Monday, December 1, 2014

Census Bloodbath: Are We Out Of The Woods Yet?

Year: 1981
Director: James Bryan
Cast: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Well, here we are again. After a whirlwind November that prevented me from getting much done other than endless schoolwork and curling up in the shower contemplating the meaning of existence (although I miraculously managed to reach a high water mark in terms of current movies reviewed, so I guess I'm the champion), things are finally beginning to wind down. So y'all know what that means... 

More terrible slashers that have me curling up in the shower contemplating the meaning of existence!

What with all the cheerily cluttered imagery on the poster, the unnecessarily verbose title, the borderline nonsensical tagline, and its position on the UK's notorious Video Nasties list, one would assume that Don't Go in the Woods... Alone! might be a fun bad-good romp through the wreckage of 1981 - the best year for the slasher film. Unfortunately, that distinction only goes so far, considering that since its very inception, the slasher genre has been a rather derelict affair.

So no, unfortunately, DGitW...A! is not good. It's not even bad-good. It's merely another ponderously dull affair shot by an amateur team in their backyard that doesn't even have the decency to be particularly exploitative. Although I find great pleasure in the fact that their barest of nods toward the obligatory topless scene involves a man and not a woman.

This is about as progressive as an 80's slasher can get.

Don't Go in the Woods... Alone! has a plot, I'm sure, though I don't think it came up while they were filming the endless tangential death scenes. But here we go. Four young (ish) characters (ish) are camping in the woods. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Led by Craig (James P. Hayden), a pedantic survivalist who inexplicably wears short shorts into the deep woods and is palpably older than his friends (to the point where I thought he was their dad dragging them along), the intrepid band includes Joanne (Angie Brown), a young woman with a butch haircut who is alternately called Jodie, Judy, or Julie and might in fact be three distinct characters who never share screen time; Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz, who has since become a casting director prestigious enough to lay hands on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), a young woman with a butch haircut who is enthusiastic about nature; and Peter (Jack McClelland), a handsome (ish) young man who patently does not want to be there.

One might surmise that he's only there because he has the hots for Ingrid, but that would be reading too much into a script that I strongly doubt the screenwriters even read. The most important thing about Peter is that his lines appear to have been dubbed by a team of actors who - in what I'm sure is a dutiful stab at diversity in ethnic representation - hail from all over the globe. Throughout the course of the film, Peter's accent dizzily slides through Australian, British, Southern, New Yorker, and Eastern European, and that's just in the lines we can actually decipher through the fog of low budget sound.

Although his voice itself is far more interesting than anything he has to say.

With such a perilously small platter of Meat, the movie beefs itself up with an endless array of extraneous characters who show up just to be murdered, a format that would be popularized to tragic effect in 1985's Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Between a pair of tourists dressed in shapeless pink atrocities, two separate camping couples, a random painter and her bouncing baby girl, a fisherman, a hiker, a birdwatcher, a rollerblading girl, and countless other nameless shell-people, the woods here are more densely populated than your average Walmart.

But an errant structure can occasionally be saved by a couple truly top-notch gore effects. And this film did attain Video Nasty status, so hopefully that means...


Well, it mainly means that the UK just has no sense of humor about these things. Though I'll admit they must be more eagle-eyed than Yours Truly, because in order to see something offensive in the kill scenes, one must have the ability to actually see the scenes themselves, a skill I patently lack. Many early shots conspicuously frame the killer out to the point that a victim being murdered looks more like they're tripping on a stick, and several are so ludicrously cut that someone will become doused in blood or lose an arm in the blink of an eye without any evident effort expended on any character's part.

And one shot that introduces two new characters then immediately kills them is so underlit that I thought the movie had ended and the credits were about to roll. What we do see is inevitably imprecise, looking more like someone had an accident with a ketchup bottle than an actual person being stabbed in specific places. It is supremely difficult to tell what's going on except in the rudimentary sense that since there's shrieking, it must be terrible. 

One gets the sense that the filmmakers had taken notes on all their favorite slashers, but obeyed the letter of the law and not the intent. Offscreen kills only work if we know who it is that is purportedly being killed and have seen them in more than one frame of the picture. And laboriously keeping the killer offscreen during the first act is supposed to keep his identity a mystery, something deeply unnecessary to this film considering that we never do find out who he is or why he's murdering all these boring people. Also, we're shown his face almost immediately following the half hour mark with no more fanfare than all those endless shots of woodland greenery that fill out the movie's run time.

At least our bad-good hopes have a brief resurgence once it becomes clear that the killer (called "Maniac" in the credits, without even a lowly "The" to accompany him) is a rabid mountain man who looks like Genghis Khan had a little too much to drink at last night's Mardi Gras party.

I mean, it's not quite a hockey mask, but it'll do.

That ostrich he is carrying is actually a spear. The more you know.

Unfortunately any camp value is dashed soon enough as the film continues on its plodding, merry way. The pacing is odd, squeezing three acts into the first 40 minutes, then vomiting out new plot (ish) threads like a magician's handkerchief. The scares are inept, comprised entirely of false shocks that fail to shock because something is only scary if it's visible in the frame and (this is key) isn't just some rocks falling out of a tree.

It's inept (Craig's footage is cut out of his own campfire story, so we just watch his friends sitting around listening to his overdubbed monologue; the cutting frequently breaks screen direction so aggressively that even Jean-Luc Godard would throw up his hands in disgust - film student humor!), it's mean-spirited (a man in a wheelchair is introduced ten minutes before the end only to fall down while wacky music plays, then get decapitated), it's inconsistent (characters come and go - some disappear after being introduced, and others appear way too late in the game), it's poorly performed (Ingrid performs like her soul has long since withered and died and her dialogue is merely echoing from the empty meat shell she left behind; the others aren't much better), and it's nonsensical (the unmotivated killer steals a little girl and carries her around in a box). Also, the dialogue sucks, but let's not pretend that was ever even a real consideration.

Champion Dialogue Runner-Up #1: "Say it, bag of bitch!"

Champion Dialogue Runner-Up #2: "Warm food, warm bed, and a doctor for your cut."

This girl never appears in the film after her one scene. She needs a spinoff.

Many have argued that this film is intentionally bad, making it campy and humorous. And sure, it has its moments. But to that argument I say - even if it's on purpose, that doesn't of necessity make it a laugh riot. Even intentional humor has to be good humor. 

What am I even saying? Intentional humor especially has to be good. These movies are really doing a number on my expectations. Anyway, before I scrub this film from my memory forever, I'd like to suggest an alternate, even more circumlocutory title: Don't Watch Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!... Ever!

Killer: Maniac (Tom Drury)
Final Girl: Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz) feat. Peter (Jack McClelland)
Best Kill: Cherry is knocked into a ravine in a flaming van.
Sign of the Times: Everyone's socks seem to be about 50% too tall.
Scariest Moment: Joanne is trapped in a hanging sleeping bag and can see the killer approaching.
Weirdest Moment: Cherry and Dale make out in a van underneath a poster of Pamela Anderson.
Champion Dialogue: "You mean there are little furry perverts running around doing unnatural things in these woods?"
Body Count: 15; including a random running girl from the opening scene, whose fate remains a mystery because the scene cuts away too soon.
  1. Random Girl probably dies somehow.
  2. Some Dude has his arm hacked off and is hacked in the face.
  3. Dale is choked by his camera strap.
  4. Dale's Wife gets covered in blood somehow, then is dragged away.
  5. Dick is killed offscreen, then slammed into a van window.
  6. Cherry is rolled into a ravine in a flaming van.
  7. Painter Lady is stabbed to death.
  8. Nighttime Man is hung in a sleeping bag and speared maybe.
  9. Nighttime Girlfriend is hung in a sleeping bag and speared probably.
  10. Fisherman gets his face caught in a metal trap and is speared.
  11. Craig is speared in the gut and has his arm removed offscreen for some reason.
  12. Hiker is stabbed in the gut and chest with a stick.
  13. Joanne is macheted to death.
  14. Wheelchair Man is decapitated.
  15. Maniac is stabbed like a million times in the torso with a machete and a stick. 
TL;DR: Don't Go in the Woods... Alone! isn't the worst slasher I've ever seen, but it's one of the most rudimentary and underwhelming.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1710

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