Let’s talk about 80s horror. Also, the original Jason Vorhees is in Portsmouth tonight.

Ari "First Jason" Lehman

Ari “First Jason” Lehman

The original Jason Vorhees, the supernatural killing machine from the Friday the 13th movies, will be in Portsmouth tonight. Ari Lehman will be appearing at Let’s “B” Reel, a monthly movie series that showcases b-movies and features guests, props and other extra goodies. Lehman’s appearance was made possible by Coast City Comics!, who hosted him for a separate event.

I talked with Knate, Let’s “B” Reel co-organizer, about Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, teenage anxieties, exploding parakeets, One Crazy Summer, and more.

For your reference, future Let’s B Real film events will include Wet Hot American Summer (August), Heathers (September), and an homage to witches, which will feature Teen Witch, The Craft and Hocus Pocus (October).

Also, if you somehow haven’t seen every single 80s horror movies, there are a lot of 30-year-old spoilers below.

Why was Friday the 13th a movie you wanted to show as part of this series?

Earlier this year Tim, my partner at the series, and I were discussing movies that come to mind when we think about Summer. We narrowed it down to three. My number one pick was The Lost Boys, which we did last month. Tim’s first pick was Friday the 13th. I had never even thought of that, but it is totally a Summer movie.

It all takes place at a Summer camp and it makes for a perfect opportunity for quote-unquote teenagers to get scantily clad and then made to pay for their sins.

Exactly. [Laughs] I have always been a Nightmare on Elm Street person, so I am excited to revisit this franchise. I am especially excited that we could get Ari Lehman. When we settled upon the film, I really wanted to get someone from the original as opposed to all of the other sequels. It seemed like Ari would be the person who would fit the bill best. He is still super active in the theater and arts community. He has a band called First Jason, which is this horror death metal band. That is absolutely amazing and he is bringing a little bit of that with him. He is totally punk rock, we’re totally punk rock, and it felt like a match made made in heaven. Coast City Comics! was gracious enough to sponsor him coming in and they will also be doing an event with him.

So Ari Lehman is the Jason who pops up out of the water at the end of the first film?

Yes, he is the deformed kid.

Ah, when you said he had a death metal band, I was initially confused, thinking he was 30-something in 1980, which would make him in his mid-60s now. Not that someone in their mid-60s can’t be in a death medal band, but you know…

On your Summer movie list, where did One Crazy Summer place?

My Crazy Summer never came up! But in the same vein, we are looking at doing Wet Hot American Summer next. But One Crazy Summer is a great call.

For Wet Hot American Summer, you should take everyone to… What is it? Orono? You should take them to Orono and get them addicted to heroin.

It’s Waterville! [Laughs]

We’re not really sure who we will find for that. [Director] David Wain is too busy, but he did answer my email, which I thought was fantastic.

How about Nightmare on Elm Street 2? When will that make an appearance at b-reel? The flamboyant opening dance scene alone makes it worth an appearance.

You’re talking about Mark Patton, who is one of the people I most want to bring out here. Maybe a crowd would come out to that one, but of all of the Nightmare films, it would be number two or number three. I am partial to number 3.

Number 3 is clearly the better film. You would really have to be called “Let’s C Reel” in order for the second film to fit into what you’re doing.

Exactly. In the second film, the homoerotic overtones of that movie are so blatant and so crazy, but there is also the exploding parrot. People forget about the exploding parrot and that’s my favorite part of the entire film. I think about Mark’s dance scene at the beginning, where he is dancing and using a tennis racket as an air guitar is hilarious, but the exploding parrot is the best.

You said that you were more of a Freddy fan than a Jason fan. Why do you think that is?

I didn’t grow up with the original. I can’t remember which one it was, but I think it might have been Friday the 13th Part 3? We had that on a tape from HBO when I was a kid and so I am really familiar with that one. At the time, it didn’t hit as close to home as Nightmare on Elm St. did, but it did for Tim. Tim is really psyched for it because he grew up with it. I am not sure why it didn’t hit home for me then, but it has been great to revisit.

About ten years ago, Hollywood studios began to remake a lot of the old classic slashers. They did Texas Chainsaw, The Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare, and Friday. They haven’t done Hellraiser yet, but I think that is on the horizon. Those remakes have a hard time capturing what was originally terrifying about those movies, which all look sweaty and tan and grey and brown and weird. When you want to show off Jessica Biel half naked, that aesthetic doesn’t really work these days, I guess.

But it is also because they are very specific products of the late 70s and specifically the 80s where kids do something wrong and have to pay for it. In Friday, these kids allow this woman’s son to die because they are having sex and partying. So not only do people die as a result of having fun, they are slaughtered in retribution for it. In that way, they serve as propaganda straight out of a Reagan / Thatcher world.

A lot of times the formula for horror films include these cautionary tales. They scare us because they show things that we do and get nervous about and they prey on the insecurities we have when we are growing up. Experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex are all things that come up during teenage and in that way it can be a scary time. That’s why these kids are always portrayed as epicurean in the way that they go through the world. It is always the one that is smarter or more chaste who always gets away, the one who doesn’t have sex or the one who passes on the joint. So these are cautionary tales that get more and more fantastical with each iteration.

There is a lot of humor in these films as well, especially in these franchise films. I think there is a point that the writers get to where they wonder how ridiculous they can make it while still getting people to come see it, and people always come back. Horror is the most sustainable model for film. People like to be scared and they like to laugh. I think that’s why they work for the series, because now, from the perspective of today, we’re laughing at different things. Like you said, the colors are kind of strange and they have this grittiness to them. I think we laugh at that and we are creating a space for people to do that.

I think that for a long time, the post-modern cultural reading of these movies was that when you do biblically impure things, you meet some sort of supernatural maker and so they are inherently conservative, as I said earlier. But thinking about the insecurities of teenage you mentioned earlier, Louis CK was on Fresh Air a few days back and he said something about how, in retrospect, he waited to have sex in many of his past encounters. In a completely morally agnostic way, he said something like if you wait, you can either figure out that you really do want to have sex with the person, or you will figure out that the fallout from that sex won’t be worth it. It can be uncomfortable and weird. Maybe Jason is the personification of the uncomfortable weirdness that is inherent in teenage and beyond.

That’s a great way of looking at it.

I have a strong feeling that the people making these movies don’t really give a shit about what the Bible has to say.

Horror movies are often rooted in something real. Nightmare was based on an article that Wes Craven saw. It was a tiny blurb about an African boy dying in his sleep. He said that if he went to sleep, he would die of fright and he actually did. The movies are often based on these sorts of urban legends that become something more.

It is the cautionary element that gets kind of ridiculous, when you look at the root of the message and try to figure out what it is trying to warn you about. Friday the 13th is a great example of that sort of messaging. Sleep Away Camp came out around the same time and it is similar. In that one, if you are a hermaphrodite, you’re going to kill someone! It goes from being a serial killer movie to a body horror film in a strange way.

You could even say that Friday the 13th is one of the first anti-bullying films. They treat him like shit. This prank goes too far and he dies. We had Lloyd Kaufman at an event last year and he said that The Toxic Adventure is the number one anti-bullying film because it is one of the first films where the bully was someone you could recognize and understand was terrible and then the protagonist, a victim of bullying, becomes super human and fights crime.

I appreciate you taking the time to do this.

Thank you! I always enjoy talking with you about this stuff.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.