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DiSanti completes his killer “Never Hike” series of F13 fan films with the final bloody, brilliant chapter, “Never Hike Alone 2”.

Never Hike Alone

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Let’s talk about the Never Hike series.

The landscape of fan films has undergone a seismic shift, courtesy of Vincente DiSanti and his innovative approach to the Friday the 13th legacy. Never Hike Alone 2 (2023) is not merely a fan film homage to a beloved horror franchise; it stands as the third installment in a series that has indelibly marked and evolved the world of fan films and their resonance within the broader horror genre.

The inaugural film Never Hike Alone (2017) was a revelation in its unique quasi-found-footage style, a distinct departure from the traditional narrative, charting the perilous journey of adventure vlogger Kyle McLeod.

Andrew Leighty (13 Fanboy, 2021) brings depth and credibility to this role, capturing the essence of a modern-day explorer who unwittingly delves into a dark chapter of Camp Crystal Lake’s history — four decades after the harrowing events of Friday the 13th.

What’s striking about Kyle is his divergence from the standard horror movie protagonist mold.

He’s not just another victim-in-waiting but a relatable and rational figure (barring his foray into abandoned properties). As Kyle ventures deeper into the ruins, intermittent updates to his followers also give a window into his fragmented memories of the eerie legend of Camp Blood.

However, Kyle’s forlorn exploration soon turns sinister as he inadvertently rouses the interest of Camp Crystal Lake’s most infamous resident, Jason Voorhees — a towering menace plagued by maternal issues and a deep-seated rage (who also happens to be undead, lovingly referred to as a “revenant” by fans of the Never Hike series). As the tension mounts, Kyle’s survival instincts kick in, propelling the narrative forward with exhilarating chases and escapes meticulously orchestrated to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

The cinematic brilliance reaches its crescendo towards the finale.

As death looms, Tommy Jarvis, who fans remember fondly as a pivotal character from the 4th to 6th installments of the Friday the 13th series, emerges in a heroic twist.

Thom Matthews, also recognized for his role as “Freddy” in 1985’s Return of the Living Dead, reprising Jarvis, punctuates the scene with the unforgettable line, “Hey, maggot head! Remember me, asshole?” as he confronts Jason, played with unnerving authenticity by writer/director Vincente DiSanti. This moment, an amalgamation of suspense, action, and a dash of humor, epitomizes the genius of DiSanti’s directorial vision.

The second installment, Never Hike in the Snow, was a much darker and stylized prequel that takes place three months before Never Hike Alone and touched on heavier themes like grief and police corruption, introducing the lovely and sympathetic Diana Hill (Jason Rising, 2021), portrayed with nuance and skill by Anna Campbell whose grief and dismay at the disappearance of her son Mark (Courtlan Gordon, director of Happy Halloween: A Halloween Kills Fan Film, 2020) who, unbeknownst to her, has taken an arrow to the leg and an axe to the face, courtesy of one of the scariest Jasons to grace the screen in any film.

Guastaferro gives one of the best performances of his career, showing that Jason Lives deputy (now Sherriff) Rick Cologne’s not just an incompetent dickhead but also a layered character who delivers the news of Mark’s disappearance to Anna with compassion and desperately tries (and fails) to protect the sanctity of his town from a supernatural element he refuses to believe in.

Matthews again shows why he’s considered the “best Tommy” by so many fans as he insists on uncovering Crystal Lake’s dirty little secret despite the misguided efforts of Cologne and his posse.

With the success of the first two films, DiSanti went above and beyond for the fans by merging the two into a single narrative with Never Hike Alone: The Ghost Cut.

One of the best online viewing experiences I’ve had was when he graciously guested on Death Curse Society’s watch-along premiere and provided hilarious and insightful commentary throughout the movie, bantering with the hosts like old friends and taking questions from the fans.

Having dedicated a significant portion of his personal and professional life for nearly seven years to relentlessly promote and raise funds for what is now the definitive horror fan film, DiSanit has finally combined the elements that made FRIDAY THE 13TH and the NEVER HIKE movies iconic, crafting an unforgettable finale.

This not only offers a fitting end to the fan film trilogy but also brings closure to those eager for a resolution to the Jarvis vs. Jason saga.

Never Hike Alone 2 premiered at the 14th annual Telluride Horror Show on (fittingly) Friday the 13th, 2023, to a full house, garnering immediate acclaim throughout the horror community, and has since amassed over a million views on YouTube.

Fans universally praised what culminated from years of vision and nearly half a million in crowdfunding. After spending several days reading comments from the YouTube premiere and reviews from numerous self-styled horror critics, it was refreshing to see minimal negative feedback from a fandom known for its intense passion (imagine Alec Guinness lamenting: “It is as if thousands of basement-dwelling men in 5x black tees cried out in the voice of ‘Comic Book Guy’ from The Simpsons… and were suddenly silenced”).

Never Hike Alone: The Final Chapter

Eerie music heightens, accompanying a swift aerial view of Crystal Lake. Thick evergreens frame a fleeting glimpse of a campsite. The scene then shifts to a closer view of the water and adjacent trees; as the camera ventures deeper into nature, it captures an old log floating on the lake and a spider weaving its web in the muted forest. It then fades to a bobber disturbing the lake’s surface.

The surrounding sights and sounds are immersive: water splashing, reel cranking, insects buzzing, and a boy resembling a young Corey Feldman humming “Great Big Globs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts.”

Such nuances exemplify the attention to detail renowned filmmakers possess. Did you spot the axe in the stump? It could be an inconsequential detail, perhaps a nod to Part V (Vic was definitely “way out of line”). But it likely serves as a more advanced Chekhov’s Gun: “If in the first act, you introduce a pistol on the wall, it must be fired in the following one. Otherwise, don’t show it.”

This principle resonates with most of DiSanti’s directorial choices. Every color, sound, movement, prop, background, or musical segment is deliberately chosen. Even the yellow axe handle might look familiar to eagle-eyed viewers.

DiSanti’s unwavering commitment is commendable, despite challenges like budget constraints, time pressures, and unforeseen delays. Facing obstacles such as wildfires and a writers’ strike during the production of Never Hike Alone 2, DiSanti leveraged his resilience, honed from overcoming challenges like COVID-19 in prior films, to enhance his craft.

This approach mirrors how some novelists discover that working within strict poetic forms, like sonnets or haikus, can ironically lead to greater creative freedom and outstanding outcomes.

DiSanti excels at compressing the depth of a two-hour film into one hour, then refining it through editing and post-production into an unparalleled work of art.

The finished product not only appears more costly but is also received as such by the audience.

From the outset, DiSanti demonstrates his grasp of the lore and the psychological undertones of the series. The twist is sublime when adult Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews SLAYS) admonishes his younger self:

“What did I tell you about coming out here alone?”

It becomes clear that Crystal Lake isn’t just Jason’s domain; it’s Tommy’s. This place holds his memories: fishing adventures, observing teens during his coming of age, and a glimpse of his life before the events of Final Chapter.

Evoking the beloved dream sequences of Parts 1 and 3, Jason suddenly emerges from the water to snatch the boy just before adult Tommy awakens from his nightmare. This is where DiSanti’s brilliance shines: he isn’t afraid to experiment.

Transitioning scenes, he visualizes present-day Tommy diving into his reflection in Camp Crystal Lake to rescue his “inner child” from the monster that wants to drag him into the lake’s depths.

This is pure Vincente DiSanti: a visual portrayal of trauma encapsulated in a meticulously crafted psychological (and terrifying) metaphor.

To truly appreciate this opening sequence, you’d think viewers would need familiarity with Tommy’s backstory in previous films. But DiSanti provides an insightful commentary on the lingering effects of childhood trauma, presented so creatively that even non-horror fans can recognize its novelty. These are the sorts of choices showcasing mass-appeal sensibility that the major studios should be clamoring for (wake up, Hollywood).

Inside Tommy’s room, amid his struggle with the burden of Camp Blood’s haunting curse, viewers encounter numerous Easter eggs, from well-known family photos to articles recounting Crystal Lake’s chilling history. A brief glimpse of Roy’s mask from Part 5, distinguishable by its blue chevrons, is especially noteworthy. Could this be a hint of future legacy projects?

One particularly poignant moment arises when Tommy, reminiscent of the traumatized survivor from A New Beginning, defiantly confronts a vision of Jason, underlined by empowering music, signaling his intent to finally end their feud.

One notable detail in Tommy’s room is a stack of tapes revealing his psychotherapy sessions. This detail made me ponder what other secrets adult Tommy Jarvis’s room might hide.

Any fan willing to delve deep into the intricacies of the film will undoubtedly appreciate the meticulous care embedded in every scene.

The nice thing about streaming video in HD is that you can pause and dissect the rabbit trails. With a film like this, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised every time, guaranteed.

The epic score (Ryan Perez-Daple, Goosebumps, 2015) and title then take center stage, transitioning to a scene where Tommy has a confrontation with Sheriff Cologne, leading to a tense exchange. We also get a bit of sinister milling about by Jason, this time in a performance shared with Brian Forrest (TV’s Sleepy Hollow), who is obviously pissed and ready to crush some heads.

The narrative seamlessly shifts to Kyle from Never Hike Alone,” which at first seems like a disconnected flashback to the first film. But when the setting changes to Tommy interacting with Dr. Hill from Never Hike in the Snow, still mourning her son’s disappearance and lamenting the broader fallout (such as the fact that the state hasn’t even declared him dead yet – story details you might not expect from a fan film), DiSanti’s intentions become clear.

He’s interweaving the narratives of the first two Never Hike films, paving the way for a new group of survivors-in-arms, reminiscent of classics like Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, and The Lost Boys.

All the best stories allow their characters to develop individually and as a team.

A subsequent scene showcases Sheriff Cologne’s fixation on Tommy Jarvis, punctuated by the appearance of a deputy played by Douglas Tait, known for his stunt work on Freddy vs. Jason (this movie has more horror cred than The Boogeyman’s Basement), who turns out a solid performance in the film. While Cologne is portrayed as brash, his motivations, rooted in genuine concerns about Jarvis’s potential threat, add depth to his character. However, you can sense from his colleagues that working with a well-meaning douche has its pros and cons.

All that is in the first five minutes. Yeah. It just gets better and better.

Horror geeks are going to be talking about the kills for years, especially the…well, no spoilers. Finish reading this review, then go watch the movie… many times.

A FEW TAKEAWAYS:

Never Hike Alone 2

– I want a weathered, brown file that says JARVIS CASE NO. 5397B with a worn, green label and “ClOSED” marked on it in Crystal Lake sheriff’s handwriting… for Christmas.

– I want Drew Leighty’s (I mean “Kyle’s”) constitution so I can survive multiple stab wounds and other trauma and still evade Jason like a boss.

– A couple of lines that were poetry to my horror/Friday fan ears:

Tommy: “My team is dead. Call the sheriff.” (all I heard was, “Send more paramedics”).

Dr. Anna Camp (channeling Mrs. Kintner from Jaws): “Are you saying that my son was murdered, and you knew all this time?”

– On a monitor in one of the hospital scenes in which footage of Kyle finding Jason’s mother’s head is cast, we can see someone took the time to design a Wessex County Medical Center logo as well as give it a slogan, “The Spirit of Caring, Close to Home…” Did I mention the attention to detail?

– Let’s all take a moment