This week on Gaylords of Darkness we dissect the rotting corpse of the 1981 slasher flick Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone. I reviewed the movie once upon a time–I mean, as much as a “movie” such as it can be reviewed–but it’s been playin’ in my mind something fierce as of late, so we gave it a go on the show. In fact, it’s kicking off our Great Value Slashers event, wherein we’re going to tackle non-franchise slashers of varying budgets and quality.
I’ve come to develop a real fondness for these oft-terrible movies over the years. The way they play by their own rules, eschewing our preconceived notions about what constitutes, you know, “narrative” and “story” and “structure” reveals true maverick “filmmaking.” The folks behind these movies looked at the big boy franchises and said “Why not me? I can do that” and they did do that, even though they clearly cannot do that.
Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone hits these Great Value hallmarks and many more of them besides. The gore is never convincing, but it is abundant; limbs and too-bright red blood fly liberally. The massive cast comprises crew members, crew friends, and, well, I’m not sure any of them qualify as “actors” beyond the strictest definition. But that’s part of the joy of a Great Value Slasher: anyone can be an actor.
More than most horror films I’ve seen, characters in Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone exist solely to be killed. If you thought the victims in the Friday the 13th franchise were shallow, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. These often unnamed folks rarely speak a word. We don’t know who they are or why they are in the woods, alone or otherwise. There is very little, if any, buildup to the murders. They show up on screen, they get killed–and not always in that order. Every one of them is a gift from the bad moviemaking gawds but some of these gifts are gift-ier than the rest, so why not rank ’em?
This guy shows up solely as a dead body hanging from a tree at a ransacked campsite. Oh, you thought the “body gauntlet” trope could only consist of victims we know? Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone says guess again, you fool.
This guy shows up solely to be stabbed by Final Boy Peter, who mistakes the poor fellow for the killer. To his credit, Final Boy Peter apologizes profusely. Then the hiker gets speared by the real killer. Whoopsie!
Craig is ostensibly one of the four main characters, leading a trio of hikers into the woods for some reason. He’s a bit of a pill and even his death scene, wherein he is stabbed, is a bit boring.
12. Running Girl
Running Girl, as she is listed in the end credits, is the first death in the movie. She runs, falls in a stream, and then the water turns red. That’s it! That’s her whole role! I love this movie.
11. Sleeping Bag Man
Sleeping Bag Man is in a sleeping bag (sleeping? we do not know) and then he gets stabbed to death. Again I say: that’s it!
10. Sleeping Bag Woman
Sleeping Bag Woman is ranked higher than Sleeping Bag Man because she has some dialogue. Their death scene literally begins with her saying “Where are you going? Don’t leave me alone!” To whom is she speaking? We don’t know. No one is going anywhere. It doesn’t make sense. She says this, then–still in her bag–gets hoisted up a tree and pummelled-n-stabbed to death.
The deaths of “sexy” couple Cherry and Dick constitute what is perhaps the closest to an actual “horror movie sequence” this movie has. Cherry is nervous about having sex with her–husband? boyfriend? fwb?–Dick for some reason. Then she sees something outside, or so she says. Dick wanders off to investigate, gets killed, and then their VW bus is rolled over a cliff. Unfortunately, Cherry is still inside! She burns to death when the VW catches on fire for whatever reason.
Fisherman is merely another wordless, nameless victim who went in the woods…alone. But! He gets a bear trap in the face, which you must admit is…sure something.
Dale has gone in the woods…not alone to take photos “of the train coming in.” Do we see the train? No, of course not. Dale is next to a waterfall and river, in the middle of the woods! Where would there be a train?? I think it’s in our hearts. The real train is the friends we made along the way.
Birdwatcher has no name or dialogue (I mean, that’s pretty much par for the course, so why do I keep repeating it?), but he sure does dress snazzy for his sojourn. And he gets an arm whacked off–look at that blood gush! Tom Savini would be proud, wouldn’t he? WOULDN’T HE?
4. Dale’s Mom
Dale’s Mom has an awful death scene, even by this movie’s standards: we don’t see anything happen to her, then she crawls along the ground moaning as some drops of blood fall from her. We can’t really tell where her wounds are because the shot of her crawling is an extreme closeup…we just see a part of her arm and the drips. So why is she ranked so high? Because look at her outfit! A muumuu, several Marge Simpson-style necklaces, those cool-ass shades and that hat. She is a delight. And if her visual appeal weren’t enough, trust me: once you hear her shriek-bleat “Dale? DALE!” repeatedly, her shriek-bleating “Dale? DALE!” will echo in your mind forever.
3. Wheelchair Hiker
It takes forever for the Wheelchair Hiker to roll himself up the mountain, which should be a surprise neither to him nor to us. Such hard work! Such a struggle! At one point, he even falls out of his chair, but he is not deterred. In true inspirational fashion, he ever-so-slowly he inches his way to the top. He takes in the view for approximately two seconds before he is decapitated. That’s a metaphor for the absurdity of human existence, ain’t it? A depressing one, but still.
2. Lady Painter
The enigma of Lady Painter, as she is so named in the end credits, will never end. She has driven to the middle of the woods to engage in some landscape painting, but she does not paint the landscape before her. She brings along her toddler–daughter? sister?–then wraps the child in a sling, then ties the sling to a tree a good distance from where she is painting. She gives the child a jar full of dirty water to drink. She wears high-heeled boots and mirrored aviators. She does not speak a word, not even a “Huh?” or a “Whazzat?” Then, she is killed. She rules my world!
Like Craig, Joanne is one of the four main characters. Unlike Craig, her death is noteworthy! In fact, it’s by far the most brutal in the film and largely the reason became one of the UK’s infamous “video nasties.” Of course, this is Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone, so “brutal” is somewhat relative. Joanne is hacked repeatedly by a machete, but the wounds/impacts aren’t explicit. There’s a shit ton of blood, but it looks like tempera paint. Her clothes are torn, but there is no nudity. But still, her death counts as “elaborate” for this movie, so of course it’s number one.
There you have it, the world’s definitive (only) ranking of every victim in Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone. They’re all perfect. Their only mistake was going (or rolling) in the woods alone! Or with other people.
But! We know that the true queen of this movie is Rollerskates. She rolls by the sheriff with an “Okay, thanks a lot!” when he tells her to be careful. And you know what? She doesn’t get killed at all. She’s too fast, look at her go.
Who says you can’t hike in rollerskates? See, it’s like I said: these Great Value Slashers play by their own rules. We’re all going to learn so much during this event.