Day 4: Hunkered Down: One with recluses, shut-in or people locked inside their home.
And down another SOV wormhole we go, with a little bit of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981) and, at first it seems, we’re also frolicking down the kiddie-centric, orange-and-yellow candy corn road with Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club (1981) and Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987).
A cross between Raimi and Spielbergian horror? What in the Sam Hell are you on about now, Mr. Francis?
Well, look at the ol’ cardboard slipcase artwork. You got the word “Evil” and “Wood” in the title—and a ghoul is reading a book. And that ain’t Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize (Come on, dude, Tattoo? Remember?) lookin’ up over that library counter. Ah, should we also blame Wolfgang Petersen for making The NeverEnding Story (1984)?
Nah, there’s no way Wolfie could have known that his English-language film debut would lead to the “spooky” tales of the “Wild-Eye Southern Boys” of Mildew, Georgia.
So, what’s Evil in the Woods all about? And is the book due back on “Friday the 13th,” as well? Yes, as a matter of fact, it is! (Yuk! Yuk!)
But, first . . . how we got here. . . .
“Oh, shite. R.D’s going off the rails on another non sequitur, tangent-strewn frolic,” face squinches Drive-In Asylum‘s Bill Van Ryn. “Can’t you get your writing staff under control, Sam?”
“Just let him be, Bill,” surrenders Sam Panico, B&S About Movies’ proprietor. “I’ll go take a piss. You get the sandwiches ready. By the time our bladders are empty and our stomachs are full, he’ll be done.”
“Ahem,” throat clears R.D. “I’m standing right friggin’ here!”
Anyway, Sam ye by proclaimed, henceforth, that all reviews slots for the month of October would be dedicated to slasher (and, since I break all of the journalism rules, horror) films. And I had Evil in the Woods on my SOV “must reviews” short list, next in line after Curse of the Blue Lights (reviewed for “Vampire Week” that ran September 6 through 12). And I have this savant thing with film credits (and album liner notes). I can’t remember mathematic formulas or load-bearing charts, but . . . anyway, it’s my curse (that Sam puts to good use, so it’s not all in vain). So, during research for my review of the Atlanta, Georgia-shot Those Who Deserve to Die by Kino International’s Bret Wood, I learned of his developing work in the burgeoning field of podcast dramas—and his most recent, iHeartMedia podcast drama, “Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope,” stars local Atlanta (now adult) actress Jennifer Bates.
No, it can’t be. There’s a “Jennifer Bates” starring as little Alieen Pierson in the Atlanta-shot Evil in the Woods. . . .
So, that’s that story. That’s just how the analog-celluloid stars align at B&S About Movies.
“Wow, that actually wasn’t so bad, R.D,” says Bill Van Ryn offering me a turkey-on-rye, with double mayo and mustard.
“Sam, can I have an RC Cola, please.”
“I’ll get Becca right on that. But is an A&W okay?”
And now, back to the movie. . . .
So. . . little Billy Hanes checks out the lone copy of the historical “story book,” Evil in the Woods from his local library. He immediately takes the book home and, as he begins to read . . . anthology movie alert . . . anthology movie alert (well, sorta-kinda) . . . he enters the strange world of Mildew, Georgia (yes, as in the stuff you attack with Dow Scrubbing Bubbles . . . and no, there is no such place, we got Google over here!).
Scrubbing out evil, one spore at a time!
And Billy learns the tale of a low-budget film crew in the year of 1956, as they travel into the Southern wilds of Mildew, Georgia, to shoot their sci-fi horror schlock-a-piece, Bigfoot vs. The Space Killers. And wouldn’t you know it: the Cormanites stumble into Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (wooded, not desert) enclave of an evil witch and her cannibalistic family (aka hunkered down recluses and shut-ins, ahem, Scarecrow overloards) who overlord rural monsters driven by a 3,030 year-old force (do the “666” multiples math) . . . that goes by the name of Ida! (Insert snickers, here). Yes, beware of Ida! Where’s Abby when you her? Seriously? Ida?
So, what we have here—regardless of the ominous music and wooded National Geographic photography of the (effective) opening credits (seen below in sans of a trailer)—not an ominous Raimi romp, but a spoof of low budget “B” movies that is going for “camp classic” status—with awful acting, scripting, props, and cinematography that is either “on purpose” to make it “look bad” and become a cult classic—or a film with awful acting, scripting, props, and cinematography that is so rife with ineptitude that it fails in achieving camp classic status.
And, since we are dealing with a Spielbergian kid reading and telling us “the story” (via a goofy narrator’s voice; I guess Vincent Price was busy filming 1987’s The Whales of August with Bette Davis and Lillian Gish), there’s no “Raimi,” since the film is devoid of sex, swearing, violence, and nudity. But we do get rubbery Spirit Halloween SFX (but, truth be told, some of the “non-violent” low-budget gore isn’t that bad), a scruffy throw rug sasquatch, a rotten corpse, a burnt arm, midgets, aliens and, again, the witch and her cannibal offspring who, I might add: kidnap a kid who runs off into the woods from his camper parents, and he ends boiled into a youth elixir. Oh, and the town sheriff—as is always the case with these backwoods horrors (see Equinox)—is in on the take, so no one ever escapes Ida’s wrath. Oh, and since the book is cursed—yep, you guessed it, the librarian is also in on it—little Billy Hanes turns into a ghoul after he’s done with the book!
Yeah, the curse of Ida is a gift that just keeps on giving with a book that just keeps on adding “chapters.” So much for the Spielbergian Baker-Dekker-Petersen criticisms. To say this SOV’er is completely out-of-left-field, bat-shite, everything-and-the-kitchen sink, crazy-ass bonkers is an understatement. Oh, William J. Oates, how ye wish you wrote and directed another movie.
And, what we want to know, Mr. Oates: Is this a Christian horror movie? Our sources can’t confirm it, but as someone who’s attended his share of “Christian Haunted Houses” at the local fire ‘n brimstone Baptist watering hole of my youth, it sure seems as such. In my kid and teendom, never ever once did I meet a “funny” pastor or bible teacher who could tickle a funny bone with their lame attempts at humor to make the bible palpable to young ears. For there’s nothing worse than a pastor or bible teacher—with an acoustic guitar and a wife who vocal-cracks hunchbacked accompaniment over 88 keys—who sings parody songs about why the Sadducees “were sad.” And, when he offers guitar lessons, teaches you how to play friggin’ “Baby Beluga” and “Michael Rode the Boat Ashore.” (You’d rather a Tobin Bell torture-porn sessions on all accounts, trust me.)
And, what is with all the child abuse-neglect in the films I watched this week? First, it’s Juliet Mills’s utter parental failure of leaving two kids in an open convertible while she goes food shopping in Beyond the Door (1974) (screened a couple weeks ago via another Drive-In Asylum Saturday Night Double Feature Watch Party, thanks Bill!). Now, we have a backpacked-kid wandering the big city streets. I mean, a latchkey kid is sad enough (Queen Crab), but this kid wandering about downtown Atlanta is outright upsetting—goofy, kiddie synth-rock be damned.
What did Billy do to deserve to be turned into a monster-ghoul at the end? As far as I can tell, poor Billy is a latchkey kid whose parents are M.I.A and he has no siblings to pick him up from school (or, if he does, they don’t care and pick on him), so, to fight the loneliness, Billy hides out at the local book repository until dinner time—that is, assuming, his either career-driven parents, divorced-waitress mom, or drunk n’ stoned mom and abusive step-dad are even around to make him dinner.
Poor kid. You didn’t deserve this life or fate, little Billy. You probably get stuck straw-slurping Campbell’s Pea Soup out of can for dinner like little Ken Barrett in Beyond the Door and have to befriend crustaceans like little Melissa in Brett Piper’s Queen Crab.
Amazingly, of all of the “lost” films out there that are not available for streaming or issued on DVD* . . . Evil in the Woods can be, for the low cost of $2.99, courtesy of Full Moon Entertainment on Amazon Prime. And, I would like to extend my formal apologies to our readers in the United Kingdom for this U.S. crapula being offered in your country via Amazon Prime U.K. (You’ve been warned, mate.) And yes, Full Moon also offers it as a DVD—sans a commentary track, which would have really been appreciated, as we’d love to know more about the five-Ws behind this SOV lost boy from the mind of the M.I.A auteur that is William J. Oates.
We, bow to you, Mr. Oates. We bow.
* Be sure to check out our “Ten Movies That Were Never Released on DVD” featurette.