Obviously I love slasher movies; I can count at least 3 among my top 20 movies of all time (all genres, not just horror). I also enjoy a good musical every now and then; you won’t find me standing in a rush line on Broadway too often, but as a fan of spectacle and excess there’s definitely a strong appeal. Thus, the idea of crossing a slasher movie with a musical, while rather silly, should be right up my alley, and if nothing else should score points for ambition. Sadly, Don’t Go In The Woods fails to engage as either a slasher OR a musical, which is exponentially worse than just failing at one. Bad slashers are a dime a dozen; the world’s only slasher MUSICAL (that I know of) should at least be entertaining.
The main problem is that most of the songs are just standard emo numbers that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bright Eyes or Dashboard Confessional album. Hell, most of them are actually quite good if you like that style of music (“Shadows” and the final number in particular are worth owning an MP3 of), but they lack that “musical” feel. Much like the Spider-Man musical, the songs just lack that “showtune” quality, so it just comes off as a bunch of hipsters messing around on their guitars. And not all of them are good, either: the one between the girl and the foreign exchange student is one of the most grating songs I’ve ever heard (sadly it’s also one of the few that seems written specifically for the movie).
Plus, they don’t really add to the story the way the songs in say, Little Shop Of Horrors do, and only in two or three instances do a few lyrics (never a whole song) relate to the “slasher” plot in any way, making them even less significant. Not that this sort of approach can’t work – the songs in Once also don’t sound like typical musical numbers, but they totally fit the vibe of the movie. You hear “Falling Slowly” and think about the two characters going on their little dates; if you hear any of these songs you’d never think about the slasher scenes.
Of course, you’d probably never think about the slasher scenes period, because they are shockingly lackluster and poorly executed; taking this as a straight slasher would rank it among the lamest ever, in fact. Vincent D’Onofrio is a terrific actor, and can be a pretty scary guy on screen, but he doesn’t exactly make a good impression as a director of scary movies. For example, the killer may be goofy looking but at least somewhat inspired – he sort of looks like a giant Odd-Job with a screen over his face – but you barely ever see him! Most of the kills are more or less off-screen (someone will get dragged out of frame or you’ll just see the weapon swinging), and our good looks at him are incredibly rare. He’s not the shark in Jaws, Mr. D’Onofrio – there’s no reason to hide him this much. The ending sort of offers a reason for his limited appearance, but since it still counts as a bit of a cheat, there’s no reason to keep him so vague. Might as well go all out if that’s the path you’re going to take.
The only minor surprise about the kill scenes is that they are surprisingly gory. The Hatchet/Laid To Rest franchises don’t need to worry about it stealing their thunder – it’s all aftermath, with minimal on-screen contact, but seeing a dude with a keyboard sticking out of his neck or the killer ripping chunks of muscle/flesh from a girl’s back were some of the few times I got the impression that anyone on the crew had ever seen a slasher movie before. On the other hand, they should know that 11-12 characters is too many for this kind of slasher; even ignoring the fact that none of them have much characterization behind them (which I can ignore – it’s practically a given even in underpopulated slasher films), but the hook of the movie is that these guys are out in the woods sans distractions in order to write their album. Thus, just one or two girls (instead of 6 or 7) could have made the same point, and then there would be more time for crazy things like “stalking scenes”, or maybe even money for “actual kill scenes”. Something to think about for the sequel.
And you’d think with that many victims that it wouldn’t ever take too long to kill someone; 10-11 victims in an 80 minute movie should mean you’re never more than 10 minutes away from one, right? Nope. The girls show up after like 25-30 minutes, and it’s another 15 before the first one dies. The movie uses the time-honored tradition of showing part of the ending at the top of the film, seemingly for no other reason than to ensure the audience that they are indeed seeing a horror movie, because otherwise they might forget by the time anything happens in the timeline. There’s also a bizarre jump cut at the top of the final reel, where the closest thing we have to a “Final Girl” is watching one of her friends die and then is suddenly at the campsite with the band’s lead singer. So even when the movie finally gets going, it’s still denying us the sort of things we want to see.
Ultimately, the movie barely even makes an attempt at showing why the two genres should be combined in the first place. There are a couple of very brief instances where girls who are going off to die begin singing the previous (unrelated) song with new lyrics that seem to be foreshadowing their demise – THIS is the sort of thing the movie should have been built around! All they needed was one or two unrelated emo songs just to sell the idea that they were in a band, and from then on the songs should have been actual numbers that tied into the killer’s actions. Hell, give the killer himself a song! It’s almost as if D’Onofrio and his screenwriters (Joe Vinciguerra and Sam Bisbee, the latter of which also wrote the songs) came up with the idea: “A slasher musical!” and then figured that they could just phone everything else in, assuming that the concept alone was enough to make audiences happy.
I can forgive some of the movie’s problems due to the way it was produced – apparently it was made as a time-killer while waiting for another project to come together, with actors hired out of coffeehouses and such. However, I can’t accept that their efforts aren’t even enough to qualify this as a potential cult classic, or that most of the movie’s problems are directly script related. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll accept any idea for a movie no matter how ridiculous as long as the filmmakers back it up. There are moments in the third act where you see the potential in the concept (particularly when the lead singer suddenly stops running from the killer in order to sing a new song), so I am confident that this COULD work; hell, the short Legend of Beaver Dam sort of counts as a slasher musical, and that’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen. But scattered moments are not enough to save the flick from being anything more than a curiosity; something you watch only to ensure that it exists. Indeed, there IS a full length slasher musical in the world – it’s just a shame that it’s this shockingly dull.