the blood pack crew,
And yes, it's also a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most beloved gore movies ever made. The glee in Hodder's voice when he talks about the sleeping bag death in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (and getting to do a callback kill in Jason X) is matched only be the restrained bitterness of getting screwed out of Freddy vs. Jason. That may not sound a big deal to viewers who write these films off as schlocky popcorn garbage, but for someone who has rightful pride in his work like Hodder, it's a career snub up there with Harvey Keitel getting fired from Apocalypse Now.
Forever part of the terror genre scene, it seems unlikely that Hodder will ever get the recognition he deserves, whether as a monster or a dramatic performer (if only his chilling performance as real-life serial killer Dennis Rader had been in a better movie than 2008's straight-to-the-bargain-bin B.T.K.). But To Hell and Back will re-enforce to the horror community that we're lucky to have him.
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