The plot of the film is strictly routine stuff. In a isolated stretch of woodland, two FBI agents have a field of marijuana sprayed with an experimental and untested chemical known as Dromax. Exposed to the poisoned crop are its hippy owners who have turned into homicidal mutant maniacs with a taste for human flesh... Made in the wake of Dawn of the Dead, but perhaps for budget concerns, director Charles McCrann's sole cinematic outing takes its inspiration from Night of the Living Dead with a touch of The Crazies (and I Drink Your Blood) thrown in for good measure. McCrann even borrows John Amplas, the actor who played the title role in Romero's classic vampire film Martin. Sadly, Romero's skill at extending his films far beyond their meager budgets has not rubbed off on this decidedly ramshackle 16mm effort.
Almost every aspect of Forest of Fear is dull and nondescript. A few members of the cast turn in some decent performances (Amplas not included) but it's something of a losing battle against director McCrann's flat set ups and insipid direction. A tension-generating subplot about a teenage girl and her autistic brother, lost and separated from their parents is spoiled by the casting of some obvious twenty-somethings to portray the babes-in-the-woods. And there's an unintentionally ridiculous moment when a camping couple are set upon by the zombies and the husband sprints off lightning fast leaving his genuinely confused wife behind! Even the "zombies" hardly look the part, their traditional shuffle is all that distinguishes them from the rest of the cast, and the fleeting gore is utterly amateurish.
One would like to be kinder to Forest of Fear, considering it's Charles McCrann's only film and an obvious labour of love. As well as directing, McCrann produced, wrote, edited and took the lead role (and bears something of a resemblance to a side-burned Warren Beatty). Interestingly the British VHS removed a 5-min coda which concludes the original film on a somewhat bittersweet note, the version that Monte Video distributed in the UK is considerably more dour and is perhaps all the better for it. Tragically, Charles McCrann was killed on September 11th 2001, while he was working in his office at the World Trade Center. There's an online tribute page (hosted by the corporation he worked for) and reading some of the comments by friends (and fans) McCrann remained proud of his maiden voyage.
|John "Martin" Amplas as a fresh-faced G-man|
Forest of Fear in available in the US courtesy of Televista, under the Toxic Zombies title. Don't let the inflated price tag of this disc fool you - this DVD is an abysmal effort, so lo-fi it would be better placed in one of those Mill Creek 50-pack multi-sets. The fullframe transfer is poor, sporting a soft image and smeary colors, evidently taken from a VHS copy judging by the odd stray tracking line and picture-jump. The audio tracks fluctuates in volume and a stills gallery - some captures from the DVD, are offered as an extra. One to avoid, but if you must see everything on the Video Nasties list, the complete film can be seen in one sitting here...