Once more we enter the murky world of the micro-budget indie slasher flick, with this award winning effort by writer/ director Donn Kennedy. But like the many that have come before, and so many that will doubtless proceed it, "Backwoods Bloodbath" has little to offer that we haven't seen too many times already, courtesy of the indie world's voluminous and ever-expanding output of low rent horror. With only a garbled, barely coherent legend as a back story, the film recapitulates the well rehearsed body count routines of formula slasherdom, interspersing oddly syrupy, unrealistic gore effects with relentlessly annoying attempts at humour, at the calling of a particularly half-arsed script.
A standard retinue of over-sexed annoying young people make up the cast of characters to be methodically dispatched during the movie's over-long ninety minutes; in this instance they're six former 'friends' meeting up again for the first time since their college days, at the funeral of one of their number who supposedly committed suicide. Deciding to catch up on their shared college experiences, they rent a remote cabin in the scrubby woodland wilds of Wisconsin near a charming-sounding place by the name of Skunk Creek (cue the running gag which sees people complaining about the horrible smell the whole way through the film), deep in the equally unprepossessingly named Black Forest. The place is your usual remote locale for such well-trod slasher fare, the population made up exclusively of grotesquely caricatured, moonshine swigging, hunting rifle-toting hicks and lunkheads clad in their standard hick uniform of plaid shirt and grimy baseball cap -- all of whom hate the sight of strangers and 'folks from the big city' ("you're calling Wisconsin a big city?" questions one of the gang when confronted by a particularly aggressive local in a bar) and who seem oblivious to the fact that, before we've even got more than ten minutes into the movie, several of their shambling brethren appear to have been bloodily eviscerated by a snarling, scythe-swinging dreadlocked maniac in a leather trench coat.
The first question to be asked is of course, why on earth would you choose such desolate and depressing surroundings for a school reunion? Cut off from all the necessary amenities, with only one local bar the size of a shoe box, it's hardly the place in which to relax and reminisce about good times, even if there wasn't a living embodiment of a nineteenth century local legend running about the place tearing to shreds a coterie of dope-addled losers and every pink-cheeked college girl in the region whose willing to divest herself of her sports bra in a cold barn in the middle of night at the shake of a stick!
Naturally, before long, the cabin's only land line is down, mobile phones of course don't work and the locals' gory tales of the 'Black Hodag' - a legendry local monster who feasts on human flesh - appear to be coming true after one of the city kids is badly wounded in a vicious scythe attack, forcing two of their number to plot a dangerous trek through the woods to find help at a nearby cabin.
To be fair to writer and director Donn Kennedy, the film is actually a much better looking effort than most other no-money indie slashers of this ilk that regularly cross my path. The DV image looks pleasant enough and has an almost film-like aesthetic most of the time (although it does get hazy in night-time scenes still), which gives the work an almost old-school eighties slasher feel. Hell, there are even lighting gels put to use during several sequences, sometimes rather artfully arranged as well.The editing is pleasingly professional and snappy, the camera employed efficiently and set-pieces (most of them) quite often come off better than one has learned to expect. Atmospheric music cues are also often deployed to unusually convincing effect and one can see why, on a technical level at least, this would have won its award at the New York Independent Film Festive.
But then there are the usual pitfalls that invariably afflict this kind of movie and "Backwoods Bloodbath" is no exception: thinly written characters who are too boring to elicit much more than cursory interest; inexperienced young actors who are incapable of delivering anything that could be charitably thought of as 'a performance'; poor special effects and other technical deficiencies: the film falls prey to all of these things. The copious fake blood is delivered with what is rapidly becoming the standard device for all badly made indie horror films, despite the complete lack of believability in its results - i.e.., an offfscreen squirty ketchup bottle! The blood mixture itself looks like a kind of raspberry jelly-like gloop -- certainly nothing like blood. Then there are constant problems with the sound: while some of the atmosphere-creating music is good during the stalk sequences, the dialogue seems to suffer from extremely poor foley work that often renders the dialogue inaudible above the background ambient noise or the almost incessant anonymous drone of the sludgy grunge rock that dominates the soundtrack.
This becomes even more of a problem when some members of the cast deliver their performances in an unvarying monotone. The female lead is the worst offender. She may be pleasant looking but even when one of her oldest friends is expiring on the couch from hideous chest wounds and she's trapped in the house with no means of escape, she continues to demonstrate no expressive variability in her reactions to events, and drawls her dialogue in a stoner-like haze. This fact is not conducive to the creation of sustained tension when she becomes the final survivor, and you'd expect at least some emotional fall-out from the events she has been forced to endure. The movie attempts to augment its insipid gore with last-ditch-interest female nudity at regular intervals, but the feature length running time still seems to require pace-disrupting padding, and a final act twist is all well and good but the makers fumble its execution and rather throw away the whole idea.
MVM deliver this latest low-budget offering to region 2 DVD on a disc that features no extras apart from a trailer for the film and trailers for the other selections in its Indie Horrror catalogue. Oddly, the trailer for the feature itself is in widescreen while the film is in cramped pan & scanned 4:3! This is probably one of the better of the bunch on offer from MVM's indie vaults but that really isn't saying too much for it I'm afraid.