Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DON'T GO IN THE WOODS (1981) - the only sense to be had is in the title

Some warning signs can be awfully helpful. Surely you’ve been driving through the desert and seen one those signs saying “DON’T HAVE SEX ON A CACTUS. YOU MAY SUFFER AN UNFORTUNATE INJURY I’D RATHER NOT TRY TO DESCRIBE”. Maybe you’ve purchased a pogo stick and noticed the warning on the box: “DON’T HAVE SEX WHILE RIDING THIS POGO STICK. YOU MIGHT FALL OFF AND SKIN YOUR KNEES, OR GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE.” The title of this movie tells you all you need to know; “DON’T GO IN THE WOODS”.

Because really, when you see a bunch of knuckleheads in a slasher movie take a trip into the woods, has there ever been any good to come of it? Do they connect with nature in a spiritual manner? Do they happen upon lost treasure, stashed there by bank robbing outlaws from the old west who were shot down in a blaze of glory before they could return for the treasure and flee to a tequila distillery in Mexico?

Of course not. They get fucking killed. Even if they do manage to escape the clutches of a psychopath, there are still hungry bears running around, not to mention snakes, poison ivy, and all the rest of nature’s pitfalls. You might even bump into Bigfoot, which would be pretty cool, but who’s to say Bigfoot hasn’t had a bad week and decides to rip your arms off?

All of this is lost on the lead camper in the film. He walks around, all knowledgeable and shit, talking about “the most important rule of camping is ‘don’t go in the woods…alone!’”. Motherfucker, try ever. Actually, "Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone!" is an alternate title to the film. While it may seem redundant, there is a difference. It’s irrelevant that the campers are travelling in a group. They get killed anyway. Viewing the film under the alternate title creates a further feeling of hopelessness. No matter what you do or who you’re with, you’re completely fucked.

In some tiny, scuzzy video store in Glendale, around age 8 or so, I tried to convince my mom to rent me a copy of DGITW. She refused, and I was crushed and dismayed. This was exactly the kind of movie I was looking for, what with a cover showing a woman’s severed head sitting on a big sign saying “Don’t Go in the Woods!”. Surely, this simple VHS cassette contained a vast gutter symphony of the raw, unrelenting dismemberment of backpackers. Now, one steadfast rule I have found when dealing with the “teens in the woods” slasher subgenre is that, regardless of quality, they are all pretty good. As it turns out, many years later, I managed to procure a VHS copy of DGITW. Let’s just say it tests this theory.

DGITW is squarely of the “grab some equipment we don’t know how to use, snag some idiots off the street, and let's head to the mountains of Utah and make some shit up” school of filmmaking. I’m assuming they hired a chimpanzee to direct the film. Brain damaged by syphilis, he waved his banana around to direct the cast and crew, occasionally tossing one at someone if they appeared confident in their approach.

One sequence kind of sums up the movie. Some schmuck in a wheelchair (accompanied by goofy keyboard noises) is hiking in the mountains (!) when he rolls his crippled ass up to a cliff. Suddenly, out of nowhere, somebody cuts his head off with a machete. His head rolls off the cliff, and this is captured in a quick, jaggedly edited succession of shots:

Shot#1 - The guy gets his head chopped off in broad daylight, in a shot poorly composed and improperly exposed.

Shot#2 - His head starts to roll off his body. It is now early evening. The sun is setting. Still shitty looking.

Shot #3 - The head rolls over the cliff in total darkness. It is now late evening. Can’t tell if it still looks like shit. No longer care.

Also, between the dying gasps of a Casio keyboard being smacked to death with a dead fish, and the dialogue being dubbed by lobotomized Mormons, DGITW maintains a level of aural stupidity unparalleled in the history of cinema (and I’m not even going to mention the fucking theme song).

The real glue that holds all of this together is the fat ass sheriff who, in prototypical fashion, doesn’t like to be bothered with actually doing his job, presumably because it leaves him more time to bath in a trough of gravy. Many victims are claimed, and therefore many people are reported missing, but he barely registers a modicum of concern. He just calls for his trusty helicopter, choppers his way out to the mountain surplus store, and tells the clerk that if any of these poor bastards happen to show up, “let them know they’re missing”. He then gets back in the chopper and heads home, presumably to cry himself to sleep after a feast of curly fries and self-loathing.

In the end, we are not left with a lesson about the dangers of the woods, or modern man’s inability to connect with the chaos of nature, but rather, the nature of filming in the woods with no rhyme, reason, or script. Each shot is not a story progression, but rather, a document of its own creation. If some films wish to make the process invisible, the process of DGITW is akin to a wannabe invisible man walking around, unaware his serum isn’t working. What we are left with is just another moron covered in bandages.


  1. Strange coincidence: "Curly Fries and Self-Loathing" is my favorite Jimmy Buffett song.

  2. @John
    Actually, my favorite Jimmy Buffet song is a tie between all those that go unlistened.