The Film (3/5)
Don't Go in the Woods has one of the most iconic and irresistable covers in all of 80's horrordom. I should know I fell easy victim during the VHS-era to it's charms. With an awesome cover like that, the film contained therein had to be AMAZING! I was wrong, multiple times I rented Don't Go in the Woods, and on zero occasions would I make it past the five minute mark before giving up. Now in March 2015 Vinegar Syndrome has released James Bryan's 1981 slasher to Blu-ray, and being I am one for repeat abuse I decided to see if Don't Go in the Woods was truly as bad as I remember it being nearly 20 years ago.
The simple answer is a resounding NO.
Don't Go in the Woods is by no stretch of the imagination a good film. It is essentially the film Herschell Gordon Lewis would have made if he had started his career at the height of the 80's slasher trend, rather then when he changed the cinematic landscape with Blood Feast. There is no story, no pacing, characters appear just to die, and the FX are pretty lousy, but for all its ineptitude it has a certain charm to it, and a sadistic humor streak that although probably unintentional certainly helps to elevate the film.
Don't Go in the Woods doesn't have much of a story. There is a group of campers lead by the "serious outdoorsman" of the piece Craig (James Hayden), he is leading his friends through the mountains. The same mountains a psychotic maniac (Tom Drury) is murdering his way through. This maniac is in the hicksploitation mold ala early Friday the 13th sequels and Just Before Dawn, and wears strings of beads across his face to set himself apart from other masked cine-maniacs. There are also some cops investigating the murders right out of the Last House on the Left mold, that don't see the work as "murders", but the work of "bears". Now, usually the main group of campers would be the focus of the story, but into this rural mountains region comes random other tourist and locals, like a painter with her child, and a couple in a winnebago who seemingly appear as slasher-bait.
Honestly, I was prepared to be disappointed by Don't Go in the Woods. But this film did something all films should do on a very basic level, it kept me amused during it's run time. No, there was never a sense of palpable dread during the murders, but the whole thing was so damn bizarre in the way it all went off that I couldn't help, but have a smile on my face all the way through to the end credits (seriously, the end credits have a jingle that has to heard to be believed). When watching the film I couldn't help but think that this is type of film most concerned parents groups thought kids were watching with it’s non-stop parade of near plotless violence. Still I found Don't Go in the Woods is a surprisingly fun time, and well worth the time for horror fans with certain expectations.
Vinegar Syndrome does there usually excellent work bringing the Blu-ray of Don't Go in the Woods to HD. The Blu-ray contains an AVC encoded 1080p 1:66:1 transfer that has very nice detail, a nice organic look to it, that represents the natural color scheme of the the piece and solid blacks. Because of the nature and age of the source material there was only so much that could be done with it, and we are left with some scratches, fading, and other issues with the source, but overall this is quite a nice image throughout.
Vinegar Syndrome has presented the audio with a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track in English, with no subtitles provided. The track is suitable with the dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely, although some popping was heard on my run through.
Vinegar Syndrome have packed their release of Don't Go in the Woods with plenty of extras for fans of the film. We get 3 commentary tracks the first a solo track with director James Bryan, the second features James Bryan and actress Mary Gail Arts and 2 fans of the film. The third is by the Hysteria Lives and serves to make fun of the film in an MST3K sort of way. We also get a 56 minute featutte that looks at the cast and crew of Don't Go in the Woods about 10 years back, some stories are served about the film, but it's more of a reunion piece. There is a 30 minute autograph signing party featurette with interviews by a puppet, a compilation of TV promotional stops that James Bryan did in support of the film, and then galleries of press artwork, film artwork, and the trailer.
If you go into Don't Go in the Woods expecting a serious, well made slasher-horror experience you might have a good time with this bizarre early 80's backwoods body count oddity. The A/V restoration from Vinegar Syndrome looks and sounds as good as can be expected considering the film itself. The extras package is epic in scope, and offers fans of the film quite a lot to go through. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.