1981 – R – Code Red
Starring – Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden – Directed by James Bryan
There’s a title that also works as warning sign in life; Don’t Go in the Woods or Don’t Go in the Woods… Alone if you are one of the many people that confused the oddly placed tagline right next to the title (the actual title card in the movie reads Don’t Go in the Woods). I won’t go on a tangent or anything, but this little issue has been confusing horror fans for years, but director James Bryan cleared the issue up on the DVD’s special features and even IMDB credits the movie as Don’t Go in the Woods and if it’s on IMDB, then it’s 100% accurate…
Camp slashers in the early 80’s had a dark and somewhat serious tone to them, whether it be Friday the 13th or (as silly as it was) Madman, but then comes along Don’t Go in the Woods and says, “We’re here to have fun!” And there’s a fun little analogy: if this film were a character in an 80’s slasher, it would be the beer drinking, pot smoking, prank playing, one liner spewing character. However, don’t mistake this for a comedy or a spoof. The tone is definitely horror, but the delivery is pure lovable cheese.
Right out the door, this film doesn’t hold back. A young woman dashes through the woods, screaming her lungs out and tripping and falling into a shallow river to soak her white shirt as blood begins to pool. Another poor sap who is enjoying the most boring hobby of all time, bird watching, has his arm is hacked off (which only seems to slightly knock him off balance) and clobbered over the head. In the first few minutes, the film let’s you know it’s going to be sleazy and filthy with ridiculous levels of violence and less than average acting… which is exactly what we are tuning in for!
While the happy campers of… whatever the name of this place is, are being hacked into pieces, let’s meet our group of four adventurers, Ingrid, Joanne, the misfit Peter and led by the lecturing outdoor connoisseur Craig. When you get down to it, they ultimately have no other goal than to just be camping in the woods. That’s no stretch of the imagination and from what I understand, people actually do that. No reason to bog this plot down with pointless exposition like, they are looking for a secret treasure, or it’s a getaway from the daily grind or claiming inherited property. They are just there to camp, so deal with it. Peter doesn’t take camping too seriously, dangerously leaping from a log and stomping on the ground as Craig scolds him about how risky and stupid that was. He could have been injured or there could have been snakes!
As they frolic about, our killer stalks more random prey, this time a chubby photographer and his wife. He drags her off and does who knows what to it and the husband is thrown off the side of a cliff for the crime of wearing too much pink. He clearly won’t be missed, as a group of teens splashes about in the water literally feet from where his bloated, lifeless body now defecates itself.
So what are the police going to do about this? Surely all of these people disappearing is pretty suspicious. Nah, it’s probably bears assumes our heroic law enforcement, as they brush it off with a round of some office putt-putt. These men sure know how to prioritize.
It’s been several minutes since someone has been savagely torn apart, so who better to volunteer themselves as victims than a couple of randy, um, middle aged people? Huh, usually in this scenario it’s teenagers, but here it looks like mom and dad don’t have the kids for weekend and need to drive miles away from civilization in an RV to do the no pants dance. Our killer, not having premium basic cable packages provided out in his area (probably due to coverage), decides to catch the live Skinemax show. Dad isn’t having any of that and grabs his pea shooter, shouting into the night in a random direction, which upsets the maniac. He dispatches dad pretty quickly and rolls mom in the RV down a hill, which explodes at bottom after settling there for a few moments, which all vehicles were known for doing in the 80’s.
Well perhaps the portly Sheriff should look into things, as he takes to the sky in a helicopter, although he doesn’t seem too concerned with looking for anything suspicious… meanwhile, a young mother gets stabbed to death while painting, posing for the cover art and her baby is stolen and a poor helpless man in a wheelchair is decapitated. Yeah, nothing odd going on around here, just people vanishing by the handful. No need to concern yourself or exert any energy that isn’t going in to eating ham.
You’re probably starting to see a pattern happening. But to break the mold (and to kick some plot into gear), Peter decides
he’s a bad enough dude to rescue the President from Ninjas to go camping on his own and wanders off from his group, which is the best thing you can do when you’re in the wilderness, with little food and water and no knowledge in survival and first aid. It goes about as well as you think. He’s cold, hungry, miserable… the classics. I was expecting a montage of the silly mishaps that could happen to him, like getting his hand stuck in a toaster, a bucket stuck on his head, butt caught in a mousetrap all while slapstick music plays. But no, morning finally comes and he witnesses a fisherman get murdered by the now revealed crazy, bearded, homeless looking bear guy with beads on his face. Typical.
Before looking for Peter, the rest of the gang decide to play ineffectual pranks, as Craig strings up Joanne in her sleeping bag, just as the crazed woodsman stumbles upon them and kills Craig. Ingrid (now that I’m thinking of it, who the hell is named Ingrid that wasn’t born in the 20’s?) bolts the scene, leaving Joanne to be strung up like a pinata. Peter, now armed with a sharp stick, bumps into Ingrid and the two dash frantically through the woods, running smack into Rope Face Guy’s crazy kill shack, littered with garbage and dead bodies. Upon surviving an attack from the killer, Ingrid and Peter escape (but not before accidentally killing a hiker by mistake… which is oddly never brought up or seems to have an effect on either of their mental health) and check in to the local hospital, where the police FINALLY decide to do something about it and round up a posse for a good ol’ fashioned manhunt! Believing Joanne to still be out there, Peter sets forth on his own manhunt, against the wishes of the law enforcement.
Peter races against the posse to find this backwoods killer and stop him once and for all. And also to make sure his friend is still alive. It all boils down to a duel, with Ingrid somehow running out of the middle of nowhere and finding Peter to help him stop the maniac once and for all. I guess GPS tracking devices were invented while they were in the hospital and the doctors implanted one inside Peter without him knowing… or it’s just a coincidence.
Although the gore may not be the most amazing practical effects and at times laughable (although given the tone of the film, it’s a safe assumption it was intentional), it was enough to land this film a spot on the notorious Video Nasties list. Even though it was later removed (in 2007) because the effects are so laughable, it’s still noteworthy. The film has a certain sleaze feel to it and I get that feeling like I’m watching something that I shouldn’t be every time I view this and it makes me giddy, which is what I think was the reaction the James Bryan was looking for. It’s not a film to be taken seriously, so loosen up and have a good time with it. It’s actually surprising to read that there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this film upon its release. Being an over the top slasher flick from the 80’s, depicting horrific death scenes makes it a perfect target I suppose. Some of the deaths feel like possibly the intent was to cause controversy, such as the woman being killed in front of her child and the man in the wheelchair having his head cut off, but the fact that the acting is so hokey, if you want to call that acting and the crew most likely intended to do it so. The film even has its share of pointless scenes, like where a roller skater (in the woods…) bumps into the Sherrif and they both go about their day. Why was she rollerskating in the woods? Where was she headed? Was that supposed to be a jump scare? I can’t believe people were so up in arms about this, even back then. Silly people looking for things to be upset about. Sigh.
Don’t Go in the Woods is a simple, silly slasher flick not to be taken seriously. Sure, the acting is so cheesy that it’s stinkier than Munster cheese, but the kills are so entertaining! Sure, none of the characters are really likeable in a realistic since, but they are so goofy that you don’t mind hanging out with them for the duration of the movie. You’ll have more fun watching this movie than you would actually going camping. Plus you don’t have worry about getting killed by some crazy woodsman.
The Lost Highway is the B-movie survival guide!