Before I ever watched a Friday the 13th film, I knew one thing: That Kane Hodder IS Jason Voorhees. So, you can imagine my surprise as a kid when I found out that no, Kane is not in every Friday film, and in fact only plays Jason in four out of the ten films (three at the time of this discovery, before Jason X was a thing). Yet those few films were enough to cement Kane as one of the great, all time horror legends. But there’s more to Kane than being the man in the hockey mask. Hailing from Dread Central Presents, To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story sets out to show us who the man behind that mask really is…
...Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert, To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story chronicles the life of Hodder, from his bullying as a child, to the man no one would ever bully as Jason Voorhees, from the near fatal accident he suffered in the 70s and his triumph over that, to the prolific actor he has become since having to move on from Freddy vs. Jason, To Hell and Back is the first and last documentary on Kane that fans will ever need. Featuring interviews from prolific horror talent such as Robert Englund, Elvira, Bruce Campbell, Adam Green, Sean S. Cunningham, Harrison Smith and so much more, fans are treated to a deep look into what made the man we all fear on screen, but love and cherish off of it.
The story begins, as any should, with the events that led to Kane becoming a horror icon. Filled with background stories that fans will delight in, Herbert does a great job with setting up who exactly Kane is as a person. And that person, as later described in To Hell and Back, is a man with balls of fucking steel. Try listening to Kane’s story about hanging off the railing of a 35th floor hotel room balcony and see if your butthole doesn’t pucker up a bit. The story is a wonderful way to begin the doc, because it inspired such a thrill in Kane watching how frightened his friends got over it, that he took an interest in scaring people. To Hell and Back describes in great detail all of the steps that led to his initial donning of the iconic Voorhees hockey mask, that Herbert actually creates a sense of tension in waiting to reveal Kane as Jason for the first time.
But what’s most fascinating about To Hell and Back is not the evolution of Kane’s career, but the journey of his soul, which in many ways, literally is a journey from Hell and back to earth. Fans will be shocked to learn of the life Kane led as a child, bullied and tortured in ways that will make even the most depraved of us sick to our stomachs. As someone who was bullied myself, watching Kane describe the bullying in such personal detail is heartbreaking. Bullying is not an easy thing to discuss when it has happened to you, and for Kane to tell his story to the world like this, let me tell you, the man deserves a god damn medal of honor. The greatest achievement of To Hell and Back is revealing to fans the fact that Kane is not some scary monster who spends his free time knocking back six packs and punching puppies in the face…in a lot of ways, he’s an admirable teddy bear, albeit one hell of a big teddy bear, all of which makes the price of admission for this film well worth your hard-earned dollars.
To Hell and Back also surprises by doing something I never expected…inspiring me to face whatever issues I have going on in my life head on. I had always known about the tragedy that involved Kane nearly burning to death, but I have never heard about what happened afterwards, and To Hell and Back chooses to spend most of its time with this traumatic event, because in a large way, it defined who Kane is today. Kane’s telling of the story will rip your heart to shreds before it glues them back together again as he takes us through his days at the hospital to the moment he realized life was precious and worth every second, and when you think about the idea that, had he never come to the realization, he never would’ve been Jason Voorhees, it’s hard not to sit back and say to yourself, “I want to be like Kane”. When you realize that, following his burn trauma, he became one of the best stuntmen working with fire (something he does in Friday the 13th part 7), you’ll put Kane right up there with heroes like Superman. Only Kane is so much more badass.
To Hell and Back is supremely fascinating and emotional, though it does have its issues often seen with first time documentarians such as Herbert. Namely, the film jumps around quite a bit, often going from the present, to childhood, to adulthood, to childhood, to the present, jumping back and forth between various events. Kane’s experiences in the burn ward feels like it should be one complete segment, but though it takes place in the middle of the film, we continue to see part of that segment discussed again and again throughout. Not that I’m complaining, there isn’t a second of it that should be removed, but it’s this sort of editing/framing that makes To Hell and Back feel disjointed at times.
The time spent with certain events in Kane’s life also feels uneven. I’m thrilled that To Hell and Back spends most of its time digging into the tragedy that made Kane the inspiration he is, but there’s another event that I think horror fans would be interested in learning more about, and that is Kane’s disappointment over Freddy vs. Jason. Maybe feelings are still a little too raw over it, and I get that, but I couldn’t help feeling my own disappointment over this segment of the film, which is as fleeting as horror fans brief hopes that they were going to see Kane beat the hell out of Freddy Krueger. For many fans, the announcement that Kane would not be playing Jason in Freddy vs Jason was an enraging time that we all shared with Kane, so in some ways, selfish as it may seem, I get a sense that fans would’ve liked to have seen To Hell and Back delve into those events a bit more, perhaps as a way to finally heal old wounds.
From what I’ve discussed so far, you may be thinking that To Hell and Back is all gloom and tears, but you’d be forgetting about the “Back” in the title. The second half of the doc focuses on the fun-loving actor that Kane became. Most notably for myself was the film’s discussion on his penchant for choking fans. My fiancé and I practically squealed, because just last year at Monsterpalooza in CA, Kane surprise-choked the hell out of her, which was pretty funny to me, because she has a paranoia of people touching her neck but loves Kane, so it was a thrill to watch her face struggle between trying to decide on expressing joy and utter terror. We often talked after, joking that he had really put the squeeze on her and left marks, wondering if he had meant to be that aggressive, which Kane reveals in the doc, yes, he loves to really choke people. We have our answer!
To Hell and Back is nothing short of a journey full of revelations regarding a man that horror fans hold so close to their black hearts. Literally a journey through hell and back, fans will laugh and cry (if Kane can cry, so can you), and what’s more, I guarantee fans will leave feeling even more admiration for this man who is so much more than a guy wearing a hockey mask. Kane has stabbed joy into the hearts of fans with his bare hands for decades. With To Hell and Back, Kane lifts fans out of the fire and shows them there is so much more to life than fear. And who knows, if you work hard, you may even get to be the horror icon you’ve always dreamed of being someday.
By Matt Konopka