One of the challenges of writing a weekly article is picking the right subject. I didn’t have much time to contemplate it this week and hadn’t settled on one until Thursday evening. I knew I’d be out of luck if my choice didn’t deliver, but after reading the back of the box, I figured I couldn’t miss.
Damn you, Code Red.
It’s not that Trapped (aka Baker County U.S.A. – a much better title) is a bad film, but Code Red’s comparison to Wrong Turn is fallacious. Yes, this involves college kids in the woods. And that’s about the best you can do with similarities. As such, this week’s Saturday Nightmares is a bit light on the nightmares part, and I do apologize. But it was either write this up or skip a week – and I’ve skipped so many of them over the last two years that it wasn’t much of an option this time.
So let’s talk about this Canuxploitation effort from 1982. Director William Fruet was no stranger to the horror/exploitation genre throughout his career, cutting his teeth on the rape/revenge thriller House by the Lake (aka Death Weekend) in 1976 before moving on to straight-up horror throughout the 1980s with Funeral Home, Spasms and Killer Party. Trapped is perhaps “genre-by-association” in that it features a misogynistic killer, Henry (played by Henry Silva), ruling over the tiny backwoods community of Baker County, but it’s really just a survival thriller peppered with some slightly outrageous moments along the way.
Problems arise when Henry catches his wife in bed with another man. Instead of beating him silly and sending him on his way, Henry’s code calls for the poor sod to be imprisoned for his trespasses. He’s a bit of a hypocrite since the opening scene finds him in the forest, taking his mistress for a roll in the leaves. Anyway, the townspeople agree that backwoods justice must be served, and so Henry takes it upon himself to tar and feather the guy. Of course, he escapes and a posse gives chase. It’s here that our unsuspecting college foursome stumble across the scene, just in time to see Henry beat the man to death with a branch. They flee, only to find themselves the target of the killer – now desperate to cover up his murder at any cost.
Trapped probably doesn’t sound very original. But it doesn’t fall into routine, either. Our unlikely heroes aren’t the smartest bunch to ever happen upon sinister backwoods killings, and some of their behavior is downright idiotic. Try not to yell at your TV when they escape the county and then choose to go back for their camping supplies! And if that’s not bad enough, wait until they recover their gear and then decide to check up on the body (presumably to see if he’s actually dead). Many films are predicated upon instances of spotty rationale, almost never benefiting the narrative. Here, a surprisingly engaging story so far suddenly induces eye-rolls and becomes more intrinsic of genre clichés.
But Trapped changes gears as soon as it begins looking like a Deliverance clone, wisely subverting viewer expectations. Instead of chasing kids around the forest for 90 minutes, John Beaird’s script chooses to explore the scruples of its backwoods residents. The result adds a far more interesting angle to the story, preventing another “all country folk are deranged killers” formula from unfolding. As the villainous Henry rampages around rallying the townspeople to his cause, lots of folks outright reject his cruelty and violence, choosing instead to help our heroes. This may sound trite and contrived, but Beaird’s script depicts plenty of instances where Henry’s iron-clad rule upsets the balance of this backwoods burg, and so the collective change of heart is both organic and warranted. The script also delves into the conscience-laden Sheriff (Henry’s brother), who turns a conflicted eye away from the bloodshed, and the militant anti-violence stance extolled by our hero who, naturally, must take a life to save his own. Beaird was also behind the superior slasher My Bloody Valentine, so his ability to turn a familiar scenario into something more substantial is proven. A shame he didn’t put his pen to the genre more often.
It’s well directed, too. Fruet has a nice sense of style and energy here. The shots in which the kids witness the killing are well staged, and the limited bouts of action manage to impress. The climactic truck chase features some undeniably exciting stunt work, ensuring the film closes out on a high note. And it’s one of those movies where the villain’s “just desserts” are plenty satisfying (if predictable). Sure, the pacing needed a little tightening (at 95 minutes, it’s a bit too long) as we spend a little too much time on the politics of Baker County, but Trapped is professionally delivered even if its structure is odd.
If you’ve ever enjoyed another film in this subgenre (be it Deliverance, Southern Comfort or any of their imitators), then Trapped is worth a look. I’m a little annoyed it was my choice of movie this week, if only because of how light it is on horror elements, but it’s not worth punishing the movie over. In fact, everything in Trapped functions well above similar low-budget offerings. Hell, it’s even nicely shot (as expected from Mark Irwin)! Exploitation/survival fans will probably find a lot to like on this trip to Baker County. Even if you think you’ve seen this story before, its approach is diverse enough to warrant a look.
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