The Forest (1982)
"Daddy's gone a hunting"
Steve and his friend Charlie take their wives for a weekend camping trip at a forest in California but are unaware that a cannibal hermit lives there, who preys upon campers and hikers for his food supply.
I quickly worked my way through all of the major 80s slashers when my love for the sub-genre was at its highest a few years ago. There's the big franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th, the stand-alone genre classics like My Bloody Valentine and The Burning and the lesser known likes of Intruder. But all of these were relatively easy to come across and it is now proving difficult to find undiscovered slashers from the golden age that I haven't already seen or heard about. So my hopes were raised when I discovered that The Forest was receiving a cheap DVD release in the UK. I knew that it would be a 'no-frills' bargain basement release but at least I'd be able to watch it and tick off another of the obscure slashers from my dwindling list. However some things are best left undiscovered as I found out to my supreme shock when watching this for the first time.
Hope for The Forest wasn't high after the really bland stalk-and-slash-by-numbers opening sequence which immediately highlighted the lack of talent that this film would come to embody. Poorly-shot and lacking any sort of atmosphere, it's reflective of the film in its entirety. The rather lifeless 'point and shoot' approach by director Don Jones never allows the film chance to create any mood or tension. In many respects, the film looks and sounds like a documentary. Despite its forest location, the film never once gives you that isolationist impression that the similar Just Before Dawn managed to create. It’s a shame because remote forest locations should instantly do a lot of the hard work of setting up a decent, creepy atmosphere. No such chance here.
Before The Forest gets down to business (but business is slow), you've got to sit through far too much banal exposition with a quartet of ‘actors’ who appear to be just casually engaging in conversation with a camera accidentally focused on them. They don't even sound like they're acting, just talking to each other. There's no one to root for here, with their inability to act just adding to the audience's desire to see them die horrible (and quick) deaths. Again, it just reinforces the impression that this is a documentary rather than a feature. But get used to this exposition because it's about another hour before you're going to get anything remotely exciting happening.
Finally the four main characters then get stranded in the middle of nowhere and we’re introduced to one of slasher lore’s most pathetic killers. Clearly the winner of a George Lucas lookalike contest if there ever was one, John is a cannibal who has somehow managed to eek an existence out of passing hitchhikers and tourists - you wonder just how many he'd need to kill on a regular basis just to survive. But he’s one of the worst killers in cinematic history, stumbling his way around the woods like a buffoon and failing to strike the killer blow on his targets many times. There’s no tension as he stalks his prey around the woods because we’ve already seen how incompetent he is and its more like pot luck that he gets to commit any acts of violence.
The addition of a bizarre ghost sub-plot about the hermit's dead children coming to the rescue of the campers is a little out of leftfield though at least credit should be given to the writer for trying such a swerve. I mean there’s nothing else on display to even remotely show any sort of imagination or creativity. In fact it’s debatable whether or not The Forest is an actual slasher, though it does get banded in that bracket and the lurid cover art certainly suggests that. However there's minimal violence, there's little blood, no nudity and the cast are all adults. I hate to use that criteria to define a slasher but that's pretty much the basic formula for them. Yet The Forest, so devoid of any credible filmmaking skill, should have at least padded out the film with some of the genre requisites. Many a poor film has been livened up by the addition of some over-the-top splatter or a quick flash of flesh from some teenage hottie.
If you want to watch a poor recording of a cannibalistic George Lucas lookalike stumbling around the woods for an hour then maybe The Forest is just what you need. For anyone else, this is one woodland visit that we can do without. What’s that old saying: “Does a bear s**t in the woods?” Well on the basis of this evidence, the answer is yes because someone smeared this film with a large quantity of it.
Director(s): Don Jones
Writer(s): Don Jones
Actor(s): Dean Russell, Gary Kent, Tomi Barrett, John Batis, Ann Wilkinson, Jeanette Kelly, Corky Pigeon, Becki Burke
Duration: 85 mins