THE JASON FILES pt. 1 – Ari Lehman

The iconic image of Jason Voorhees has become a staple of popular culture, yet before the hockey mask became a symbol of fear the character was just a scared young boy. In Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 original, Jason had drowned in Crystal Lake in 1957 due to the negligence of a group of camp counselors, prompting his mother to exact bloody vengeance on those whom she felt were responsible. Whilst the character later became the antagonist of the franchise and the focal point of each subsequent movie, Jason was first portrayed by a fourteen year old called Ari Lehman. Born in New York on May 2nd 1965, Lehman spent most of his childhood in Westport, Connecticut. His earliest passion was for music and studied classical and jazz on piano, which would ultimately lead to a scholarship at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Lehman had also developed an interest in acting and, after discovering that auditions were being held in Westport for a family movie called Manny’s Orphans, decided he would try out for a role. The movie, directed by fellow New Yorker Cunningham, was a blatant attempt to capitalise on the success of The Bad News Bears, which had been released by Paramount Pictures in 1976. Desperate to escape the stigma of his first production, the rape-revenge exploitation picture The Last House on the Left, Cunningham and his screenwriter, Victor Miller, had developed two sports comedies; Here Come the Tigers and Manny’s Orphans.

Despite only being a minor role, Lehman’s performance had made a suitable impression on Cunningham and, some time later, would be contacted regarding another project. Friday the 13th told of a once-popular summer camp that had reopened after many years but, during the renovations, the counselors are killed off one-by-one by an unseen assailant. The final twist would reveal that the murderer was in fact a seemingly sweet middle-aged woman, whose son had drowned in the lake over twenty years earlier. Cunningham’s own son, Noel (who would work as a producer on two of the later sequels), was first considered for the role but eventually the producers decided to call in Lehman, who was approaching his fourteenth birthday. At his audition, Lehman was accidentally handed the wrong notes for his character and, believing the role to be that of Jack (later portrayed by Kevin Bacon), was shocked to discover a sex scene. The young child would be disappointed, however, when he learned that his part had no dialogue and would only be featured once in the movie. For his audition Lehman was asked one key question by the director, ‘Can you swim?’ Landing the minor role of Jason, Lehmen was led to the make-up workshop of Tom Savini who, with the help of his assistant, Taso Stavrakos, began to create the deformed creature that was Jason.

Lehman soon found himself surrounded by an array of props and monsters that Savini had created for his previous projects, which would include various gruesome body parts. For several weeks, Lehman was subjected to an uncomfortable make-up process, in which a mask and deformed head were designed, which were then fixed with dentures and plaster, that was applied over his skull. During this time, Lehman saw many of the FX gags that would later play a role in the success of the movie being brought to life as Savini, working from a budget of almost $20,000 to create the numerous impalements and mutilations. Some time later, Lehman made his way to where Friday the 13th was being filmed at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey, for a sequence in which Jason is shown drowning in the lake. During his short time on set, he witnessed the shooting of several of the movie’s key sequences, including the death of both Bacon and Harry Crosby, whose body would be discovered pinned to a door by several arrows.

Despite only being hired to shoot one scene, Lehman would be required to work on an additional sequence after the filmmakers were inspired by the final shot of Brian De Palma’s Carrie, in which Sissy Spacek’s character reaches out her hand from beyond the grave to provide one last scare for the audience. Thus, after the killer has finally been dispatched the movie’s heroine, portrayed by Adrienne King, wakes up adrift on the lake when suddenly Jason’s rotten corpse jumps out of the water, dragging her down under the surface. Once again, Lehman found himself in Savini’s make-up chair for an application that would be more graphic and disturbing then his first appearance. By the time the cameras were rolling for the additional scene principal photography had come to an end and the temperature in the water had dropped significantly. Lehman found himself standing waist-deep in the lake, covered in a thick layer of mud and wearing only a jockstrap. At Savini’s suggestion, Lehman had kept his distance from King prior to the shooting of the sequence in order to provoke an honest reaction from his co-star. His idea worked as, the moment Lehman leapt out of the water, King reacted with pure terror. Between each take, Lehman would reapply a new layer of mud from the bottom of the lake and, after several different attempts, Cunningham was satisfied with the scene and Lehman was finally able to climb out of the water.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Lehman chose not to pursue an acting career after completing work on Friday the 13th. Instead, he returned to New York and continued to study playing jazz on piano, before enrolling at New York University, where he was taught by the likes of Vladimir Shafranov. Having gained acclaim for his work as a keyboardist performing reggae with his group, the Ari Ben Moses Band, Lehman was introduced to the horror movie convention circuit in 2002 and discovered the cult following that he had gained through his role as Jason. This would prompt him to form a new band entitled First Jason, in tribute to his breakthrough role and legacy within the horror genre. Over thirty years after making his brief-yet-memorable appearance as Jason Voorhees and Lehman continues to promote his part in the franchise, not only paying tribute to his character in his music but also contributing to the likes of Crystal Lake Memories and His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th.

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About the Author

Christian Sellers

Christian Sellers is a film critic for various horror magazines, he owns and runs horror site Dr. Gore's Funhouse.com and music site Love-It-Loud.com and is the author of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead. Email: [email protected]

10 Responses to “ THE JASON FILES pt. 1 – Ari Lehman ”

  1. Ah the memories come flooding back again. This scene (in my original viewing in theatres) scared the holy bejesus outta me and the rest of the audience. Absolutely NO ONE expected young Jason to come flying out of the lake and pull her in. A classic trick played by a classic director. I also like how Ari Lehman embraced the role like he did. Most actors take themselves too seriously, but not Ari. He has that same basic love of the franchise and character that us hardcore fans do, and he always comes to the films’ defence when someone starts ripping them. A stand-up guy. Long live “First Jason”! Just one Jason fans opinion.

  2. He does seem proud of his role in the franchise. In fact, since the internet and conventions have help spread the word many people from the series now seem pleased with their work, despite having spent years running away from it.

  3. I envy you people who saw the original in theaters back in 1980. Lucky SOBs.

  4. If someone had told the child-me that the boy who played Jason in the lake would grow up to be in a band that plays songs about Jason, my mind woulda blown!

  5. I don’t think watching the film you realize how unpleasant it was for that poor kid standing in the water.

  6. Ari is cool and his band rox! Jason will survive!!

  7. I was lucky to see the original on the big screen a couple of months ago. It was the only one I had never seen on the big screen. As far as Ari goes, I have mixed feelings about the guy. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but I feel he’s just trying to cash in on his couple of seconds of screen time. When I think of Jason, I think of Kane, White, Booker, not Ari. I saw of this website a couple of months ago that he was doing a comic with himself playing Jason. I still have the same opinion, What the Hell? Really? The other actors who have played Jason have had other parts in other films but Ari? What has he done? Like I said before, I’m sure he’s a nice guy but I really see him as someone just cashing in on his few seconds of screen time. Sad…..But who knows.. If I had played Jason, I might be doing the same thing.

  8. I admira that guy Lehman, rather him then me!!

  9. That jump scare scene at the end of part 1 is probably one of the best scenes in the FT13th series. Part 1 was the first FT13th film I ever watched. My Mom rented it back in the VHS days, and I had no idea what was in store. But man, that was some scary stuff. But the scene that really freaked Me out was the jump scare with Ari Lehman as Jason. The way its all set up is excellent. You hear Manfredini playing a soothing song, and theres no buildup or any clue somethings about to happen. As far as everyones concerned its all over, then BAM!!! heres Jason. I was only 7 so lets just say it haunted Me for awhile. And I had no desire to go camping or swimming in any lake for awhile. Thats powerful stuff.

    But anyway Im glad Ari is still doing conventions, and Im glad His band First Jason is doing well. Just awhile ago I read some article of an idea of a FT13th series featuring a teenaged Jason which I assume takes place between FT13th parts 1 and 2. And apparently I think Ari is supposed to be involved. But its in the rumor stage so dont get too happy just yet. But if it does happen, I will definately watch.

  10. I actually agree a lot with eric on this, and I’ve posted something similar on another thread on here before. Like he (and I) said, I’m sure Ari is a nice enough guy, but I think he’s letting his “legacy as the first Jason” go a bit to his head. I don’t even think of the Jason from part 1 as anything significant, because really the character is only seen in a quick 2 second flashback, and then a quick 5 second dream sequence. Not much to make a significant impact in the world of film. And truthfully, it’s the character that people can’t get enough of. Not Ari. I don’t even think Ari thought much about his playing the “first Jason” until someone approached him about the conventions, like the article said. And then he decided to cash in on this in any way possible.
    Sorry Ari, you’re probably nice, but that could have been any Joe-Bob Willy in that make-up for all we care.

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