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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Don't Go in the Woods  (1981)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
1 Star
(Release Date: March 10, 2015) – Among the grandeur of the Utah wilderness, four friends (Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown and James P. Hayden) on a hiking excursion run afoul of a psychotic mountain man out to slaughter anyone and everyone who dares step foot on his secluded turf. Synopsis over. By any sensible standards, shoestring-budgeted 1981 slasher flick "Don't Go in the Woods" is not a good film. It is loosely plotted, amateurish in the extreme, derivative to its core, and features so many instances of pure filmmaking inanity that the act of watching it borders on the surreal. Indeed, the acting is hilariously wretched, not helped by overzealous post-production voice dubbing. H. Kingsley Thurber's music score—a mix of gnarly synthesizers, foreboding drum beats, and outrageously goofy Ringling Bros. sound effects—is unusual, to say the least. For every effectively rough, unsettled composition, there are others that make a mockery of its supporting victims, including that of a man in a wheelchair (Gerry Klein) who has decided a trip by himself into the rocky, brush-heavy terrain of the forest makes perfect sense. As for the nursery-rhyme-inspired title song that plays over the end credits, it has to be heard to be believed, then will percolate in one's mind for days—possibly weeks—after.

Upon release, "Don't Go in the Woods" became a so-called "Video Nasty" in the UK, banned for years because of its extreme violence and gore. Watching it in 2015, it is outrageous to imagine it could have upset anyone so much that it would be outlawed. The death scenes are occasionally brutal, but in a "let's-go-into-the-woods-with-friends-and-make-a-movie-with-karo-syrup-and-no-money" kind of way. Director James Bryan displays precious little experience in how to shoot and compose a horror film, but the picture is not without a certain affectionate scrappiness. With the four central protagonists' travails interspersed with scenes of random people—a birdwatcher, a newlywed couple, camera-toting, beret-wearing out-of-towners-getting stalked and killed, the barebones script by Garth Eliassen is padded to the brink yet filled with enough carnage and out-there lunacy to entertain. If production values are otherwise low, the picturesque Utah location shooting also lends the proceedings an unexpected scope. "Don't Go in the Woods" is terrible, but unintentionally quite funny because of this. Director Bryan has claimed that his intentions were very much tongue-in-cheek, but the movie plays less like the product of someone looking to send up the genre and more like the result of someone who had passion on his side but otherwise no idea what he was doing. Fans of irresistible bad cinema, take note.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Arriving to U.S. Blu-ray for the very first time, "Don't Go in the Woods" looks better than fans could possibly dream. Newly restored by Vinegar Syndrome in 2K resolution from the 35mm interpositive, the 1080p transfer is a vibrant display of just what high-def video can do for a low-low-budget film that is nearly thirty-five years old. A bevy of age-related nicks and scratches are apparent—as are in-camera source problems such as accidental light exposure to the original negative—but, all things considered, the print used is in excellent shape. Colors appear accurate, while object detail and clarity are noticeably increased from previous home video releases on VHS and DVD. The DTS-HD 1.0 Mono Audio is naturally rooted in the front channels and the volume level of the dialogue is inconsistent at times. This is precisely what it has always sounded like, however, and Vinegar Syndrome has remained true to its source. Keeping in mind the audio restraints inherent to the production, this is a fantastic track.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director James Bryan
  • Audio Commentary with director James Bryan, star Mary Gail Artz and "superfans" Deron Miller and Dave Mosca
  • Audio Commentary with "The Hysteria Continues!" podcast hosts Justin Kerswell, Erik Threlfall, Joseph Henson and Nathan Johnson
  • Cast & Crew Featurette (56:43, HD)
  • Autograph Signing Party (29:27, HD)
  • TV Promos Compilation (14:14, HD)
  • Trailer (1:07, HD)
  • Production Stills Gallery
  • Press Artwork Gallery
  • Script Excerpt
Bottom Line
The folks at Vinegar Syndrome have outdone themselves with their jam-packed, lovingly presented Blu-ray release of '80s regional horror curiosity "Don't Go in the Woods." Whether you have a soft spot for the film or simply love it in all its charming lousiness, there should be no consumers complaining about the care and attention to detail put into this overall package. Video and audio specs are impressive, while the special features (including three audio commentaries and an hour-long documentary) go above and beyond the call of duty. The roughshod "Don't Go in the Woods" isn't exactly a long-lost classic of the genre (hence the one-star rating of the film up above), but it is entertaining enough to come highly recommended for horror fans.

Buy Now at Amazon

© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman


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