The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ‘Don’t Go In the Woods’ (1981)

Posted by Damon Swindall - July 18th 2012 @ 2:17 am

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

Very cool VHS cover art

Get ready to head back to childhood where at every turn someone was telling you not to do something. That’s right, it’s “Don’t” month at Horror Movie Night! Each film this month, including the great Christmas in July selection, has a title that starts with the word “Don’t”. Hard not to think of that faux-trailer that Edgar Wright filmed for Grindhouse. It was made for a reason after all.

For our first film of the month, we’re going hiking. Director James Bryan made a quick, low-budget slasher in 1981 by the name of Don’t Go in the Woods. Many bodies are dispatched in fun and gory ways with little to no plot surrounding it, which is was we normally like, right? Sometimes. This, at times, made me smile…and many other times yawn. 

A group of four friends head out into the wilderness for a fun weekend of camping. They tell ghost stories around the campfire, splash around in streams, and are completely oblivious to the terrors that await them. A couple disregards the “don’t go in the woods alone” plea of one of the group – natch – and soon they’ll find that they should’ve listened to his warnings. A crazy backwoodsman heavily clad in fur is ending the lives of any he encounters along the his journeys with the aid of a large stick with a spike on the end. The body count rises as our pink shirted hero Peter, and the others, attempt to run from the psychopath.


While watching this I couldn’t help but think of another movie from last year’s HMN playlis:, crazy killer bigfoot flick Night of Demon. I loved everything about that movie. The high body count and random deaths of unrelated characters just made it work in all the right ways. Sure, it’s a bit zany but the deaths are pretty goddamn awesome. This film gives off a very similar vibe, but ultimately fails to deliver the same fun. Quite a few of the deaths, actually, most of the deaths, are characters that have nothing at all to do with our main quartet. It’s like Bryan made a straight forward slasher short film, and then realized if he just added more kills he could stretch it out to feature length. This doesn’t always fail but I found myself apathetic and bored through most of the movie. This could be because it’s one of the few HMN that I watched all alone since all of my usual buddies had “better things to do” on the Fourth of July. Pshaw!

However, I did find myself liking it more later that night and the next day as I thought back on the insanity. Even though it felt uneven and boring, when there is killing or something ridiculous happening onscreen it is tons of fun. My mood had changed and everything was great. Maybe I would give this movie another go sometime and suggest it to friends. But then I didn’t think about it for a few days. As I sat down to write about it I found it hard to remember what I liked about it, or even what happened at all. Luckily I had notes to refresh my memory. It’s not often that a flick almost completely leaves my head less than a week after seeing it, but I take that as a bad sign.

Evidently this was one of those crazy titles that the censor board in the UK deemed a video nasty. Because of this it was largely unavailable in the country until just a few years ago. Thinking back on everything that happens in Don’t Go in the Woods, I really find it hard to believe that, in any decade, someone would find this scary, offensive, or violent enough to ban. Allegedly once they decided to finally release the film in 2007, the board gave it a 15 certificate because of how fake the FX look. Sounds about right.

Poor, poor Joanie

Amidst all of the aimless woods wandering there is plenty of silliness to keep you giggling, especially when it comes to some of the deaths. There’s a man in a wheelchair who is hiking all alone up one of the mountains. Every couple of scenes we check back in with him to see that he’s still making progress. Just as he reaches the end of his journey and is looking out on the beautiful view – BAM! – our villain comes up from behind and beheads the poor man. You can’t help but laugh. This is nothing compared to earlier in the film when the hero, Peter, rushes to defend himself from the attacker only to impale a hiker with a large tree branch. The laughs come in when he repeatedly says “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” to the guy, as if all will be forgiven. A definite winner of a death scene.

When I went back through the movie to pull death clips and pictures for this post I realized I like the movie much more than I thought I did. It is available on DVD from Code Red with the supplemented title Don’t Go in the Woods… Alone! as a standalone 25th anniversary disc, or as part of a double feature with The Forest. Neither one are probably going to be too easy to find, as they seem to be out-of-print, but there are a few online retailers still selling copies. After my first viewing, I didn’t think I’d be going back and revisiting this anytime soon, but that is something that I can now totally foresee. If it was only about 15-20 minutes shorter.

Until next week – I’ll heed this week’s advice and not go in the woods, with or without friends.

Body Count: 14
First Death: 3:28
Best Death: Joanie in the Cabine
Most Hilarious Death: The “I’m Sorry” Impaling Debacle
Number of Times the Attacker Howls: Completely lost count!
Number of Awesome, Short End Credit Theme Songs: 1



Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):

-7/11/12: Don’t Panic (1988)
-7/18/12: Don’t Go In the House (1980)
-7/25/12: Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) Christmas in July!
-8/1/12: Dr. Giggles (1992)

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