The Forest

Director: Donald M. Jones 
Dean Russell, Gary Kent, Tomi Barrett

Though many things have come and gone in my life that I don't miss the least bit, I have to admit that there is one experience more than any other in my life that I often look back upon and wish that it was still happening to me. And that thing that I wish I could relive would be living in the 1980s. That might not come as such a surprise, since I lived the entire 1980s as a youth, and what happens to you as a youth more often than not stays with you forever. There are so many things about the 1980s that I look upon fondly. There are all those 1980s bands that made great music that, in my opinion, kicks the butt of most music released today. And there are those great television shows from the 1980s, like Miami Vice or Hunter. But what I miss most of all were all those B movies that were made during the 1980s. The home video market was at its peak, so it was much easier for a B movie producer to make and sell a B movie actioner or a sexy comedy. As well as with horror movies. Horror was king in the 1980s, but the kind of 1980s horror movie that was most popular and made the most impact was the slasher movie. If you think "slasher movie", most likely one of the first things that comes to mind is the 1980s. Oddly, however, the origins of the slasher movie did not first germinate in the 1980s. In the previous decade, there were some early, ahem, "stabs" at the genre. One of the first (if not the first) was the 1971 Mario Bava directed Twitch Of The Death Nerve (a.k.a. A Bay Of Blood). Three years later, Black Christmas came out of Canada, which had many of the ingredients found in your typical 1980s slasher.

But the two movies that really got the genre going were the 1978 John Carpenter movie Halloween and the 1980 movie Friday The 13th. The obvious reason that these two movies got the genre going was that they each grossed a huge amount of money despite being made on low budgets. Such success doesn't go unnoticed, and for the next few years dozens of producers made their own slasher movies. At one point, there were so many being made that those wimps Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert complained on their television show that it seemed a new slasher movie opened in their home base of Chicago every week. Eventually the craze more or less died out, but there was a time when slasher movies were very popular with audiences. This begs the question just why they were popular. I've come up with several theories as to their popularity. First of all, most slasher movies involved young people. Young people are more frequent moviegoers than older people, and they tend to be attracted by movies that have something they can identify with. Second of all, slasher movies for the most part had the promise of bloody and sexual elements. Young people often have sex on their minds, and the offer of bloody elements appealed to the side of them that is attracted to scary stuff. Roller coasters are popular, after all. But I think a third reason so many youths were attracted to slasher movies is that deep down, these young moviegoers had a fear of bad things that might happen to them. Seeing a slasher movie would not only confirm that the world can be scary, it would prove that only the fittest can survive - and the movies might give them lessons how to survive should they ever be stalked by a knife-wielding masked psycho.

Whatever the reasons might be, it can't be denied that the slasher movie was undeniably popular in theaters and home video during the 1980s. I know I was not the only one to find thrills with such films while I was growing up during that era. So you might think that years later, with 1980s nostalgia in the air, it would be easy to see some of those slashers in that day and age. But The Forestsurprisingly, it's hard to find many of those old slasher movies. Most of the various DVD companies out there don't seem that interested in getting the home video rights to these movies, and those that do generally don't distribute them very well. The Forest is one such rare resurrected slasher movie that's all the same somewhat hard to find. I never saw it in any stores selling new DVDs, and I only stumbled upon it by accident one day when I was in a pawn shop selling used DVDs. The events of the movie mostly center on Steve (Russell) and Charlie (John Batis, Teenage Gang Debs), and their wives Teddi (Ann Wilkinson, Boogeyman II) and Sharon (Barrett, billed here as "Elaine Warner".) The four friends have decided to take a trip deep into the forest, though instead of traveling together, they decide that the men and the women will pair up and each same-sex match-up will make the trip to the woods separately. Steve and Charlie are delayed due to car trouble, and Teddi and Sharon decide to wait at the meeting point they previously arranged with their spouses and make camp. However, it doesn't take long for the two women to sense that they are not alone. And they are correct. These woods happen to be the home of John (Kent, Satan's Sadists, billed here as "Michael Brody"), a psycho who years earlier was driven mad by his cheating wife, and after killing her and her lover, subsequently made the woods his home. As you might expect, John has been killing every unlucky hiker that has crossed his path in the woods all these years, but what you might not have guessed is that John is not just content with killing people - he eats their flesh afterwards.

One problem I have often had with slasher movies is with the depiction of the people who are potential victims for the killer. More often than not these particular people are teenagers or young adults, and as a result happen to be so immature, so obsessed with sex or other juvenile matters that quite often I am happy to see them killed off. However, in The Forest, that is not the case. There are a couple of children in the cast (one played by Corky Pigeon of the TV sitcom Silver Spoons), but other than those two characters everyone in the cast has left their young days behind for a significant amount of time. My interest was perked up by this fact; surely, I thought, maybe we would have some smarter and more likable characters for a change. Unfortunately, that never happened. The four adults who decide to take a hike in the woods are poorly written characters in several aspects. They don't have that much depth to them, for starters. It is mentioned in passing early on that one of the two couples has been discussing divorce, but the trouble in this relationship is promptly forgotten and never brought up again. The movie tries several times to show the characters talking about various things, but it simply comes across as inane chatter that shows no depth or personality, certainly nothing about what they are thinking or feeling. It doesn't take long for these characters to become as brainless as the youths found in other slasher movies. It's not just with the script that makes these characters come across as dolts, but with the direction as well. While it's mentioned, for instance, that both couples are planning to hike in the wilderness for several days, their backpacks look barely stuffed with any camping equipment. And when these backpacks are unpacked when the characters make camp, it's shown that no one thought about bringing along anything other than sleeping bags and tents - no food, toilet paper, or any other necessities for this multi-day hiking trip.

So as you can imagine, I was really hoping to see these idiots slaughtered. But more likely than not you'll be disappointed with what eventually happens to them, one reason being the depiction of the mad slasher. I will admit that one thing was a pleasant surprise about the slasher in The Forest. In movies of this nature, the slasher is usually mute, letting his machete do the talking for him. But in this particular slasher, the slasher character of John actually gets to talk. Not a great deal, but a decent amount of dialogue. But as for if he actually gets anything interesting to say, well, that's another matter. Nothing of what he says is particularly colorful. His words and tone do suggest something of a mentally disturbed personality, but when the two men meet him in the forest and engage in conversation with them, for some reason they don't feel any danger being with him, and subsequently spend the night in his cave. That brings up another problem with John, that he's inconsistent. It's mentioned that winter is coming and he needs to stock up on meat, so why doesn't he immediately attack the two men when they are in his cave? Needless to say, this is a very disappointing character. About the only entertainment I got from the character of John is that he had a passing resemblance to George Lucas if he were homeless and living on the streets for several months. As for the other characters in the movie, there's not that much to say. As I said earlier in this review, there are two child characters in the movie - the ghosts of the deceased children of the character of John - but the movie botches things up by not only giving these ghosts almost no impact on the rest of the movie, but fiddling with their dialogue in the editing room so that it sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber, making it impossible at times to understand what these ghosts are saying.

But many of you are probably wondering about the first priority of the movie, that being to showcase various kills. Well, as I said before, these scenes are pretty disappointing, not just because of the depiction of the slasher. There's very little skill used behind the camera to depict the various murders. I will admit that the opening sequence, showing the stalking and murder of two anonymous hikers, does show a little flair. Some suspense is built as the hikers start to realize that they are not alone. But when they are actually killed, the mood is broken by showing John simply and slowly stabbing the victims in a way that shows absolutely no spark or jolt. There is the same matter-of-fact feeling with the remaining murders in the movie as well. These murders actually become boring to watch. It doesn't help that the gore in the movie is limited to a few trickles of blood, and except for one scene showing a bone protruding from a man's broken leg, absolutely no other makeup effects. As a matter of fact, much of the movie comes across as incredibly cheap despite the bulk of it being filmed in the wilderness. Shot in Sequoia National Park in California, there are a few okay shots of natural beauty, but a lot of the movie is shot in areas of short trees and yellow grass, which not only looks tacky but simply does not match the parts of the movie that were shot in areas of tall trees and lush grass. Clearly, not a lot of care was put into making The Forest. The whole production can be summed up in the scene when Steve and Charlie enter a cave, see a lump of meat on a spit over an open fire, and call the spit a "stove". While a few dictionaries I looked at suggested that a spit could possibly qualify as being called a stove, come on, do you think of the word "stove" when you come across a spit in your travels, at least like the one I just described? I didn't think so. Obviously, the whole production needed a lot of extra cooking before filming started.

(Posted March 5, 2016)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)

See also: Madman, Nail Gun Massacre, Sorority House Massacre