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The Making of a Monster: Jason Voorhees

The How and Why Behind the Most Iconic Horror Movie Villain Ever

Friday the 13th is arguably one of the most iconic, well-known horror franchises ever created. The centerpiece for this franchise is, of course, Jason Voorhees - the king of all psycho killers. Though he had a slow start, only appearing in flashbacks and hallucinations in the original Friday the 13th (1980), he quickly became an icon as he slashed his way through film after film (there are currently 12, but who knows if they'll make more). But how did Jason go from an innocent kid who drowned in a lake to the subject of a collective pop culture nightmare? 

Creation

Ari Lehman as the young Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980).

The character of Jason Voorhees was initially created by Victor Miller, who wrote the script for the original Friday the 13th that came out in 1980. The first incarnation, who only appears as a child and functions mostly as motivation for Pamela Voorhees' (Betsy Palmer) killing spree, was played by Ari Lehman. The name 'Jason' is meant to be a combination of 'Josh' and 'Ian' - the names of Miller's two sons. As for 'Voorhees', it was inspired by a girl that Miller had known in high school with the last name 'Van Voorhees' - he thought the name was creepy sounding.

The script called for Jason to look normal, as all of his disabilities were mental. However, makeup artist Tom Savini felt that a child that was physically deformed as well would make the film more psychologically disturbing. His design, which would go on to influence every incarnation of Jason after this, was inspired by a boy he'd known in childhood whose features were not symmetrical. Jason's baldness was also chosen by Savini, who wanted to showcase an oddly shaped head.

To create the look, the makeup crew made a plaster mold of Ari Lehman's head and then used it to make facial prosthetics. Ari Lehman himself also made a design choice for the original Jason; he covered himself in mud from the bottom of the lake during filming to make himself appear "really slimy." 

Casting Jason

The thing about a psycho killer who wears a mask and never speaks is that casting becomes fluid; most of the incarnations of Jason as an adult have been selected purely for body size and physical ability. The first adult Jason, Warrington Gillette, was hired because it was believed that he had attended the Hollywood Stuntman's School. When it became apparent that he could not perform the stunts, the stunt coordinator brought in Steve Daskewisz, AKA Steve Dash, who ended up filming every appearance of Jason in Part 2 except for the opening sequence and the unmasking at the end, which were filmed by Gillette. Despite this, Gillette retains credit as Jason for Part 2. If this upsets you, don't worry: Daskewisz did receive credit when scenes from Part 2 were reused in Part III. Since Gillette and Daskewisz, 7 different actors have portrayed Jason on-screen:

  • Richard Brooker: Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
  • Ted White: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
  • Tom Morga: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
  • C.J. Graham: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
  • Kane Hodder: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Jason X (2001)
  • Ken Kirzinger: Freddy vs Jason (2003)
  • Derek Mears: Friday the 13th (2009)

The Style of a Killer

The physical design of Jason Voorhees has changed over the years as well. For Part 2, makeup artist Carl Fullerton was asked to stay as close to Savini's design when creating the adult Jason; however, he only had one day to design and sculpt the head. So he drew a rough sketch based on what he believed Jason should look and had it approved by director Steve Miner. Fullerton added long hair to the character, but the facial makeup is essentially the same. Warrington Gillette had to spend hours in the makeup chair for the application and had to keep one eye closed while filming so Jason's "droopy eye" would remain in place. 

The inception of Jason's hockey mask—a cultural icon in every respect—didn't come along until Part III. Jason had been known to cover his face, but he'd worn a burlap sack over his head in Part 2. During the production for Part III, they needed to somehow cover Richard Brooker's face during a lighting check. Martin Jay Sadoff, who was the film's 3D effects supervisor, was a hockey fan and happened to have a bag of gear with him on set; he produced a Detroit Red Wings goaltender mask for the lighting test. Director Steve Miner loved the look, but the original mask was too small for Richard Brooker's face. A Vacuform mold was created and enlarged, then red triangles were placed in various positions on the face to give it a more unique look; the holes were also punched and markings altered to make it distinct from the original goaltender's mask.

Other than the hockey mask, Jason's physical appearance has changed dramatically from film to film. Here's a timeline of Jason's look: 

  • Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988): John Carl Buechler adds evidence of Jason's damage in previous installments—motor boat damage from Part VI, and cut marks created by the axes and machete from Part III and The Final Chapter. The effects crew also gives him a more rotted, corpse-like feel because he had been submerged in water in Part VI
  • Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993): Howard Berger takes the exposed flesh concept from The New Blood to a new level; his design for the mask overlapped it with Jason's flesh, making it seem as though it was fused with his face and thus could no longer be removed. The amount of exposed flesh was so great that a full body suit was sculpted for Kane Hodder out of foam latex. 
  • Jason X (2002): Stephan Dupuis was given the task of redesigning Jason for this film—this was also when Jason's superhuman regenerative abilities were introduced. Thus, Dupuis decided to try and give the character more hair and to give his flesh a more natural appearance to illustrate the idea that his body was constantly regenerating (Wolverine, eat your heart out.) Dupuis also wanted a more "gothic" look, so he added chains, shackles, and designed a more angular hockey mask.
  • Freddy vs. Jason (2003): For this incarnation, Ronny Yu wanted the hockey mask to become the focal point of everything; to achieve this, the makeup artists created a "blood-pooled" look on the back of Jason's head with black paint - this is based on the concept that blood pools in the body during decomposition, and Jason had been lying on his back for a long time before the events of the film. 
  • Friday the 13th (2009): For this remake, Scott Stoddard took quite a bit of inspiration from The Final Chapter; he wanted to ensure that Jason appeared more human, and not so monstrous as he had in previous films. His design included natural hair loss and skin rashes alongside the traditional facial deformities, but he attempted to craft the look in a way that would reveal Jason's human side. His design for the hockey mask was inspired mainly by the third and fourth films; he managed to get his hands on an original mask and study it, but he also didn't want to replicate it entirely. In the end, he would craft six separate versions of the mask, each with varying degrees of wear and tear. 

Personality (Or Lack Thereof)

Jason's muteness makes him especially difficult to get a read on. 

Considering that he is almost completely mute, it's difficult to really get an understanding for Jason's personality. He remains silent throughout the bulk of 12 films; the exceptions are flashbacks to his childhood, instances in Jason Goes to Hell where his spirit possesses other people, and a brief scene in Jason Takes Manhattan when the character cries out, "Mommy, please don't let me drown!" in a childlike voice before being submerged in toxic waste. Whether or not Jason's muteness is mechanical or psychological is unknown.

As for his personality, director Sean S. Cunningham says, "...He doesn't have any personality. He's like a great white shark. You can't really defeat him. All you can hope for is to survive." However, there are some that disagree with this opinion; some analyses of Jason reveal a sort of childlike aspect to the man, and an inability to get past his initial childhood drowning.

Jason's motivations for killing also remain a mystery, though many have given suggestions. Ken Kirzinger believes that Jason is a "psycho-savant" and that his actions are based on pleasing his mother, rather than anything internal. Andrew O'Hehir of Salon Magazine thinks that Jason's motivations come from his prudishness—he is an ever-vigilant enforcer of William Bennett-style values. This idea seems to stem from Jason's penchant for killing teenagers while they are making out or having sex. 

Most interestingly, Kane Hodder, who has occupied the role of Jason Voorhees more than any other, believes that there is a limit to what Jason will do. According to Hodder, Jason has no qualms about killing anyone he comes across, but when the script for Jason Takes Manhattan called for him to kick the lead character's dog, Hodder refused, believing that Jason isn't bad enough to hurt animals. Similarly, several directors have chosen to ensure that Jason doesn't kill children—this probably stems from his own childhood death, or the idea that he relates to them because he is essentially a huge, machete-wielding child.

Fun Facts

  • Jason was awarded the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. He is the first of only three completely fictional characters to receive this—the others are Godzilla, who received it in 1996, and Chewbacca, who received it in 1997. 
  • He was named #26 in Wizard Magazine's "100 Greatest Villains of All Time."
  • Two Jason Voorhees model kits were made by Screamin' Toys: one was produced in 1988, and another six years later, after the release of Jason Goes to Hell. Both kits are currently out of production.
  • His first appearance in a video game was on a Commodore 64 in 1985—there have been many games featuring Jason since then, including a new asymmetrical multiplayer horror game released in 2017. 
  • In Wes Craven's Cursed (2005), a wax sculpture from Jason Goes to Hell can be seen in the wax museum. 
  • Though he's known for using a machete and his bare hands, he's used an estimated total of 71 different weapons throughout the films, some of which include a knitting needle, a corkscrew, a guitar, and a party horn.
  • Jason has the most kills of any horror movie slasher with at least 151. 
  • The iconic "ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma" that appears in most of the soundtracks was meant to represent "kill, kill, kill, mom, mom, mom" - it's supposed to be the voice of Jason in his mother's head as she embarked on the original rampage, according to composer Harry Manfredini. 
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The Making of a Monster: Jason Voorhees
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