Telluride Horror Show Interview: Vincente DiSanti On NEVER HIKE ALONE

We chat with the director behind the crowd pleasing FRIDAY THE 13TH fan film.

It feels criminal that it’s been almost nine years since we’ve had a Friday the 13th movie. Adding to fans’ distress is the number of projects that studios announced, then scuttled as fans got hopes up (Just give me Jason in the snow, goddammit). That’s why Never Hike Alone is such a treat. Despite being a cat-and-mouse act between an unfortunate hiker that stumbles on Camp Crystal Lake and Jason, it manages to capture the essence of what we love about those slasher films. This past weekend at the Telluride Horror Show, we sat down with director Vincente DiSante to talk about the genesis of the project and what makes the Friday films so fun. (For more, read Meredith’s review of Never Hike Alone here)

How the idea for a Never Hike Alone come about?

I was building a Jason costume that looked like an amalgamation between Ted White (The Final Chapter) and Richard Brooker (Part III). My wife and I wanted to take some photos of the costume in the woods. We ended up taking some great pictures on one of the trails that you see in the movie. While we were out there we set up the camera, and I chased her like it was an old school Friday the 13th

I started to get in the habit of doing something for friends every Friday the 13th and I really wanted to do something simple. I was working on this film Rock Dog and our lead actor, Drew Leighty was a PA for that movie. We bonded over horror and I told him my idea for a single hiker, alone in the woods getting chased by Jason. He thought it sounded great. We got a small little team together and we and shot it in the woods. I looked at the footage and thought “Oh God this isn’t good

A while later I shot (the short horror film) Red Room and that woke me up. I continued this idea for Never Hike Alone. Every time I brought it up with a superior they’d go, “A fan film? Really dude? You don’t want to do that. Go write something original.” So I would, and no one would give me the money to do those things. I worked on my Jason costume to make it better and went on hikes. My wife and I were in Big Bear and we found some areas where I started to piece together all these ideas and started on the script again. I built a team from crews of other short films I was helping out on. I told them about the idea and costume, and they were gung-ho to help. We started out thinking it would be about 12 minutes long. We shot a trailer and took it to the fans, and if they were into the idea we would keep going, and if not we wouldn’t press on. We shot our first teaser and Friday the 13th Franchise gave us a great response.

The campsite location looks transported right from one of the films, especially the awesome reveal of the Camp Crystal Lake sign. How much effort did it take to find the right location?

We were wrapping up filming and bumped into some people who lived in the original cabins we were shooting around. They were enjoying what we were doing. They asked us “Hey are you going to go shoot at the camp?” We told them we didn’t have money to rent the space and they were like “No, if you go down the road a bit, there’s an abandoned camp. No one knows it’s there or does anything with it. You should just go up there and have fun.” He whips out this old map and I took a picture of it. I started doing research, comparing his map to Google. The markers were all gone. I couldn’t stop asking myself what happened to this place? I started using satellite and dragging over photos and finally saw the outline of a building-just the corner sticking out under a tree. People had to drive there so there has to be a road. I kept looking and saw a small split in the trees and followed it all the way down. We went out and found the road about a mile from where we had been shooting. It was bolted shut but it was just a nut and a bolt. It wasn’t locked. I looked around and there wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign, so figured it was just an off road trail. We undid the bolt. The road was a total mess. We pulled downed trees off the road. We basically entered our own horror film. After a mile and a half we saw one of the buildings in between a clearing. A tree had caved in the roof. A little further on down the path a clearing exposed the whole camp. My head exploded with ideas. We examined each room thinking what a goldmine. We had our own Camp Crystal Lake to play with. Initially, we only used exteriors and Kyle died pretty quickly. It was more tongue in cheek. Kyle was just a kid on a cell phone taking a selfie. Jason would pop up and chase him. I took more time to work on the script. I took frequent trips to the campsite, and we did walkthroughs to see how to Tetris the layout together. The way the rooms are laid out in the film is not how it is actually built. We built the layout of how it should be and then built our story around our ideas.

One of the nods to the original film are the numbered ribbons scattered throughout the campgrounds, which mark off where specific kill scenes took place. What was the genesis of that idea?

I was building the layout and I saw a red ribbon in a tree. It creeped me out. It was late afternoon and I could hear the wind going through trees and it felt ominous. It reminded me of a crime scene and it hit me that they never really went back to Camp Crystal Lake. It’s a little fuzzy with Jason Lives, but I decided to not get bogged down in details. I wanted to see how to make it work for this project without trying to over explain it. This small town had just a Sheriff and a couple of deputies. They weren’t going to be equipped to deal with an eight person murder scene. Plus, no one owns the camp anymore because Steve Christy is dead. Who’s going clean this place up? Nobody. It’s been sitting there for thirty seven years, unattended.

One of the things we talked about earlier this week was how you wanted to delve into the relationship between Jason and his mother. Why do you feel the relationship between mother and son is so vital to the film?

I know a lot of people will throw Friday the 13th films away as a silly slasher franchise, but I always took away from it was a story about a mother and son. I watched an interview with Betsey Palmer discussing her ideas for the character of Pamela. She described a young girl who fell in love, got pregnant and he ran off. I grew up as the son of a single mom for a few years. I didn’t have a dad before I was ten really. I always connected to the bond Jason and his mother had. What was really important in these films was Jason’s death brings on Pamela’s rage. She kills in Jason’s name. When she dies, Jason kills in her name. There’s a symbiotic relationship. If you remove that, the films become mindless entertainment. With that aspect in, it becomes a beautiful little story Victor Miller really nailed about a mother grieving her son eventually driven to madness. We wanted to tie those elements into the short. It’s minor but we wanted to see what Jason has been doing all this time.

Somewhere still inside him is that boy who yearns for that connection with her, the way Ginny talks about in part two. He wishes she would return, which is why he has that mantle in our film. He’s doing these things because he thinks it will bring her back somehow. Basically, he thinks if he can be left alone, he can still have the life he had with his mother.

We took advantage of this room we found where there was a great attic above a kitchen. I came up with this theory that after years on the road with Jason that as a single mother in the 1940s and 1950s where it’s super conservative and religious and as a single mother with a deformed child Pamela was an outcast that could never find a home. Then she finds her way to Crystal Lake. The Christies welcome her in and she feels like she’s home for the first time. Still, the Christies weren’t equipped to just take in a mom and her special needs son, so they set her up in the pantry. They bring a bed up for her, and she arranged it and made it feel like home. It was the only time that Jason as a boy felt like he was home. Maybe in the short time before he drowned it was the happiest time of his life, before it all fell apart. So when Kyle walks into the camp, Jason has recreated his boyhood home. We set it up thematically that at the beginning of the short, Jason is the one being stalked. He’s curious, but he’s hanging back because he doesn’t want to call attention to himself.

Which of the films’ Jason did you want to base your look on? I see part four when the mask is on and part seven for the unveiling.

I know people don’t love part eight but I love that one, and hockey mask Jason looks crazy in that one. Then, as soon as you knock the mask off, you’re not as scared. When the mask comes off it has to be scarier and I thought the gold standard was Jason Lives. They don’t ever give you a full reveal.They heavily shadow it and there’s enough darkness there to scare you. We wanted to show off all the damage he’s gone through the years. Our VFX artist Kelsey Burke and I would trade images. We didn’t do a full head because that would be too expensive, so she molded my head in a cowl and then she could lay stuff over my face and blend it. We wanted the damage in from the propeller, and we wanted the damage from the machete in part four and getting hit with an axe. From there we wanted a decomposed look. We wanted his flesh to be rotted away and we wanted his eyes to be sunken way back like black holes so you could never see if they’re even there. I wanted the sense that Jason hones in on people’s fear. 

How do you serve both sides by creating something original, in this case a story that’s essentially a cat and mouse chase between Jason and Kyle, while still serving the fans and giving them what they want?

I started with things that scared me as a kid - my nightmares or playing in the woods and imagining Jason was after me. I wanted to explore what happens in between movies. Jason’s out there. It can’t be a group of teens going out there all the time. The movies talk about Jason’s hundreds of victims. We asked have we seen all of those victims or what other stories out there? Once we had the story of the hiker finding a camp, it was easy. I wanted to go back to simplicity, and go back to the kind of story we all love. I tried to pull things from each film and add them in for fun. As much as I have loved working in the film industry, for the first time in my career I felt like I was working on something I was passionate about.