Ah, James Bryan’s Don’t go into the Woods, one of everyone’s favorite failed slasher films. Like Byron Quisenberry’s Scream or the films of Albert Pyun and Renee Harmon, the very mention of this film is likely to elicit line quotations or scene reenactments from bemused postmodern audiences.
There’s precious little plot to speak of – hikers and random oddballs ignore the film’s title, go into the woods and get killed off by a caveman with some ersatz Native American prayer stick. That’s it.
Like a no-budget Day of the Animals, its protagonists are both unlikeable and slasher film levels of stupid, from the obnoxious, bickering twentysomething campers whose leader doesn’t believe in following rivers downstream to the Sea Hag-homely hippie and her doofy boyfriend who keeps a handgun in a locked dollar store storage box to such absurdist what the fuck are they doing out on a mountain anyway types as the grumpy guy in a wheelchair and the painter and her baby – if you aren’t accustomed to the slasher paradigm of rooting for the killer against a cast of hateful harridans and jackoff jock and stoner morons, you may be in for a bit of a shock.
Even the famously awful closing theme song (intended by composer H. Kingsley Thurber as a joke, but either cluelessly or especially good humoredly actually winding up used by director Bryan in the final release) marks the production as odd, off kilter, skewed. Taken in the proper light, in the right mood and with the right company, it can either be a hilarious hour and a half of cinematic cheese or a grueling endurance test at the extreme end of celluloid ineptitude.
Once you get beyond the adventures of the caveman killer himself, you further get a 56m featurette with James Bryan interviewing members of the crew (ported from the Code Red release), what may be an edited version of that disc’s 15 minute vintage talk show appearance with Bryan and Tom Drury, and finally a pair of commentaries with both the director and star Mary Gail Arts, presumably brought over from that earlier release as well (I really can’t see everyone reconvening to give yet another commentary on the same film, less than a decade on).
Outside of a typically useless commentary from The Hysteria Continues (ho, ho, ho, what jesters they are), there’s only one new extra, and it’s an oddity: a DVD release party with cast members and attendees getting interviewed by a creepy looking puppet with an awful hairdo. Don’t ask me.
For those interested in time variances, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu runs 1:21:55 vs. Code Red’s DVD coming in at 1:21:45.
Whether due to the vagaries of time and storage or the specific print used, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu surprisingly fares relatively poorly by comparison: while colors have definitely been brightened, the film itself shows through as extremely grainy, with massive ongoing print damage (scratches, lines, snow, variations in light temperature, you name it, it’s got it). So even for a film that was primarily shot outdoors, there’s just not much to recommend here in terms of upgraded picture quality – even BFI’s golf ball sized grain sporting release of Andy Milligan’s Nightbirds fared better, and that was presumed lost for decades!
While Code Red’s earlier print is certainly several degrees darker in tone and contrast, this may actually help the film’s condition by hiding what are apparently some rather egregious print flaws. I’m usually a champion of Process Blue restorations, but in this particular case, if you’ve got this film already, you may want to pass on ‘upgrading’ to a print that turns out to be far more annoying to sit through.
Naturally, those who missed out on the earlier release and are looking for what may be the all time worst 80’s slasher film cameras ever rolled on are well advised to snap this one up, and quick.