Don't Go In The Woods, Don't Go In The Woods Alone (1981)
Directed by: James Bryan
Written by: Garth Eliassen
Starring: Angie Brown, David Barth, Jack McCelland, Ken Carter, Mary Gail Bartz, Tom Drury
Don’t Go In The Woods… Alone (1981)
Directed by: James Bryan
First Released: 1982
Current UK Status: Passed 15 uncut
Don’t Go In The Woods… Alone first reared its ugly face in March 1982 by the Video Releasing Organisation label, and this version was uncut. In October 1983 the film was banned as part of the Director of Public Prosecutions list, and thanks to that became a collectable item. Shockingly it would have continued to be a collectable item for twenty four years because the film was never re-released until February 2007 for Film 2000’s DVD release. The film was granted a 15 certificate and was uncut, however the film is painfully hard to find and I actually managed to find the entire film on Youtube! I don’t believe the film took so long for a re-release for its content, instead I believe it was simply forgotten about, and if you have seen the film you will understand why.
Director James Bryan only directed nine films in his short twenty years as a film director, and Don’t Go In The Woods, for obvious reasons, is probably his most well know. Choosing to direct low budget, usually pretty dreadful films, he directed his first film in 1967, the short Inner Limits. However, Bryan did not start off (as many seem to) with the intention of being a filmmaker. Born in Texas, Bryan was a pre-med student at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He later attended Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and from there decided to move to the UCLA Film School in 1965. His short film, Inner Limits, was an animated student project made while at the UCLA Film School which he graduated in the late 60’s. In 1970 Bryan directed his first two feature length movies, both of which were softcore porn films: The Dirtiest Game and Escape To Passion. An “adults only” drama followed in 1974 called I Love You, I Love You Not, and this was followed by the comedy Boogievision in 1977. Don’t Go In The Woods then came in 1981 and it was this film which really got the director noticed, obviously due to the banning of the film. The notoriety did not harm Bryan’s career as he went on to make a further three more films after: The Executioner Part 2 and Hell Riders (both in 1984) and Lady Street Fighter in 1985.
Now, if you haven’t seen Don’t Go In The Woods then I would approach with caution. Why? Because it is horrid, really really horrid, yet hopefully those reading this can embrace with me just how crap this film really is and possibly have some fond memories at how crap it is. First things first: I really struggled to tell if this films was playing serious, or playing for laughs. The acting is so horrific and the dialogue so painfully bad, you simply cannot help but laugh at just how stupid this film is. Yet, if the film is intended to be funny, then it isn’t, because as I said the dialogue and script is so bad, I don’t believe the makers had the intelligence to make it funny. This is simply one of those films that, if you let it, is so funny and so daft and idiotic that it is very hard not to like it. In fact, for the most part you will actually feel sorry for all those involved because they clearly had no idea what they were doing, but just went along with it anyway!
Here is your plot (if you can call it that): people visit mountain woods, a Hills Have Eyes outcast hunts and kills all visitors to these woods, an eventually a manhunt see’s a big fat Sheriff lead the charge to hunt the maniac, and two survivors of the maniac risk going mad themselves. You really don’t need to know anything more than that because, well, there simply isn’t anything else to say. That is all that happens in the film, and if you are looking for some sort of narrative to bring all the stories together, you’ll be let down big time. Don’t Go In The Woods makes no sense, there’s no meaning to it, and there really is no narrative whatsoever. It is simply a collection of non related groups trekking through the woods and being killed off by this huge killer and his bizarre weapon. Thankfully there is one group who run through the entire story, and eventually end up doing battle with the monster, but the rest of the victims simply turn up to say silly things and get killed in unusually tame ways. Yes, most of the killings happen off screen, or you see the after effect of a weapon being thrown or used, so it is not clear what got this film banned. Granted there is a vicious attack come the end with a machete which is actually very horrific, but it is doubtful many people would have made it this far.
The first half of the film is incredibly stupid, and some of the characters you see you will be begging that they meet their demise soon. The cast are annoying because they simply do not know how to act, and appear to be reciting lines rather than acting, and everything they say has to be repeated at least twice: “Don’t go! Don’t go!”, “Dale! Dale!”, or when a wannabe tough guy protects his woman like he is some wild beast, hugging his gun after hearing a possible peeping tom outside their caravan, he declares: “let me take care of it, let me take care of it, I’ll take care of it!!” Does this dialogue test you patience or what, my God! However, at the other end of the spectrum, the editing is so bad the conversations are often cut off mid sentence! There is also one bizarre reoccurrence which happens throughout the early scenes, and that is the use of really truly awful country type music blended with a sort of circus clown music, and is played after a comical response from an actor. This is often met with a lingering shot of the countryside, the same thing happens after each death as well. I feel I can appreciate what the director might have been attempting here after the deaths, and that was the use of the daylight and countryside to create a sense of nothing being safe. We often associate the woods at night being scary, but the majority of this film (like Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes) is shot during the day, and it’s possible the director used those lingering shots to really add a sense of danger. Then again, on the merits of everything else here, it was a accident which just so happened to payoff?
The shooting during the day for the actual film itself is a nice touch, and oddly the film actually begins to build a impressive sense of menace after the halfway point. The first half is simply made up of one death after another with little or no explanation, and we never actually see the killer. However, he gloriously comes into view later on, and once we see him and understand he is basically a maniac, the film heads into darker territory. Strangely, the crap dialogue tones down and we enter a full on slasher flick as the killer hunts the last remaining survivors. In all honesty, the killer is actually a very cool creation and thankfully nothing is ever really explained about his need to kill, or why he is there. However, a very nice touch at the end explains all in a matter of seconds. The final half also begins to take on a whole different atmosphere as the already overpowering music is used to almost brilliant (if at times annoying) effect. As scenes chop and change, so does the music, and a simple exchange of words can be emphasised by a key change or new instrument being used. For the most part this music works, and really adds some good stuff to the increasingly good final half.
However it doesn’t last, and the Sheriff’s manhunt to find the killer goes on and on and on. The silly acting comes back and one scene in particular stands out as a man in a wheelchair finds himself in a spot of bother. What he was doing trying to climb the mountain woods in the first place is beyond a rational answer, and he makes some of the most daft noises in the film. However, the actor playing the part is known to have attended a screening of the film where he laughed all the way through. Annoying a woman in front of him, she eventually snapped and bellowed at him not knowing who he was “how would you feel if that was you in that wheelchair!!?” The irony!
However, it is doubtful viewers will be able to laugh all the way through Don’t Go in The Woods, and comedy or not, it is very difficult to be “in” on the joke all the way through. The film has lots and lots of bad points, in fact this film is so painful to watch at times that the ‘stop’ button is usually too easy an option to use. However, if you are in the right frame of mind and you can manage to stick with this atrocity, there are a few good moments in the later stages. Be warned though, this film is an absolute mess that has no idea what it wants to be. Adding this to the Video Nasty list is a ludicrous as the film itself!
Should Don’t Go In The Woods have been added to the Video Nasty List? Am, no! Another victim of the hysteria.
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