By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Kane Hodder, Robert Englund and Michael Aloisi
Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert
Dread Central Presents/Epic Pictures
Kane Hodder may have killed more people (with his bare hands and non-firearm weapons, at least) on screen than anyone else, but the new documentary about the actor/stuntman/horror-fan favorite reveals the considerable suffering he has endured in his own life. Hodder’s willingness to open up about these painful subjects elevates Derek Dennis Herbert’s TO HELL AND BACK above your typical horror-celebrity profile to something moving and meaningful.
An opening montage of his bloodiest onscreen kills leaves no doubt that TO HELL AND BACK, opening in select theaters next Thursday, June 28 ahead of VOD/disc release Friday, July 13 (see details here), is targeted at hardcore fans who love the menace and force he brings to his roles—even with his face routinely covered by masks and prosthetics—and the bloody damage he inflicts on screen. Yet the chronological telling of his story gets to the hurt he himself has experienced early. Hodder candidly reflects on the extreme bullying he was subjected to as a grade- and middle-schooler, before a Wild West show during a trip to Universal Studios in his teens gave him the bug to get into stuntwork. Not much later into the documentary, discussion of a fire stunt he conceived during his first turn as Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD leads to a lengthy passage about a burn demonstration for a newspaper reporter that went awry when he was just 22. This accident led to a lengthy hospital stay and recovery period that he refers to as “horrific torture,” exacerbated by misguided decisions on the part of doctors and his own father.
These incidents have been covered before, most notably in the book UNMASKED, an acknowledged inspiration whose co-author/publisher Michael Aloisi is a key interviewee in TO HELL AND BACK. But it’s one thing to read about these tragedies, and another, more powerful thing to witness Hodder recalling them, nearly breaking down at one point and asking for the camera to be turned off at another. No doubt it was difficult for Hodder to bring up those agonizing memories, and to return to the burn ward where he spent some time for Herbert’s camera, and his willingness to explore these tough periods gives TO HELL AND BACK a dramatic punch you don’t always find in this kind of true-Horrorwood story.
Hodder also revisits his biggest professional disappointment: being replaced under the hockey mask for FREDDY VS. JASON (revealing that he was an early candidate to play Mr. Krueger in the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET due to his burn scars). His regret over this situation is palpable, though accompanying shots of Hodder letting dirt slip through his fingers as mournful music plays is a bit much. It’s far from all sad times in TO HELL AND BACK, however, as the docu tracks his many accomplishments in the horror and stuntwork fields, which include never breaking a bone—and he throws amusing shade at stuntpeople who brag about such injuries. Complementing Hodder’s own recollections are interviews with collaborators such as FRIDAY VII director John Carl Buechler, JASON GOES TO HELL and JASON X producer Sean S. Cunningham and HATCHET honcho Adam Green, fellow fright icons like Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson (divulging her own burn trauma) and Bruce Campbell (who makes a funny and characteristically snarky observation about the difference between hero actors and villain actors), and assorted fans.
TO HELL AND BACK incorporates a wealth of movie scene clips and behind-the-scenes material, from Hodder’s split-second background appearances in the Elliott Gould comedy CALIFORNIA SPLIT to the actor pranking co-star Mercedes McNab during the making of the first HATCHET. Herbert’s camera even follows him to the upper balcony of a Hawaiian hotel where the teenage Hodder once pulled a crazy stunt to get a rise out of his friends, and captures a number of horror-convention attendees describing their experiences with Hodder’s trademark chokehold. Meanwhile, viewers of TO HELL AND BACK may get a little choked up as Hodder explains the lingering emotional aftereffects of his accident, we meet his wife and family and the actor emphasizes the importance of his fans. In the end, Herbert’s documentary is a portrait of a survivor, and for all the darkness it investigates, the movie closes with a hopeful, encouraging message.