Johannes Roberts is the stylish and sophisticated director of the fantastically hellish story “Hellbreeder”, and the follow-ups “Sanitarium” and “Darkhunters”. “Forest of the Damned” has the same ethereal and dreamy quality as his previous films, but without the deeply moving emotional connections many of his characters make.
Tom Savini stars in this British take on the whole “House in the Middle of Nowhere” tale that is the center of so many independent horror films. True, “Forest of the Damned” has a much higher production value than most independent films (or at least it seems that way), and the acting, dialogue, and special effects are superior by far to what usually is presented to horror fans, but there are several elementary flaws in “Forest” that just don’t put it up in the highest rung of exceptional experimental horror that so recently has been hitting the theaters.
A sort of British “Wrong Turn”, “Forest of the Damned” is about some very supermodel-type teenagers who get lost in a deep forest only to find that they have stumbled upon an ancient secret that is not only deadly, but also fascinating and grotesquely beautiful. Tom Savini makes an appearance as the crazy old hick who lives by himself in an old dark house, in the very center of the woods that harbor demonic powers. A film slightly split by a diverging storyline e and some seriously sexual imagery, “Forest” is fun, but lacks that spark of substantiality that separates a really good film from a mediocre one.
The teenagers find themselves the prey of fallen angels who dwell in the woods. In the form of beautiful naked women, the demons first seduce, and then savagely murder, their victims in scenes that are both disturbing and sexually charged. At the same time that we see young supermodels pursued by naked demonic women, Tom Savini’s character Stephen attacks and captures several of the youngsters at his house in middle of the forest. Tied only to the larger plotline by the fact that he knows of the demonic women-creatures, his scenes, though creepy, diverge so much from the rest of the story that it chops up the action in a most distracting way. Savini’s character is extremely fun and his charisma translates well into a psychotic hermit with a vengeance (who knew?), but though he is perhaps the most interesting character in the film, his presence feels slightly forced. More than cameo, but less than an essential character, Savini both helps and hurts the credibility of the film with his stunning performance.
Molly, played by Nicole Petty, is a leading lady to rival Jessica Biel and Elisha Cuthbert on the mainstream horror movie road. Beautiful and talented, she carries the film with grace and realism. Daniel Maclagen lends some much needed eye candy for the ladies, and he is both believable and magnetic. The rest of the cast blends into traditional horror obscurity, paling next to Petty and Savini’s richly colored characters.
Watching this film raises several interesting questions. For instance, why is an American-accented Tom Savini living in the middle of the woods in Britain? Why does Nicole Petty’s American accent fade in and out? Why do the naked, fallen demons never speak, and only steal the flesh of their victims? “Forest” never delves into these mysteries, but it does hint at a rich and beautiful mythology that lives in the demented reaches of Robert’s mind.
Roberts is a very talented director who could rival Clive Barker in his visions of the hellish and the fantastic, but “Forest of the Damned” holds him back with an average script, cliché cameos, and a tired audience fed on gore rather than artistic revelation.