The Forest

We're dead, and we're okay.
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1982
Director: 
Don Jones
Starring: 
Dean Russell, Gary Kent, Tomi Barrett, John Batis, Ann Wilkinson
The Setup: 
Two couples are separated in a forest where both ghosts and a slasher lurks.
Discussion: 

This is one of those things I found at the flea market and knew nothing about, but figured for $1 I could sit through anything. I watched half of it a few years ago, and it lay dormant in a cabinet until last night I was looking through my holdings and thought “oh yeah, The Forest.” Turns out I’m quite glad I invested that dollar as, though this is not necessarily the best movie, it is just… so… STRANGE.

We begin with the credits, which alerts us to the fact that we will be witnessing the screen debut of someone named Corky Pigeon [who went on to star as Freddy on Silver Spoons... shows what I know about TV]. Then we see a couple hiking through the woods. The woman is spooked by noises she hears behind her, but her hunky boyfriend doesn’t hear anything. There is a very good moment when the dark shadow of the killer passes silently just behind them on the path. The woman decides she wants to go first, so she does, and then the man starts hearing things, and they end up separated. Someone approaches the guy and shows him a knife, then stabs him. The woman turns, and though there is obviously no one within sight, says “What? Did you say something, honey?” She goes back and finds the guy’s body, then is killed herself.

Next follow a lot of scenes of traffic. Steve and Charlie are in it, and Charlie is frustrated, so Steve suggests they go camping, if Charlie’s wife, who he calls his “jailer,” will let him. Then Steve mentions that he and his wife have been discussing divorce.

That night at dinner, Steve’s wife Sharon and Charlie’s wife Teddi are piqued that the men want to go camping without them, and decide that they can go camping, too. The men forbid it, because it’s too dangerous, which only enflames the women more, especially Teddi. Teddi calls Charlie “a male chauvanist pig,” and Charlie adds “and proud of it.”

The women are ready to leave the next day. Teddi is all defiant, but Sharon kisses Steve and says she hopes he can come to the campsite that evening, and they can get it on and possibly save their marriage. Steve promises he’ll be there. Once the women are on their way, they admit that they are a little scared and really don’t know what they’re doing, but Teddi claims that she “has something to prove.” They drive while the first of several original songs plays on the soundtrack, this one a tepid 80s rock number with a female vocalist singing “I’m comin’ on strong.”

The men are delayed four hours by radiator troubles, meaning it will be long after dark before they reach their wives. It is apparently a SIX HOUR hike from where they park to where they camp, which seems a bit excessive, but I guess I’m not very outdoorsy. They find their campsite, but, even though it is brilliant sunshine, they look at a cloud like 50 miles away and say “Oh no! Is it gonna rain?” Meanwhile the guys have reached the parking spot, which means they will only have one hour of light in which to hike. They are met by a thin, mustachioed ranger, who turns out—to be the writer/director of the movie! [I KNEW I should have taken his picture…] Since the movie as a whole turns out to be so very odd, I was glad to see what this guy looked like. I wuld love to sit down for a conversation with him and see where this story originated.

Anyway, while the guys are bickering and stumbling through the dark, we have this quite odd disco-jazz song called “The Forest.” Please consider some of the lyrics of this stirring number:

"There's nothing to fear,
People do disappear,
In the darkside of the forest... the forest... the forest
Now don't get lost,
Or you'll have to pay the cost,
As many have died,
In the darkside of the forest...."

Next we see something approaching the women. Now, up until now this movie has been quite low-budget and a little cheesy, but at the same time had some good, creepy direction and good situations… and I have to tell you that I was watching it in my bedroom with the air conditioning on and the door closed, and at this point I heard some average apartment noises, and started to become paranoid that someone had broken in, and I had to go out into the rest of the apartment to make sure no one was there. I did it again after a few minutes. So, this movie genuinely got to me!

Anyway, a boy and a girl are watching the women, then they retreat when they see their mother. She is a woman with blood on her forehead, and appears to Sharon and Teddi, asking “Have you seen my children?” She then fades out quickly, making her an obvious ghost, causing Teddi to rightly exclaim: “What the hell was that?”

SPOILERS > > >
Then the kids go talk to their Dad, who is relaxing in his rocking chair in front of the fire… in a cave. They tell him that there are some “pretty ladies” out in the forest, and he grabs his knife and “goes hunting.” Then follows what is supposed to be a stalking scene, but is actually almost two full minutes of nearly completely black screen. It’s just really, really dark in that forest. Anyway, Daddy Slasher shows up and wastes Teddi, but Sharon gets away. The Dad drags Teddi’s body off.

Meanwhile it’s finally starting to rain, and Steve and Charlie find a cave… with a rocking chair and fire. On a spit above the fire is a tasty-looking roast… which I believe we are supposed to believe is part of Teddi, although the way it’s edited it seems way too quick for her to be carved up and on the spit already. When asked what it is, the killer says “it’s a doe.” He offers some. Steve refuses, but Charlie accepts, eating the tiniest morsel, and we’re supposed to go “Ewwww… he ate his wife!” But we don’t, because we’ve seen this kind of stuff a thousand times before. So they ask a lot of questions, and the Slasher Dad tells them his story. And you know, how many terrifying slashers sit down in the middle of their movie and tell their story?

So Slasher Dad was married and had the two kids we saw earlier. He would come home all the time and find the pool boy, the refrigerator repairman, the cable guy… and one day he walks in and his wife is getting hosed right in the bed and she doesn’t seem phased by her husband’s appearance at all. She’s tells the husband flat-out that she feels she has the right to because he’s “practically impotent.” No “don’t worry, it happens to everybody sometimes” talks for her, and of course one has to pause to reflect on the tragic waste of lives that could have been prevented here if they’d only had Viagra. Anyway, turns out Mom’s idea of babysitting the kids is to lock them in the closet—RIGHT in the bedroom, four feet away from where she’s getting boned by the refrigerator repairman! Where they can, hello, HEAR her. So Dad kills her, then runs out to kill the repairman. Then follows one of those hilarious chased-by-killer sequences in which the victim runs away from the killer, only to have the killer suddenly jump out in FRONT of them! Okay, I can understand if the killer takes a short cut around the outhouse or whatever, but when they’re in open land and the victim runs IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION from the killer and yet suddenly the killer is OVER THERE, in front of them, something’s amiss. And it happens here literally four times in a row. First the killer has a knife! Then a saw! Then a pitchfork! Then the repairman gets it in the most bloodless chest-opened-by-circular-saw murder you’ve ever seen.

So the husbands end up spending the entire night in the killer’s cave. They go to the camp, and find the tent, but no wives. Finally they decide that Charlie will stay at the camp and Steve will try to go back and get help. Soon Steve has broken his leg on some rocks, and Charlie has been killed. Turns out Slasher Dad only kills to have food, as he lives all alone in that cave. I guess there are no other animals in the forest.

Anyway, the ghost kids appear to Sharon and explain that after their mother was killed, they got sick and finally killed themselves. Sharon says that’s sad, and they say “No, it’s better to be dead. Being alive was so sad.” I should also mention that the little girl here is REALLY creepy. Her face is sort of triangular and stylized like a doll, and she has a very odd, evil affect. She asks the kids to take her to the camp, but no one’s there. Then Slasher Dad captures her, and the kids say “Don’t cry, there are lots of worse things than being dead. We’re dead, and we’re okay.” Sharon says “but I don’t want to die,” and the kids intercede on her behalf, and their dad lets her go. Then bitch Sharon doesn’t even say THANKS KIDS as any decent human being should do, but demands to be taken to Steve!

Steve has gamely tried hiking the hours it would take to get out of the forest with his broken leg, and at one point breaks down and cries over his predicament. I thought he was so fucked, and if it were me, that’s where they would have found my cold and lifeless body the next day, my face a red, suppurating expanse having been gnawed at by raccoons through the night. But not our Steve. He gets up… and keeps going. I’ll admit it, Steve is more of a man than I’ll ever be. Go Steve! You deserve to live! Slasher Dad finds Steve, and is just about to dispatch him, when Sharon appears with a knife. She runs at the Dad, intercut with Slasher Dad’s wife running at him with a stake, and she stabs him. He dies, and the children are set free, and leave the forest. Then the mother shows up and asks after the kids, but Steve and Sharon say they don’t know where they are. Then we have a last original song, “The Edge of Forever,” and we’re out!
< < < SPOILERS END

Ultimately, I really liked it. Sure it’s super low-budget and shoddily shot, but it created a fair amount of tension [if you can get involved in what’s going on], the set-up was fairly effective, with a reasonable excuse for separating the two couples, and on top of all that, it’s just so WEIRD. I mean, a combo slasher film / ghost story? It’s not something you see every day, and once I got over how bizarre it was I liked its unconventionality.

Ultimately I think this film is about sticking it out and working on a marriage, rather than just getting divorced. Both couples in the film are in failing marriages, and there’s a lot of resentment on both sides. Sharon is ready to try to make amends with Steve, whereas Teddi and Charlie remain in their game of angry one-upsmanship with each other. Sharon also is the only one to try to talk to the ghosts, rather than just being freaked out by them, and Steve keeps trying even after his getting out of the forest seems completely doomed. Add to this the story of the killer. When he couldn’t get it up, rather than try to find something else they could do together [frottage, y’all], they just gave up and the wife was very belligerent about her “right” to have affairs with others. And of course the husband didn’t exactly reach out the olive branch of diplomacy. And look how they ended up. This is all fairly pointed when you consider, in the end, who lives and who dies. So the next time you’re ready to take that sledgehammer to your significant other’s head, ask yourself: have we tried mutual masturbation?

The story of the killer also makes this movie unique, if nothing else. He’s not your average unkillable stalker who’s doing what he does from some ridiculous and deep-seated sense of rage, he’s a burnt-out, haunted man tormented by what he’s done. He apologizes to his victims, and tells them he only wants them for the food they represent. And the whole thing with the kids and mom was pretty creepy and effective. And come on, you have the kids saying things like “it’s better to be dead. Being alive was so sad,” who can resist that?

This is only available on VHS and I wouldn’t look for it on DVD any time soon. If it sounds interesting, you should definitely keep an eye out for it, but be aware of its very low-budget nature. I am glad to have it in my collection [for $1], as low-budget-but-really-weird tops professional-but-predictable with me any day.

Should you watch it: 

If you can find it [it's now on DVD], and you go into it knowing it’s fairly low-budget and unprofessional.