Thursday, August 25, 2011

#384. Don't Go In the Woods (1981)

Directed By: James Bryan

Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown

Tag line: "Everyone has nightmares about the ugliest way to die"

Trivia:  Director James Bryan doubled as the Maniac in many shots

It didn't take but five minutes for me to realize what kind of movie Don't Go In the Woods was going to be. We open with a young girl (Alma Ramas) running through the forest. She's obviously trying to escape from someone (or something), but before getting too far, she stumbles and falls into a stream...looks up...and...nothing. That is to say, we have no idea what happens to her, because the action immediately cuts away to an ornithologist (McCormick Dalten), strolling through the woods in search of exotic species of birds. Suddenly, he's attacked (by what, we have no idea), and before he knows what hit him, his arm has been sliced clean off. From here, we're introduced to the four main characters, all of whom seem to be vying for the honor of “Worst Delivery of Dialogue in a feature-length motion picture”. 

Don't Go In the Woods is a bad movie. 

Four backpackers: Peter (Jack McClelland), Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz), Joanie (Angie Brown) and Craig (James P. Hayden), head off into the vast wilderness of Utah to spend a few days communing with nature. But it seems this particular stretch of forest is home to a psychotic maniac (Tom Drury), whose already murdered a number of people. The local sheriff (Ken Carter) and his deputy (David Barth) have been extra busy tracking down a slew of missing persons, unaware that each and every one fell victim to the mysterious killer. And if Peter and his friends aren't careful, they'll surely be the next to die. 

Taking potshots at Don't Go In the Woods is the writer's equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel; it's just too damn easy. But I'm gonna do it anyway. For starters, the entire fist half hour or so is spent introducing one extraneous character after another, who exist solely to provide the killer with anonymous victims to finish off. Aside from the girl and ornithologist mentioned above, there's the tourist (Dale Angeli) and his mother (Ruth Grose), who've wandered into the forest to take pictures of passing trains, and a newlywed couple (Frank Millen and Carolyn Braza) honeymooning in a run-down camper they've inexplicably parked next to a sheer cliff. None of these characters is on-screen for more than a few minutes, and we know the moment they appear they're gonna die, ensuring zero tension is generated from the first half-dozen or so kills. Don't Go In the Woods does try to introduce some comic relief in the form of the sheriff (easily the largest man I've ever seen wearing a badge) and his deputy, whose first few scenes together were designed to make us laugh, but their antics aren't nearly as funny as the interactions between the four leads. The first night, after setting up camp, Craig tells a fireside story meant to scare his companions, but the actor's delivery, pausing after every 4 or 5 words for dramatic effect, was so horrendous it had me in stitches! 

Don't Go In the Woods is poorly acted, pathetically paced (it made 80 minutes feel like 8 hours), and entirely devoid of any chills or thrills whatsoever. In short, this movie sucked.

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