Superb atmosphere that captures the feel of the films it is paying homage to, wonderfully spooky.
The late 1970s and early 1980s were a good time for exploitation films. The nascent home video boom allowed a whole slew of films, with titles like Don't Go Near The Park, Don't Look In The Basement, and Don't Go In The Woods Alone escaped from the grindhouse and into the living room. In doing so, these films sparked a moral panic in the UK and scared and inspired a whole new audience. I was one of the generation inspired to look beyond the mainstream by these films, among others, and if Stay out of the Woods is anything to go by, so was Russ Diapper.
The film's title tells you pretty much everything you need to know. There are some woods, there is a good reason to stay out of them and there are a several kids who, at various points, fail to follow this advice. The results are exactly what you would expect, and this works well as this film is not trying to do anything other than meet your expectations and share a nostalgic look back at the films of three decades ago.
Stay out of the Woods certainly achieves what it sets out to do, with a mad axeman delivering a series of bloody murders. More than this, though, the film has a superb atmosphere that not only captures much of the feel of the films it is paying homage to, but is wonderfully spooky in its own right.
The look of the filmstock has been artificially degraded to give it more of a grindhouse feel. Far from feeling gimmicky, this approach works well and effectively evokes past scares as well as adding much to the air of menace that pervades the film. More significant than the look, though, is the sound design, which is excellent. The score is note perfect and does a superb job of underling and enhancing the often ominous atmosphere of the film.
There is much to like in this film and most of its elements are very well executed. Unfortunately, the film as a whole doesn't quite hang together as well as it could, and I think the main problem here is that Stay out of the Woods is a full length feature crammed into a forty minute running time. This has led to a little too much use of both voice-over narration and overly expositional dialogue. It also reduces the length of time available to develop some of the more minor characters so that, while the effects are suitably gory it is difficult to really care about the characters.
Stay out of the Woods is certainly well worth seeing, especially if you have ever enjoyed any of the exploitation films to which it pays homage. Russ Diapper has a powerful sense of atmosphere which he builds very effectively both visually and in terms of the audio. My only real gripe is that I'd have liked the film to have been about twice as long to allow a bit more time to be spent with some of the more minor characters. Such a film has the potential to be a genuinely unnerving experience.
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