Gavin Schmitt Interviews Ari Lehman
Gavin met up with Ari Lehman backstage at a concert, where Ari’s band Firstjason was opening for metal band Spineshank. Much was discussed, from the magic of Tom Savini, to the “sedentary cemetery of society”, to metal… to home remodeling.
GS: Alright, let’s start with the movie stuff and then move on to your music career.
AL: Shoot, man.
GS: The first film you appeared in to my knowledge was called “Manny’s Orphans”. It was directed by Sean Cunningham, written by Victor Miller and Steve Miner. Music by Harry Manfredini. “Friday the 13th” regulars.
AL: Totally. And Barry Abrams, the director of photography.
GS: Now, as far as I know, it’s damn near impossible to track down “Manny’s Orphans”. So, what the hell is it?
AL: “Manny’s Orphans” was a film about orphans who play soccer. And it was done because Sean Cunningham lived in Westport, Connecticut where soccer was very popular in the late 70s. But the thing is, it hadn’t caught on in the rest of the country. There were no soccer moms yet, so he was before his time. He wanted to do an after school special, he wanted to change his image after doing “Last House on the Left”. It was a good film, but unfortunately it was a flop because people didn’t relate to soccer. Following that, he had to recoup his losses, and he had this idea after seeing the movie “Halloween” that he could make a movie called “Friday the 13th”. (affiliate link) And he had Victor, and Barry and Steve again… but this time the key element about it was they had to do it on the East Coast. That’s why you have such interesting casting like Betsy Palmer, Harry Crosby, Kevin Bacon. They were casting from New York television and stage actors. So, in the tradition of the theater they had an energy and the feeling that everyone works together. There was less of a Hollywood vibe, no one thinking “I’m a big star.” It was kind of like a bunch of people in 1979 out in the woods who all lived in New York and got this wonderful opportunity to be out of the city in the summertime and have a lot of fun together. And I do mean a LOT of fun. And I do mean together.
GS: Which leads us into the obvious follow-up question. “Friday the 13th”. Rumor is that you were on set only four days…
AL: Yeah, if that. I mean, I spent about four weeks creating the mask and working and sitting for the mask, with the prosthetics and fake teeth being made by the great Tom Savini.
GS: Right. And that’s the question. When you met Tom Savini, were you aware that you were in the presence of a legend, or someone on their way to being a legend?
AL: He was becoming that. First of all, let me say Tom Savini is a big inspiration to me personally. He’s quite a creative type of character. He has a certain wonderfully macho way of being an artist that I was always impressed with and sought to emulate in my own fashion. Although, Savini isn’t into loud rock music. But, nonetheless, he’s still kind of a rock star in his own right and hanging out with him and his assistant when I was about thirteen, fourteen years old was, as you can imagine, like being led into Merlin’s magic workshop. It was a blast, and these guys were into stage fighting. I don’t know if you’ve seen [George Romero’s] “Knightriders” (affiliate link)…
GS: I’ve seen clips, not the actual movie.
AL: You’ve gotta see “Knightriders”, (affiliate link) it’s a great movie. Ed Harris and it’s just an absolutely great movie that really speaks about the 70s and the time period it comes from, you know? It’s a movie about people jousting on motorcycles.
AL: And Stephen King is even in it. But it’s also a very thoughtful and very emotional movie. Tom is weeping at one point in this movie. [switching back to “Friday the 13th” (affiliate link)] It was amazing, and there was so much goofing around going on, that Tom had this first prosthetic cast of the mask with giggle lines because I was laughing so much at their antics. And Savini goes, “Have you ever heard Jim Morrison and the Doors?” He wanted to hypnotize me, so he put on (singing) “People are strange, when you’re a stranger…” So I was like, “Wow.”
GS: That will mellow you out.
AL: It mellowed me right out. And I listened to the whole album, and that’s how we got the cast for the mask.
GS: Believe it or not, that’s the only “Friday the 13th” question I had. You did a couple small films over the past few years, and you just did another one that I don’t think is released yet — “Terror Overload”.
AL: Yeah, “Terror Overload”. (affiliate link) It’s a great film, it was made up in Minnesota. I play this guy named Ray-Ray who runs this backwoods bordello. And his sisters are all the hookers. It’s really three films with a wrap-around story. The part I’m in is called “Mongo Chupa”. The premise of the movie is that a chupacabra goes wild in a backwoods bordello. I get killed by a chupacabra. It’s written by Joe Knetter, one of the better horror writers, I feel.
GS: Writer of “Zombie Bukkake”.
AL: Yes. A unique tome. Yes, he’s definitely extreme, but also extremely funny. And he did this wonderful scene where he wears this crazy clown outfit. There’s actually this scene with two clowns getting it on, and it’s really funny. It’s a good little film, it’s something to watch for fun. There’s also a film called “Hell-ephone” where I have a lead role and I play the Circuit Maker. He’s like this crazy professor who gets these students together to do this elaborate prank where they pretend to be people’s loved ones calling from beyond the grave. “Hell-ephone”. And it all goes awry when they call the mother of a serial killer, and the next thing you know, people start getting killed. So they think maybe they’ve disturbed the ghost of the serial killer. And we’ll leave the rest for you to see in “Hell-ephone”, from ZP International. And what I like about both of these companies — one from Minnesota, Not For the Squeamish Productions who made “Terror Overload”, (affiliate link) and one from Kentucky who made “Hell-ephone”, ZP International — both of those groups are great, independent, family-like… when you go there, it’s not like you’re going to Hollywood. Everyone is working together, building off of each other’s creativity, they give me a lot of free reign with my character development…
GS: Which is always good.
AL: Yeah. But, you know, I only show up if I like what the script has in it to begin with. I’m already digging what they’re doing. Sure, some people will say it’s about how it’s edited, or how it’s shot, but I think it’s to be commended… these pioneers of independent film to have the wherewithal to complete these projects, which is so difficult in a detail-oriented world of filmmaking. I’m proud of them.
GS: Oh, absolutely. I’m waiting to get a copy of “Terror Overload”. I think it’s in post right now.
AL: Well, tomorrow night [March 21, 2009] we’re going to St. Paul, we’re playing at Station 4, and it’s a party celebrating “Terror Overload” (affiliate link) and Mommy Says No is going to be there, Impaler, Firstjason… so I love it when those things happen, when it’s a really conscious meeting of metal and horror. It’s wonderful because you get these characters to come out, the horror/metal scene has so many eccentric types, because people are kind of tired of the sedentary cemetery of society and want to bust out of that grave and scare the crap out of everyone.
GS: Alright, we’re moving on to the music. We just saw you and your band, Firstjason, kick a little bit of ass out there…
AL: Thank you, thank you.
GS: You play what I think you call a keysword… and it’s amazing.
AL: A keysword, yes. I love the keysword.
GS: Well, the question I have is related yet unrelated. I came across some information that you have recorded some tracks with Bill Moseley.
AL: Oh yeah, that’s a cool little project. I did the soundtrack for a movie that got the Rondo Hatton classic horror movie award for Best Independent Film of 2007, “Vampira: The Movie”. Alpha Video put it out and it did quite well. Kevin Sean Michaels, the director, I think he did a wonderful job with it. He was friends with Maila Nurmi, the woman who was Vampira, the original scream queen horror host from Hollywood. She was in “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and she was just wonderful. She was James Dean’s lover and just a crazy character. She pours her heart out and as much as any film documentary should reveal the human experience, this one certainly does. And a woman like Maila… once you’ve seen this film, you feel like you’ve really met her in a way, that wonderful era of Hollywood and all the crazy stuff that was going on at the time. So, Alpha Video was pleased. They said, “Why don’t you put out a soundtrack CD?” So we said fine, but we really need some more tracks. And so what happened was, interestingly enough, Kevin had written some poems about the character from “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and he had Bill Moseley read the poems. And they recorded that, because you know Bill has this wonderful vocal quality, that nasally rasp that can’t be imitated. A wonderfully Midwestern sound, but then it’s just him, he’s really like that. Brilliant person, very intelligent person, warm person and a deeply philosophical person. But also a funny person. So, he did a great job on that and he played some theremin on these recordings…
GS: We don’t hear a lot of that.
AL: So they just gave me the poems and the theremin recordings and I created eight or ten tracks of songs with my music and his vocals and theremin. And actually, Nefarious from Macabre plays on one track. I got George from Yard, who’s a Chicago reggae, toaster… he’s on one track. So when you listen to it, it’s got this wonderfully diverse thing with Bill holding it all together. It’s a lot of fun. They interspersed a lot of tracks on the final soundtrack CD, so there’s all sorts of different stuff. But I had so much fun doing that and it was a great honor. And, you know, it gives me a reason to talk to Bill.
GS: I came across some news, that may or may not be current… in Chicago you’re renovating a 115-year old house.
AL: Thank goodness, we finished that. Yes. My wife’s family owned a house in Uptown, a historic neighborhood of Chicago, right near the Green Mill [Jazz Club] and the Riviera [Theater] and the Aragon [Ballroom]. It was a three-story, Queen Anne Victorian house and it was by a cemetery and it was filled with raccoons, squirrels, bats, opossum, ghosts… everything. The hardest part was getting rid of the squirrels. We got rid of the raccoons, that was a challenge. First we got rid of them and then I found they had made a nest in the roof over the porch and there were baby raccoons. And I didn’t have the heart, so I let them stay there for about two months. Then one day I saw the mom leaving with her babies and I chicken wired the nest… no more! But the squirrels would never leave and the only thing that got rid of the squirrels is I put a death metal station on there. We took a radio and we cranked some death metal and they just ran and never came back.
GS: I have to ask you the question I ask everyone, whether or not you have an answer. Do you have any dirt on David Hasselhoff?
AL: (laughs) Dirt on the Hasselhoff? Well, the answer is simply no. He seems like a real nice person. That was a funny clip of him, I suppose, but we’ve all been in similar situations. Maybe he was acting. I think he seems like a real cool guy to me. They love him in Germany. I must admit, I have no dirt on the Hasselhoff.
GS: Any future projects we should know about, besides the ongoing tour?
AL: Yeah, we got this record out now called “Jason is Watching” and it’s going to be up everywhere, all the digital distribution, as well as CDBaby. But for right now, the only place you can get “Jason is Watching” is if you come and check out this tour.
GS: The Jason Unmasked Tour.
AL: That’s right, and we’ll be playing eleven cities throughout the Midwest, including HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis. And Derek Mears is going to be there, the new Jason. And he’s like freaking 8 feet tall, could barely fit in this room. You know, we got this picture of C. J. Graham [Jason Voorhees in Part 6], who’s a big guy [at 6’3″], and he’s standing next to Derek, looking up at him. But he’s also a very nice person.
GS: Although, even Kane Hodder is surprisingly shorter than you’d expect.
AL: Kane! Come out here! Did you hear what he said!? (laughs)
GS: No, he’s a big guy, but he’s not as tall as you might think.
AL: Yes, but he’s mean, man. Let me tell you. (laughs)
Cleaver: I don’t know, I thought he was pretty nice.
AL: Yeah, he’s a sweetheart. Very sweet guy. I love how he can stay in character, he just internalizes Jason.
AL: He’s just great, and his body language, to me, is definitive of the character.
GS: No disrespect to you, but he is the Jason Voorhees.
AL: Oh, to me, too. He’s also Ed Gein, he’s Hatchet. I have a lot of respect for Kane, he’s always reached out to me and given me encouragement and help. Shit, Cleaver was there the first time we met him in an elevator. We’re just standing there, and Kane looks up, and he’s like, “Ari Lehman, the first Jason Voorhees.” And I’m like, “Holy shit.” And he’s like, “I always wanted to meet you.” That was like my welcome to the whole horror scene, was from Kane. And Betsy, the great Betsy Palmer.
GS: Any last words?
AL: This is Ari Lehman, the first Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th”, (affiliate link) and you’re reading Killer Reviews!
Many thanks to Ari for taking time to chat with us… be sure to catch him in “Terror Overload”, and pick up a copy of Firstjason’s new CD, “Jason is Watching”. Featuring Ari on the keysword, Nefarious of death metal band Macabre, and Cleaver from hardcore punk band the Cro-Mags, it’s a great fusion of metal and hardcore punk.