Evidently, Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! was a notorious, controversial film when it was released on video in England, where it inaugurated the "video nasties" movement (horror films that the British censors deemed totally inappropriate for distribution to the public). I remember when Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! played at our local drive-in back in 1983; it was the second bill on an all-night triple feature, and I can assure you, there wasn't anything the least controversial or notorious in its arrival to the Maumee Outdoor Theatre. If anyone in their cars were really paying attention to it, they were probably there without a date. An inept exercise in Friday the 13th shenanigans, Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! does leave the experienced horror fan with an affectionate sense of deja vu for its time-honored cliches of 1970's and 80's low-budget horror filmmaking.
Four campers - Peter (Jack McClelland), Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz), Craig (James P. Hayden), and Joanie (Angie Brown) - go into the mountains of Utah for what can only be described as...a hiking trip. Meanwhile, other campers and hikers on the various trails are being laid to waste by an unseen menace who could be a bear, or caveman Alley Oop, depending on if the sun's in your eyes. The sheriff (Ken Carter) has been alerted to stories about hikers disappearing, but frankly, he's doesn't seem too riled up about it all. One by one, our intrepid campers are confronted by the machete-wielding Cro-Magnon man. Who will live, and who will die? Surely, you jest.
There appears to be some confusion on which direction to take here.
When I listened to the commentary track, I perked up a little when I found out the director, James Bryan, had been associated with Sunn Classics, the Utah-based movie studio associated with such campy Saturday afternoon matinee classics as In Search of Historic Jesus, In Search of Noah's Ark, Hangar 18, and The Lincoln Conspiracy. Unfortunately, Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! makes those looney "documentaries" look like Citizen Kane (or at least a really good episode of Grizzly Adams). Director Bryan insists in the commentaries that he did all of this on purpose - and by "all of this," I mean mismatched shots, wooden acting (if it can even be called that), atrocious dialogue, questionable special effects, continuity problems, and a general air of arrested artistic development. But after watching Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! I seriously question that. Nothing about Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! is so intentionally funny that you would sit up and say, "This is parody." What must have grown with Don't Go In The Woods...Alone!'s cult (does it really have a cult, or is that all bull, too?) is the notion that, "nobody could be this inept; the director had to be putting us on." If the resulting effect of Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! indeed was calculated, then somebody needs to go back and watch some I Love Lucy's and The Honeymooners, because it's just not funny. In fact, it's not even bad enough to be funny (see: Showgirls). It's just a crappy little horror film, made on a shoestring budget, with people who really showed some grit in getting it done. That's fine, and more power to those people. But that doesn't make it good.
The DVD box indicates that this full frame transfer from the original negative has been personally supervised by the director, so one must assume it's the correct ratio. It's still full of scratches and some iffy color -- which may very well come from the original source (the director used "short ends" of negatives to shoot the film -- the leftover, undeveloped ends of bigger spools of negative). Still, that's part, I guess, of the ever-so-slight charm of watching Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! -- it looks as bad as it did when I saw it at the drive-in.
The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is adequate for the post-production looped-in dialogue.
There's a startling amount of extras for such a marginal film. First, there are two commentaries; the first with director Bryan, and the second with Bryan, Devron Miller of CKY, and star Mary Gail Artz. The director-only commentary is actually a fairly interesting look at the trials and tribulations of putting on a low-budget horror film. Bryan is certainly a genial, laid-back commentator, and I enjoyed his thoughts much more than actually watching his film. The second commentary is a much more raucous one, but not nearly as insightful. Next, there's a one hour featurette that gives us a current glimpse of most of the actors and crew that worked on the film. Next up, there's some vintage video of interviews Bryan and Tom Drury (Alley Oop) did for local Salt Lake TV programs, pushing the film. There's a section featuring posters and stills from the film, and finally, a reconstructed trailer for the film. That's a lot of stuff for a film almost nobody remembers.
Don't buy it, just rent it. If you grew up with stuff like this like I did, you'll get a nice, happy little buzz at how movies sounded and looked and played from that period. It's a small, dopey film, but the gore is amusing, and really -- they were working with almost nothing. What excuses do the big studios have when they turn out multi-million dollar junk that's just as inept? Don't Go In The Woods...Alone! isn't for your library, but it might amuse you on a Saturday night -- particularly if your town doesn't have a drive-in anymore. Rent it.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.