Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A group of High School kids head out to an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods to enjoy a little booze, drugs and premarital sex. Stopping to pick up supplies, the gang is warned that there might be something amiss, but they ignore the ramblings and continue to the destination. The unlikable bunch – as well as a few randoms – are then dispatched messily by a psycho in a mask, leaving only the virginal girl to fend off the killer.
While the best slasher films are able to transcend their cliches, there’s something strangely comforting about this general plot-line that bring audiences back again and again. Predictability and nostalgia can often go hand in hand, and even in transparently derivative material there can be elements that evoke smiles – or chills – from even cynical modern horror audiences. More and more we’re seeing throwback horror films that intentionally reject the meta-contextual elements that plagued the 90s, and instead embrace the harder edged, often predictable, beats of the 70s and 80s. Michael Hall’s KIDS GO TO THE WOODS… KIDS GET DEAD continues this nostalgic trend, and attempts to make a down-and-dirty psycho killer flick while remaining purposely familiar.
But this isn’t simply a winking, comical tribute to 80s slashers. This is a recreation of an experience. Hall has fond memories of watching (and re-watching) horror and science fiction films taped off of USA’s UP ALL NIGHT, and he’s attempted to emulate that experience here with snippets of fake commercials, bits of home movie footage, VHS glitches and – most notably – a horror host who occasionally makes a pointed quip about the film before returning to the action. It’s actually extraordinarily well done, with Carly Goodspeed doing an appropriately boozy sexpot act as host Candy Adams. The combined effect is one of nostalgia for the package, while the actual film remains a fine – if stripped down – echo of the kinds of films where.. well.. kids go to the woods and get dead.
The kids in this case are, aside from the brother/sister leads, thoroughly unpleasant. So when the gas-mask-wearing psychopath starts coming at them with an axe, you’re likely to feel more glee than worry. The group (most of whom – of course – look to be in well past High School age) get dispatched in a variety of nasty ways, with Julie Langer doing a very capable job providing revolting makeup effects; particularly during a nasty scene involving a bathroom mirror. A short running time (85 minutes) and the occasional commercial break keeps things moving, with the final twenty minutes being a near-constant stream of kills.
Unfortunately, this means there’s little time to develop any of the characters. This generally isn’t such a big deal – they are all familiar archetypes – but it does make the eventual fate of siblings Casey (Leah Rudick) and Scott (Andrew Waffenschmidt) less engaging. Rudick, in particular, gets the short shrift, with her character never really getting anything interesting to do. Waffenschmidt’s Scott is a socially awkward nerd, but these elements are at least something the audience can engage with. The cast as a whole do a fine job, with Seth Stephens deserving props for going full-tilt with his horndog dickhead character.
Despite being his first credited full-length effort, Hall seems to have no trouble keeping up the pace, and there’s even some nice composition during some of the film’s big kills. The stalking scenes don’t plow any new terrain, but he hits the usual beats with enthusiasm and manages to make his action coherent despite what must have been a tight budget and limited locations. Some credit must go to cinematographer Robert J. Huntley, who also had a hand in the deft editing of the project. Finally, KIDS GO IN THE WOODS is blessed with a kick-ass theme song (“Psychopath” by Statues of Liberty) that plays over the DVD menu.
Happily predictable, KIDS GO TO THE WOODS… KIDS GET DEAD will appeal greatly to undemanding slasher fans who yearn to recapture the feeling of watching a well-worn VHS tape. This is a love letter to a genre, without trying to invert or subvert the cliches which made audiences love the original films it references. While it’s unlikely to convert those who didn’t gorge themselves on horror in the late 80s or 90s, it’s a fun, sometimes intentionally silly horror film that packs plenty of violence and gratuitous nudity into its brief running time.
Two Nightmares out of Five = Shocking Success
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
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