The VRAs – Don’t Go In The Woods (1981)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

From the video nasty list to being freely available to anyone on Youtube, “Don’t Go In The Woods” (occasionally with “…Alone!” appended to its title) has a strong case for being the worst of the VRA films we’ve seen so far, and I get the feeling it’ll be right down there when we finish this project too.

This is a real slasher film. You want plot or characterisation? Get the hell out of here. You want good acting? Then go to the theatre. But if you want plenty of seemingly randomly-picked people wandering about a forest, getting themselves butchered, then come sit down with me, friend, and let’s discuss this movie.

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My notes feature an awful lot of “why do all the women shriek so much?”, so if I’m talking about a woman in this film, chances are she screams in a nasty high-pitched way (or repeats the name of the man she needs to come and save her about 50 times in a row), and the movie starts with one of these. Then a guy who appears to be an oddly-dressed birdwatcher gets killed in the most confusing way possible – see if you can figure it out – before we meet the people who you’d probably have to describe as the film’s stars, a group of four hikers. Their “leader”, the boring wilderness-rule-spouting guy, could be used as foreshadowing, so it’s people who forget to follow his rules that get killed – or someone who remembers one of his survival tips is able to beat the killer. Want to guess if that happens or not?

As they wander round, and a few other people get killed, we see the local police responding to a missing persons report. Is this from a previous murder or one of the ones we’ve been watching? If the latter, who reported them missing and how long had they been gone for? Sorry, questions. This is a film devoted to murder!

We are soon to meet my second-favourite characters in the film, Dick and Cherry. They’ve gone for a honeymoon, in a camper van, in the middle of the woods. Their van is decked out in a wonderful variety of colours, and weirdly includes that iconic poster of Farrah Fawcett, which I feel would be an at best unusual choice for the ceiling above your marriage bed. But they pull it off! Until Dick goes out because he hears a sound, takes a sound thrashing and then the as-yet-unseen baddie manages to flip the entire camper van over on his own, plunging Cherry to her death too. He’s strong! Or this film is stupid!

The film became so dull round around halfway, and it wasn’t exactly starting from a high point, that I began imagining how to make this movie in several simple steps.

1. Go to the woods with a decent-sized group of your friends

2. Make sure none of them are particularly attractive or good at acting

3. Film them just wandering about, doing normal camping things

4. Every now and again, film one of them getting killed in a really confusing way, and chuck a load of fake red blood about

5. Explain nothing

6. ???

7. Profit!
Only read the rest of the review on the proviso you’ve watched that Youtube video above, or don’t care about having the film spoiled for you. It turns out the killer is some filthy hillbilly, unable to talk, who it’s implied has lived in a cabin in the woods for his entire life. He steals a baby at one point, and the last scene of the film is that baby, sat in the middle of a clearing playing with an axe. THE CIRCLE OF HORROR WILL CONTINUE, YOU GUYS

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Two of the four manage to escape the woods, and the police round up a big posse and go huntin’. Problem is, the male survivor is wracked with guilt at leaving his friends so decides to go back up into the woods – and the doctor brings the woman up as well, because the experience will be good for her. Huh? This whole bit has the feel of a tacked-on-at-the-end sequence, inserted between their lowest point and their final fight with the killer. Or maybe it’s just terrible.

My favourite character in this, or possibly any other, film pops up around this point. To give a little background, the wilderness where most of the film takes place is not pretty. It’s overgrown and everything is gnarled and about as far from a rural idyll as you could get. So, it’s a somewhat surprising development when we see coming up a winding, fairly steep path…a guy in a wheelchair! He’s clearly ready to camp, as he’s got a rucksack on the back of his chair, but unfortunately he’s unable to talk, as all we hear is grunts and moans coming from him. We see him fall over a few times, and as he’s completely on his own he has to pick himself back up. His arc ends when, after yet more grunting and attempting to push a wheelchair over very rough ground, the killer just chops his head off. What?! I’m all for people who need wheelchairs being able to do anything they want, but solo camping up a fairly steep mountain forest seems to be courting disaster (okay, he maybe wasn’t expecting to get his head chopped off, but you get the idea).

The title of this film is misleading. As the film starts in the woods, it’s already too little, too late, and I think “Sod Off Out Of The Woods” would be a much better title. As I realised that the film was mercifully over, I rued the day that it was banned, for that was the only reason I – or any other sensible human – would have to watch it. It’s not particularly gory (by today’s standards, it’s almost laughably quaint), and I suppose the toddler-in-peril was the thing that pushed it overboard with the censors.

I don’t know if I’ve hammered home how awful this film is. There’s no dramatic tension, no character you care about, no sense of moving from one place to another place. It’s a chore to watch, and I feel bad for the drive-in and grindhouse cinema patrons who had to sit through this for the lack of anything better.

Rating: thumbs down

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One thought on “The VRAs – Don’t Go In The Woods (1981)

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