Monday, December 2, 2013

Low Budget Horror Roulette -- Absentia and Don't Go in the Woods

I’m a sucker for low budget horror movies. Everyone has their “thing” right? The movie version of comfort food, the visual version of your favorite album, that thing you can watch constantly and never get tired of. For some folks it’s romantic comedies, or cartoons, or Stallone movies, or Mystery Science Theater. For me, it’s indie horror.

90% of low budget horror is awful. I’m the first to admit it. But the thing is, when I find that good one, it makes watching those 9 terrible ones worth it.

This week I played Streaming Roulette and came up with two notable movies; one notable in the good way, the other in the bad way.


In a quiet neighborhood, a dark force lives in an underpass. It’s not a fearsome looking tunnel, just an innocuous, run of the mill walk through. But there is something inside it, something that makes unearthly clicking noises, accompanied by hellish screams.

A few houses down the street, Tricia is under a lot of stress. She is very pregnant, and in the process of having her husband Daniel declared dead in absentia. He has been missing for 7 years, having simply vanished from the face of the earth. And as much stress as she thinks she’s under, her blood pressure would be a lot higher if she could see the ghostly image of her hubby stalking her.

Her sister Callie, a recovering junkie, has come to stay to Tricia to help her out. But she knows something is wrong with the tunnel. As she starts to investigate, the weird occurrences start escalating, and then…

Well, I don’t want to say anything else. This is an indie movie, so it takes its time building tension before any real weirdness jumps off; but the plot turns come unexpectedly, and although the story moves deliberately, there is never a dull moment.

Writer/director Mike Flanagan hits this one out of the park, and he does it the old-school way: very little violence, very few special effects, earning the fear with characterization and atmosphere. Keep your eye on this cat, he’s got the skills to take him to the next level.

The film is well scored, as well. If only those poor folks in the neighborhood could hear the background music, they would KNOW to avoid that damned tunnel.

Speaking of terrifying music…

Don’t Go in the Woods

A group of hipsters take a camping trip deep in the forest, trying to get away from distractions and focus on writing some new songs for the band. With no cell phones, no girlfriends, and no way out, it is the perfect spot to kick out some wimpy jams. And kick they do! Song after song they sing, until they are interrupted by a big group of victims… err… girlfriends, who come to surprise them.

All the while, a masked figure lurks in the shadows, ready to breathe heavily and hack off fake-looking limbs.
OK, so you have all seen a movie like this before. Hell, you might have even seen a movie with this exact title before (Don’t Go in the Woods was one of the greatest Friday the 13th rip-offs of the 80s). What makes Don’t Go in the Woods different is that it’s all about the music, bro.

This isn’t a long movie, less than 90 minutes, and over half the run time is comprised of these hipsters singing and earnestly playing their guitars. And it’s not good. Perhaps in the context of sitting in a coffee house in a black beret, these would be good songs. But in the context of “hey, I want to watch a movie about idiots being chopped into kindling by Paul Bunyan’s insane little cousin” they are damn near insufferable.

And then when you wade through the songs (which feels like an eternity of wading) you are only rewarded with amateurish special effects, Z-grade gore, and off-camera kills. The biggest gross-out moment comes before the opening credits, and remains, sum and total, the best thing the movie has to offer.

The movie was directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, one of my favorite character actors. He’s got this great Christopher Walken/Willem Dafoe quality of being effortlessly creepy, and I love him for it. And so when I say he needs to stay in front of the camera, and never direct anything ever again, I say it out of love.

Love you Vince! But seriously, don’t go streaming Don’t Go in the Woods. 

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