In the pantheons of bad movie making, few films can hold a candle to the completely nonsensical mess that is Don't Go Near The Park. Despite an onscreen warning that tells us this fictional film was based on actual events, it's about as unrealistic as you can get, blending medieval fantasy with flat out gut munching horror into a finished product that almost defies description.
Thousands of years ago in a cave somewhere that looks suspiciously like a certain California movie industry landmark, we meet Gar (credited as Crackers Phinn) and Tre (Barbara Monker) – brother and sister barbarians types with a taste for eating flesh and for each other! Their behavior earns them a place on the leader of the tribe's sh*tlist, and as such, she curses them with an affliction that ages them ten years for every one year that they live on this planet. Gar and Tre aren't suckers though, and they manage to combat this advanced aging process by eating the stomach's of young people.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the present day (well, the seventies at least) and Gar has changed his name to Mark. His sister tells him that in order to give her eternal life and end their torment he must find a woman to bear his child and so he manages to hitch up with a sexy blonde (Linnea Quigley) by walking into her house while she's in the shower and demanding she rent him a room. In a particularly bad moment of impaired judgment, she agrees and soon they get married. Soon she bares him a daughter, and they name her Bondi. What Bondi doesn't realize is that she's going to be sacrificed one she turns sixteen.
Fast forward a few more years and Bondi (Tamara Taylor) is celebrating her sixteenth birthday. Unfortunately mom and dad are fighting and so after her party, she leaves home. Some potheads pick her up and give her a ride but then they try to rape her. Thankfully her dad gave her a magic amulet which she wears around her neck and when she starts screaming for help, she's thrown from the van which then drives off a bridge and explodes. From there she runs to a run down old ranch where Tre lives, running around the surrounding park as a one eyed witch pretending to have cursed the area so that she can live in peace with a teenage runaway named Cowboy (Chris Riley) and a younger kid named Nick (Meeno Peluce). After Nick feels her up, she makes out with Cowboy (she's a frisky sixteen year old, to be sure) and then Nick sells some flowers and befriends an old man played by an intoxicated looking Aldo Ray who is trying to figure out the mystery of the curse in the park. Eventually some zombies rise from the grave and Tre and Gar find themselves under suspicion for the murder and cannibalism of all of their victims.
Nothing and I mean NOTHING in this movie makes any sense. It's not scary, the gore scenes are bad, the acting is terrible, and Aldo Ray looks drunk. The story jumps all over the place, things happen more often than not for no reason at all, and the acting is piss poor. In short, bad movie fans, this is the kind of thing that wet dreams are made of. If you even remotely appreciate the horrible, horrible levels that low budget horror movies can and often do sink to, then Don't Go Near The Park is one for you to watch out for – they really don't get much worse than this.
Unintentional side splitting hilarity and completely insane plotting aside, Don't Go Near The Park does have an interesting cast of notable b-movie actors to brag about. Director Lawrence Foldes went on to do Young Warriors with Ernest Borgnine and Richard Roundtree in the lead, and then later the sublime Nightforce with Linda Blair. The late Aldo Ray was a b-movie staple, appearing in everything from Italian action movies like Commandos to bad, bad horror films like this one. Of course, Linnea Quigley is best known for her dance scene in Return Of The Living Dead but her shower scene in this early performance gives that one a run for its money. Young Meeno Peluce shows up in The Amityville Horror as Matt and played Tanner on the Bad News Bears TV show. Oddly enough, 'Crackers Phinn' has no other credits to his name. The film also has the dubious distinction of being one of the infamous 'Video Nasties' and as such was banned in the UK for some time.
What the movie has going for it in spades is the 'WTF?' factor – seeing Aldo Ray befriend young Nick for no reason other than he used to sell flowers when he was a kid too, and then take him under his wing to help him solve a series of murders is such a bizarre plot idea that it almost seems like an unintentionally brilliant decision. You certainly won't have this one figured out. From the scene where Bondi is saved by her magic amulet to the exploding van to the one eyed witch running around the park and then hanging out with the kids, Don't Go Near The Park is almost sublime as bad movies go. Those looking for anything remotely serious are going to hate this one with a passion, as it really is a stinker, but for those of us who get off on this type of movie, it's a real keeper.
While the colors are just a tad dull in a couple of scenes and there is some mild grain and minute instances of print damage throughout the movie, Don't Go Near The Park looks surprisingly good on DVD for the most part. The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and this transfer does the movie justice. The black levels stay strong throughout, the nighttime scenes are surprisingly clear and free of murkiness, the reds look nice and bright during the shoot out sequences, and flesh tones look lifelike and natural – you can almost see the hairspray in Quigley's do!. Edge enhancement and aliasing are there if you want to look for them but they're never overpowering and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts to speak of. Overall, the movie looks really good on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is fine, and it comes with optional English subtitles. There's a little bit of hiss in a couple of spots but otherwise there's not much to complain about here. The goofy score and the sound effects come through nicely without overpowering the performers and their dialogue. It's not a fancy track but it gets the job done well enough.
The biggest and best of the extra features on this release comes in the form of a commentary track with director Lawrence Foldes and star Linnea Quigley, moderated by Blue Underground's David Gregory. Foldes has more to saw than Quigley does but they both get a few words in edge wise. In terms of delivery though, Foldes is great on this track. He briefs us on how he managed to scrape up the financing for the film, dealing with an often times drunken Aldo Ray and the problems that entailed, shooting the film in various locations including the instantly identifiable Bronson Caves in California, and casting decisions. Quigley talks about how nervous she was while making the movie and her experiences with some of her co-stars. This is a pretty interesting track, there are some good stories in here that will definitely appeal to exploitation fans and eighties horror movie buffs.
Dark Sky has also managed to dig up a nice selection of deleted scenes. For the purposes of continuity and comprehension (if that term can be applied to this film), they've been put into the scenes that they were removed from in the first place, that way you can kind of imagine what it would have been like had they been used in the final cut of the movie. This results in a couple of extended kill scenes, some more gratuitous nudity courtesy of a scene in which Linnea leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, a sex scene with Cowboy and Bondi in a bathtub, a couple more flashbacks that relate to the opening of the film and some extended character development bits, most of which are dialogue based. Also included are some very cool gore scene outtakes from the production. These are brief and presented without any sound as they aren't finished takes but they're interesting to see and a little nastier than the ones used in the final version of the movie.
Rounding out the extra features are two trailers for the film, a television spot, and a rather generous still gallery of behind the scenes photographs and promotional materials. Chapter stops and animated menus are also included.
A truly terrible and almost unwatchable film gets a very nice DVD release from Dark Sky Films. Anyone who enjoys movies on the 'so bad they're good' level will want to run out and snag this one A.S.A.P. (and so it is recommended on that level), everyone else, well, don't go near the DVD.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.