Color, 1981, 82m.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Jack McClelland, Tom Drury, James P. Hayden, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown, Ken Carter
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Color, 1981, 82m.
An early slasher title that managed to successfully ride the coattails of both Friday the13th 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 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 absurd, 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 both on the big screen and on home video, starting with its widespread VHS release from Vestron. Code Red released the first official DVD in 2006 (followed by an insane James Bryan triple feature of his earlier work) that marked its best presentation at the time, though the different film stocks result in some weird fluctuations in skin tones (especially during the climax). The 1.33:1 framing here is fine, but there's a lot of extraneous room at the top and bottom that indicates the film was shot to be safely 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, a newly pieced-together trailer, a little video Easter Egg, and a hefty stills gallery.Long after that edition went out of circulation, Vinegar Syndrome snagged the surprisingly durable cult title for an even more elaborate two-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo. The region-free releases should make plenty of heads turn with its new HD transfer, which is quite staggering if you're familiar with past editions of the film. Flesh tones now look steady and realistic throughout, the film stock fluctuations have been largely minimized (apart from the inherent issues during the last reel), and the amount of detail in the forest shots now attains an eye-popping level of clarity you wouldn't even see in theatrical prints. The DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack also sounds great considering the whole thing was basically looped by crazy people. Both prior commentaries have been ported over, while a new one features the gang from the raucous slasher movie podcast The Hysteria Continues going into depth about the making of the film and the ways it both plays by and completely violates the slasher movie rule book. As with all of their prior commentaries (both slasher-related and otherwise), it may not be your cup of tea if you're expecting something reverent or academic but there's loads of entertainment value to be found here. Also included here are the hour-long featurette and local TV promotional appearance, while a new 29-minute video covers an autograph signing party with the cast and crew for the previous DVD release (with one of the weirdest interviewers you'll ever see). There's also a different, greatly expanded gallery here with two sections for promotional artwork and production stills, with lots of great shots buried here for fans. Finally the original trailer is included along with a gallery of the original shooting script, in case you decide to mount your very own live production in your backyard.
Updated review on March 10, 2015.