THE REDWOOD MASSACRE (2014)
Directed by David Ryan Keith
Before moving down south I used to live in the same part of Scotland that this movie got made. I’ve walked the same woods where they filmed it, seen the same unnerving ruins they used for exteriors and been driven down the same winding roads our young group follow to their doom. Hell, I’ve even written my own horror script in the same location. As with 2012’s Sawney Bean (reviewed here) writer/ director David Ryan Keith’s second feature makes a lot out of north east, effectively capturing the derelict jaggedness of its woodlands and the beauty of its hills. This largely bleak landscape provides fresh and atmospheric stomping grounds for a slasher and his slashees.
As per many of the old school 80s movies that clearly inspired it, The Redwood Massacre sees a young cast far removed from the safety of their city lives as they head to the woods to drink. Here the cause for celebration is, oddly, the anniversary of some local murders documented by a gruesome and effective flashback. Indeed, years prior a demented farmer murdered his children then ate his wife, and since then his old house has become a regular haunt for youths wanting to creep each other out. Here they get more than they bargained for, as the same killer dons an unnerving sack mask and takes them out one by one. In fairness, he doesn’t waste any time either. This movie is a lot more fast paced than most of its forerunners and halfway through its lean 80 minute running time nearly all of the cast have died violently. And die violently they do! Relying on fists as much as weapons (though the axe to the back is a favourite of his) the mad farmer spills more blood than a dozen Friday the 13ths. It’s back to basics horror that sees the red stuff fly almost to the point of parody.
The thing is, there’s simply not a whole lot of fun to be had with it. Sure it’s refreshing to see someone unashamedly make this type of film in a post-Scream age where they barely exist anymore. But some things are missing. Unlike the best 80s slashers we don’t have a cast of characters we enjoy hanging around with before their demises. Instead they’re all poorly defined, save for Mark’s (Coutts) annoying ex-girlfriend Kirsty (Livingstone). Their arcs are also minimal, with little to invest in. This lazy approach to writing is particularly notable when a new person (ok, so we see them in a single scene at the start) is introduced very late in proceedings with extremely little to do except clumsily explain his highly typical backing story then needlessly throw himself into peril. It also doesn’t help that the characters speak in almost entirely functional dialogue in a way that seems as if they don’t understand their lines. This lull in acting is surprising given that the same cast members actually sell the horror and torture sequences fairly well. There’s simply very little personal chemistry between them and I can’t help but feel like this cheapens much of the impact it could have had.
Furthermore, in contrast to the rapid stride of the plot nobody seems to be in a rush to escape, with their urgency being more akin to someone potentially missing a Wrong Turn all-nighter than getting away from an armed maniac. While yelling ‘just get out of there!’ during horrors has become something of a cliché, there’s good cause here. Even when people know the killer is behind them with an axe out they move so frustratingly slow. This means the last third of the movie, which is basically a prolonged chase, really drags. Mind you, most of us would be cautious if we were in a place that made as little geographic sense as the killer’s lair or its surroundings, where the barren hills are awkwardly home to a massive American style scrapyard.
All in all this is a missed opportunity, with David Ryan Keith sadly undermining much of his own potential. It’s a shame, as there’s really a lot for genre devotees to get excited about (thoughdie hard slasher fans may want to add an extra star). Sadly in trying to take the traditional slasher to Aberdeenshire, this made me miss not just my old home, but a type of movie we just don’t see any longer. Truly the past is a different country. And this is less a holiday than a forgettable passing through.