The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Monsters in the Woods (2012)

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The director of this film, Jason Horton, contacted me to see if I'd look at a screener of it. I always jump at the opportunity to do that, especially in a case like his with a microbudget film that's looking for publicity. It's one of the things that, when I started this blog in 2007, I never imagined I'd be doing, so each time it happens, it's just another reminder of how far this thing has come.

Monsters in the Woods is about the making of a microbudget film directed by Glenn Plummer, the cast and crew of which is out in the woods re-shooting some scenes in order to get the film sold. As they're shooting though, problems occur that seem like the usual issues plaguing any low-budget movie set, until they start becoming deadly. What evil could be threatening them, and can they make it out alive?

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I'm disappointed, because I really wanted to like this one, but it didn't work for me. The first five minutes were great. We get a couple kids out in a tent doing it, and then they're taken out by some birdman thing. I thought, "sweet, a campy slasher flick with some great bird dudes, this could be a lot of fun!" But then we got the movie-in-a-movie paradigm, mixed with the found-footage cinematic device, and things ground to a halt. For the next 30 minutes we only had Glenn Plummer, some funny dialog, and a couple interesting characters like the script supervisor to keep us involved. Then Plummer dies inexplicably, and the film turns to what should be it's best stuff, with the great monsters and great gore effects that looked well beyond their budget; but here is where the dialog that was so good before is so bad now, that the acting that was so natural before came off affected, and that killed it all for me. We had people who just show up off the street toting guns, discussing their relationship history like the loquacious drunk at the party we all try to avoid; wordy lines like "they have no idea as to what kind of hell that's approaching them...", the kind of buttressing of words with more words you'd expect from a People's Court litigant trying to impress the judge; repeating of dialog in consecutive scenes that cries out for more proofreading; and finally, people withholding information from other characters for no reason, like "where's Bravo?" "Um..." "Tell me, where's Bravo!" Even I was yelling at the screen: "goddamn it, tell him where the hell Bravo is so we can move on!" When things were off-beat, the writing and acting felt like they fit; but when things became serious, everything felt forced, and as a result, didn't work for me.

It might sound like I'm judging this by too high of a standard, that I'm expecting Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender out of a microbudget horror flick, but that's not the case. I'm only judging it by the standard it set itself. Yes, there wasn't a lot going on in the first 30 minutes, but the characters made sense, their conversations were funny, and the situations they were in worked. For instance, the whole thing with the script supervisor being thrust into the film. All of that was great. It's almost like it didn't trust what it had there, and had to pile on more and more stuff; and it never felt right when it became serious. Affected is the best term I can use to describe it. When Schwarzenegger goes into the woods all serious to take down the Predator, it works. When these actors go into the woods all serious to take down some Hellbeasts, it's sauteed in wrong sauce, I'm not buying it, and I definitely don't want to hear them talk faux tough about it. I can get that from any number of short films on YouTube, I'm buying a movie for more of what the first 30 minutes gave me-- with more action, of course.

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I listened to about ten minutes of the commentary that came with the film, but turned it off because I didn't want to watch the film in its entirety a second time, and because most of that ten minutes consisted of three guys joking about someone's cell phone going off and what not. Anyway, one thing I did catch in that ten minutes really irked me. They mentioned Glenn Plummer, and Jason, the director, told us how they only had him for one day, so they had to kill him off early in the film because they couldn't shoot that much of him. That's fine. Next he said something about how the way Plummer died was somehow funny-- which it wasn't, it was pretty much how Richard Gere killed his wife's, Diane Lane's, lover in Unfaithful-- and from there went on about how killing Plummer off, even though he was top billed, left us, the audience, thinking anything could happen at any moment, which we know is just a cop out, you killed him because you couldn't afford him, but I understand, you gotta do what you gotta do. But then one of the other people on the commentary joked about how they were able to top bill Plummer, use his name to sell the film, but only have him in for 30 minutes of the movie. He even said something to the effect of "all you young film makers at home should take a note on that." Yes, definitely, we audiences love nothing more than a good old fashioned bait-and-switch. Please, splash an actor's name on the cover so we buy the film, then let us see that he's barely in it. Yes, young film makers at home, treat your audience like a bunch of morons, we love being deceived. I don't put that on the director, it was someone else in the commentary that said it, and I bet the guy that did say it didn't even know how he was coming off, but it does show you that sometimes the people making films don't think about the people they expect to consume their films, yet they still expect us to consume them just the same.

The ol' found-footage technique. All the kids are doing it nowadays. The only thing about it here that I had trouble with, was the added effect of the picture scrambling. I can see using that at specific plot points to obscure information you want us to know later on, but to do it just for effect is annoying. I've spent my whole life dealing with fuzzy pictures from bad signals or bad cable wires, VHS tapes with bad tracking, scratched DVDs, pixelated digital images, and streaming movies that freeze on a slow Internet connection. With all the things not associated with the film that impair my viewing, the last thing I want is the actual movie to do it to me too. Again, I think it's just not thinking about the audience, which is fine if you don't want any of us to pay for it; otherwise, help us out a little bit.

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One thing this movie can really hang its hat on though is the special effects. The monsters were great, the blood effects and gore were great, definitely a much higher quality than what you'd associate with a no-budget or microbudget film. The movie also did a lot of cutting away before the violence became bloody, then cutting back for the aftermath. I like that too. And when the film really kicks into gear and we get the bulk of the kills, it's a lot of guys getting killed off-screen and the women that watch them getting covered in blood. This is what I come to low-budget horror for, the camp, the gore, the fun kills, and the creative ways they mitigate their budgetary constraints. I get that a lot of this film was a satire or commentary on what one goes through to make a low-budget film, but in a way it's a parody of itself, the way the Jason, the actual director/scriptwriter, becomes too ambitious with a story that runs away with itself-- as many indie film makers do-- instead of just keeping it simple.

Glenn Plummer as the director was my favorite character in the film. In a way it would've been better had he just mailed it in, because I wouldn't have missed him so much when he was killed off. I have a feeling that, with all the DTV stuff he's done in the past, he relished the idea of being a low-budget director himself and parodying all the overbearing personalities he's had to deal with. The other two characters I liked were the script supervisor (who I mentioned above) and the make-up girl. The script supervisor, played by Ashton Blanchard, is the one on the cover, and according to the commentary, she was written in after another actress bowed out-- similar to the way she was in the film. For some reason though, she gets her face ripped off later by one of the monsters. I felt like shaking my fist at the screen yelling "why movie? Why do you take everything I like and make it bad?", it was not an ending worthy of her character. The make-up girl was cool too, though for some reason she's not in the credits on imdb [I found out from Jason subsequently that this was due to union issues. The actress that played her was Annemarie Pazmino]. There was something about their performances that wasn't nearly as affected, especially when the film brought in the monsters and the script went south.

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Finally, the executive producer character was played by a poor man's Andrew Zimmern, the guy from Bizarre Foods. How was that not what this movie was about? Imagine, this Zimmern-esque guy has a Bizarre Foods-esque show that goes into a tribal area, and are warned against going into the woods to get a rare fruit, because there are bird people in there. He and his crew ignore them at their own peril, and madness ensues. I say you mix in Glenn Plummer as either a medicine man, or a hermit in the woods-- or maybe he's an executive in an office calling to find out where they are or demanding they go in and get that fruit. That would be awesome, him in a suit in a high-rise office yelling obscenities into a Bluetooth.

I better stop before I sound too much like the studio exec trying to change the director's film from his/her original vision, making the movie's satire complete-- or maybe my review as a blogger already did that, I just need some shots of me from my parents' basement typing it with Doritos crumbs on my chest. I want to thank Jason Horton again for sending me a screener of his film, and I'm sorry it didn't work for me. For more information on Monsters in the Woods, you can check out their official website at http://www.monstersinthewoods.com/ . I wish Jason and everyone else involved with the film the best of luck both with this and all their future projects, and hope to check out more of their stuff further down the road.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1686902/

7 comments:

  1. Good review.
    I got no bones with anything you said except for the killing Glenn Plummer being nothing but a cop out.

    There are several precedents for killing of the “star” of a movie in many successful Hollywood films, the most famous being Psycho. Now I’m in no way comparing MITW to Hitchcock, but at the time Janet Lee was the only “star” in the movie, headlined all the posters and was killed 10 minutes in.
    Vamp is another. The movie set up Robert Rustler (who at the time was more a name than the other characters, save for Grace Jones who was playing the bad guy.) His character just screamed “horror action lead.” Yet he was suddenly killed off around the 30 minute mark and the dorkier friend Chris Makepeace took over the protagonist duties. And who can forget Steven Seagal’s untimely exit from Executive Decision. Not a great movie, but many critics lauded the producer’s stones in killing off Seagal. He was by the way credited as a “star” on all the adverts. I could go on and on.
    What these films did, Hitchcock especially, they did to subvert expectations and to show that “anything can happen.” This is no different than what I did with Glenn; expect that I had the double purpose of not being able to afford him. Yes, the money is the number one, but it makes the former reason no less valid. I used a proven convention to get around a budget issue. And unlike some other DIY flicks that have done the same, my name was still a major part of the movie (appearing in over 30 minutes of the feature). It wasn’t like he was in it for only a scene. He was a major character.


    *****loved you Brainsmasher review. I love that movie.

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  2. Hey Jason, thanks for stopping by, and thanks again for giving me the screener of your flick.

    I can't let you off the hook that easily with the Plummer death being a cop out though, and I'll tell you why. Psycho killed it's top billed star with one of the most iconic death scenes of all time. Even when Drew Berrymore is killed off in Scream it's a really intense scene. Had you at least had one of the monsters kill Plummer, I wouldn't have been as quick to write it off. But that death, where he just hits his head off-screen, was a cop out. It was similar to the way Richard Gere killed off the guy that was doing his wife in Unfaithful. It was worse in that film, because it was also a cop out, but then they based the whole second half of the film around it; but still, when you're talking about known cinematic conventions, the sudden fall and hit the head and die is a classic one too, and it's often a cop out-- at least I think so. By all means, emulate Hitchcock, but not Richard Gere formulaic cash-grab thrillers. Also, on the Seagal Executive Decision thing, I was angry that Seagal wasn't in it more, and they still had Kurt Russell, who was the main star in all the commercials. (Also, I think the critics lauded that more because they don't like Seagal.) Finally, Plummer's character wasn't very nice either, so I expected him to bite it at some point. 30 minutes in might be a little soon, but not totally unexpected. It's just, in a horror film, I want some good deaths. Maybe you were going for irony there, but it felt like a cop out.

    I should clarify too that I didn't think your usage of Plummer was a bait-and-switch, I just didn't like the comment the guy in the commentary made about the practice. As someone who's consumed a lot of DTV flicks, I've seen it a lot, a name like Rutger Hauer on the cover, and then he's in the movie for five minutes. I'm sure it was a comment that just came off the cuff, and didn't mean any harm, but what it was saying still irked me, especially in the case of your film where, like you said, you used your name, not Plummer's, to sell the film, and he was in it quite a bit. In a way he undermined what you were saying about how great Plummer was to work with. Anyway, I didn't want you to think I was impugning your integrity as far as that goes, and if it came off like that, I apologize. I stand by the cop out opinion, but I never thought you were trying to deceive the audience
    with Plummer's role in the film in order to sell more copies, and I hope you or anyone else didn't think that.

    And that's great, I'm glad you loved Brainsmasher! Good luck to you in all your future endeavors, and hopefully you'll let us check out whatever you have next, whenever that happens.

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  3. WOW! I'm sold just on that first screenshot alone. Thank you!

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  4. Fair enough.

    I can totally see your point. Your point about Janet Leigh's death is right on.

    I suppose the problem is when I make a movie I think more about what I like and want to see than the audience. I thought it was both unexpected and funny to have him die in an inconsequential manner. If I had been an audience member, I'd have been expecting a gruesome monster death. I gave them the exact opposite. I personally would've loved that. And a few of the other critics have pointed out the scene as a plus too. That's kind of the cool thing about movies in general. One man's cop out is another's gold.

    And no, I took no offense. I totally get where you're coming from. The other guys on the commentary are very nice folk, but they don't exactly speak with filters.

    ****I didn't like Executive Decision at all, except for the scene where Seagal died. And I like Seagal.

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  5. I see where you're coming from Jason, and I guess I can see where other people enjoyed it because it was unexpected, but to me it always feels like the easy way to get rid of a character, which isn't what I come to horror films for. Maybe that's part of the problem too, that I don't watch horror films as much as some of the other critics who maybe specialize in horror. When I think of a bad action movie or a bad Film Noir, the hit the head and die is usually a cop out. I guess that's part of it too, that we all bring our own baggage to the table when we watch something.

    And Aaron, use that link to the official website that I put in the closing paragraph for more information on release dates. I'll try to keep things up-to-date on the Facebook page too if I get any info on it.

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  6. I love independent filmmakers and supporting them! This film didn't really seem that bad!

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  7. There were definitely a lot of parts of it that I liked, just others that didn't work. But I agree, it's good to support independent film makers, and I wanted to make sure that, even though it didn't work for me, I at least went into why.

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