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Friday 13th: a confession

Confession time. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I’m going to hold my hands up and admit, mea culpa, I’m not really a fan of the Friday 13th franchise. Listeners to the podcast will probably have picked up on that—our first episode was on the original film and I have a bit of love for that, but the rest of the franchise? Not really. Admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve watched any of the sequels, but as a teenager I wasn’t impressed.

Friday 13th is a messy, but enjoyable slasher. It (intentionally) rips off Halloween, but it has enough identity in it to take it beyond it’s copycat starting point. The rest of the series is a sprawling mess—in large part because it was never intended to be a series. That scene at the end of the original was bolted on to allow for a franchise and the mythos was pinned down as they went along—I mean the Necronomicon from The Evil Dead crops up after a few films.

Jason Vorhees and the F13th franchise is pretty huge in horror. Jason is one of the classic horror villains along with Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Michael Myers from Halloween (there are other horror figures, but those three are sort of the unholy trinity of classic horror).

While I like the original film, the fervent appeal has always eluded me in a way that Michael Myers and Freddy Kreuger haven’t—to a certain extent all horror franchises suffer from diminishing returns purely based on the surprise factor. The first encounter with a horror is almost always the most terrifying and then you grow more comfortable with it—you know what to expect.

I’m not a Jason fan, I’m not really a Friday 13th fan. I’m also not really a fan fiction fan. I understand the appeal of fan fiction; a way of showing love to the film/novel/franchise/character, of expanding and exploring the mythos, of satisfying the urge to see X doing Y—I understand it, but it’s never been something I’ve had any interest in. If you’re going to make a film set in the world of X then why not just make an original film inspired by the world of X?

Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Recently, I came across a post on social media about a Friday 13th fan film—Never Hike Alone—not really my cup of chai, but I decided that I would take a look thinking I would probably hate it.

I didn’t.

Not even a little bit.

In fact, I kind of liked it—and what I mean by that is: I liked it. Quite a bit. A lot, actually.

Sometimes fan fiction can become canon for a franchise, but as far as I’m aware Never Hike Alone is non-canonical (easy for you to say). That’s a shame because (and again this is from the perspective of a non-fan) I think this is the best Friday 13th entry I’ve seen. It’s certainly the most interesting (again, speaking as a non-fan). I imagine for fans of the franchise there are a thousand Easter egg references that I missed (the few I picked up on were laid with subtlety and wit (Cunningham Road for example) and I enjoyed the appearance of Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis) and it is lovingly made.

Lone hiker, Kyle (Andrew Leighty), goes off-piste while making a hiking vlog and stumbles across the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake where he runs into the big JV. I’m not going to spoil the plot of this (just shy of an hour) film and I really recommend watching it (YouTube) if you’re looking for an interesting, streamlined slasher (with a touch of found footage, but used with restraint and in a way that feels believable).

What makes this a good film is that it would work as a film if you removed the Friday 13th references—for my taste I would prefer it if this was a standalone film, an indie slasher that was inspired by Jason rather than involving him, but my personal preferences aside, this is a really good indie horror film and when Friday 13th gets a(nother) reboot, I think a smart move would be to involve Vincente Disanti and Nathan McLeod who wrote the screenplay for Never Hike Alone.

Womp Stomp Films (the team behind Never Hike Alone) have plans to continue their expansion with further Never Hike stories with a Never Hike in the Snow film completed (according to IMDb)

So what’s the result of all this for me as a non-fan of Friday 13th? Well, it’s made me question my stance on the films—no major existential crisis going on, but Womp Stomp films are clearly intelligent and talented filmmakers. They also clearly love Friday 13th and know the series really well. There’s got to be something in these films that draws them and the huge number of other Friday 13th fans.

Am I wrong?

Probably not. I think it’s a question of personal preference. I absolutely love Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Matt was much less keen on it when we looked at it on the podcast—the reverse is true of Mandy. While I doubt I’m going to become a zealous Jason fan, I do think this franchise deserves a re-examination; so I’m going to take a deep dive back through the Friday 13th films and see what I make of them now.

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