Sunday, October 10, 2010

In short: Backwoods (1987)

aka Geek

Welcome to the deep dark woods of Indiana. Future final girl - not that there are any other women to choose from for that role - Karen (Christine Noonan) and her doctor boyfriend Jamie (Brad Armacost) are going camping, and the audience has the dubious luck of watching them. After exciting minutes of camping shenanigans, the film stops the thrill ride to let the couple stumble upon a backwoods person named Eben (Dick Kreusser) standing helpless over the body of his suffocating little daughter (Leslie Denise), for some mysterious reason brandishing a shotgun. Fortunately for him, Jamie's up for a little emergency tracheotomy (for once in a movie without using a biro).

Thankful in his monosyllabic way, Eben invites the couple into his home, where it turns out that he's a complete hick cliché, with self-made moonshine and no knowledge whatsoever of modern technology like fridges. He also drops some of those "subtle" hints towards some dark secret horror movie heroes never get, and so it takes Jamie and Karen quite a while of drinking, coon hunting and skinny-dipping until they make the acquaintance of Eben's mentally ill son (hobbies: being locked-up in the shack, touching pretty hair, biting the heads off of chickens) William (Jack O'Hara).

Not surprisingly, Jamie acts like a jerk confronted with someone he as a doctor should be interested in helping, while Karen does the frighteningly idiotic "all women are mothers" about-face you'd expect from a movie without even a single idea of its own. Also not surprisingly, there are a few deaths in the future.

It's not much fun to feel as negative about a film as well-meaning as Backwoods as I do. I can respect that the film is trying to eschew the typical backwoods slasher "one kill per ten minutes" structure, and instead is going for a slow build up of tension until violence dramatically explodes in the end. The problem is that the film is just not good at building that needed tension at all, which leaves it only being slow.

For too much of the film, director Dean Crow (a relative of Crow T. Robot?) insists on showing us long scenes of inane dialogue between the rather jerky Jamie and the inexcusably clichéd Eben, while the script either pretends that this is the most exciting thing it could even think of showing us, or that Eben and his chicken-hating son are the stuff of moving melodrama. Turns out it shouldn't be and they sure aren't. For much of the film's running time, I was wishing this were the typical teenie backwoods slasher Crow goes out of his way to avoid. Those films at least don't have pretensions of depth they are then too inept to fulfil.

It surely doesn't help the audience or Backwoods that the acting is of the painful, yet unfunny sort, as is the film's music, and that the woods are so perfectly well lit they never produce the creepy mood they should.

However, I have to admit that the film is getting a bit more effective at being as thrilling as it pretends to be after everyone except for Karen and William is dead or knocked out. I suspect that if its first hour of bad hick theatre hadn't already put me half to sleep, I'd now say something along the line of "it's surprisingly effective" about Backwoods' final thirty minutes. As it stands, I was too bored by the first hour to care much about the rest of the film.


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