Studio: Dread Central Presents
Director: Derek Dennis Herbert
Writer: Derek Dennis Herbert
Producer: Andrew Barcello, Derek Dennis Herbert
Stars: Kane Hodder, Adam Green, Michael Aloisi, Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson, Bruce Campbell, John Carl Buechler, Sean S. Cunningham, Sid Haig, Danielle Harris, Zach Galligan
Colleagues, friends, and family join Kane Hodder in recalling his traumatic childhood, life-threatening injury, and successful Hollywood career.
To horror film fans, Kane Hodder’s name is synonymous with Jason Voorhees. Colleagues, costars, and family instead associate the longtime stunt coordinator and actor with terms including husband, father, and friend.
Many may not even know what Kane Hodder looks like, since the crux of his career has been spent under countless layers of foam latex and prosthetics. Many more don’t know his history with real-life horror, starting from a childhood plagued by vicious bullying to a traumatic accident that irrevocably altered his life. Based in part on Michael Aloisi’s biographical book “Unmasked,” director Derek Dennis Herbert’s documentary “To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story” celebrates the monsters and maniacs that made Kane Hodder famous while stripping off the makeup and masks for an intimate profile of the man underneath.
Hodder has a reputation for being a true “what you see is what you get” personality. When Kane speaks, people pay attention. You’ll understand why whenever he is onscreen, radiating intensity no matter the topic. His locked gaze, throaty voice, and imposing aura demand engagement willingly given because his anecdotes are also engrossing.
What’s remarkable about Hodder as an interviewee is that he is legitimately there for each recollection inside his memory. He isn’t merely running at the mouth retelling tales he has told a thousand times. He mentally relives each moment in real time for an emotional authenticity that is impossible to not empathize with. As an observer, you find yourself looking at Kane’s face while visualizing vivid events in the mind’s eye. The combination creates a captivating storytelling dynamic capable of inspiring involuntary reactions including laughter and tears.
Herbert’s camera smartly stays on a teary Hodder for as long as he allows in an uncut shot where the horror icon heartbreakingly juxtaposes the gruesomeness of his 1977 burn accident with the anonymous kindness of a Good Samaritan who helped him. This memorable moment defines the film at its strongest, depicting sincerity and humility in the subject and his experiences with universally relatable humanity.
For the most part, “To Hell and Back” doesn’t remain within any individual recollection for longer than is relevant. This makes for momentum through Hodder’s history that keeps a snappy pace before becoming sappy or falsely sentimental.
Kane’s time spent wearing Jason’s hockey mask is of course covered, though not with the depth “Friday the 13th” fans may desire. Then again, “Crystal Lake Memories” (review here) covers so much of the same ground that only broad strokes are necessary here.
One amusing anecdote sees Hodder tiptoeing into Robert Downey Jr. from “Chaplin” territory, coming close to fantastically fated revisionism by describing his first costume suiting as feeling “so natural.” Being a man who takes sh*t from no one, including himself, Kane quickly calls himself out on his wistfulness before Anthony Hopkins has a chance to interrupt with, “bullsh*t.”
It’s odd though that “Jason Takes Manhattan” is not mentioned at all and the “Freddy vs. Jason” controversy is covered quickly. Hodder identifies not getting the Jason job for that landmark appearance as a devastating low point that took him a long time to get over. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise since the story comes from Kane’s perspective, but there is no counterpoint offering insight on what really went down, leaving this important chapter to end on a shoulder shrug from Hodder as he says he never received an explanation for why he was passed over.
While his fans don’t debate it, there has always been discussion over who played the “best” Jason. Although Hodder filled the role most often, he also did so in four “Friday the 13th” films that consistently rank lower than most in terms of franchise entry popularity. When you think about it, if Hodder had played Voorhees in “Freddy vs. Jason,” that certainly would have cemented him as the definitive Jason. A cynic may speculate the Powers That Be perhaps didn’t want to put this kind of crown on Hodder’s head, maybe making it more expensive for themselves to retain him for future Camp Crystal Lake endeavors.
“To Hell and Back” encounters zero hiccups with Hodder himself. Kane is candid, charming, chilling, and interested strictly in honest details telling everything like it is. Not only do we see Kane Hodder choking out photo op fans anxious to have his hands around their throats, we see Hodder choking up while touring a time tunnel of his life.
However, there are glaring technical issues. In particular, the documentary has a real B-roll problem.
To be fair, I don’t have a solid solution for what else to show aside from talking heads when Kane Hodder and author Michael Aloisi recount repeated bullying abuse endured as a child. Non-sequitur shots of Kane brooding on a balcony because someone told him to, or his shoes crunching on grass in slow motion smack of the filmmakers not knowing how to fill that space either.
When Kane revisits the San Francisco burn ward where he underwent recovery, random shots of empty beds, signs, and doorframes cut with inserts of Kane peering around corners make it look like Hodder is struggling to remember which hallway leads to the lobby when he is meant to be lost in reverie. A forced metaphor featuring Kane walking among burned trees while covering “Freddy vs. Jason” is similarly confused about conveying intent.
Audio inconsistencies also unmask behind-the-camera inexperience. When music doesn’t play underneath, fluctuating ambient noise and echoing dialogue are noticeably audible. Some of these gaffes would have been simple production fixes, such as not seating Hodder directly in front of a window where his voice can bounce off the glass behind his head.
Director Derek Dennis Herbert reportedly recorded 39 hours of footage featuring just Kane Hodder. Herbert’s first edit of “To Hell and Back” ran six hours, with the current cut topping out at 108 minutes. That can still be snipped by 20 minutes more.
It would be an easy edit too. Simply start by losing irrelevant inclusions like Twiztid, an ICP-painted hip-hop duo, one of whom can’t put down his vape pen for their interview, with no apparent connection to Hodder, but probably to someone associated with the production.
Retrospective recollections essentially end around the 90-minute mark anyway. From there, the film loses its focus in redundant footage amounting to little more than a commercial for future feature “Death House” and an ego stroke montage of famous friends and fans lauding Hodder’s overall likability. This is the kind of trap a film can fall into when it comes from a fan as opposed to an impartial documentarian.
That said, this movie is a gift for Kane Hodder’s fans, so who am I to criticize that it includes too many of them and was made by one? Content is king and jagged execution is secondary. Using memories from the man himself as well as an army of interesting associates, “To Hell and Back” crafts “The Kane Hodder Story” into a touching tale that is well worth hearing, well worth seeing, and well worth knowing.
Review Score: 75