The Forest (1982)
If you go down to the woods today - you might never get out alive!
Year of Release: 1982
Running Time: 85 minutes (1:25)
Director: Donald M. Jones
Gary Kent ... John
Dean Russell ... Steve
Tomi Barrett ... Sharon
John Batis ... Charlie
Ann Wilkinson ... Teddi
Jeanette Kelly ... Mother
Corky Pigeon ... John Jr.
Becki Burke ... Jennifer
Donald M. Jones ... Forest Ranger
Two couples plan a trip into the forest. But they didn't count on a killer on the loose with a taste for human flesh! Haunted by the ghosts of his children, the killer is eventually double-crossed as the ghosts of his children come to the aid of the campers in this unique entry into the killer-in-the-woods genre.
The Forest, the movie that reminds us that nothing brings an estranged couple together like attempted murder. Kinda brings all the little petty differences into perspective; I think it'd make great couples therapy to sic a serial killer on bickering couples an force 'em to work out their differences or get hacked up into steak 'n kidney pie. Secure people love this movie, and by secure, I mean people who understand and accept who they are, and their limitations. The two women in the movie decide they don't need men for nothin' an head up into the woods to show 'em how self sufficient they are an that they can do anything they set their minds to. Of course, within hours, they're lost, scared shitless, and praying to God that their men find them and rescue them. Which is odd cause usually it's men that suffer from this kind of insecurity, but it's deeply enjoyable either way to watch people get in over their heads and drown in a sea of humble pie filling. You know the type. Tell 'em they can't do something and within moments they're either suffering intense humiliation or intense pain. The best part is that their insecurity is a renewable resource, in that they never learn from these situations and continue to entertain others until they either commit suicide when they realize what a joke they are, or become confined to a wheelchair when a stunt goes a bit more catastrophically wrong than usual. That may well sound cruel to you, but how many of you can honestly say you've never watched an episode of the world's least gifted an laughed when the guy on the skateboard gets crotched on the hand rail an has his testicles swell up like a bag of Jiffy Pop? See. You're no better than me, you're just in denial about it. Alrighty, well, as the best cannibal hiding in the woods movie ever to feature a skanky Mom that locks her kids in the closet while she boffs the TV repairman, I'm certain you're eager to discover what kernels of wisdom it has to offer, so lets get to it. First, never let the fact that it's 11am get in the way of your concern of nightfall approaching. Nevermind that bright sun beaming down from directly above you, that's just Satan tryin' to play tricks on ya.
Same thing with rain. Just because there's only one puffy white cloud in the sky an the sun's hittin' you so hard it feels like your hair's gonna sunburn, that's no reason not to worry about the impending rainstorm. Just keep repeating it to yourself, and it'll come. I wonder why farmers never thought of this. Seems like it'd be really beneficial towards the end of July. Second, cities big enough to have 5 lane freeways always have shops with mechanics that're able to get on your engine problem instantly. I know, I thought there'd be a line when they pulled into the shop too, but now we know better. An third, it's always a good idea when alone and frightened in the woods to panic and abandon your friend at the first sight of trouble. When it's all over, you'll be alive and they won't be. That's a good lesson for all the kids to learn. But I think the bigger issue The Forest puts under the microscope is that, Heaven is either really full, or completely empty. I'll try to explain this as briefly as possible, but the two ghostly Hitler youths in the movie are the children of the guy that went gonzo an mashed his wife's face into a tomato paste an took the kids on a permanent camping trip. The kids eventually got sick an killed themselves because they couldn't live without cable TV, but they're still hangin' around as ghosts to keep Dad company. They HAVE to stick around because they're waiting for Dad to join them before they can move on to the next plane of existence. So it's kinda like havin' a layover in O'Hare, cause the delay to get to the next plane is unbearably long with a lot of unforeseen circumstances. The point is, if they're havin' to wait for Dad, it means they're goin' to the same place. Now, Dad's the kinda guy that slices people up into people pot pie to stave off the midnight munches, while the children were just the victims of a bad situation and didn't really do anything wrong in life. So you've gotta assume that if they're going to Heaven, that it must be easier to get into than Cher's hoo-ha. And that if they're goin' to Hell, God's a real asshole. It's hard to say where they're goin' as they phase out, but suffice it to say, the afterlife is probably gonna be a real shitstorm, one way or another.
The movie begins with a pair of hikers strollin' through the woods while a stunned sasquatch maintains his distance, rubbin' his eyes an thinkin' to himself "by gawd, hikers DO exist". Unfortunately, the two hikers have much bigger problems than sasquatch, cause after a few minutes of landscape traversion shots, the couple's gettin' shadowed by an unshaven throwback in a wife beater for a while, til he's able to get the drop on the male an give the blood gulley on his pig sticker a serious workload. The woman hears the man's incoherent gurglin' an figures he's just tryin' to swallow his tongue again to get out of the marriage, only when she gets back to 'im she finds 'im on the ground with about two pints of pizza sauce drippin' all over an it's not long before she spots Tearamiah Johnson an she has to run like E.L. James from a rape survivors support group. She don't get too far though on account of how Tearamiah can teleport all around the woods an constantly get ahead of her an after awhile she just decides to call his bluff, cause he hasn't got the balls to... oh my that's a lot of blood. Elsewhere, two guys in a beat up truck are drivin' down the freeway complainin' about how dang many people there are in this city an how it might not be worth it to have to spend three hours to get six miles just for the privilege of livin' in a place so crowded you inadvertently headbutt somebody every time you turn around. So Steve tells Charlie about this super secret place he's got up in the woods that nobody else knows about an how they can spend a fun filled weekend wipin' their butts with poison oak an wakin' up to a bear confusin' 'em for a mini fridge if he's up for it. These guys are pretty drab, but if you have trouble tellin' 'em apart, just remember Steve is the one that looks like the Brawny paper towel guy. So that night Charlie an his wife (Teddi) have Steve an his wife (Sharon) over for vittles an spend most of the time tellin' the women folk about how they're gonna go out to the woods so they can paint their faces an dance around nekkid so they can reclaim their dignity as men. He'd like to invite 'em but they'd just be in the way on account of how dainty an pathetic they are an how there ain't no tampon dispensers out in the back forty for 'em to use. At that point the women get all butt hurt an pretend they were startin' their own campin' club all along an that there's no room for members who have members. So the next morning rolls around an Charlie's feelin' a little regretful about the things he said the night before an he's gettin' real scared about the women goin' alone cause if something happens to Teddi he's got no idea how to use a can opener an there's a good chance he could starve to death.
So the guys pretend like they're givin' the women a real big head start, but as soon as they're outta sight they load up their pickup an get right on their trail so they'll have enough time to stalk an slay the mighty squirrel for the women to fry up for 'em at the campfire that evening. Unfortunately, within minutes the check engine light kicks on an starts makin' the red alert noise from Star Trek an Steve has to explain to Charlie that there's a period on the change oil sticker an that it's not supposed to be changed every 30,000 miles it's every 3000.0 miles an Charlie gets this look on his face like he just realized his date's a transvestite. So while the guys pull into a repair shop so they can get the pickup looked at an fry up a pork shoulder on their engine block, the women start havin' second thoughts about how important it is to have the respect of men that don't even know they're supposed to change their oil an begin admitting they're in way over their heads an that they're so inexperienced they only packed high heels to hike in. About four hours later the men get outta the repair shop, all the while complaining about how long it took to get the truck fixed an how they're gonna be stuck eatin' bark on account of darkness. Meanwhile, the women have arrived an get goin' on their trek, but it's not long before Teddi's winded and whining about when the stupid government's gonna get around to paving this stupid forest an how gross nature is. Then, while they try to shield their eyes from the blinding sunlight, thunder starts cracklin' an the women realize they're gonna have to set up their tent so they don't ruin their perms. Only once they get a look at all the pieces they start walkin' around 'em like the apes in 2001: A Space Oddessy when they find the monolith an you know their perms are as good as dead. About that time, the men arrive at a good place to park, terrified of the darkness they know to be coming soon, as they too shield their eyes from the sun beating down from directly above them. But before they go into the woods, a ranger shows up an tells 'em he sure as hell wouldn't go in there on account of how many people have gone in but never came out, but he'll be sure to come back by in a week an see if they've been field dressed and hung from a tree. It's not long after the men have headed out that Charlie starts noticin' they're passin' the same landmarks over an over an when he mentions it Steve starts gettin' real pissy an tells Charlie that if he thinks he can do any better that he can fuck off cause he's not the boss.
Meanwhile, the women have made a fire so a lot of bugs'll show up an they'll have something else to complain about. Then they start hearin' all these noises an wanna know why nobody bothered to mention to them that the forest contains animals that make scary sounds an start blamin' those stupid men who forced them to come out here alone when they knew full well they couldn't handle it. Then these two ghostly kids from Village of the Damned show up an bicker like an old married couple about what to do with the women, only they spot their ghost mom an have to book it before she catches 'em out after curfew. Then the ghost mom tells the two women that if they see her kids to send 'em home so she can beat the tar outta 'em. About that time she fades out an the women start wettin' themselves. Elsewhere, the children of the damned head for home, which is essentially just a campfire, a rockin' chair, and a menorah, an they let slip to pops that there's a couple ladies down by the river that need directions to the nearest laundry mat an pops (Tearamiah Johnson, we'll just call 'im TJ though) picks up his guttin' knife an writes out his grocery list. The kids feel real bad now on account of how TJ's gonna try to eat the women, so they warn 'em that he's headed their way an Sharon goes ape shit an takes off to find a safe place to wash her delicates. TJ misses Sharon in the dark, but is able to sneak up on Teddi an try to explain to her calmly and rationally that this ain't personal an that he just needs her so he'll have something to go with his fava beans. This is not the kind of eating she had in mind for this trip, an she has to jab TJ with her knife to try to get 'im to understand that no means no, only that just gets 'im good an riled an causes 'im to initiate retaliation stabbins til Sharon comes back just in time to watch 'im slash her throat. Sharon runs like a snotty nose in January, but TJ catches sight of her an gives chase until she comes to a cliff an has to cannonball her way to safety. Upon reaching the spot, TJ looks down an you know there ain't no way he's gettin' in that water. Might cost him part or all of his protective layer of filth. So while Sharon clambers out onto the bank lookin' a lot like a regurgitated hairball, TJ picks up Teddi an carries her back to Chateau Ratsnest so he can get some rump roast on his spit fire. Meanwhile, Steve actually thinks he knows where he's goin', only about that time the rain machine kicks on an they have to run for cover in the nearest cave. TJ's cave.
The kids show up an tell 'em they shouldn't be there, but it's a little late for that cause TJ's right behind 'em. TJ's not all bad though, he even lets 'em hang out in his cave until the production crew can figure out how to get the rain machine shut off an offers 'em some of his rump roast. So to pass the time, Charlie gives TJ the third degree an we find out that he moved out here after he had to crack his wife's face like a walnut for bein' a dirty tramp an that he just needs some time to find himself. Course he doesn't tell Charlie about the whole head bashin' incident, only that he had to leave an take the kids with him cause she wouldn't take down the vacancy sign over her hoo-ha. Charlie's kinda skeptical, so he an Steve decide to sleep in shifts. Lucky for them TJ's got a full stomach, cause in the morning TJ wakes 'em both up an tells 'em they need to be on their way cause he has to be nekkid to perform his beauty regimen. After setting out from TJ's place, it's not long before the men find the women's campsite, only they get real worried when they can't hear Teddi complainin' an they split up to look for 'em. Elsewhere, Sharon's on the move when the creepy blonde Hitler Youth children show up again to warn her that TJ's headed her way an he's lookin' to turn her into soylent red. Unfortunately, TJ's already gotten wind of her cleanliness an she's just able to get under an overhanging boulder, causing him to loose sight of her. While TJ's enjoying a chunk of Teddi an waitin' for Sharon to make her move, the men are bickering about what to do. Charlie's afraid that if they go for help an find out nothing was wrong the women'll make fun of 'em, but Steve's eventually able to convince him that they really have no other choice. So Steve heads back to get the ranger while Charlie waits at the camp in case they come back lookin' for their missing make-up kits. So while Sharon comes out of hiding an drinks from the slowest moving section of the river she can find, Steve hauls butt back to the truck, only he's gonna be movin' a whole lot slower now that he's made a misstep an his tibia's stickin' outta the side of his ankle. Well, that or he got poked by a toothpick, the effects are a little shoe string here. Either way, it really hurts an since he's pretty well floored he decides to let it all out an have a good manly blubber. About this time, the kids show up again an tell Sharon there's a couple guys out here lookin' for her, an since her husband seems to have given her a bad sense of direction like some kind of psychological STD, they show her the way back to her campsite. Unfortunately, TJ is strokin' his knife not too far away an he's got his eye on Charlie as he muses about how best to prepare him. Will Steve's life alert bracelet save him before he bleeds out? Will Sharon get back to the campsite in time? Will Charlie end up as Ground Chuck in TJ's freezer? You'll have to watch for yourselves.
Alrighty. Well, for better or for worse, this is not your standard killer in the woods flick. And lets get something straight for all six of you that aren't sure if you aughta watch this or not. In horror movies, you've got three kinds of villains. The ones for whom you get a great deal of backstory on, the ones for whom you get practically none, and those in between. Now backstory is fine if presented properly, a good example would be say, Jigsaw. Although most horror movies tend to give a minimum amount of backstory. A good example here would be Michael Myers in the first Halloween movie. Then you've got flicks where there's practically none, or none at all. Don't Go in the Woods comes to mind. No idea who that nut is, he's just there an he likes to plant the flag in people's abdomens. Even more important than the amount of backstory is how interesting that backstory is. (You can even make it interesting if you have somebody like Donald Pleasance somberly relaying it, even if it's really basic). My problem with The Forest lies primarily with its villain. When you learn his backstory, you start to identify with him, which is not only not a particularly healthy thing to do morally speaking, but it also reduces the impact of the murders the villain commits. It can still work if you do EVERYTHING else right, but it's really tough and usually backfires. Saw was able to pull it off. Silence of the Lambs would be another example. I just don't particularly care for the villain in this one, and the villain is the most important part of any horror movie. He comes off as too normal and too rational. That's not a cut on Gary Kent's acting, he was easily the best of the cast, but it just didn't work for me. I think that the average person (not that they'd like either) would probably enjoy The Forest more than they would, say, Don't Go in the Woods. The Forest unquestionably has the better production values; acting, cinematography, soundtrack, direction (maybe not writing, it's got some atrocious dialog), and plot are all better. But the villain... as much as I hammered Don't Go in the Woods, the one thing I really enjoyed about it was the villain. A lame villain makes for a lame score. The other thing which I think many people will probably like, but that I personally did not, was the plot. It's not the same old weirdo in the woods goin' nutty from all the tick bites routine, it's fairly original. I personally don't care for it, but I think that there are definitely others who might.
So beginning the dissection with said plot, no matter what you may think of the movie, you must acknowledge that the ghostly children angle is something different. I personally think that there's just way too much information about the slasher's backstory goin' here. The kids do function alright as a plot device as far as keeping things moving, I just don't like 'em. So while I must rank it down on my own personal scale on the basis that it doesn't interest me, I wish to be clear that my own personal suspension of disbelief was able to handle the plot, plausibility wise. The acting, at a glance seems a bit poor, and some of it is genuinely poor, but I think the ridiculous dialog goes a long way toward creating the illusion that the acting is truly terrible. The scene where Gary Kent is having a borderline philosophical discussion with Ann Wilkinson about just why he has to chop her up into finger steaks while trying to reassure her it's not personal is just hilarious. And it comes off as a completely rational explanation, in its context anyway. I really don't like my serial killers speaking to their victims like a veterinarian trying to calm an animal just before they euthanize them, I can't take it seriously. Honestly, the acting isn't real good, I just wanted to make it clear that the dialog makes it seem worse than it is. Anyhow, the interesting players are as follows: Gary Kent (Schoolgirls in Chains, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, Sinthia: The Devil's Doll, Satan's Sadists, The Mighty Gorga, Targets, The Thrill Killers), Ann Wilkinson (Boogyman II), Corky Pigeon (Monster in the Closet), Stafford Morgan (The Capture of Bigfoot, The Alpha Incident, The Witch who Came from the Sea, Targets), Jean Clark (Trick or Treats). And the director played the park ranger. The acting doesn't do nice things to the score, but I've seen worse.
The special effects are just okay. There's nothing special about them, as most of what we see are just stab wounds and a couple slashed throats. The blood is too vibrant, and the compound fracture in Dean Russell's leg is just not particularly convincing. The shooting locations are unquestionably one of the high points. With the bulk of the movie being shot in Three Rivers, California and Sequoia National Park. It features several fantastic landscape sequences as well as some very nice cinematography. A definite plus for the score. The soundtrack isn't bad either. A little cheesy maybe. It's done entirely with a synthesizer, but personally, I liked it, and didn't find that it detracted from any of the shots. Not sure it really intensified the seriousness of them all that much, but I liked it. When rating this, one must also point out the sequences where the cast is worried about the danger of the daylight fading soon, when it's clearly noon. Or the discussion about the forthcoming rain, when the sun is out and shining. This just comes off as unprofessional, particularly the rain, because the rain really isn't all that important to the plot. The darkness was definitely important, but they jump from different times of day so frequently that it just doesn't look good. This can happen with such a short shooting schedule, but it just comes off as very unpolished. But with less than two weeks to shoot, that's gonna happen. Something else to consider before judging it too harshly, is the budget. We're talkin' bare bones here. These guys would have killed to get the budget The Evil Dead or Halloween had. Given what they had to work with, I think they did a genuinely commendable job, and you'd have to give the director some well deserved kudos for making it work as well as it did, and for adding some original elements to a subgenre that's pretty predictable. I would recommend that the average viewer add about 5% to the score I give it, as I just didn't like the plot much. And I keep coming back to the villain thing. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is, and with that in mind, I cannot rate this above Don't Go in the Woods, though I think most people probably would, and I would not argue with them for doing so, because I can see why they would. But I can't. Grisly Adams kicks Tearamiah Johnson's ass all day long.