In 1980 there was no iconic hockey mask (or potato sack, for that matter) to identify Jason Voorhees with. In the original film, he was glimpsed only briefly in flashback and at the film’s brilliant climax, rising out of Crystal Lake and into the annals of film history forever more as the deformed, mongoloid son of the demented Mrs. Voorhees. The person buried under that hideous Tom Savini makeup was none other then Ari Lehman, and he sat down with Camp Crystal Lake Online recently to discuss what is was like working on the film, the impact it’s had on audiences for the past 24 years and what he’s doing these days. Many thanks to Ari for taking the time to do the interview, and the genuine appreciation he shows for his fans is something truly special. Enjoy the interview, campers!
1) It’s been nearly 25 years since you rose from the murky depths of Sand Pond (aka Crystal Lake) and into the annals of classic horror films. Did you have any inkling whatsoever that Friday the 13th (and it’s many sequels) would end up being such a pop culture phenomenon that’s lasted this long?
Good Morning Campers! Many Thanks for the questions from www.campcrystallake.com, the most exciting and comprehensive “Friday the 13th” website around!
In answer to your first question, in the beginning, no one in the cast, crew, or staff had any clue that this production would lead us on this amazing journey. Tom Savini, Betsy Palmer, Barry Abrams and Sean Cunningham, all veterans in the film industry, brought to the project an overall approach that was dedicated to acheiving the finest entertainment possible within the budget and time constraints that are inherent to the production of any feature film. Their upbeat attitude was contagious, and everyone involved endeavoured to do their best, regardless of the nature of the genre or the vehicle itself. Personally, I think that some of the best movies are made by people who simply work together well, inspiring eachother to produce a sum greater than the parts. I feel that F13 comfortably fits into this category in the good company of other surprise successes such as “Casablanca” and “Superfly”. All these films became successful by popular mandate, as opposed to critical acclaim, and they still look good today.
2) How did you hear about the film, and what was the audition process like?
When I was about 12 years old, Sean Cuningham’s company made a movie called “Here Come the Tigers”, loosely based on “The Bad News Bears”, a comedy about a baseball team. Two of my friends, Bob and John Basili, twin brothers in fact, had roles in that production. One day they came to me and said something like, “Hey, Ari, you like to act and play Soccer, and there is going to be an audition for Sean Cunningham’s next movie, about a Soccer team, and we think you should be there!” So I snuck into the audition, at the Westport, Connecticut YMCA, and landed the 80-line role of “Roger” a girl-obsessed Soccer playing orphan! The film is now known as “Manny’s Orphans” and starred Jim Baker and famous Irishman Malachy McCourt. While working on this film I made friends with the cast, crew, and staff, and generally familiarized myself with the trade. When Sean called me to do F13, it was largely because they liked my approach, I was easygoing and dedicated, but mostly because I was short and would fit the role of the Young Jason Voorhees. In other words, as soon as he got the script Sean had me in mind. No one else was even considered to play the role. I guess it was luck of the draw. “Right place, right time” and all that. The funny thing was that when I got to Sean’s office they accidentally handed me sides for a different character, one of the camp counselors who goes off to make out with his girlfriend in the woods. Being only 13 years old at the time I thought “Hey!…allright!…this is great!”. But then Sean arrived and said “No, no, no… this is the part we have for you…the monster!” Then they sent me to work with Tom Savini and his assistant Taso Stavrakis on the Jason makeup and the rest is history.
3) Considering your age at the time, I’m sure your parents had to sign off to give you permission to appear in the film. Did they (or you for that matter) realize exactly what you were getting into?
Interestingly enough, I believe neither of my parents ever saw “Friday the 13th”! They were familiar with Sean, because I had already worked with him, and so they trusted that I was being put to good use. I’m sure that both of them were not fans of horror, but I think they felt that it would be a good experience for me to see what working on a feature film was like. Every parent loves a kid with a job! As far as my own feelings about Horror, it was very exciting for me to learn the tricks used to frighten people in the cinema. This revelation was akin to being let in on a joke told by your older brothers, both reassuring and empowering at the same time.
4) As vital as the role of young Jason Voorhees was to the film, you were only glimpsed briefly in a few flashback scenes, and at the film’s climax. How long were you on-set for, and were there any scenes of you that wound up on the cutting room floor?
I love playing roles that burst on stage, get a reaction from the audience, and then disappear, leaving the “leading” performers to do the heavy lifting. I once played the Cockney-accented “Renfield” in the Bram Stoker version of “Dracula”, a comic relief of sorts, who gets to bring the house down with the funniest lines in the show, and then “exit…stage left.” What a blast! As far as F13 goes, although Jason is only briefly seen, the amount of time required to create the desired effect was lengthy. As a magician must set up his chamber meticulously in order for a spell to work at the precise moment, a special effects master like Tom Savini must be equally attentive to detail in order to render the devices creating the shock totally invisible. If you see wires or mirrors, the fantastic nature of the trick is dissolved and the mind snaps out of the momentary hypnosis that make great films so dreamlike and desirable. Therefore, I probably spent as much or more time actually working on F13 as any other performer who participated. Most of this time was spent off the set in Tom Savini’s studio, sitting for the prosthetics to be fitted and molded to perfection. Remember, not only did the makeup have to be authentic and frightening, it had to be waterproof too! The three times I went up to Blairstown, NJ, to the set, I would have to arive for my makeup call at least four hours before everyone else. So Tom, Taso and I would start work at 4 or 5 a.m., to be ready when the cameras got there. Once they started rolling, great attention was paid to economize time and light, because we were working with natural sunlight. I don’t think we did more than three takes of anything. As far as I know, all of the scenes I did were used, with nothing on the cutting room floor except alternate takes of the scenes we all know and love.
5) Even though seen onscreen only momentarily, Tom Savini’s Jason make-up is the stuff of legend. What was involved in the make-up process to transform you into Jason?
The Young Jason makeup was entirely the creation of Special Effects Master Tom Savini. The desired effect was to create a character that would draw both sympathy and revulsion from the audience. The head was prosthetic, a kind of plastic styrofoam molding compound that was poured into a mold. First, I sat for the fitting, and Tom and Taso applied a large amount of alginate clay, used for dental moldings, to my entire head and face, leaving a hole in the nose for me to breathe. The hard part at that point was to hold still and not to laugh, because Tom and Taso were always making jokes. Into this mold they poured plaster-of-paris, creating a bust of my head for them to design the Jason mask upon. Once the head was finished, it needed to be fitted properly and adjusted several times, and I remember Tom changed the overall look a few times as well, altering the features to acheive just the right look. A special set of false teeth was made for me and one glass eye was inserted over my right eye, and voila, Young Jason was born! I even scared myself just looking in the mirror!
6) When is the last time you’ve seen the film?
Last summer at a good friend’s July 4th weekend bash in the woods of upstate New York…a perfect setting. Also, F13 is highly recommended as a great date movie…very effective.
7) Did you find it odd that a cheery summer camp was the setting for such a horror film?
Whereas most horror films make excellent use of gloomy, dark atmospheres and locations, these scenes from F13 are totally shot in a bucolic, sun-drenched woodsy pond! By contrasting these elements, their effect is greatly hightened. No haunted castle on a stormy night required, and by breaking with these cliches, the shock effect was even more unexpected and the image more memorable. Barry Abrams camerawork is excellent here somehow lending a malicious, erie feeling to sunlight bouncing off the water. The use of music and sound also played a great role in transforming a lovely lake into a horrible nightmare.
8) Do you still stay in touch with any cast or crew members from that you worked with on the film?
Several of the Jasons were interviewed together on “Good Morning America”, and I once saw Warrington at a photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly, but all that is years ago. I was very happy to get the chance to meet and hang out with all of the fine actors, techicians, and artists who made this film at the last Fangoria/Chiller Theatre event, and I look forward to seeing them again at upcoming horror conventions.
9) Have you watched any of the Friday the 13th sequels, and if so what did you like/dislike about them?
I have seen almost all of them at one time or another. They are fun to watch, and I particularly got a kick out of JasonX being a Science Fiction fan. While I do think that the story line was somewhat changed, I feel that the development of the Jason character has been faithful to the intentions of his creators. I also like the idea of a character played by many different actors, sort of like a song covered by different artists, who each bring their own perspectives to the table. This naturally brings out out the stengths of the character, creating a more muti-faceted Jason.
10) You only appeared in a few films before leaving the acting business. What made you decide to give it up?
My first love has always been making music. I was drawn to be in a film, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Therefore it is not that being in F13 had the effect of turning me away from acting, as some have insinuated, but simply that my experiences performing as a musician were more meaningful to me. As a young man, I felt that it was important to have a clear sense of self, of my individulal identity. Where acting required me to put on other people’s faces, music required a deeper journey into myself, which was necessary at that time for my development as an artist. Now, I am at a different stage in my personal growth and I feel eminently more confident about my identity and sense of self. Therefore, I think acting could be a fun creative outlet for me, and could even help me to develop my music, particularly in the area of writing lyrics, an art which shares much with the Theatre.
11) Since you left acting, you’ve focused on playing music. Tell us about what inspires you to play, and what your current musical projects are.
I have spent most of the past twenty years as a professional touring and recording artist, mainly playing Reggae and World Music. I have worked for many of the top artists from West Africa and Jamaica, as a Keyboardist, Background Singer and for some as Musical Director/Tour Manager. I have performed across the U.S, Canada and Europe and even travelled to West Africa with a Reggae revue that included the great British band Steel Pulse. In 2000 when I decided to get off the circuit, I started a band in NYC made up of the finest artists I knew from the professional World Music scene, ARI BEN MOSES BAND. Since then, we have been recording and touring around the U.S., selling a few thousand copies of our acclaimed CD, “Burning Bush” at gigs and online at www.cdbaby.com/abmb. At the time I am writing this we are getting ready to perform for three nights in Chicago, from March 5th to March 7th, 2004. For more information about ARI BEN MOSES BAND, or to send me an e-mail, or order an autographed photo, please visit me at www.aribenmosesband.com. Currently I am in the studio working on a Jason related rock project. With material cut from a darker cloth than ARI BEN MOSES BAND, “YOUNG JASON” will have lyrical content entirely drawn from the mind of the young Jason Voorhees. Keep your ears open for YOUNG JASON’S first CD, to be available at www.CDBaby.com before Halloween 2004!
12) Due to your age at the time you appeared in the film, and the extreme prosthetics you wore, I doubt you get recognized on the street as Jason. How do people react when they find out that in fact, that was you jumping out of the lake and attacking Adrienne King in Friday the 13th?
I usually only let people know that I was Jason if they are Horror fans. Otherwise, I get all kinds of reactions from people, from total disbelief to downright fear. Unless one has the right approach, and sees the big joke, and all the fun, that underlies the Horror genre, my being Jason is lost on them. Being able to grapple with our innermost fears is very emotionally and spiritually liberating, and makes us stronger and more insightful people for having done it. The ability to see that death mocks us all, both king and beggar, president and pauper, is life’s ultimate joke…the last laugh, if you will. I am hopeful that now, in the U.S. recently, having confronted some big fears, like the 911 disaster ( which I actually witnessed from Midtown Manhattan, and where I later worked at Ground Zero as a Red Cross volunteer ), people are opening up to embrace this “other”, “darker” part of themselves, enabling them to join in on the joke, and finally find some much needed relief by laughing heartily along.
13) Any last words for the fans reading this interview?
A thousand thanks to all the amazing fans of Jason and Friday the 13th that make it all happen in the first place. You have my true admiration and respect. All of you are people who look at life a little differently than the accepted norm, seeking more out of life, beyond the limitations of convention, and… YOUNG JASON SAYS, “MORE POWER TO YOU!!!”