Don't Go in the Woods...Alone (US - DVD R1)
Gabe went into the woods today and was in for a big surpri-Aargh! My liver!
The Video Nasties controversy birthed an unfortunate fan fascination with bad horror films that would’ve otherwise been simply forgotten to time. There are very few films on the original list that are convincingly nasty enough to have garnered a banned status, even in the most conservative times, and even fewer that deserve any attention at all. Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone is one of the more notorious titles among fans, but for reasons of general quality rather than depictions of graphic sex or violence. The title has been unavailable on R1 DVD for quite some time, feeding curiosity to a boiling point. Thanks to relatively new imprint Code Red DVD, I am finally able to fully assess the bloody awfulness.
Don’t Go in the Woods isn’t the most inept film I’ve ever seen (stay tuned for that one), but it certainly hordes more than its share of badness. The plot boils down to a feral man running amok through the forest and killing people. Most of the film focuses on the trials of four main hikers, and most of their dialogue appears to have been made up on the spot, either during filming or during an ADR session. The vast majority of spoken words are completely unessential to the meagre narrative, and mostly consist of characters taking several minutes to say a single line by repeating it ad nauseam (“Dick? Dick, is that you? Dick? Is that you?) and describing their actions (I’m coming out there. Here I come. I’m coming.). Strangely enough, if the commentary is to be believed there were actually scripted lines. The actors speaking these lines are uniformly terrible, not surprisingly, but a lot of the ham and cheese seems to be more director and script based.
The narrative pattern moves like clockwork, rhythmically consisting of brief scenes that attempt to build the main characters, divided by scenes of unnamed forest visitors being gruesomely vanquished, and more fake out scares then I think I’ve ever seen in my life. One wonders if perhaps director James Bryan didn’t perhaps shoot a 40-minute survival horror short, and later fill it out with more gory kills after distributors showed some interest.
Though the banned status is totally unfounded, there are some satisfying slaughters. The killer (who looks a whole lot like Papa Jupiter from Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, which played with Don’t Go in the Woods on some double bills) ices a dopey photographer early on, and drops the body off a cliff face right next to our heroes, who somehow entirely miss the whole thing. Later, after butchering a middle-aged gigolo, the killer shoves a VW van over another cliff with minimal effort. With the frightened middle-aged lover still inside the vehicle bursts into flames. Then the killer starts setting traps. He attacks a couple napping in sleeping bags, snaring one of the bags in a tree and beating the poor girl like a piñata (later one of the ‘heroes’ pulls the first part of the same stunt). And just when we think the monster is an adept killing machine he blows it by oafishly tossing two of the flimsiest looking spears I've ever seen. The ‘spears’ bounce off the heroine’s shoulder and head.
Surprisingly enough, the film’s best kill belongs to the hero, who accidentally rams an innocent hiker through with a giant makeshift spear. What should be a tragic moment becomes hilarious when the hero falls to his knees and begins apologizing.
Director James Bryan supervised this transfer, which apparently explains the aspect ratio, but IMDb.com claims an original release ratio of 1.85:1. IMDb’s claims appear founded in some scenes where speaking characters are placed just off screen, but this could always be just another symptom of bad filmmaking. According to the commentary track the film stock was particularly cheap because it had expired. The overall print is pretty clean for a twelve thousand dollar, twenty five year old movie, but dirt, grain, and print artefacts are consistent. Colours fluctuate a bit throughout, but are pretty rich and bright considering all things. Compression noise is also impressive considering, and effective contrast levels ensure a whole heck of a lot more definition then we’d normally expect.
There’s simply no way this movie was filmed with sound—none of the dialogue matches the lip movement, and the vocal volume doesn’t match the sound effects. The vocal volume fluctuates within a single shot, and none of the characters match each other in volume either. ‘Composer’ H. Kingsley Thurher’s ‘score’ is one of the most obnoxious collections of bleeps and blorps ever put to film. The mono presentation is relatively clean, again considering, with a fair share of pops and scratches.
There are two commentary tracks on this disc, which most folks will call two too many, but the second track, featuring director James Bryan, actress Mary Gail Artz, superfan and CKY guitarist Deron Miller, and some guy whose name I couldn’t understand (Dave something), is quite entertaining. The superfans aren’t afraid to tease the film, and Artz and Bryan aren’t afraid to look down of themselves. The whole track is very good-natured and an easy listen. Bryan’s solo track is a little more technically minded, but the director’s tone is numbing.
Bryan himself has produced a retrospective documentary for this disc, and what it lacks in execution it makes up for in charm and good humour. The interviews, almost all of which at least partially take place next to cars (as if Bryan has sneaked up on them with camera in hand), are shot on cheap VHS. The video quality is pretty bad, and the sound quality isn’t much better. The interview subjects are almost all out of the acting business, but still seem to think they’ve got the stuff, because they all seem to toss out a couple of jokes. If I were a rabid fan of the film this slightly overlong doc (almost an hour) might’ve been orgasmic, I simply enjoyed it.
Next are two local television interviews with Bryan and Tom Drury (who played the monster) about the film just before the film was released, a local news item about Drury, and Bryan’s recalling the film’s release (they tagged it on screen with E.T. in LA. These last a total of around fifteen minutes, and are augmented with various radio spots. Things come to a close with a still and poster art slideshow and a reconstruction of the original trailer (it was lost, apparently).
Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone doesn’t quite live up to either of its opposing expectations. The BBFC must have been out of their gourds to ban such a silly film, despite the filmmaker’s best intensions to shock, and I’ve seen much worse productions in my day. I think this one qualifies as ‘so bad it’s good’, but more discerning horror fans may disagree. It’d make a good goofy/gory slasher triple feature with Buddy Cooper’s The Mutilator and Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 29th April 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Director/Actor Commentary, Making-Of Featurette, Trailer, Interviews, Stills
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Bryan
Cast: Ken Carter, James P. Hayden, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown, Nick McClelland
Length: 83 minutes
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