When he was just 14 years old, Ari Lehman drowned in Crystal Lake. His life has never been the same.
The actor and musician, now 53, played the young Jason Voorhees, sans hockey mask, in the original “Friday the 13th” movie. Released in May 1980, the horror flick about a serial killer running amok at a summer camp spawned numerous sequels, most of them featuring an older actor playing Jason in the goalie mask.
Lehman pays tribute to the original Jason character through the band First Jason. The heavy metal band will rock Cattivo in Lawrenceville on March 28.
Lehman is forever linked to the iconic character, who repeatedly returns from his watery grave to seek revenge on the counselors who ignored his cries for help.
“I will never forget the first time I looked at the image of myself in the mirror with the full makeup on,” Lehman told the Trib. “They all left me alone in the studio to see it myself – they had not allowed me to look at their handiwork while it was being done – hours later all alone in the studio in the woods. It was a transformational experience for me.”
Neo Trash Video, a local group dedicated to campy cinema, organized the Pittsburgh concert. Founders Travis Patterson, Mike Carrelas and Mike Ravensland host cult film screenings and events throughout the city.
“Jason is the all-American slasher,” said Jamie Bichsel, a Neo Trash Video member. “There is something completely red, white and blue about such a black-hearted killer. People who enjoy Jason understand that there’s that disconnect. It’s not real but they like the idea of living vicariously through the guise of a horror icon.”
— THN (@TnHorrorNews) February 3, 2016
First Jason released its debut album, “Jason is Watching” on Friday, Feb. 13, 2009; the same day a“Friday the 13th” reboot hit theaters.
Lehman provides lead vocals on songs such as “Jason Never Dies!” and “Sink or Swim” and plays a keytar fashioned out of a machete (Mr. Voorhees’ weapon of choice). Other members include guitarist Eddie Machete, drummer Prince Fabian and bassist Johnny Danger.
The group is touring in support of its fourth album, “Lord of the Lake.” Lehman is happy to make a stop in Pittsburgh, birthplace of special effects artist Tom Savini, whose makeup skills transformed the young actor into a misshapen monster.
He originally auditioned for a comedy directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who lived in the same Connecticut town as the Lehman family. When that movie didn’t pan out, the director offered the aspiring star another role with only one pre-requisite: he had to know how to swim.
“Friday the 13th ” was shot in 1979 at Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Blairstown, N.J. To get into character, Lehman thought about bullied kids and how their sadness and anger could manifest into a supernatural being.
“I wanted to scare people into thinking about being nicer to others,” Lehman said.
When filming wrapped and he returned to high school, Lehman’s classmates scoffed at his Silver Screen debut. (The franchise didn’t catch on until the release of “Friday the 13th Part III,” when Jason first wears the hockey mask.)
Lehman put his acting career on hold and channeled his creativity into jazz piano. After college, he worked for Interscope Records and Tuff Gong Records, playing keyboards and providing background vocals for reggae and world beat bands from Jamaica and Africa.
He eventually moved to Chicago – his wife Elaine’s hometown – and started popping up at horror conventions, where Camp Crystal Lake devotees clamored for his autograph.
Lehman would love to take another stab at playing Jason on the big screen, but, for now, he’s happy showcasing the character on a concert stage. Lehman served as a Red Cross Volunteer at Ground Zero after 9/11 and sells Jason-themed hot sauces at his shows, donating a percentage of the proceeds to animal rescue organizations.
He considers First Jason to be a musical extension of “Friday the 13th ” and invites everyone to come out and enjoy some thrills, chills and surprises. To psych themselves up for the performance, attendees are encouraged to take in a late-night screening of the seminal slasher.
“It’s not a deep, thinky, serious movie and it was never supposed to be,” he said. “There’s lots of ‘great’ horror films, but not all of them are as much of a blast to watch with friends as ‘Friday the 13th’.”
The show is March 28 at Cattivo, 146 44th St., Lawrenceville. Doors open at 9 p.m. There is a $10 cover charge.