GREEN BAY GAZETTE Sarah Ludeman JASON VOORHEES COMES TO SAVAGEFEST It started with a simple question. “Can you swim?” asked movie director Sean Cunningham of a 14-year-old Ari Lehman. “Yes,” he replied. With that one word, Lehman landed the role of the first Jason Voorhees in the 1980 horror classic “Friday the 13th.” At the time, he thought it nothing more than a great summer job and a chance to work with actors Kevin Bacon and Harry Crosby and special effects master Tom Savini. Little did he know the famous scene of young Jason lunging out of Crystal Lake to grab the lone surviving camp counselor (played by Adrienne King) would forever cement him in horror movie history. No lines required. “Those swimming lessons really paid off,” joked Lehman, who was originally handed the script for Bacon’s role before Cunningham stepped in and dubbed him Jason. What many Jason lovers may not know is the scene almost didn’t make it to the big screen.
It wasn’t part of the original script, but Cunningham, who had been influenced by the final scene in “Carrie” in which the bloody hand comes out from the ground, decided his film needed a more shocking ending. Today, Lehman uses his horror movie past to influence his current passion, a band called First Jason. He’ll combine both worlds at this weekend’s Savagefest at Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, where he’ll emcee and sign autographs at the metal event Friday and Saturday and perform with First Jason on Saturday. Lehman had been a touring musician in reggae bands for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until he attended a horror convention in 2002 and saw all the love still out there for Jason that he formed his own band. “I saw this thriving subculture and wanted to do what I could to help it because it has helped me so much,” Lehman said. “I didn’t want to just show up and say, ‘Hey, I’m little Jason and this is my metal band.’ But I saw the horror community was dedicated to metal and punk, and I decided to go with it.” Called a mix between Motorhead and Weird Al Yankovic, First Jason combines metal and horror with comedy and punk to form a monster band. With songs such as “Jason Never Dies,” “You Better Run,” “Machete Is My Friend” and “Jason Is Watching,” Lehman uses his lyrics and vocals to give a voice to the silent killer.
“It’s a wonderful and surrealistic opportunity to include the social aspect of people’s perception of this villain and connect it with me through song,” said Lehman, who sings lead and rocks out on his “key-sword,’’ an analog synthesizer he attached to a sword to create a distorted guitar sound. “We’ve managed to capture people’s imaginations and run with it far into the woods and into Crystal Lake.” The group’s first album, “Jason Is Watching,” was released last year, and a second one is in the making to newly signed label Dark Star Records. In May, the band will tour overseas and film for a DVD that will include footage of Lehman taking people through haunted destinations across Europe. Before that, fans can catch up with him at Savagefest, where he hints he may be bringing along some special guests. “Fans of Jason and ‘Friday the 13th’ need to come to pay heed and gather in force,” Lehman said. “But until then, Happy Halloween from Camp Crystal Lake, and remember, Jason never dies.”