Friday, May 20, 2011

Back Would, Then Didn't: "Backwoods" (1987)

**SPOILERS**Don't you just hate when a movie grabs you, shakes you around a little bit, then completely insults your intelligence to the point that you are sorely disappointed by it? "Backwoods" does just that.

Jamie and Karen are cute boyfriend/girlfriend who are biking through the midwest. They stop to camp in a remote part of the forest (after being warned away by the stereotypical nerdy forest ranger), and are watched by an unseen presence. They are awakened by Eben and his injured daughter, Beth. As doctor Jamie performs an emergency tracheotomy and saves Beth, weird Eben invites the pair back to his even more remote home, which is on a neat acre lot and looks a lot like a public park.

Unfortunately, Jamie keeps tripping over the bodies of headless chickens, and Karen is full of herself for helping out these poor "Deliverance"-like characters. Eben is a little weird, believing a woman's place is not with a man, and he keeps drinking moonshine out of a mason jar. Suddenly, Eben's brain damaged son William appears, scaring Karen when she goes for one of those nude swims in an isolated lake, something everyone does when they go camping. Karen is chased by William back to Eben's house, where Eben promptly beats William. It turns out William was mauled by a dog as a toddler and ain't been right since. The dog had William by the head in his jaws, and William has been reciprocating over the years by biting the heads off of small woodland animals. How's that for Horror Movie Psychology 101?

Karen and Jamie stay on to make sure Beth is okay, and William, all drool and hissing noises, gets stranger and stranger. It comes out that William killed Eben's second wife (Beth's mom), and is fixated on Karen because her hair is like that of William's mother (Eben's first wife).

Up until this point, everything is above average. The small cast does a good job, and Crow's direction is very good considering an obviously small budget. Karen and Jamie fight and talk like a real couple. They are not two horny teenagers, like you might expect from films of this type.
And then comes the climax.

(SPOILER) Karen, not learning her lesson from the nude swim, feels the need to change her top in broad daylight in Eben's front yard, knowing full well that William must be lurking somewhere nearby. William attacks Karen. Eben and Jamie come arunnin' from their coon hunt, both drunk on moonshine. Jamie shoots William in the chest. William does not die. Eben has a fatal heart attack and William attacks Jamie, biting his neck. As William drags Jamie off into the woods, with Beth fighting her half-brother, Karen blindly fires the shotgun at the trio...William comes back out of the woods, sees Eben, and goes to him, trying to get his father to hit him for old time's sake. Karen, now sporting a large axe, approaches the distracted William...and...RUNS AWAY WITHOUT KILLING HIM. Later, after finding the nerdy ranger murdered, Karen is able to become MacGyver, making a booby trap for William out of fishing line and hooks. She is able to complete one of horror's most elaborate killer traps with no interference from the crazed William, who minutes before was right on her heels. William gets caught in the trap, seems to die, and the epilogue here involves a new crazy backwoodsman in the form of a delirious Jamie now biting the heads off chickens.

The first forty five minutes or an hour of this was pretty entertaining, despite a few awkward scenes here and there, but deciding that the viewers are a bunch of morons is a bad decision on the film makers' part. Also, once again, we get the mental deficient as the evil killer, thereby scapegoating an entire minority of people who can rarely speak for themselves to begin with. Plus, there is no supernatural connotations in the film, yet William survives a shotgun blast to the chest for no other reason than to make the film longer.

"Backwoods" was also known as "Geek," a reference to William's character. He is called that by Jamie, the doctor with no bedside manner, and Karen, the woman dumb enough to run from a perfect opportunity to do away with a killer but smart enough to make a lethal weapon out of some tackle box items.

The film almost had me, but thanks to the dumbing down of the climax, I cannot recommend "Backwoods." (* *) out of five stars.