Some movies want to be more than they seem. Much like literature, these movies are full of symbolism and it's up to the viewer to dive in and find the story within the story. And then, there are movies which hide nothing and strive to be exactly what they are. This "what you see if what you get" approach definitely applies to Forest of the Dead.
As Forest of the Dead opens, a group of friends -- Johnny Rebel (Chris Anderson), Roger (Mark Singleton), Amy (Brandi Boulet), Christine (Elaine Cummings), Crystal (Heather Duthie) and Marcel (Kevin Norris) -- take a trip to the woods of Canada in search of a campground. What they find instead is an old summer camp. (I found this part really confusing). They had planned to spend the night and meet some friends the next day. They are unsure of what to do, when suddenly a woman named Angie (Stephane Halin) appears and tells them that it's OK for them to camp out there that night. So, the group sets up their campsite and then goes about getting drunk and fooling around. Everything is all fun and games until something attacks Amy.
The story then jumps ahead to the next day, as we see Carrie (Erin Brophy), Jeffy (Miles Finlayson), Keith (Richard P. Glasgow), Regan (Marie-Julie Loranger), Danny (Daniel Shestelo) and Jaye (Alyson Tayler) -- the friends who the original group were meant to meet -- arriving at the campground. They look for their friends and decide to make camp. As night falls, the first group of travelers do appear, as bloodthirsty zombies. They begin to chase and chomp their friends until only one remains.
When a movie features a white character who has a huge afro, you know that it's not asking us to take it seriously. Forest of the Dead is a zombie movie, plain and simple. It offers no explanation as to why the characters become zombies, and apparently that's not important. The movie has only two purposes; it wants to make us laugh through some very bizarre humor and it wants to scare us with the zombie scenes. It's admirable that such a clearly low-budget movie have not one, but two goals.
Writer/director/jack of all trades Brian Singleton has put a lot of effort into Forest of the Dead, and he's made a movie that tries to distinguish itself from other zero-budget direct-to-video entries. For starters, we have the large cast. It's rare to see over ten characters at all in one of these movies, never mind that many characters with major speaking parts. He's divided the movie into two halves. The first half deals with the characters and there interactions. Here, we get scene after scene where the characters insult each other and use odd scatological terms. And then, we have Jeffy Guiseppe, the character in the afro. What is up with that? Nothing in Forest of the Dead looks like it came from Hollywood, but that wig clearly came from the dime-store. It's just odd. (However, I must admit that I laughed when Jeffy said, "Propa!" That gets me every time.)
Following this, the movie becomes a zombie film for no apparent reason. Again, we never know why the characters become zombies. Was it the mysterious Angie? There are several shots where characters appear to stalked by something which sounds like the introduction to a Nine Inch Nails song from the Pretty Hate Machine era. The finale of the film is nothing but a series of scenes where one character is killed after another. Some of the gore effects are good, while others are very unconvincing.
Is Forest of the Dead good? Is it supposed to be? This odd movie is very hard to judge. It's never really funny and never scary. The film's low-budget is apparent, from the pre-existing locations to the fog machine which makes it look like a fire is burning out of control somewhere. But, the movie's odd, playful nature does make it somewhat charming. The odd-ball characters certainly don't fit the stereotypical molds that we usually see (save for Keith, the nerd) and the lack of any real plot helps to keep the movie moving.
Forest of the Dead chews its way onto DVD courtesy of Elite Entertainment. The movie is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The movie was shot on non-HD video, and looks OK. There is some noticeable video noise in some scenes, as well as the to-be-expected "white out" effect at times. But, the image is fairly stable and always clear. Singleton hasn't used any (noticeable) effects on the daytime scenes and the colors look good. The image is somewhat dark in the nighttime scenes though.
The Forest of the Dead DVD has a digital stereo audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Compared to the muffled sound that I've heard on several DVDs as of late, this one sounded pretty good. The track was well-balanced and the dialogue was never over-powered by the sound effects. The one drawback here is that the sound changes with nearly every shot change and there is some hissing.
This DVD is loaded with extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Brian Singleton and actors Mark Singleton and Miles Finlayson. It should be noted that the audio on this commentary is terrible. That aside, it's an interesting chat as the Brian Singleton discusses the fact that he originally shot the movie in 2002 and then added footage over the years. He points out several places where scenes were cut or added, or changed. They also talk about the actors and the locations. "Out of the Darkness" (8 minutes) is simply on-set video showing the making of the movie and the actors speak to the camera at times. "Behind the Blood" (23 minutes) gives us more on-set footage as we see how each of the gore effects was done. "Hells Bells: The Nightmare of Sound Design" (14 minutes) shows Brian and Mark Singleton recording sound effects to add to the movie. The DVD has 15-minutes of OUTTAKES which show some of the deleted scenes discussed in the commentary. Singleton's short film Return of the Dastardly Zombie Vampire Mummy from Planet-X (18 minutes) is included here and it's black-and-white low-budget goofiness. The final extra is a TRAILER for Forest of the Dead.
Fans of DIY movie making will most likely get a kick out of Forest of the Dead. Don't go in expecting a serious zombie movie and you're bound to have a little fun.