James Bryan never really got the love he deserved. A filmmaker whose aesthetic is as steeped in trash as it is in some sort of pop culture sentiment, Bryan’s work utilized genre conventions while also abandoning pretty much everything else that makes narrative cinema work. Don’t Go In the Woods is by far his most well known feature and likely his craziest, which is saying a lot considering how batshit films like Lady Street Fighter and The Executioner: Part 2 are.
Don’t Go In the Woods sort of plays out like a cross between Deliverance and Just Before Dawn, only a bit more homemade. It didn’t come along too far into the slasher craze of the 80s – releasing only a year after Friday the 13th – but it operates as a slasher film as much as it does a piece of sheer exploitation. The set up is pretty simple – a fur covered maniac who resembles Jeremiah Johnson is killing people in the woods – but it actually becomes more clever and more twisted as it progresses. The most notable difference between Bryan’s film and its contemporaries is its sense of humor. Don’t Go In the Woods is legitimately funny on more than one occasion, with a streak of gallows humor that almost puts this in Ravenous territory. And the title song that plays over the end credits is wonderfully absurd, and is begging for a newly minted 7″ vinyl release.
This isn’t a so-bad-it’s-good film by any stretch, though it has been considered to be bad-bad ever since its release by many, with it currently maintaining a strong 3.5 on IMDB. I don’t really understand this. There are far worse horror films (and admittedly far better) released every year, but Bryan’s film – and everything else he’s made – is charming in its conviction and works on a number of levels. Go into this with an open mind and you should get a lot out of it, and even if you don’t, you still have that wonderful theme song.
Don’t Go In the Woods has never really looked so great on home video. This was shot on film and Vinegar Syndrome’s newly restored Blu-ray makes that apparent right away. There is a very healthy grain structure on display and colors are vibrant. This is also he first time it has been available in its proper theatrical aspect ratio, with Code Red’s DVD from a few years back having an open-matte 1.33 version only. There is some noticeable aging and damage on the source, but for something of this vintage and created on this budget, that’s to be expected.
VS bring Bryan’s film to Blu-ray and stack it. We start with 3 commentary tracks, one with Bryan, one with the director again and joined by Mary Gail Artz and two fans and the last one is with The Hysteria Continues. All three are worth a listen for fans – and I only sampled the last one – but the first track with Bryan solo is my favorite. He’s clearly proud of his film and wants to talk about it. A really humble, informative listen. We also get an hour long featurette made by Bryan a few years ago and features interviews with most of the cast. There’s also a slew of promotional materials and a half hour long autograph signing party feature.
Don’t Go In the Woods is a product of its time and filmmaker in the best of ways and has been lovingly restored and packaged by Vinegar Syndrome. They don’t make horror this bonkers or charmingly no frills these days and it deserves to find a bigger audience than it has ever had thus far.