Director: Jake Daniels
Year of release: 2003
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 75 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Tagline: "It's dark...It's quiet...And you're all alone. Or are you"?
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: A Friday the 13th clone of a kind on a tiny budget things begin here in 1981 where a couple of teenagers, guests at Camp Vernon have crept off in the middle of the night for some amorous action only to both be brutally murdered. We then fast forward to the current day where said camp is in the process of being reopened after presumably shutting down due to the double murder some twenty years before. As a group of young counsellors along with an older cook set about getting things ready for the grand reopening a local wino and war vet who was around at the time of the prologue begins acting strangely, passing out warnings of trouble to come. It isn’t long before a masked menace in army fatigues who doesn’t seem to want the camp reopened begins doing away with those working on opening day preparations.
Good points: *I found there to be a nice musical piece that played over the opening credits. There was also a similarly effective musical score used in a couple of scenes towards the end one of which was when Heather was being chased by the killer.
*Quite big spoilers ahead in this point: Although initially this seems very much like a straight forward Friday homage (or rip off) there proves to be a bit more to the plot as things progress and it has one or two more original ideas of its own. The two killers working in tandem took things away from the more well-travelled path and maybe tipped a nod to another woodland slasher in Camp Blood. In addition the idea of the son being linked heavily into the story and possibly being set up to continue the killing spree though still similar to Friday the 13th was done differently enough to feel like more of a fresh original idea.
*Very mild spoiler: I liked how one of the key characters made use of an electronic voice box type gadget to communicate. I think this might be known as an Electrolarynx. This certainly isn’t something we see very often so it added an original touch and made this stand out a bit on its own merit. Though to be fair this character in question did get a fair bit of backstory in regards to their military history and connection with Pamela I don’t recall a clear reason ever being disclosed as to why the Electrolarynx was required so it was a shame this wasn’t delved into specifically.
*As no doubt you would have already gathered having read this far Dark Woods is intended as a homage to the backwoods style eighties slashers and feels very much like a Friday the 13th inspired film so big fans of that classic may enjoy this a bit more than most. There are a lot of similarities like the counsellors working at the camp, initially at least the Max character, the yellow Jeep, a character that we thought may be the final girl being killed off quite early etc. I would say as well that to some extent it does succeed in capturing the eighties vibe that so many seem to enjoy.
Bad Points: *Made for only $5,000 the low budget is very apparent with both the sound and picture quality being rather poor. The sound has actually been cleaned up a bit for the DVD release from which I’m reviewing the film as apparently it was initially in an even worse state but even in this more enhanced condition it still doesn’t come across very well compared to most films. With the scene in the police station in particular I found it difficult to hear what was being said. The picture quality in the night time scenes also leaves a lot to be desired.
*The low budget again has an impact on the kills which are mostly of the type where the camera cuts away at the critical moment and then we just see the aftermath. Things are very basic indeed in terms of special effects though the budget does make this more understandable. Still on a couple of occasions things get so bad that it does take you out of the experience somewhat, there is a terrible but thankfully brief intergender fight scene early on which we could have done without and a couple of extremely poor bludgeoning style kills where it is clear there is little to no impact behind the blows.
*The killer doesn’t exactly inspire terror and is more laughable really than anything else. Visually everything looks very basic and though there is a mask which is something at least it is about as rudimentary as you could imagine. Think of the cheapo style mask from the first Bloody Murder film and you’re in the ball park of what we have here
*For the most part the characters are very forgettable with the vast majority leaving little to no impression before they are killed off. I thought there were probably a few too many kills in fact and due to the amount of them they came so thick and fast that they seemed a bit rushed. We could have done with a few less murders, I don’t think we needed the two barfly guys for example and instead more of a focus could have been put on building up the characters of two or three of the key counsellors. The script/dialogue didn’t help with the character development either as the conversations were largely lame and poorly written. As a result there was no one really that stood out as a truly likeable character.
Verdict: Though very much a love letter to classic eighties camp slashers Dark Woods is hampered by its very noticeable low budget effecting the picture and sound quality as well as the murders. The dialogue is also sub-par and these weaknesses in the script along with a bloated cast of characters only drag things down further. Having said that there is a bit of a surprise in store that is revealed as things progress that moves this way from the Friday clone it initially appeared to be and there are some brief passages of effective music. Despite the many flaws and limitations this is undeniably good fun at times as well so it does entertain at least a little bit on some level. If you’re a big Friday the 13th fan and don’t mind very low budget cinema then I would actually recommend checking this out if you can find it assuming you keep your expectations low. For everyone else there isn’t a great deal to recommend though I have seen a lot worse.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Keith: Impaled through the groin back in 1981.
2)Sarah: Impaled through the mid-section with pitchfork back in 1981.
3)Motorist: Stabbed through car window.
4)Tara: Neck slashed with machete.#
5)Pervert motorist: Struck across forehead with machete.
6)Tara’s boyfriend (Sean?): Throat cut with knife by Max.
7)Paul: Face bashed into car engine/bonnet.
8)Barfly #1: Neck broken by Max.
9)Barfly #2: Stabbed in the back by Max.
10)Royce: Has the top of his head sliced with a machete.
11)Brenda: Run through/impaled through the chest with a machete.
12)Bill: Face bashed into tree stump.
13)Keri: Knife or possibly machete is thrown into her back as she runs away.
14)Pamela: Stabbed by Victor as they were hugging. Briefly revives to strike at Victor herself but I assume she is supposed to later die from her injuries.
15)Victor: I’m a bit unclear on this one as my notes were poorly written but I think Victor may have been killed here by Pamela. (It is my notes at fault here not the film).
16)Heather: Struck in the neck with a machete by Max. (This possibly may have merely been a dream).
Note: An extra body was seen falling out of a white car as Keri and Heather were trying to get away using said vehicle. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a fresh victim or just the corpse of someone we had seen murdered previously.