Color, 1981, 82m. / Directed by James Bryan / Starring Jack McClelland, Tom Drury, James P. Hayden, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown, Ken Carter / Code Red (US R1 NTSC)


An early slasher title that managed to successfully ride the coattails of both Friday the 13th and the still-popular Deliverance survival trend, Don't Go in the Woods offers a rare example of resourceful Utah filmmaking on a shoestring budget. The entirety of the film takes place in a remote forest region where various residents and tourists are killed off, with a female artist turning her last canvas into a slashed, bloody mess being a typical example. The culprit, a crazy, bulky maniac (Drury) covered in ragged animal fur, then sets his sights on the latest quartet of fresh meat, including city boy Peter (McClelland) and plucky Ingrid (Artz). Meanwhile local law enforcement gets wind of the rampage and tries to close in, but ultimately it's up to the hunted to turn the tables on this savage human predator.

Unlike some of its more sadistic ilk, Don't Go in the Woods injects a great deal of goofball humor into the proceedings, with even the bloodiest scenes (and seriously, this thing splashes the trees and tents with gallons of the red stuff) avoiding the often cringe-inducing misanthropy found in some of its counterparts. It's nowhere even close to great art, of course (it didn't have a long stint on the IMDB's "Bottom 100" for nothing!), and newbie director Bryan never even tries for any interesting visuals or unorthodox storytelling techniques; however, the woodsy setting is quite effective, and the pace certainly never flags. Drury also gets points for his silent, extremely physical performance, often bounding through the foliage looking like a giant, malicious Ewok. If you're looking for a traditional teen-oriented slasher film, look elsewhere, but for an entertaining example of homegrown horror with a sick sense of the absurb, this should do the trick just fine.

Shot open matte on junky film stock, Don't Go in the Woods has always looked pretty scrappy, though Code Red's DVD is easily the best it's looked on home video. Colors and sharpness are great throughout, and while some damage in the original element (mainly some sloppy edits) can't be helped, it's about as close to pristine as you could imagine for this film. (Then again, would you really want it to look like a million bucks?) The different film stocks result in some weird fluctuations in skin tones (especially during the climax), but again, that's the way it was shot. The 1.33:1 framing looks fine, though masking it off to about 1.78:1 looks mostly workable, too, and roughly approximates how it was seen in theaters.

The bearded Bryan appears all over this DVD, an obvious labor of love. He manages to hold his own for no less than two commentaries, the first a solo nuts-and-bolts look at the financing, filming, and distribution of the film, and the second teaming him up with Artz, CKY rocker Deron Miller (who also appears for an impassioned video intro in what appears to be his bedroom), and some third guy whose role isn't really made clear. Bryan also appears on-camera for a hefty (nearly 60-minute) documentary on the making of the film; appropriately shot on a rough-looking camcorder, it's still an enjoyable retrospective piece and features most of the actors and locatable talent reminiscing about the making of their sylvan nightmare. You also get some vintage TV footage of Bryan and a jovial Drury promoting the film on local television (kind of similar to the ones seen on titles like Phantasm and Aswang), a newly pieced-together trailer, a little video Easter Egg, and a hefty still gallery.


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