Back to Camp with Ari Lehman - An Interview

I bundled my suitcase into the trunk of my old Trans-am, a trip to a summer camp was what I needed after the year I'd had... Camp Crystal Lake wasn't too far from our home in New York, but it was far enough from our old lives for us... If only for one week.

As we pulled up to the gate I felt a strange chill run down my spine... Like I shouldn't be there, like someone was trying to warn us off. I turned to ask Sherri if she had felt anything, but she was far too busy squealing like a stuck pig to feel anything right now. 

We found our cabin, it was right on the lake, the name said it all 'Crystal' and I couldn't wait to dive in. 
We changed into our bikinis, ready to take a dip, but as we got nearer to the water we noticed a rippling... then a splashing... Someone... Something was in the water and it was making waves...
Sherri clung tightly to my arm as we stared for what seemed like an eternity, grounded to the spot in fear, we had all heard the stories of this place... The drowning boy... and the murders, but that was all talk... Or so we had thought....
Suddenly there was an almighty splash and we saw him, emerging from the lake, his clothes sodden, carrying something shiny in his hand and wearing some sort of mask... I held my breath as he neared us, Sherri hid behind me, eyes tight shut... I stared, my eyes not letting me shut them, not wanting to miss a second... The masked figure approached us and then spoke...
"Got it!" he said removing his swimming mask and snorkel! "Didn't want you gals cutting yourself on that, did we?" He held up an old rusty sign, it read 'Danger Deep Water', "Must have fallen off during winter"
His voice was friendly, as was his face, long brown curly hair and a fancy beard framed his face well... a face that I knew... A face that I recognised... A face belonging to Ari Lehman... The first Jason Vorhees in the stunning Friday 13th horror series.
Friday the 13th is an American horror franchise focusing on the fictional character Jason Voorhees (origionally played by Ari lehman), who drowned as a boy at Camp Crystal Lake due to the negligence of the camp staff. Decades later, the lake is rumored to be "cursed" and is the setting for a series of mass murders. Jason is featured in all of the films, as either the killer or the motivation for the killings. The original film was written by Victor Miller and was produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham. However, neither returned to write or direct any of the sequels. The films have grossed over $465 million at the box-office worldwide.
Catching my breath and taking a chug of my beer I introduced myself and starting asking questions...
So Ari, How did you get the part of Jason Voorhees? 
“When I was twelve, I lived in a town in New England where the great Director Sean S. Cunningham happened to have his offices, perhaps due to the proximity to New York City, where I was born. I actually snuck into the audition for MANNY'S ORPHANS, a Comedy about inner city ruffians who play Football (we call it "Soccer" here haha). That movie was not widely released, so Sean S. Cunningham decided to produce FRIDAY THE 13TH in an effort to make up for it. I got a call on the phone at home during the following Summer, and Sean basically asked me the famous question - "can you swim?".
Ha... I thought, so how did you celebrate? I asked 
I was very excited to be in another film. Of course, when I got the script for Jason, I immediately noticed that there were no lines at all. I decided that I would have to rise to the challenge and convey the intensity through my eyes and body language alone. Then, Tom Savini later informed me that I would actually have a glass eye. Undaunted, I made up my mind to put all the feeling into one eye! haha... 
Now the brilliant Tom Savini did the makeup for the cast, how long did yours take to do? What was it like?
To be 14 years old and get to see the inner workings of a Horror Special Effects Studio is amazing, especially since we were all crazy about movies since the release of Star Wars and Jaws. It was a revelation to see all the severed limbs, decapitated heads, weaponry, and explosive props that Tom Savini and Taso Stavrakis were creating for F13 and other films. I worked with them just before they made another film called KNIGHT RIDERS a wild movie about jousting on motorcycles, and stars Ed Harris. It was a great deal of fun to work with Tom for about 4 weeks prior to the film and on the set for several days on and off. Tom always made it a point that I learn about the Classic Horror Greats like Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price.”
Now the film was made on a shoestring, so I wondered how much did he get paid for his silent role?
“First of all I am the only Jason who does not get residuals. The pay was the day pay for a junior stunt man at that time which was $225/day. I have the honor of being an integral part of the Jason Mythos and that has led to the creation of my Metal project FIRST JASON, that is recently enjoying some success performing at major Metal Fests and Film Festivals in the Us and Europe." 
And what direction did Sean S Cunningham give you to play the part?
"Sean Cunningham really is a great Director who deserves more credit for the success of the series, I believe. He continually urged the actors not to be "over-the-top" or obvious. He even allowed for some improvisation on the set, much of which made it to the screen. The crucial moment was when we shot the scene, he said "Ari, you are the Director this time. When you go under the water, that's "Action" then look up and wait for the bubbles to clear and go for it!"”
I looked down at the mask he was holding, not quite the hockey mask his character was known for (although it was not until the 3rd film that a hokey mask was worn by the character).
At my website there is a sequence of photos that shows the removal of the mask. I believe Tom Savini has all of that Special Effects material. “
Now obviously the famous scene and the one he almost rein-acted for us today was the final scene where he slashes about the in the water, I had to ask how cold was the water in that lake? How long did you have to stay in it?
“The famous final scene was not in the original script. In fact it was shot afterwards, prompted by Sean Cunningham seeing the film CARRIE. We had originally wrapped everything in August. But in October I was called back to work on the final scene. In my mind, Jason comes back to life to seek vengence. However I was told that was not the case, this was a dream sequence. My objections were quelled by Tom who told me, "Play it like a ghost, because if you were a ghost in a dream, you would believe you were a ghost. right?" So I did, and in fact I was right. Jason LIVES!!!”
Why did you only appear in the first film?
“By the second film Jason was to be much larger, although this has YET to be explained... "
Did you ever believe that the film would become such a huge franchise, with 12 sequels, a television show, novels, comic books, and tie‑in merchandise?
"At first it was really the story about Pamela Voorhees and Alice Hardy that made FRIDAY THE 13TH so unique of course. Honestly it was not until Sir Richard Brooker played Jason Voorhees in PART 3, when the Hockey Mask Jason was born that I started to hear friends of mine making that now famous ch-ch-ch sound and asking me about FRIDAY THE 13TH & Jason Voorhees. That sound, by the way, and the soundtrack by Harry Manfredini are crucial to the series' success."“
What do you think of Betsy Palmer saying that she only took the part because she needed a new car and that the film was “a piece of Shit”?
“Betsy Palmer is one of the most amazing people in the world and I Love Her. Betsy has devoted so much time and energy to the fans of F13 that it overrides any previous trepidation. Let's just say that we are all lucky that her Volkswagen broke down that day, because she readily accepted the role and elevated the entire film with her memorable performance. Certain lines in this film are absolutely unforgettable when you hear her say them too. I have seen her and the Author, Victor Miller discuss this famous quip, and they laugh about it together. If not for Betsy Palmer, F13 and Jason Voorhees himself may never have had the impact that they now have. Jason is the fragile child trapped inside the body of a indestructible monster. It's Pamela that says "I'm not afraid."”
Have you ever been tempted to go back to camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in New Jersey and scare the livin’ bejesus out of the campers? Actually have you ever been back?
“I have not been back since but there is a Facebook campaign to get it open for F13 Tours.”
Do you know if it’s true that Jason was origionally called Josh, but it sounded to nice?
“I have never heard that before you'll have to ask Victor Miller.”
Now Friday 13th had scared to b'jesus out of me, but what scared Ari, I wondered?
“Halloween is a scary film, and Michael is creepy. Recent films that I like include THE WOMAN IN BLACK and LORDS OF SALEM. But there are films that are scarier by far, for instance [REC] or even CANDYMAN, so if you are asking for SCARY there's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST too. The next phase of that genre is coming from Eli Roth with GREEN INFERNO, perhaps also a good scare.“
It’s interesting to note that victor miller admitted that he was riding off the success of Halloween...
“Honestly the success of "Friday the 13th" has to do with many films that preceded it. In the 70's there was a plethora of female-driven Horror Films like CARRIE, ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST. Then it was JAWS reminding the audiences that they love a Monster. Two films came out in 1980 that reflected these elements - FRIDAY THE 13TH and THE SHINING. For some reason, although both of these films were hits, the public wanted the mindless thrill of the Slashers.”
Now he must... he has to... and I wondered... How many conventions does he attend every year?
“Originally I would do several Horror Conventions a year. With the release of FIRST JASON'S first album "JASON IS WATCHING!" I began to tour the US and EU on the music circuit, playing in Punk/Metal Venues and Festivals more than Horror Conventions. Please check out these videos of FIRST JASON LIVE AT THE VIPER ROOM in LA:
And what's the best question you've ever been asked?
“Well it's hilarious when little children ask me questions about being "Big" Jason's brother!”
What are you fans like? Can they get pretty weird?
“I am always amazed and impressed by the dedication of the F13 fans. I feel that there is something about the Summer Camp, and Jason, but most of all Momma Voorhees. It's like a big family of Horror movie fans who truly feel nostalgic for Camp Crystal Lake, as if they had gone to camp there when they were young. It's a fun collective illusion that provides recreation and distraction from the everyday routine."
But why do you think the film is so popular?
"FRIDAY THE 13TH takes viewers on a journey back into the woods every time they see the Welcome To Camp Crystal Lake sign and hear the sound of Jason. It's an escape from reality."
Ari turned to leave... This was going to be the coolest holiday ever I thought, perfect... My troubles had already faded and now I was ready for a dip, Sherri's grip has loosened and her rushed breathing stopped, actually I couldn't hear her at all now... But I could still hear Ari behind me, so without turning I asked....
So Ari, If he was real what do you think is Jason Vorhees would be doing now?
“Jason would be fighting off the Frackers who are drilling the woodlands and lake country if America for oil more and more every day. Also I see Jason laying waste to an army of zombies.”
I laughed and turned to say my goodbyes.... But gazing at the mutilated body of my best friend lying dead on the deck beside me, I guessed my goodbyes were going to be more permanent than I thought....................................................................................................................................................................... 
(Source: Retro Lady Land, December 9, 2013.