Kane Hodder is a name that's become synonymous with the horror genre. The man single-handedly brought new life to the role of Jason Voorhees, he's killed more people on screen than anyone else, and not to mention, he's a convention staple that thousands of fans flock to every year in order to meet and greet one of cinema's most iconic and hard-working individuals.
Hodder may portray vicious killers in many of the films he's lent his talents to, but underneath all that Jason and Victor Crowley makeup, there's a man who's suffered a considerable amount of pain, both emotional and physical, in his lifetime. Derek Dennis Herbert's (They're Inside) documentary To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story sees the hulking icon opening up about some these painful subjects, giving us, the fans, a rare glimpse into the legend’s heart.
The documentary opens with a bloody montage of some of Kane's greatest on screen kills, a real treat that's sure to have you grinning ear-to-ear. Although, shortly after, the film dives into the chronological telling of Kane's life story, beginning with the extreme bullying he was subjected to in grade school. Now, I'll be the first to tell you that, as a near-30-year-old, grown ass man, it's quite a punch in the gut to see Kane teary-eyed when talking about some of his most sensitive and traumatic memories. I teared up and you probably will too.
The film offers up a glimmer of happiness, as Kane reflects on a trip to Universal Studios in his teens that gave him the urge to pursue a career in filmmaking, but not much later into the doc, the topic of Kane's tragic stunt demonstration gone awry is discussed. At the age of 22, his career (and life) was almost cut short before it even really began when he attempted to do a burn stunt for a local newspaper. This led to months and months of horrific recovery in an ill-equipped hospital, made worse by both the misguided decisions by doctors and his own father. Again, you'll probably find yourself getting choked up as Kane bravely recalls the months of hardship he endured in the hospital before eventually finding the doctor who saved his life and got him back in front of the camera.
Although these events have been covered previously in the book Unmasked, an autobiography Hodder co-wrote with author Mike Aloisi - who is a key interviewee in To Hell and Back - it's exponentially more effective to see Kane personally look back on these events rather than reading them. Witnessing Hodder at his most vulnerable as he nearly breaks down at one point and asks for the cameras to be turned off at another shows just how difficult it was for him to discuss these harrowing memories, but his willingness to do so makes To Hell and Back all the more effective. One could think that seeing such a hulking, intimidating presence showcasing such deep emotions would spell bad news for his public persona, but they'd be dead wrong. As someone who values Kane's life and legacy, I've developed even more of a respect for the man upon learning about the hardships he's not only survived, but has overcome and thrived both on screen and off.
Hodder also revisits one of his biggest professional disappointments: not being able to don the hockey mask once again for Freddy vs. Jason, which is utter blasphemy in my opinion, but that's irrelevant. To Hell and Back isn’t all tales of hardship though, as the "back" part of the title suggests, the doc chronicles Hodder's accomplishments, fun memories, convention appearances and more. Hodder discusses how proud he is to have never broken a bone as a stuntman, while also casting some shade at those who brag about how many they have broken. Aside from Hodder's own recollections, professional collaborators such as the late, great Friday the 13th Part VII director John Carl Buechler, franchise creator Sean S. Cunningham and Hatchet director Adam Green all divulge their experiences working with and knowing Hodder.
Some of the horror genre's most distinguished faces also lend their voices to the doc, including Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson, Bruce Campbell, Danielle Harris, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Felissa Rose, to name a few. A number of horror-convention attendees and fans also describe their experiences meeting Hodder and receiving his trademark chokehold for photos.
Meanwhile, To Hell and Back also offers a rather intimate look at Kane's personal life, introducing us to his wife and two sons. The actor expresses the importance of his fans and his love for meeting them.This part of the doc in particular establishes Hodder as more than just an actor and horror icon, it shows him as a real person, a subtle sweetheart and a family man. Even though it carries a fairly dark tone for the majority of its run time, Herbert’s documentary ends with an inspiring, hopeful message that will have fans looking forward to the years to come in Hodder's career.
Honestly, I did not expect this film to be so intense and heartfelt. Kane is an actor/stuntman whom I highly value, and in the minds of many, myself included, he is the one true Jason Voorhees. After viewing To Hell and Back, I now have a brand new perspective on the living legend that is Kane Hodder, one that's full of appreciation and admiration. It's obvious that everyone behind this film when above and beyond to deliver an honest, exhilarating and touching look into the life and career of one of the horror genre's most beloved figures. Quite simply, To Hell and Back is one of the best damn documentaries I've seen in a long time, and I can give the film my highest recommendation without a single shred of regret.
I would like to thank MVD Entertainment for providing me with a review copy of the film!