Don't Go In The Woods (Vinegar Syndrome)
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: March 10th, 2015.
Director: James Bryan
Cast: James P. Hayden, Nick McClelland, Mary Galeartz, Angie Brown, Tom Drury
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James Bryan had a fairly prolific career as a low budget exploitation/sexploitation director throughout the seventies but when the slasher boom hit in the eighties, he decided to get in on some of that action. The results? 1981’s Don’t Go In The Woods, widely considered by pretty much anyone who has ever seen it to be one of the worst that the sub-genre has to offer – and yet it’s a film with a substantial cult following.
The plot for the film involves a group of campers - Craig (James P. Hayden), Peter (Nick McClelland), Ingrid (Mary Galeartz) and Joanie (Angie Brown) - that decide to go into the mountains (not specifically the woods), together (not specifically alone) for a weekend getaway. Unfortunately they arrive at the exact time that a burly mountain-man (Tom Drury) has decided to go on a killing spree for reasons never explained. Soon a crippled man and a bunch of other people get knocked off. The campers aren't the only ones who get killed, however - a bird watcher, a married couple who like to swim in the river, and others are all thrown off of cliffs and hacked with machetes. Oh and the caveman guy steals a baby at one point, but again, we don't really know why.
There's really not much more to the story than that. There's never really any motivation given to the killings, the whole thing has this weird 'dubbed in post' vibe to it, and the effects are little more than someone off camera throwing red goop at the actors (though to be fair, there’s a lot of red goop, so the movie is pretty gory). The pacing is... odd, it’s hard to even really call it pacing and the dialogue is almost entirely nonsensical. The performances are more wooden than the scenery and the score is made up of equal parts bad Casio Keyboard noises and cheery acoustic guitar bits. The mish-mash of a score somehow manages to suit the equally eclectic tone of the picture as a whole.
Story-wise, Don't Go In The Woods definitely owes a debt to Friday The 13th and The Hills Have Eyes in that it puts a bunch of young people in peril in the middle of a remote environment, but those two movies made sense, whereas this one really does not. While in real life you don’t always get to understand why someone goes on a killing spree, in movie world it’s kind of important to establish a motive in order to create a backstory for the antagonist and make that antagonist interesting. Bryan doesn’t do that, instead he just has Drury decked out in a ridiculous outfit running around making animal noises killing anyone and everyone he comes into contact with. The campers don’t really stand a chance, at least not until we’re down to the ones who will obviously come out of this alive, while the world’s roundest sheriff and his trucker cap wearing cohort dig around various crime scenes and wooded lots in a thinly veiled attempt to pad the running time.
That said, as ridiculous and completely incompetent as it is, the film isn't boring – not ever, not even for a second. At times almost surreal in its 'why is this happeningness' the film is full of plot holes big enough to throw a Volkswagen through but it does have its own... something. There are times where the cinematography is actually quite nice, the mountains of Utah do make for some great locations, and enough couple are killed often enough that it makes for a fun watch.
Director James Bryan would make other bad but far more competent films like Boogievision and Lady Streetfighter but Don't Go In The Woods... Alone really is on a planet of its own.
Don’t Go In The Woods arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.67.1 and it looks quite a bit better than past DVD releases ever did. There’s still print damage throughout in the form of some scratches and white specks but detail and color reproduction are about as good as it’s going to get for this particular film. Skin tones look great and the greens of the forest come through really nicely. You get a good sense of texture, particularly when it comes to the killer’s bizarre costume, and a reasonable amount of depth, particularly in some of those great wide shots that show off the Utah shooting locations. There are no problems with compression artifacts here, nor is there any edge enhancement or noise reduction to note. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine this low budget slasher cheapie looking a whole lot better than it does here.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 1.0 track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. There are some definite jumps in the levels here, meaning that when certain characters scream when they’re attacked, those screams are really loud, and then the dialogue scenes that come afterwards seem almost too quite by comparison. Once you get used to that, the movie sounds fine. That really bizarre (some might say distinctive) synth-heavy soundtrack has some decent weight behind it and any hiss or distortion that makes its way into the mix is minimal.
The supplements on the disc start off with a commentary track featuring director James Bryan. The second commentary joins Bryan up with actress Mary Gail Artz, CKY member Deron Miller and super-fan David Mosca. Bryan’s solo track is the more serious of the two and it’s basically a scene specific examination of the making of the film and its odd history ,while the group track allows Arts to talk about her experiences working on the film as an actress and Miller and Mosca to express their love for the film. Not to be outdone, there’s actually a third commentary track included here as well, this one courtesy of the guys at The Hysteria Continues and its exclusive to this release. These guys dig their slasher films but are also well aware as to the quality and quirkiness of this particular movie. This never turns into a ‘Riff Trax’ style track at all but it does have a good sense of humor behind it. They also offer up some interesting critical insight and analysis, comparing the movie to various other slasher films that obviously inspired this particular film to the effectiveness of a few murder set pieces to some interesting trivia about the cast, crew and locations. This sounds like it was recorded via Skype or something like that and the audio quality is funky in a few spots but it’s a good commentary.
The disc also includes the vintage fifty-seven minute cast and crew interview featurette that was on the first Code Red DVD. This was made by Bryan in the early 2000s on a camcorder so it has a very low-fi feel to it but it’s a fun watch. He starts off by introducing himself and then proceeds to hunt down various people involved in the movie, encouraging them to talk about their experiences making the film and getting them to share some fun stories from the set. Bryan gets in on these conversations a lot himself, digging up memories with the different participants and serving as sort of a Herzogian on camera narrator/moderator to all of this. That’s probably the only time you’re see the word Herzogian used in a review for this movie, but there you go.
Also carried over to this release of a collection of promotional TV interview that Bryan and Tom Drury did on various television talk show programs around the time of the movie’s original theatrical release. It’s fun to see Bryan, and to a lesser extent Drury, trying to sell the merits of the film to the various hosts and interviewers, most of whom seem fairly oblivious as to who they’re interviewing and why. This makes for a fairly fascinating collection of promo snippets, most of which involve Bryan talking up the film’s violence and gore effects.
New to this disc is a really strange half hour long featurette called DVD Autograph Signing Party which documents what would seem to be an autograph session held in honor of the first Code Red DVD release of the movie form about ten years back. Here a greasy looking smart-mouthed puppet interviews Bryan, Bryan’s wife and a few others involved with the film about the picture and their work on it. It’s… odd. Very, very odd.
Rounding out the extensive collection of supplements on this disc are a Production Stills gallery, a Press Artwork gallery, the film’s Screenplay in slideshow format (it’s surprisingly short!) and a theatrical trailer for the picture. Menus and chapter stops are also included and as this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie with identical extras is found inside the keepcase.
The Final Word:
Don’t Go In The Woods isn’t for everyone – it’s a really strange film with massive plot holes, terrible characterization and all sorts of really dumb, overused clichés – but it’s insane enough, gory enough and determined enough that despite its many, many flaws it’s a pretty entertaining watch. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray is jammed with extras and it offers up the movie in as nice an HD presentation as you could realistically expect. If you’re fan of this bastard slasher, this is the way to see it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!