5 Reasons to Watch: DON'T GO IN THE WOODS
If you’re familiar with the infamous Video Nasties list, then you know that a lot of the movies on it are there more for reputation and effective marketing than actual controversial material. Still, it managed to bring quite a few of my favorite movies into a spotlight they may otherwise not have gotten so I can’t help but look at the list as an ultimately good thing. Don’t Go in the Woods is one of those movies that drew me in based on its frankly genius marketing. As a kid, I remember seeing the VHS box art every time I went to my favorite video store. The gruesome art paired with the warning labels of graphic violence just called out to me in ways I did not and still don’t entirely understand. I wouldn’t actually watch the movie until I was a teenager working at that very video store and, like most movies with warning labels on the cover, it didn’t live up to the terrifying hype, but damn it sure is a great awful slasher that I’ve regularly enjoyed for the last 20 years.
The threadbare plot involves four hikers who clearly didn’t know the title of the movie they are in because they do in fact go in the woods. In between their silly dialogue and endless scenes of them scaring each other, there are scenes of other sightseers getting brutally killed by a crazed mountain man...more on him in a minute. When the killer finally runs into our quartet of campers, they must find a way to get back out of those titular woods before he gets them for good.
Make no mistake: this is a cinematic disaster, but I am here to tell you yet again that I love awful movies made with love and this is one of my very favorite 80’s slashers that fits perfectly into that category. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are seriously missing out. The thing is: I know that if you’re visiting this site, you’re a horror fan and just maybe you need a solid reason to give this a peep and that’s what I’m here for so I give you not one, but five reasons as to why this is not a good movie...it’s a great movie.
The kill count and the gore
The movie clocks in at a lean 82 minutes and yet there are approximately 20 kills in that runtime. A little calculator magic will tell you that averages out to about one kill every 4.1 minutes which is more than enough to keep any slasher movie aficionado quite happy! Not only are there a ton of kills, but they are really gruesome! The blood flows heavy here and while it may be the technicolor bright red type, gore is gore and as a gorehound I can tell you that lots of fake gore works just as well as a reserved amount of incredibly realistic gore. If that makes me sound a bit like an addict, that’s because I am and horror is my cracksmack.
The craziest group of characters I’ve ever seen assembled in one slasher
Seriously, no movie that I can think of has a more random group of victims. I say “victims” because with a kill every 4 minutes, pretty much everyone that comes onscreen is quickly dispatched. Every player here is a tourist visiting this unspecified wooded mountain location and at least half of them are the last people I’d expect to see at such a place, but here we are and I absolutely love it! You’ve got a guy in a sort of leisure suit that is deep in the woods for unexplained reasons, an artist who is miles from civilization with her toddler so she can paint what appears to be a man made structure that doesn’t actually seem to exist anywhere outside her painting, a newlywed hippie couple with the most beautifully tacky pimped out van that has ever existed, a guy in a wheelchair who is trekking up a very rocky trail on the side of that damn mountain because disabilities be damned, a couple who honestly looks like they are headed to the beach instead of the mountains because maybe they’re both just very confused, and more! Besides the crazy cast of killees, there is a super fat sheriff who eats his way through the movie while he discusses important matters with his stupid attractive deputy who not only very clearly knows just how attractive he is (that swagger tho), but is also a pinball wizard (I’m in love)! Even our four main hikers are a bizarre bunch with a girl who looks like she has never even seen the woods before now, a truly geeky (and not in the fun way like me) guy who may be the worst outdoorsman these woods have ever seen, and a stupid and incredibly whiny but attractive anti-outdoorsman who sports an awesome pink t-shirt and nonspecific accent (British maybe…let me know what you think it is when you watch it.)
A bizarre mountain man killer that looks like an overgrown Ewok
The killer in this movie is a mad mountain man that wears furs and various other objects, has beads decorating his face, and carries a large spear with him. That’s just like an Ewok, right? Except here’s the thing: this movie came out a whole two years before Return of the Jedi so it really makes you wonder where G. Lucas got his inspiration that he doesn’t want to tell us about! I mean, I’m not insinuating that he got the idea from this movie, except I totally am and unless it can be irrefutably proven otherwise, I’m standing by my theory. Aside from the whole bizarre look of the killer, he’s also just legit crazy. He howls and growls but doesn’t speak and he’s a relentless psychopath and it makes for a damn good time.
A truly bizarre score plus a theme song
The music in the whole movie is of the electronic synth variety and it’s very weird, but also strangely entrancing and very memorable. In fact, many reviews I’ve read agree that the music is the most effective part of this film and I’m willing to allow that. Even as I’m writing this, parts of it are playing in my head and really the only other type of movies that are able to do that to me are giallo movies so it’s an impressive feat for a non-European horror thriller. In addition to that amazing score, there is a theme song that plays over the end credits! It’s sung by the composer himself to the tune of Anne Murray’s “Teddy Bears Picnic” with lines like “Don’t go out in the woods tonight, you probably will get killed” so it’s pretty fabulous.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
This movie features one of my all time favorite awful scenes and by awful, of course I mean hysterical and wonderful. One of the four main hikers still alive towards the end of the movie prepares to ambush the killer and impale him. Instead, he accidentally impales another random hiker (not the original four) who just happens to be in that very same spot deep in the woods. When he does this, he completely freaks out for about 10 seconds screaming “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Oh god, I’m so sorry!” before pulling himself together and taking off as if nothing ever happened. I don’t know if that moment was an idea of the director or the actor or if it was a multi-person collaboration. All I know is that I absolutely live for random, nonsensical scenes that leave a huge smile across your face every time you watch them and this is one of the greatest such scenes.
So there you have it...the most important reasons as to why this is just an amazingly great bad slasher that only the 80’s could possibly have produced. Vinegar Syndrome had my love before they released this gem, but I can’t praise them enough for the great job they did here. It’s a treatment that may have never happened without them and for that, we should all be thankful.