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REVIEW: ‘NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW’ OFFERS A GLIMPSE AT WHAT ‘FRIDAY THE 13TH’ COULD BE

Ten words have haunted the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise since 1981. Since that time, ten other films have played out on screens the world over, but with the notable exceptions of John Shepherd’s Tommy Jarvis (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, 1985) and Jason as human being courtesy Derek Mears (FRIDAY THE 13TH, 2009), the words”let’s think beyond the legend, put it in real terms” have fallen on deaf ears.

One filmmaker heard Ginny Field (Amy Steel), and more importantly, Vincente DiSanti is still listening. Womp Stomp Films dropped its fan effort NEVER HIKE ALONE (2017) three years ago and provided FRIDAY fanatics with something that was much more than a new adventure steeped in “real terms”, it was a glimmer of hope that with the right people driving the RV, Camp Crystal Lake could return to glory.

NEVER HIKE ALONE was the FRIDAY film we’d been waiting for, but it turns out that it was but an appetizer for the delectable, 25-minute dish to come. NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW takes place shortly before the events of ALONE but writer / director DiSanti takes the time to illuminate the emotional toll this universe inflicts on its residents. In other words, Womp Stomp puts it in “real terms.”

DiSanti introduces us to Mark Hill, a 17-year old aspiring photographer and his mother Diana, played to perfection by Courtlan Gordon and Anna Campbell, respectively, but also reacquaints the audience with a pair of old friends. No longer a deputy, we find Sheriff Rick Cologne (Vinny Guastaferro) investigating a case in Wessex County, and once more Thom Mathews is the punk he wants to punch silly.

Unlike the aforementioned Shepherd in A NEW BEGINNING, Mathews wasn’t afforded the opportunity to display the tax of Tommy Jarvis’ associations with Voorhees in JASON LIVES (1986), but that ended with NEVER HIKE ALONE and rages all ahead full in SNOW. The lingering repercussions of those experiences didn’t end when the credits ran on Part VI, and those demons are still very real in 2017 (when SNOW takes place).

Jarvis knows exactly what’s going on when hikers come up missing, and wants to put an end to Jason once and for all. Cologne, however, remains an obstacle and fans will be thrilled to find that the animosity between the two remains as heated and entertaining as ever. Though it’s cliche to say “never skips a beat,” the relationship between Rick and Tommy may be even more contemptuous than it was 30 year ago and the passage of time hasn’t tarnished the magic.

Beyond the performances (which are stellar), it’s the production value that will leave fans in awe. DiSanti’s writing is clean, crisp and sensible, but the brilliance doesn’t end there. Director of Photography Evan Butka takes the snow and the dark and blends them into something wickedly beautiful, Mike Api’s editing is seamless, and Suzan Jones’ sound mixing brings the picture alive. But what would a FRIDAY flick be without makeup effects? Norah Hewitt and Rachel Lynn Gerwig’s work here is something to behold, with kills that will stay with you long after you’ve walked away from the screen, and it’s all topped off with Ryan Perez-Daple’s foreboding score that clutches with tension throughout.

DiSanti continues to raise the bar for further studio releases. Rehashing the same old story, or worse–rushing the same old story for a cash grab–will no longer be acceptable, and we have Womp Stomp to thank for that.

In fact, it reminds this writer of something Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said about a fellow enshrinee, “I would never insult another catcher by comparing them to Johnny Bench.” The sentiment holds true for DiSanti and the Womp Stomp crew because referring to the NEVER HIKE entries as fan films ventures beyond insult, it’s downright offensive. Look, there are many well done fan films in existence, but poorly made ones outnumber them 50-to-1 and the NEVER HIKE pictures are more than a group of friends with some camera equipment and a dream, they are a highly motivated and capable team led by DiSanti. Womp Stomp is not a group of uber-fans taking a weekend to pay homage, they are laying the groundwork for the direction the franchise should embark upon once the legalities surrounding FRIDAY are settled.

Womp Stomp has set out create the FRIDAY THE 13TH film fans have been yearning to see since the ’09 reboot, and if we’re honest, even before that. And that is exactly what they have done. Twice.

To take it a step further, several years ago when rumors of a FRIDAY television series began to gain traction there was excitement, but devotees of the franchise had long since been accustomed to disappointment. Would it actually happen, and if so, would it work as a serial? NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW answers that question with an emphatic yes.

Shudder gave CREEPSHOW six episodes last year and should strongly consider handing a similar FRIDAY run to DiSanti and Womp Stomp because frankly the effect of resurrecting The Last Drive-In would pale in comparison to the flood of FRIDAY freaks rushing to subscribe for a revival of the Jason and Tommy rivalry.

For Camp Crystal Lake to return to its glory days requires three things: the vision of someone who loves (but more importantly) understands the franchise, who also possesses the chops as a writer and director, and then whichever studio ends up with the rights simply needs to get out of their way.

Let’s put it in real terms: that someone is Vincente DiSanti, the most important addition to the FRIDAY family since Kane Hodder.

NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW went live on YouTube at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, October the 13th.