Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons. (IMDB synopsis)
I’ve been hearing about this one for ages. It seems to be one of those films that all horror fans have a special place for in their hearts. Actually, I could’ve placed this film under a few of the other categories, such as Comedy Horror and Splatter Film, but as long as it’s somewhere on the list, I’m happy. The few clips I’ve seen online are promising – no CGI, just fake blood and guts and an awesome-looking claymation decomposition sequence. I can’t wait to see if the film lives up to the hype.
The DVD menu is actually animated and shows some clips from the film! That’s always nice to see – unlike End of Days, which only had one frozen image and a few options to choose from. But anyway! Onto the film itself.
Our only characters are a group of five teens heading in a faulty car over a rickety bridge to a remote cabin in the wood for nooooo reason at all. I already knew that our hero is Ash – a man who could very well be Jim Carrey’s unkempt monobrowed cousin – although at first, Scotty seems to be implied as the protagonist. This is interesting as it keeps the audience guessing a little while longer.
The group arrive at their cabin, which is both charmingly rustic and eerily creepy. They explore the basement and find a collection of rusty metal weaponry, including a chainsaw. Hm. I don’t know why, but rusty implements really rub me up the wrong way. They shouldn’t, because rusty or not, they’re still going to cut my arm off, but still. Also in the basement is a large The Hills Have Eyes poster. Hmmm.
Everything’s nice and creepy to start with, establishing the characters and setting, and building suspense with slow, sweeping shots and a little shaky cam (which is fine in moderation). Some sequences shot from the point of view of an unseen evil in the woods are shown whooshing around in a long, continuous take, which I enjoyed. The film takes its time, and it’s 32 minutes before the first demon appears. As for the soundtrack, it can be attention grabbing or quite subdued, and it can even create an amusing contrast or dissonance. For example, as Ash explores the basement in one scene and is drenched in blood from the pipes, we hear… jazz music! From the possessed radio… Apparently the demons have a sense of humour.
Parts of the film feel clichéd. At least, that’s what I thought until I tried to find any ‘cabin in the woods’ type film that was made before this one. I could only come up with The Burning (1981), which takes place at a summer camp, and obviously The Hills Have Eyes (1977), referenced early in the film. In any case, we’re all quite familiar with the teens staying in the middle of nowhere, getting a little bit naked and stupidly splitting up, or in the case of one female character, wandering into the woods in a pair of flimsy pyjamas, uttering the words, “I know someone’s out there…!” This thoughtless act leads to The Evil Dead’s tree-rape scene, which is (I think) played for laughs. I love the way the branches pull off Cheryl’s dressing gown and drag it further into the woods. Where the hell are they taking it?
Actually, a lot of the film is comical. Maybe it’s the copious, nay, ridiculous amounts of blood and gore, or maybe it’s the insane, delighted jabbering of the so-called Deadites, or maybe it’s all the unwise horror movie advice, e.g. Scotty telling his girlfriend Shelley to stop worrying and just go to sleep. In the other room. Alone. Good plan, Scotty.
I couldn’t talk about this film without talking about the effects. I looked this up – gallons of fake blood were produced; several hours were spent screaming into a microphone, stabbing chickens and violently chopping apples to get the necessary sound effects; thick sclera contact lenses were used, which were so uncomfortable, they could only be kept in for 15 minutes at a time. In combination, these different aspects create something that’s extremely striking and highly entertaining.
I had a great time watching this film, and it’s just the sort of thing you can stick on and watch with friends. I think it’s become the cult classic that it is because it was made with nary a thought for video ratings or censorship. It was just a bunch of people who scraped together the money they needed to make a horror film, and they did everything they could to make it a good one. You can tell some care and attention went into making it, especially where the cinematography is concerned, and apart from that it’s just enjoyably scary and gross. I think it might be worth looking at the other films in the franchise, just to see how Ash’s character blossoms. I hear that chainsaw comes into play a lot more, for starters.
7 jam sandwiches.