Review Date: November 2, 2006
Released by: Code Red
Release date: 10/10/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
When Code Red announced that Donít Go in the Woods
would be their first title, it seemed a match made in heaven. Their website was like a bad geocities page you would have found circa 1995, their grammar on press releases was almost illegible and much of their responses on our forum seemed childish (albeit impassioned). Such presentation seemed fitting, considering the first film they would release concluded with a theme song modeled on the Teddy Bearsí Picnic. After much anticipation was built, it seemed as if Code Red had fallen off the map after failing to get a distributor. Promises that director James Bryan had already done a documentary and commentary on the film started to sound like a hoax, considering Code Redís absent track record.
A few months later though, it was discovered that Media Blasters (themselves plagued with several DVD release issues) had picked up Code Redís catalogue and would help them distribute. Donít Go in the Woods
was to, again, be the companyís first title, to be released on October 10th. Never one for promptness, Media Blasters again missed another street date, and questions again arose as to whether Woods would ever make it out of the woodwork alive. It is November 2nd, and finally I have received my screener for Donít Go in the Woods
. It has been a journey, but this terrible little cult video (nasty) finally has a digital incarnate in Region 1. Was it worth the wait, and perhaps more importantly, is Code Red something really worth stopping for?
I think Iíve already done James Bryan and the film a service by implying with this section that the film is actually comprised of a start, a middle and an end. Now, there is a title card, and an actual ďThe EndĒ card at the 82-minute mark, but in between that I donít really know what to say. The film starts with a woman running in the woods and falling. Thatís about it. Then there are some hikers, four of whom donít seem to have any sort of motive or destination. They just happen to be in the woods, and considering they are vertebrates, they have the gift of movement, which allows them to walk in the woods. One of them warns the others not to go in the woodsÖalone, but I donít think he understands why. Apparently, if you go in the woods alone, James Bryan will forcibly isolate you in a shaky, handheld medium shot, and have you run for a good two minutes.
So, uh, there is a painter in the woods, who, while looking into the boreal landscape, inexplicably paints a house. This viewer suspects acid. The painter (whom I thought was male, but upon hearing a female scream during the death scene, I am in doubt) has a child who is left in her jolly jumper. So apparently the killer is Encino Man, defrosted from Just Before Dawn and decked in the latest wooly mammoth garb. Now if such a thing as plot were included in the film, we would perhaps understand why he is running through the woods grunting and killing people. He cuts off heads and rolls Volkswagons down ravines, so clearly he is not killing for survival. Perhaps he only wants a friend, the barriers of communication inhibiting his connecting personally with backpackers in Utah. Like Nell, but with Grizzly Adams in the Jodie Foster part.
Well, again we have someone running through the woods again. I think he is being chased. Oh wait, it was just another backpacker. A girl is rollerskating along a gravel path in the woods (you know), and I think she is being chased too. Oh never mind, she just tripped on a rock. Okay, so I think there is a killer. Another close-up of someone running. Okay, definitely a killer, he lives in a shanty. Two of the campers are now pursuing him. Some blood just got strewn on some leaves. Hey, the baby is out of the jolly jumper now, and she is playing with an axe. The end.
After watching Donít Go in the Woods
for the first time a few years ago, I was almost unable to function as a member of society. It was during Christmas break and I was at my parentís house, and the plot structure was so bereft of meaning, the grammar of film so misused, that I really was unable to articulate myself with any sort of cohesive logic. I watched it with my little brother, and after the credits I just shut off the television and both of us went into separate rooms. The impact of the film, the music, the end credits, had been so left of any paradigm of experience I had ever undergone, that words seemed an impractical form of communication. I imagine if I covered my naked body with painting reproductions of Picassoís life work while listening to Kevin Federlineís ďPlaying with FireĒ with an old fashioned alarm clock lodged between my loins that I could approximate the surreal shock to the senses that Donít Go in the Woods
provided me, but somehow it wouldnít be the same. Never in my whole lifetime of movie watching, have words seemed so incapable of expression than after viewing Donít Go in the Woods
Now that Iíve had time to ingest the film and see the behind-the-scenes of it all, Iíve begin to come to terms with writing about the Donít Go in the Woods
. I still think that no review could ever really express the je ne sais quoi of James Bryanís illogical film. I guess it is a bad film, an awful, terrible and inexplicable wonder. Yet, it cannot be graded with the same criteria as something like Troll 2. Claudio Fragassoís film is technically well-made, so the filmmaking process seems invisible, and what the viewer takes out of it is the awestruck awfulness of the dialogue and performances. It is a movie that can we followed and laughed along with, as little Joshua fights his way to eating a double decker bologna sandwich.
Donít Go in the Woods
cannot be followed. There isnít so much as a notion of plot, other perhaps than the concept that a killer lurks in the woods. You canít laugh at the bad performances or terrible camera work, because whether the movie is a film or not is constantly echoing behind each frame. James Bryan says in the extras that the film was a joke, but I just donít understand. What is funny about this? If I were making a comedy set in the woods I would call it Funny Forrest or The Trees With The Branches That Laughed or something like that. But Donít Go in the Woods
Öalone! Yeah, thatís Buddy Hackett, Eddie Murphy, the whole comedy gamut.
The movie is not funny. It is not scary. It is not even enjoyable in any sense of enjoyment. Thinking about it honestly eats away at my brain, because, even after spending hours sifting through the bonus material on this DVD, I still cannot begin to understand what everyone involved was doing. For a moment I thought the movie was a commentary on the video generation, and how children watching video nasties would likely be driven to kill, much like the implications of the finale with the axe wielding girl. But then that fucking theme song kicks in, which is something, even above Mona Lisaís smile, that I will never be able to fully understand.
The soundtrack is for the most part a cacophony of electronic sounds that would be unsettling if Donít Go in the Woods
were at any point logical. Yet the ending theme sounds like downtempo polka, bastardizing a song from all of our youths. Trying to understand why someone would attempt to combine the sentences ďYou probably will be thrilled!Ē with ďYou probably will be killed!Ē is like trying to understand the film. It is impossible. I have sat at this screen for hours, trying to put together some sort of essay that would in someway illuminate a faction of understanding about Donít Go in the Woods
ł but I cannot. ďThereís a friendly beast who lurks about and likes to feast you wonít get out without getting killed and chopped up into little pieces.Ē What the fuck is going on. Writing for me has been a form of salvation, helping me to exorcise the great questions and unshakable imagery from the movies out of my head and onto the written page. But the indescribable Donít Go in the Woods
will remain forever suspended in my brain, a tumor of incomprehensibility that will continue to grow until eventually I die at an early age. And like the little girl with an axe at the dťnouement, some other unsuspecting film lover will come across the DVD and their life will be forever cursed.
Shot on expired short ends of 35mm, Donít Go in the Woods
was doomed for future preservation right from the get go. Yet, Code Redís 1.33:1 full frame transfer (director supervised and as he had always intended) is probably the best the film will ever look. There are scratches plaguing the film like rain, and intermittently there are even jumps in the gate. The grain patterns shift throughout, depending on the short end used on a given day of filming. The film was pushed and pulled and never ever approaches anything that could possibly be deemed consistent. But Code Red has done the best with what theyíve been given, and this new DVD exhibits some wonderful colors and a fairly sharp image. Most of the movie was shot in daylight (no doubt because Bryan could not afford lights, nor was his crew competent enough to use them), and as a result the forest greens are the most prominent color throughout. They look vivid and saturated, and same goes for the blood and any other primary color used in the film. Every color jumps off the screen and really makes the film seem newer than the print damage would imply. The progressive scan transfer (a rarity for Media Blasters) makes it to all the shaky handheld camera work and never ending scenes of people running come across with a surprising amount of clarity. Much praise should be given to newcomers Code Red for this impressive restoration.
The whole movie was dubbed over (another facet that continues to haunt my soul) and all the voices sound clear enough to be emanating from different indents in my brain. Like voices from within, everything sounds too clear to be fake, but too absurd to be real. It may be mono, but it sounds really good.
What we have here is arguably the most personal a DVD that has ever been made, with director James Bryan pouring his heart and soul into the two commentaries, hour long documentary, interviews and even the trailer found on this disc. The whole thing was a labor of love, and something done almost all his own, since he shares the directing, writing, editing and producing of the documentary, and he cut a brand new trailer himself. I honestly want to tear into the guy for making such a disturbingly inept wonder of the world, but the moment you see his cuddly little face, with his soft eyes, bushy beard and sweat-stained cowboy hat, it is impossible to doubt the man as anything but sincere. So soft spoken and kind he is in all his interviews, it almost makes me forgive him for rendering me incapable of logical thought after having seen Donít Go in the Woods
. The guy even gives us an easter egg, accessible on the extras screen, where he admits he has directed porn movies. I think only Lassie is a more sincere being, and that is only because he canít talk.
The featurette, which has interviews with nearly all the principal cast and crew, including the man who played the maniac as well as the man who composed the unshakable soundtrack. While some of the people are attuned to the filmís awfulness, like actress Mary Gail Artz (who is now a very successful casting director), the great wonder of this documentary is just how sweet, naÔve and good natured everyone seems to be towards the film. Not surprisingly, composer H. Kingsley Thurber is the most unusual, forming sentences that donít really make sense, and speaking in what seems to be never ending paradox. He says heís composed some great soundtracks for video games in the nineties that were never made. So then, really, has he done anything at all? The whole documentary sort of feels that way, with James Bryan holding the camera and asking his interviewees questions on-screen. He think comes in for interjections, always preceeded by the clapping of a slate, leading the viewer through a very personal reunion with the filmís makers. It is surreal like the film itself, and really, is probably the best documentary compliment a film has ever received this side of Burden of Dreams.
Two commentaries are accessible during the film as well, the first solo with James Bryan, and the second with Bryan, CKY member Deron Miller, star Mary Gail Artz and ďsuperfanĒ David Mosca (sp?). The first commentary is very soft and low key, with Bryan telling an incredible wealth of anecdotes from the making of the movie, from his wife making bologna sandwiches for the crew to how he obtained the film stock for so cheap. It can get pretty boring at times, but damnit, the man is so kind and sincere, you just want to listen to the entire track out of sheer and utter respect. The second commentary is much more entertaining, with Deron Miller really prodding Bryan and Artz throughout. He and Mosca have a blast doing so, and there is a lot of buoyancy and laughter to the entire track. Funny bits include the casual ribbing the fans give Artz for her performance, and her groaning in embarrassment.
Three very retro interviews are included, which all feature James Bryan and Tom Drury being interviewed by local news stations. James Bryan looks even gentler in this batch of interviews, and it is clear none of the interviewers have seen the film, since they would have been rendered unable to speak for a period of weeks. It is really neat to see how small time television will lobby around homegrown talent, and you almost want to stand up and cheer when you hear Drury and Bryan talk about how they were able to do the inexplicable and make an actual movie. The interviews run fifteen minutes, and are intercut with some radio spots for the film.
A trailer for the film was issued but has since been lost. All that remained was the audio mix for it, and thus, at the insistence of fans, Bryan has recut the trailer to the audio. He did a good job, although it makes the film look much more linear and understandable than is the final product. An extensive poster and still gallery runs off this crowded disc. If the film is one to haunt the viewer for years after seeing it, at least this loving bunch of personal supplements softens the blow.
I canít tell you whether or not I like Donít Go in the Woods
. All I can tell you is that its incomprehensibility and inept construction festers in my brain like an unshakable tumor. It is one of the most inexplicable of films, and one I will never be able to fully enunciate, no matter how much I write. Code Red has done an excellent job with this DVD, from the vivid color restoration to the highly personal supplemental material. After all the wait theyíve certainly lived up to the hype. But no matter how good the movie looks or sounds, its unanswerable questions will forever rot in your mind until you simply give up all conceptions of thought entirely. Like the tape in The Ring, I recommend the film to you, knowing in seven days after seeing it, you will probably die. Itís that weird.
Movie - ?
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running time - 1 hour 23 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Commentary with director James Bryan
- Commentary with Deron Miller of CKY, "superfan" David Masco, star Mary Gail Artz and James Bryan
- Hour long featurette by the director, James Bryan
- 3 retro interviews with director James Bryan and actor Tom Drury
- Poster & still gallery
- Easter egg