Friday the 13th is one of those horror franchises that is so beloved by fans and so bafflingly mismanaged by studios that we haven't seen a lot of "new" in the saga of Jason Voorhees. Add to that the legal battles surrounding the property and it will likely be years still before we see another official return to camp. That's why the surprise 2017 fan film Never Hike Alone was such an incredible relief to those who love the films and characters connected to it.
WompStomp Films and director Vincente DiSanti gave us a low budget, high value, completely new and unique take on the ghostly guardian of Camp Crystal Lake. The movie was a loving and immersive dive into character development and storytelling, as well as plenty of fan service, that resonated powerfully with audiences and even a lot of alumni of the Friday the 13th franchise. In fact, the only thing that Never Hike Alone left us wanting was more. Recently, I talked with director Vincente DiSanti about the next installment in this fan based tribute series, Never Hike in the Snow.
Dan- So my biggest question has to be how have you managed to avoid the legal hell surrounding the Friday the 13th franchise? How have Never Hike Alone and Never Hike in the Snow managed to avoid being caught up in that insanity?
Vincente- My first thought is that everyone needs to follow Larry Zerner on Twitter because he's the one who has all the answers surrounding how the law seems to work around the franchise. Fan Films are non-profit so we're not making money off of this like the studios. We do this with a kind of soft permission because we aren't making any money from it. Fan films exist outside of the property and studios usually aren't interested in sending out those cease and desist letters. At the end of the day, though, it's really up to the rights holders and by their grace that we get to do this.
Dan- Your fan films are, in my opinion, some of the best Friday the 13th storytelling fans have seen in 25 years. What's the overall story you're trying to tell by resurrecting Jason Voorhees?
Vincente- Never Hike Alone sort of became a reflection of the series itself in a way, it's like for me my tastes in the series really departed towards the end of the Paramount era. After it left Paramount it really never found its footing again. I never felt that the series that I started watching as a child continued on and I felt like it changed so drastically that I didn't really recognize it. I still supported it. I still watched it, and I still went to the movies but I felt like what people wanted with Jason was missing. And I think when I started to explore Never Hike Alone I wondered what it would be like for Jason if that toxic sludge from Part 8 had kind of taken him down another storm drain so to speak. As if Jason Goes to Hell never happened and we retconned it kind of like what's in style now with what they're doing with Halloween. It's a continuation of and more of a link to Paramount's style.
I just kind of wanted to see more stories about that Jason, and for Never Hike Alone it became like a reintroduction to the world of Crystal Lake as if Jason that never went to Hell or space. So in our story Jason has just been dormant for 30 years doing his best to remain hidden among the camp which has all but been erased from the town's history. For our story lines we just tried to focus on characters that unknowingly kind of open Crystal Lake's Pandora's Box and release Jason from hiding. Never Hike Alone was a concept of one person going in and accidentally stumbling into this place that was all but forgotten. I wanted to rediscover that world. And with Never Hike in the Snow I want to use this character of Mark Hill, not just to rediscover Camp Crystal Lake but the town of Crystal Lake, and the people that live within it. Kyle's story in Never Hike Alone was one of reintroducing us to the camp. Mark's story is one of introducing us to the town. And what's cool about this time instead of holding in our alumni as as a surprise we have Tommy Jarvis, and Rick Cologne.
So I have those two characters who are coming back to reprise roles from previous movies. I really wanted to give them storylines and arcs that felt like they were extensions of the characters that they were in the previous films, but have had these 30 years of living in this town with Jason sort of taking up that moniker of ghost Jason, becoming a ghost of Crystal Lake. Every now and then someone goes missing, and the police investigate. They don't seem to really be able to turn anything up because ghost Jason just has this kind of knack for being able to hide. It's like he learned all his mistakes from the previous films, it was like "You know what? Maybe I shouldn't storm forts and storm houses and do all this crazy stuff and get myself burned and drowned and all these things. Maybe I just try to stick to my own surroundings hide in the camp." Sort of like Jason from Part 2 where he's just trying to hide in his shack and stay out of the way and it's only when people encroach on his territory that he starts out with attacks.
Dan- Yeah, it had that very territorial feel. You almost get the sense in watching Never Hike Alone that if he hadn't stepped over that line that Jason would have just watched without ever interacting with him.
Vincente- Exactly! And that's exactly what would have happened. Jason steps behind Kyle in that moment and that was a warning. That was Kyle's first warning, and then after that Jason just lets this character work its way into the center of his web. By the time Kyle works his way to the center of camp he crosses the ultimate line which is going into Jason's room and discovering that he's still there. Now he's so stuck within the camp it's going to be even harder for him to escape and what Jason doesn't anticipate is that Kyle is a fighter. And I think, you know, we're exploring these kind of themes of what Jason thinks and how Jason's not prepared for the real world and what does Jason look like at the time in 2017 and now 2020? I mean we're sticking to kind of a tight timeline around 2017, but like what other issues is Jason going to have that he wouldn't have had to deal with back in the 80s while still getting sort of a relatable story of like what feels natural to him without going over the top.
And so that's what I try to find in these stories, these natural entry points and interesting events that set a series of new story points in motion and show the characters emotionally and trying to do the right thing. I want to show how even with the best of intentions things can go wrong and I think that that's kind of the underlying story of these movies. You know it's not so much about the formula anymore it's not not about drinking and partying and having sex and doing all that stuff it's about characters who are innocently wandering into things that they don't understand and then trying to survive. I think it makes the stories a little bit more intense and suspenseful and allows you to grow a little bit closer to the characters.
Dan- So tell me about the story of Never Hike in the Snow.
Vincente- It's about a local Crystal Lake resident, Marco, who goes for a hike in the dead of winter and doesn't come home. And what's really not there in the context is what happens when someone goes missing in Crystal Lake? It starts with that question, what happens, how do people react, what do they think? There were kind of two entities in play; there's Tommy Jarvis who believes that Jason is still lurking out there in the forest, but he has struggled to prove it over the last 30 years. And that puts him at odds with his old nemesis Rick Cologne, who's now the sheriff of Wessex County, who believes Tommy might have more to do with the strange disappearances than ghosts that no one can find. We're kind of using this film to set up their rivalry and how they choose to approach when things that go askew in Crystal Lake and how it effects those caught in the middle. It's going to be about the choices made by these two characters that ultimately lead to the town's fate. And since Never Hike in the Snow is a prequel I wanted to treat this entry like like a pilot episode. We're setting up a few different characters that will have reoccurring roles including Rick and Tommy.
As we continue to tell stories, each entry asks a specific question about things you wanted to see from Jason or things about Tommy, or things that you've always wanted to see as a fan. They sort of take those singular ideas and address those with each episode on top of continuing our story to an inevitable conclusion which for me is, is the conclusion I never got from the original Paramount series. Which characters die and which ones actually make it to the end is going to be a fun journey. Yeah, it gives us kind of a sense of completion to the story.
Dan- I remember talking to you about Never Hike Alone in 2017 and that you had some pretty insane stories and injuries that happened on set. Did you end up with any repeats or any anything else bizarre during Never Hike in the Snow?
Vincente- No, I think that our experiences on Never Hike Alone really prepared us for this. We were anticipating things to go wrong and think everything went perfectly. But we were just better prepared. You know, conditions were still hard. It was cold ,it was 20 degrees at night with freezing snow on us. Cars wouldn't start and doors got frozen shut. It was not ideal but we've been getting better at what we do. I did two seasons with The Rookie for ABC working in the ad department. Not only making my living, but studying and saying "How can I use the knowledge on set to get better with my team?" So Never Hike Alone took us 18 months to film and put together before we released it. Never Hike in the Snow was shot in six days and it was a concentrated effort. It was an expensive effort because we put all of the funding into that 25 minutes, much like Never Hike Alone which was about 25 minutes of free gorilla shooting and 25 minutes of $50,000 that we had in the previous film that made up all the stunts and night shoots.
Ninety percent of Never Hike in the Snow was shot at night. We have two day scenes in the whole film and they're short. And there's a lot of lighting, there's a lot of effects, there's a lot of things that we had to do with a bigger cast. So it was a much more challenging production we had to go through SAG, we had permits, we had new locations so it was a much more challenging production, but I was surrounded with help. I have two producers, Kyle and Kara, who really helped me put together the production budget and scheduling for this, and helped run our set. Then we just had a bigger team. We picked up Susan Jones when we did Pathosis and she became our sound person. Britney Montero we picked up as a script supervisor. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I didn't go out and surround myself with a lot of really talented people.
Dan- How is the camp site holding up against the wildfires?
Vincente- Right now, our main camp site is okay. And some of the surrounding places that we use are also okay. But there is a fire within its vicinity. It's really unlikely that the fire will carry all the way up there and if it does we're going to have much bigger problems than our camp. We're really just hoping that that entire area can be kept under control which I think they're doing a pretty good job at. It was actually the winter of 2018-2019 that brought a flood to the camp in the spring of 2019. So we went up there and we saw it last year and a huge tree had fallen on top of the main cabin and busted a hole in the roof. The roadway that we use to drive up there had washed away as was the bridge and there's a river that cuts through it now. So we've been working out ways that we can still get equipment up there by talking to locals and seeing if we can source four wheelers and gators and all sorts of all terrain vehicles. With some of the funding that we raised with the latest campaign that we ran we're going to take a few hundred bucks of that to buy some wood and build a bridge across this little creek. We're also going to go clean the entire camp up purchase more wood and build the set rebuild our sets for Never Hike Again and then, hopefully, our goal is by spring we've already.
That's sort of the overall strategy that we want is trying to get ahead of each production so that we're moving more efficiently with each one.
Dan- Aside from Friday the 13th, are there any other horror properties you'd want to take a stab at in the future?
Vincente- Yes, in fact, it's been kind of sitting on the shelf for a while and I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to do it. It's not true horror but I would love to remake First Blood as a horror film. My pitch for it would be to base it more on the original David Morell novel where the lines between hero and villain are way more blurred. Rambo actually snaps and kills people and creates these intense hunting and killing sequences that have slasher overtones. If you watch the original First Blood, Rambo is sort of warning all the police. I would take it to the next level.
Never Hike in the Snow premieres on Tuesday, October 13th. For more information about the release and when you can see it, visit WompStomp Films and be sure to follow them on Twitter and YouTube.
Dan Lee is an author, editorialist, and podcaster from Nashville, TN. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram as @dotdblog.