Don’t Go In The Woods 1981

After watching Don’t Go In The Woods  I think the main question we have to ask about the whole Video Nasties debacle is this:


I’m not saying that the-banned-for-many-years Don’t Go In The Woods isn’t gory, because it is. And I’m not saying that it isn’t occasionally offensive, because it is that too. But the gore is of the of the cheapest bucket of red paint variety, and it is only offensive in its stupidity. I realise that over time what was once shocking has become less so, but I cannot believe for a second that anyone who watched this movie back in 1981 was so mortified (or anything other than bemused) that they would call for it’s instant banning. Unless you were in a wheelchair I suppose (I’ll get to that). This leads me to the conclusion that no body bothered watching Don’t Go In The Woods before chucking it on the list.

Right from the beginning it is apparent that the film has some major issues with coverage. A bunch of teens, who I guess were meant to be actors but forgot to learn how to act, are sitting around a campfire being told about the legend of these, them, here woods where a killer lives preying on teens. At least I presume they are being told as you never see the person who is telling them. The camera never cuts to a reverse so you only see the reactions (including one girl staring straight at the lens) not the main character of the scene who is talking. This happens relentlessly throughout the film: a scene in a plane involving the sherif and a pilot. They have a very long (and repetitive) conversation but you never see anything of the pilot other than his back. I thought this was because his character was mysterious and would play a bigger part later. But no, we never see the pilot again…

More coverage madness ensues: a man is strangled to death by his camera bag strap, or is he? He just seems to lean forward for a bit making gurgling sounds. The next shot he is lying at the bottom of a cliff with his (very red) brains splattered all over some rocks. Sure, we can work out what has happened but maybe seeing the strap being thrown around his neck or him actually being pushed off the cliff would have help connect the visual dots.

This isn’t just a question of coverage though, the whole approach to editing and putting scenes or even shots in order seems beyond the film maker’s abilities. The main teen hero bloke of the movie (failing to grasp the importance of The Final Girl trope) frolics about in the water with two girls early on, but then in a later scene the same guy is standing on a cliff watching the girls and HIMSELF in the same water. Either he is having a flashback to happier times or there is some weird time travelling shit going on we, as the audience, are not privy to.

Hey, look this is all just the technical stuff. Don’t Go In The Woods fails in almost every other way too. In design, for example. The killer turns out to be some wild man who lives in the woods and wears beads on his face. There is no explanation as to why he likes the beads or if they mean anything. Certainly if it was to make him look scary then that didn’t work. If it was to add mystery then it could be deemed a success: the mystery being “Why are you wearing beads on your face?!?!” Also this wild man is actually quite small so when hero guy and his female friend return to the woods to get revenge or justice or what-have-you, it is like two healthy middle class folk murdering a little old tramp.

Nothing makes any sense though, and I’m not just talking about characters deciding to wander off by themselves level of sense here. I mean nothing the characters do at all makes the slightest sense:

  • The hero escapes with the girl after failing to defend himself against the tramp with a big stick, but then returns with just the girl and the same big stick to kill him. Why would this strategy work when it failed last time?
  • A couple called Cherry and Dick are having a romantic night in their campervan. But Dick’s idea of romance is stumble about like a drunken madman shouting “let me take care of it, Cherry, oh Cherry. Huuhh?” whilst looking at the floor. Who talks like that? And who has sex with someone clearly that mad?
  • “Its gonna be one of those summers” says a security guard as a girl rollerskates past him down the mountain. Who rollerskates down mountains? And how?
  • When hero bloke and girl escape they say a friend of theirs is still trapped up the mountain with the killer. The sherif notes that the hero might become “a bit irrational with guilt.” Then said sherif goes off for a hearty breakfast to think about that and other things – not to sort out the guys guilt by going to rescue the girl or catch the killer or any other sherif type things.

Its not just the weird behaviour which is demented, the sound is mad as birds too. The music, if you can call it that, mostly consists of bells, whistles and other odd noises. A rattle snake rattles for no reason throughout the film and at one point you can hear a train hoot its horn. When the story demands some suspense, for example when the hero and girl enter the killer’s cabin shouting at each other to be quiet, the soundtrack has the sound of someone randomly beating a steel bin. The only proper music is a kind of comedy slapstick number which plays over a guy struggling to move himself around in his wheelchair.  That’s the offensive bit of this video nasty – yeah take the piss out of the handicapped why don’t you! There is a theme tune though, when the film finally ends, with its weirdly downbeat and bleak coda, a chirpy little number pops up sounding like teddy bears picnic but singing about being chopped up into little pieces.

Worst of all, Don’t Go In The Woods might be called Don’t Go In The Woods but most of it is set on a mountain side with barely a wood in sight.

Its all complete nonsense. Certainly worth a watch just to see how not to make a movie. I thought this was going to be one of those one-shot director deals, where a bunch of friends decided to make a horror movie and then never made another film again. But no, this was director James Bryan’s eighth movie, and he would go on to make many more.  Maybe if the conservative government had watched this film they might have done something more useful than banning the film: banning Bryan from ever going near a film set again.






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