Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ogden, Utah, regional classic: Don't Go in the Woods ... Alone

By Steve D. Stones

This film is of particular interest to me because it was filmed in my native state of Utah. The composer who created the music, H. Kingsley Thurber, is a resident of my hometown of Ogden City. Thurber is responsible for composing music tracks for popular video games of the 1990s. With the exception of the four main actors in the film who play the young campers, most of the cast members were from Salt Lake City. Many scenes in this film were shot at Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful mountainous location up Provo Canyon here in Utah. The film was banned in the U.K. in the 1980s as a "video nasty," and remains banned in that country to this day. Unlike many cult films, I actually loved this film the first time I viewed it. It usually takes me several viewings to appreciate a cult film.

There are many interesting "point of view" shots in the film. One shows the camper Joanie, played by actress Angie Brown, tearing through a sleeping bag after she has been strung up in a tree inside the bag as a prank from her boyfriend. As she tries to tear through the bag to get out, she witnesses the murderer of the film through a hole in the bag as he runs down a mountain trail and stabs her boyfriend in the stomach with a knife tied to a long tree branch. The murderer is similar to the maniac Jupiter in Wes Craven’s 1977 classic "The Hills Have Eyes." On the audio commentary for the film, director James Bryan describes the maniac-murderer as a Siberian-Shaman looking character.

One very creative murder sequence shows a young mother painting on canvas outdoors in the mountains as her infant is bouncing up and down in a baby swing. The canvas she is painting on has only been painted with green strokes of paint. Suddenly she is murdered and gushes of red blood splatter across the canvas, making an interesting use of complementary colors together. I don’t know how intentional this was in the film. For those of us who paint frequently and know about color schemes, it is an interesting sequence. There are also many "fake scares" in the film that set the audience up for thinking they may see the murderer attack a character in the film. Many of these sequences turn out to be a "fake scare" to add to the black humor of the film.

Although the humor sequences outweigh the serious ones, it is often hard to tell whether the film wants to be a full-blown black comedy, or a serious horror film, This may be one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed the film the first time I viewed it, and continue to enjoy it with each viewing. If you pay careful attention to the film, you will notice that every time a new character is shown on screen in an awful costume, you can guarantee that this person will be the next to be killed. This is part of the black humor director Bryan is trying to get across in the film. Death comes to those with a horrible fashion sense.

A particularly tacky scene shows Cheri and Dick making out in the back of a Volkswagen Van on their honeymoon night. Dick repeats: "Cheri, Cheri, you’re the most beautiful thing that has ever come into my life." This is pretty bad dialogue to say the least. The director once worked in the porno business before he worked on the Grizzly Adams television show of the 1970s, so this may be why he intentionally gave these two characters the tacky names that he did and their poor dialogue. To add to the tackiness, the interior of the van is designed with a poster of Farrah Fawcett plastered to the ceiling with gold trim, red shag carpet, and heart-shaped pillows. Perhaps the interior of the van was once used as a set for a porno film? The awfulness of the van’s décor would lead us to believe so.

It seems like such a cliché to have an overweight, soft-spoken sheriff of a small town in a low-budget horror film, but this may be the most convincing character in the entire film. The sheriff, played by Texan Ken Carter, flies a small plane into the skies in search of a missing person reported lost. This sequence seems like homage to Coleman Francis’ plane scenes in "The Beast of Yucca Flats" with the sheriff fulfilling the role of Tor Johnson. Another scene shows Carter helping a pretty young roller skater from falling to the ground as she runs into him getting out of his police vehicle. The sheriff frequently wipes his brow from sweating profusely, which has also become another cliché in low-budget horror films.

If you are a fan of low-budget horror films and a native of Utah, I highly recommend that you view this film. The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD distributed by Media Blasters is full of extra features, such as a short featurette made by director James Bryan with cast and crew members, two audio commentaries and a poster and production still gallery of the film. You are guaranteed to get your money’s worth if you purchase this DVD. It is one of the most cherished DVDs in my collection.

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