Another entry in the endless “stalk and slash” efforts of the early 1980s, DON’T GO IN THE WOODS was filmed independently in Utah and directed by James Bryan, a bonafide horror buff who not only had a handful of rarely-seen drive-in programmers under his belt, but had also been employed at Sunn Classics. One of the titles on the infamous U.K. “Video Nasties” roster, this onetime VHS rental favorite has been crying for a DVD edition for quite some time, and this release marks the inauguration point for the new company, Code Red. With this fine presentation, fans of exploitation obscurities have a lot to look forward to, and the company has a slew of grindhouse goodies up their sleeves set for the future.
A quartet of young hikers – Peter (Jack McClelland), Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz), Craig (James P. Hayden) and Joanie (Angie Brown) – go on a camping retreat in the wilderness. As we watch them consistently bickering, lost and trying to locate a cabin, other individuals roaming about are being unsuspectingly knocked off in a number of savage ways. It is later discovered that all these senseless killings are the work of a grunting maniac Wildman (Tom Drury) garbed in furs and beads wrapped across his face, and lugging around a makeshift lance. When word gets into town of the forest massacre, the rotund Sheriff (Ken Carter) arrives on the scene with a large posse determined to track down the uncivilized killing machine.
Easily classified as the “so bad it’s good” type, DON’T GO IN THE WOODS is a very bloody and violent film that never takes itself too seriously (how can it when one of the victims is a wheelchair-bound fool struggling in the middle of the forest for no explained reason?) and has a nonchalant sense of humor about it without resorting to “in your face” laughs. Director Bryan was not shy about embracing every backwoods horror cliché in the book, as to almost pay homage to the-then popular slasher craze, and what he creates is a fast-paced, aggressive and scenic -- if somewhat shoddy -- gorefest. There’s no time for characterizations here; this is just fun fodder for thrill-seeking popcorn cinemaniacs, with a cast of colorful oddballs (a birdwatcher, a female painter, the middle-aged honeymooning couple of “Dick and “Cherry” making love in a van, etc) being stabbed, having limbs torn off, impaled by bear traps, hung by sleeping bags and diced up, etc. Made on an impossibly low budget, the film uses mostly local talent (only the four leads were from California) as well as friends of Bryan, and a majority of the crew also appear in small parts. Adding to the general nuttiness is a bizarre organ score by H. Kingsley Thurher, who also composed an end credit ditty based on “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”!
Code Red presents DON’T GO INTO THE WOODS in a full frame transfer, as per the director’s wishes, reflecting his creative intent when shooting it. Although this played theaters matted, presenting it full screen here was a wise choice as many of the compositions are very tight, even in the full aperture. Shot on 35mm using expired film stock and “short ends,” aside from some light abrasions in a few scenes, the image looks quite good. Detail is very sharp and the colors are extremely bold, a far cry from the previous VHS incarnations. The mono audio (which features lots of post-synched dialogue) is pretty clear, with no outstanding flaws.
The extras here are abundant. What’s listed on the menu as a “featurette” is actually an hour-long documentary written, produced, directed, photographed and edited by Bryan himself. Bryan interviews nearly all of the main cast and crew members, as they discuss their experiences making the film and reveal what they’re up to today. Again exhibiting a sense of humor, the documentary has a running gag about the elusive scriptwriting agent Peter Turner, oft-quoted as the person most responsible for getting the film made. A solid audio commentary with Bryan (he successfully upholds it without a moderator) has him discussing all aspects about making the film, its production history, its theatrical release, and a lot of scene-specific behind-the-scenes stories. A second audio track has Bryan back with WOODS superfans Deron Miller of the band CKY (he also introduces the film), his friend Dave, and actress Mary Gail Artz. This track is more carefree but still fun to listen to, as Bryan answers some diverse questions and talks about several topics not addressed in his lone track. There’s a section of three separate local TV appearances from 1981, all which feature Bryan with Tom Drury promoting the film. One of them has Drury being interviewed from the stage during his other career as singer/guitarist (these days, he’s still a local stage actor). The TV appearances conclude with Bryan (today) talking about other ways in which the film was promoted upon its release. Other extras include a lengthy still gallery (production stills, behind-the-scenes stills and poster and video art), a trailer reconstructed to resemble how the now lost original would have played out, and an Easter Egg featuring Bryan disclosing his two other show business pseudonyms. (George R. Reis)
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