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Backwoods

slashersearch15 tn_backwoodsa.k.a. GEEK

This year during Slasher Search I’m hoping to find a few more woods/camping/cabin based slashers, because I’m working on a novel that relates to this subgenre. So I started with one that actually had the word “woods” as part of the title.

BACKWOODS is a very routine low budget movie about a young couple who go on a camping trip and get into trouble with a feral mountain man type dude. Things do not look promising when the movie goes from the opening credits – with a hillbilly folk tune about racoon hunting creepily whisper-sung over black (you’ll be hearing this song alot) – to a shot of the protagonists riding bikes with cheesy drum machines and music so inappropriately upbeat it sounds like it comes from an old educational film strip. This is a pretty bad movie, but at least it’s not as bad as this music cue had me convinced it would be.

Karen (Christina Noonan, no other credits) and Jamie (Brad Armacost – holy shit, he was on an episode of Empire! I love that show!) are visiting Kentucky. Karen insists on riding their bikes through a mountain trail, then chaining them to a tree and hiking further until they set up a tent and have some sex and what not. Of course this is after a friendly local tells them definitely not to go up in that direction. No specific reason I want to mention but, you know, trust me on this.

The first sign of trouble: they keep finding chicken heads everywhere. Kinda weird. Then it seems like somebody’s watching them have sex.

mp_backwoodsIt should be mentioned that they are not teens, and it doesn’t feel like the movie is judging them as sinners. They’re adults in a relationship having fun together. Grown-ups. The dude kinda reminds me of Albert Brooks.

But their couple time comes to an end after a weird encounter with a little girl collapsed in the woods and an older man who points a shotgun at Jamie’s head. He still does his duty as a doctor and does some kind of medical thing to help whatever the little girl’s problem is. Once the girl is okay the man starts talking like a semi-normal person and insists on thanking them by bringing them to his place for dinner.

His name turns out to be Eben (Dick Kreusser, who has two other credits, one as a wino in the same director’s TWICE UNDER), the girl is Beth (Leslie Denise, whose other credit is as an animal handler on TWICE UNDER) and the whole situation is super uncomfortable. Beth doesn’t talk, Eben does, but mostly a few words at a time and not in a very conversational way.

You got some of your class and regional tension going on. Jamie is disgusted by the food, they find little to relate to each other on, there is awkwardness when Jamie makes a joke about the popularity of fruit-shaped magnets. (?) They do kind of bond when Jamie finds mason jars full of moonshine in the house, even though he presumptuously messes with them and is only excited because he says you can sell mason jars to housewives for good money.

Eventually they find out the secret of the chicken heads: Eben also has “a son who’s not right” named William (TWICE UNDER), who he keeps locked up in the old smokehouse, because if he gets out he bites the heads off of all the chickens and the tails off of raccoons and stuff.

But Jamie has sense enough to know they should get the hell out of there, which upsets Karen. She thinks this family, especially Beth, need help, and that it’s their duty to stick around and do what they can. What’s more she accuses him of being sarcastic and uncaring in general. She thinks he needs to learn human empathy.

So he gives it a shot. He goes raccoon hunting with Eben, drinking moonshine and bonding. She stays home and plays with Beth, even peeks into William’s smokehouse to say hi.

Which begs the question: if she’s so empathetic, why doesn’t she seem to have a problem with this guy having his mentally disabled son locked up in a shed? You wouldn’t even do that for a dog. Except Rex in BABE after he bit Fly. But they let him out later.

The horror movie shit goes down when Eben tells Jamie the story of what happened to his wife: William did her in because he liked her hair. Which, it has already been mentioned, Karen’s hair reminds him of.

Oh shit! Jamie runs back to the homestead, correctly guessing that the geek has escaped and is trying to snatch her (spurned on by her changing her t-shirt and him catching a glimpse of boob – he’s got the traditional slasher movie sexual repression). When Jamie arrives wielding Eben’s shotgun William is hanging upside down off the roof like a bat, hissing and drooling and yanking on screaming Karen’s necklace. Once he gets the jewelry he actually backs off, but Jamie (being uncaring) decides to shoot him anyway.

Okay, this is a mess, but what’s worse is Eben seems to have a heart attack and collapse, and when Jamie tries to give him CPR William – still alive – jumps on him and bites his throat out.

I should probly point out that William, though hairy, greasy and dirty (it’s neglectful for his dad not to clean his face off in my opinion), could be a more threatening horror villain. On the movie poster he looks like he could be a big guy. He’s not at all, and for most of the movie he does not use weapons. All he has is his teeth, which is weird because he’s missing at least four of them in the front. I really don’t know how he does all this biting. When he attacks Jamie it’s actually kind of hard to believe that the couple together aren’t able to fend him off and give him a wedgie or something.

For the climax, Karen goes running screaming into the night. Reminds me of the part of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE where she’s running in the dark with Leatherface right behind, buzzing the chain saw. Not as good, obviously. The movie is at its most fun when Karen shows heretofore unseen ingenuity in creating a boobytrap. (Spoiler: She finds a tackle box and weaves a complex net out of fishing line with hooks hanging all over it. Then she bashes him on the head with a rock swung from a torn off jersey sleeve and stabs him in the mouth with a flare.)

So let’s look at the moral of the story. Though Karen is clearly the more likable character, the movie is declaring her world view to be wrong. If she’d listened to unfeeling Jamie they would’ve gotten the hell out of there. Beth may or may not have gotten over her medical situation, but she wouldn’t have been shot to death. Lives would’ve been saved, and every character in the story would’ve been better off. In order to survive, she has to neglect her instinct to be kind and empathetic. Before she traps William to kill him there’s a moment where it becomes clear that he’s not trying to attack her, he’s trying to give her a flower. For a moment she feels bad. Then she straightens up and hisses like an animal, so that he’ll understand she’s rejecting the flower and jump at her. She learns to be an asshole.

But there’s also an irony in that the civilized city people are the ones that fuck everything up. Jamie didn’t need to shoot William, and that caused the heart failure of Eben. Karen accidentally shot Beth. She purposely killed William (in self defense). Jamie ends up surviving. William does stab the park ranger (Gary Lott) to death off camera, but that’s the only person he kills. The good guys have a bigger body count by three to one.

I’m not sure how intentional any of that is, but I like it. It’s the most interesting thing about the movie. As savage in the woods movies go this is more competent than some, but not good enough for me to recommend seeking out.

mp_backwoods2THE VHS cover is kinda funny. The photos give a pretty good TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE vibe, but they overcompensate with all the text. Check out that banner in the corner saying “DIRECT FROM THEATRICAL RELEASE.” What are you talking about, never heard of it? IT’S DIRECT FROM THEATRICAL RELEASE!

Also note the critical acclaim: “Not since DELIVERANCE has a film been so terrifying.” It promises us a quality film, gets us in mind of a certain type of redneck-attack-in-the-woods movie, is mysteriously unattributed. I guess a critic didn’t say that quote so much as it just, you know, manifested itself. Which is even better than a critic saying it.

Also I dig that the video distributor has the imaginative name “Cinema Group Home Video.” I looked them up, and BACKWOODS was their last hurrah. They did do the VHS releases of a few movies people have heard of though: BLOOD FEAST, DESPERATE LIVING, a dubbed version of POLICE STORY, DEADTIME STORIES, WITCHBOARD.

Writer/director/producer Dean Crow worked out of Indianapolis, which is apparently where this was filmed, not Kentucky. Unlike many directors of regional horror films, Crow actually did two more: one called FATHER’S DAY the next year and the aforementioned TWICE UNDER the year after that. Also unusual: his production company still seems to be in business! The websight is defunct, but the phone and address are listed in many places as if it’s an existing business. One lists it under TV and radio commercials, so I’m guessing that’s what they do most of the time. So if you ever go in there to get them to make an ad for your car lot or whatever, be sure to ask about BACKWOODS!

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2015 at 11:35 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Backwoods”

  1. If it’s not on your list already, I highly recommend SATAN’S BLADE for this year’s slasher search. It’s not a good movie by most measurements, but I found it to be super entertaining. Mr. Subtlety, who usually hates that kind of crap, seemed to agree that it was shockingly watchable and fun for a zero-budget slasher.

  2. I’m sure you’re going to get a million recommendations, but if you’re looking for a great camping horror movie, go straight to RITUALS (1977). The Code Red DVD from a few years ago is about the best version available.

  3. Thanks Dan and Wes. I had both of those written down on a list of camping related horror movies I’d found on IMDb, but you guys vouching for them bumps them up the list.

  4. Also in the woodsy theme, I’d recommend the classic DON’T GO INTO THE WOODS and NIGHT OF THE DEMON. DON’T has an absurd amount of killings with very bizarre setups (if they are set up at all), and NIGHT is the most insane and bloody Bigfoot movie I’ve ever seen. Neither one is good on any technical level, but both are super entertaining.

  5. And NIGHT OF THE DEMON being a Bigfoot movie does not automatically disqualify it as a slasher, as he does kill a couple of teen-aged Girl Scouts with a knife. It’s just that weird.

  6. NIGHT OF THE DEMON is pretty enjoyable. It is excesivly gruesome and There some hilarious kills. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s just say it is not wise to pull over to take a leak in Bigfoot country. I also enjoy how the movie unfolds as a series of flashbacks with in one long flashback. However, as much as the movie is laughably inept in many way it gets pretty brutal in the climax.

  7. Zeke, (MILD SPOILERS) I swear Bigfoot also uses an axe and a saw blade of some sort at some point as well.

  8. Hey Vern, I’ve been reading your stuff since AICN (I used to post as ebonic_plague) and I’ve been following your site, and the comments, ever since. Excellence abounds. I never chime in because I honestly don’t have as the same level of movie knowledge as this crowd, but it’s a terrific read anyway. I just had to break however many years of lurking to say- apparently I drive by Dean Crow Productions every day. It’s in a pretty nice part of town, too. I need a car lot, or some good excuse to stop in there. I’m also going to have to track down a copy of this movie somehow, I didn’t think anything was filmed here, but it’s pretty hilarious that it would be something like this.

  9. That GEEK cover artwork where he´s holding the flower is pretty awesome! :D
    If you want to see a “far out” backwood movie you really should check out Fabrice du Welz CALVAIRE ( aka THE ORDEAL as it is called in the states as far as i know). That must be one of my alltime faves. It´s an intense, psychedelic and unbelievable creepy trip. As we ay in Germany: I would put my hand in the fire for this movie.
    The trailer is lowest quality but it´s the only one there is.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

  10. The trailer for the Walter Hill film SOUTHERN COMFORT also says “Not since DELIVERENCE”

  11. AnimalRamirez1976

    October 9th, 2015 at 6:14 am

    My fridge growing up had fruit magnets. I don’t remember them ever being super popular though.

  12. The dude on the “Geek” poster looks like a young Clancy Brown.

  13. Magnus, you are right, but he looks like a crazed Christian Bale in the thumbnail pic Vern chose.

  14. NIGHT OF THE DEMON is a personal favorite. It’s like a BOGGY CREEK movie, with all the mixed formats, random flashbacks, and banal narration that entails, but gone completely rancid. It’s all hokey and goofy and then some guy gets his ding-dong ripped off on camera. And the finale is a real jaw dropper. I truly believe this is how all slashers should end.

    In a similar vein, I recommend THE SLAYER, another monster movie that plays out as a slasher. (This is a favorite subgenre of mine that also includes HUMONGOUS and THE PREY.) Creepy atmosphere, gory kills, and a cool, classic monster design. It’s more abandoned beach town than backwoods, but it’s worth a watch.

    But if we’re talking geek movies, LUTHER THE GEEK is the undisputed champ. This is a favored discovery of mine from way back. It really takes you by surprise. You start out laughing at its cheesy narrator (same guy as THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE) and incompetent exposition, then kind of chuckle at the less than imposing villain, but then he bites out some old lady’s throat in broad daylight and it’s on, motherfucker. You go from vicious gore to insane depravity to gratuitous nudity to utter tragedy, all with a skinny bald dude with metal teeth clucking like a chicken the whole time. In a perfect world, there would be five LUTHER THE GEEK sequels (one in space) and a remake in the works starring that guy from GAME OF THRONES who was in JOHN WICK.

    But instead we just got the one and only. LUTHER THE GEEK, man. A must-see.

  15. Mr. M, I agree. The finale of NIGHT OF THE DEMON is no joke. It is savage, gratuitous, and genuinely unsettling. It also comes as a real sucker punch out of nowhere considering the haphazard unevenness of the rest of the film, you are not expecting it to get that intense.

  16. The Original Paul

    October 9th, 2015 at 11:52 am

    So I thought I’d seen this, which was puzzling me because Vern’s review seemed totally “off” from what I remembered about it. I’ve now found the explanation: it turns out that there are two low-budget horror movies with the name BACKWOODS. The second one stars Ryan Merriman and Haylie Duff and came out in 2008. I can’t honestly recommend it as a curiosity or as a good movie in its own right – there’s not that much original about it – but I’ve seen way worse. As far as “movies accidentally named after other movies” go, it’s superior to GAME OF DEATH (the Wesley Snipes one). Just beware: there is no scare in BACKWOODS (2008) that does not come with added Avid Fart. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant as a straight remake of Vern’s BACKWOODS – apart from the setting, the two movies sound pretty different.

  17. The Original Paul

    October 9th, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Also, sign me up for the Bigfoot movie! That’s going straight to the top of my “to find” list.

  18. I always thought the part when she gets the tackle box is pretty hilarious. If I remember right, she finds the tackle box and an ax in a truck and has to choose (or maybe she already had an ax) and decides to go with the tackle box.

    And it seems like Eben didn’t actually ask them to dinner. I think his words were, “You come back to my place, spend the night.” but said more like a order than a question. I remember because I assumed that meant he was inviting them (in his own weird way) to sleep in his house but they actually sleep in his yard.

    Also Jamie actually survives getting bit in the throat apparently because the last shot of the movie is, if I recall right, indicating the he’s now biting the heads off of chickens. So apparently being a geek is contagious, which is handy for sequels.

  19. Everything I know about dancing I learned from watching CALVAIRE.

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