Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Starring Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden, Angie Brown, Ken Carter
Directed by James Bryan
Distributed by Code Red DVD
The rapid devolution of civilized man into slavering savages has been a popular theme in horror and science fiction. The Hills Have Eyes is one of the more notorious; being a film that showed how a family from the city could get just as down and dirty as the hill dwelling mutants when their lives were put on the line. Less well known is a similar film, released a few years after Hills, bearing the cautionary title Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone!
Four campers strike out to the hills for a few days of living rough. Little do they know, a hill dwelling maniac (Drury) has gone on the rampage, and is taking out various city folk with a bloody vengeance. Blood flows, limbs fly, and heads roll down hillsides as the surviving campers must eventually stalk their stalker; striking back at the wild-man in the woods in a showdown of human ferocity and pure violence.
Or something to that effect; this is about as exciting as I can make it sound. The fact is, Don’t Go in the Woods is a bad movie, and I don’t think this is any secret to any of the talent involved. The first half of the film plays out in a semi-linear rambling sort of way as the madman takes out unrelated individuals and couples that are camping in the nearby wilderness. These scenes are campy, silly, and almost have a Herschell G Lewis brand of celebratory madness to them. They’re not really meant to frighten, but rather to just be gory, absurd, and comedic.
The second half begins when the surviving members of the camping trip escape the woods, only to return with a police led posse some days later. The “film everything” approach taken in this portion of the film is just ripe for riffing. We’re treated to shot after shot of the town’s portly sheriff walking through the woods, his gun raised, looking around for the big bear-fur wearing lunatic. Here’s a shot of some trees; now the sky; now the portly sheriff going around a tree; here’s some more trees; wow, look at that sky! Then we see the sheriff walking down a trail before being shown some more trees, more shots of blue skies, and other stuff that huffs and puffs to limp the film into its profoundly long 83-minute length.
The soundtrack also deserves note, especially the hill-dwelling lunatic’s theme song. It sounds sort of like someone stuffed a beaver with light bulbs, tossed the thing into an industrial fan on high, recorded the brief second of impact, and then looped that recording over, and over, and over for our listening pleasures. This noise pounds at you in a rapidly escalating volume any time the lunatic stalks near. I think the makers of the film decided that, well, if they can’t create a sound that’ll scare you, they’ll make one that will really annoys the snot out of you. At least they’re getting a reaction, even if it’s one that may involve noise induced epileptic seizures.
As seems to be a theme with Code Red DVD releases, the extras are actually rather generous. There are two different commentary tracks (if you wish to watch this film a total of three times), as well as a poster and stills gallery. Also included are various talk show appearances; the directors and actors appeared on talk shows at the time to promote the film, and here they are available for review. The most ambitious extra is a full hour featurette which includes interviews with much of the talent of the film in a sort of “where are they now” approach. The portion on madman Tom Drury was the most entertaining, as it was revealed that the man is something of a formal stage actor with such roles as Benjamin Franklin and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone is a bad film; but it is also true that it is an unpretentious bit of campy horror that’s really just trying to have a good time. It’s not very good, but this film knows that, and I bet it’d stand in front of you and sheepishly apologize afterwards if it could only achieve some sort of awkward and sloppy sentience in order to do so. Plan to watch this film with friends who love to riff, or don’t watch it at all.
2 out of 5
4 out of 5