Being the slasher flick aficionado I am, I can still remember the first time I watched Don't Go in the Woods. Or at least I can remember bits and pieces of it. I can still recall a bear trap swinging from the trees to attach itself to a dude’s face (cool in idea, not execution) and the deliriously awful song that played behind the end credits that starts with, “Don’t go into the woods tonight, you’ll probably get a thrill, don’t go into the woods tonight, you’ll probably get killed...” Apart from that, my brain can come up with nothing else other than the fact it was one of the many horror flicks we’d end up renting on VHS during numerous weekend sleepovers.
So, here we are, almost thirty years later and it’s surprising how this hillbilly/mountain man slasher flick (similar to the same year’s The Final Terror) has somehow gathered a cult following over time. Of course, that might be because of how outright inept it is but, it has to say something, when this is probably one of the worst of the seemingly endless glut of stalk ‘n’ slash efforts to litter video stores in the early 80s.
Shot on a low budget in the mountains of Utah, Don’t Go in the Woods opens with the typical “girl runs through woods from unseen assailant, girl meets a grisly end” sequence before introducing us to our main fodder in the form of a group of friends hiking through the woods. There’s Peter the rebel, Craig the know-it-all guide who won’t shut up, and their two female companions. In between scenes of them shouting out each other’s names, arguing with each other, and various shots of them being stalked in POV shots from the distance; we’re treated to a whole slew of random deaths including a photographer who gets his arm ripped-off, a comic relief older couple who meet their ends, and various others. If you can give this flick credit for anything it’s that there’s certainly a high body count as I tallied five deaths within the first twenty minutes (!!).
The remainder of the brief 82 minute running time consists of even more kills, the occasional scene of the local sheriff looking into missing person cases, and a repetitive score that gets annoying. Bryan also poorly shoots the death scenes in a tight manner and seems to have a lot of problems framing shots (this is most evident during a campfire dialogue moment where he doesn’t even show some of the people involved in the conversation on camera). Garth Eliassen’s mostly inane script does manage to toss in an okay twist in the final third where our protagonist’s escape and the makers have enough balls to kill off the girl they’ve left behind, but these two mildly inspired moments can’t quite make up for the ton of suck surrounding them. I’ll also grudgingly admit that the savage polishing off of our killer (basically a burly, bearded guy they’ve draped in ratty furs) wasn’t bad either.
Don't Go in the Woods is yet another regionally-shot genre flick that feels like it was made to cash-in on a current trend. The makers obviously have no idea how to make an effective slasher movie considering all the bad attempts at false scares and they seem content to sport a “quantity over quality” attitude giving this one of the highest kill ratios I can remember from all the 80s slashers I’ve sat through – everything else be damned, I suppose.
It’s easy to see why, as a teenager, all I came away from this with was a few scattered memories. There’s very little here that’s worth wasting your time with and unless you’re on a quest to see everything that came out during that era of horror filmmaking you’d be better off just admiring the cool poster artwork and leaving it at that. (Chris Hartley, 8/24/10)
Directed By: James Bryan.
Written By: Garth Eliassen.
Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden, Ken Carter.