Friday, 8 July 2011

Video Nasty #15 - Don't Go In the Woods

Had you gone camping in the Great American Outdoors back in the late 70's, early 80's, chances are you would have bumped into a film crew and a gallon of fake blood. You might have even come across James Bryan and a small band of devoted followers making the twelve thousand dollar epic Don't Go In the Woods, an instantly forgettable little stalk and slash horror film from 1980, now immortalized for all the ages on the Video Nasties list.

The plot of the film is a generic as they come - a maniac is roaming the woods and killing all those who cross his path, but at least director James Bryan had the good sense to include lashings of gore to thrill audiences between the longueurs of people trudging through endless forest. For such a remote area of Utah, one has to wonder what all these people are doing here - the film is positively teeming with campers, hikers, courting couples, painters, fishermen, and most bizarrely, some poor guy who has to negotiate the rugged terrain in a wheelchair, all of whom inevitably end up sliced and diced by a machete wielding, spear chucking cast off from The Hills Have Eyes.

A trash fan's wet dream, Don't Go In the Woods is usually accompanied by a critical savaging wherever the film plays but it's not without its fans, among them author Stephen Thrower who devotes a few pages of his Nightmare USA book to the film. It can't quite escape the shadow cast over it by better films, namely The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the superb Canadian backwoods film Rituals, but if you can acclimatize yourself to the terrible acting, clumsy editing, the decidedly amateurish electronic score and cringe worthy dialogue - all of it post synched, the film gets by on sheer enthusiasm alone. At least Bryan displays the occasional flair for visuals, with some striking shots of moody forest trails and mist enshrouded mountain slopes. Thank heavens for small mercies it was lensed on film stock, had the film arrived later in the decade, it might have been shot on video á la Redneck Zombies or (gulp!) Woodchipper Massacre, such was the weapon of choice for impoverished film makers.

Code Red's 2006 DVD of Don't Go In the Woods, the first release for the indie label really is the definitive edition of James Bryan's film. The fullframe transfer looks just fine, the print used is a little scrappy in places but perfectly keeping with the film's humble origins. The sound is fine, the looped voices still sound canned but overall the audio has a good range of effects. Most surprising of all, Code Red have furnished the DVD with some extensive extras, among them, a 57-min shot-on-VHS documentary about the film, and no less than two audio commentaries - surely the last word on Don't Go In the Woods...


  1. Boy, I'll say! I thought I'd seen this one - but your description has set me right - this one has avoided me for decades. I saw it on piles of video store shelves from the early-mid 80's until they closed the doors - and I think I thought I'd already seen it and never actually did. I would see it for being made in 1980 alone - I'm on a very lackadaisical quest along those lines - but packed DVD's always draw my attention, even if the subject film is not that great.

  2. If this was made nowadays - and countless films of its kind are - the film would be shot on DV and would probably look completely flat and lifeless - but the fact that it was shot on 16mm gives the film a leg up over the kind of micro-budgeted back garden epics made today - such is the power of celluloid I think. And as you hinted, it has that unmistakable 80's-ness...