Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Jason Horton’s Monsters in the Woods.
In spite of the incredibly run of the mill title, Monsters in the Woods is a bizarre film, being equal parts Terror Firmer and an episode of Supernatural. When a microbudget splatter flick’s reshoots get interrupted by (you guessed it) monsters in the woods, the horror becomes real and the shoot turns into a fight for survival. The monsters are hell hounds apparently and there’s an angel with a shotgun. The portal to Hell looks like a vagina. Like I said, this is a weird one.
The first thing that caught me off guard is how capable a lot of the actors are. Glenn Plummer (Saw II) plays the film’s director Jayson, and he’s pretty great. He’s grumpy as hell and pissed off about literally everything while everyone else just seems to be along for the ride. He’s the only one that really seems to take the movie seriously, but due to how Hollywood has treated him he’s pretty cynical about the whole endeavor. There are a number of points where he goes on about how his movie used to be great before the studio forced him into adding more “sex and violence,” and these bits of dialogue are pretty interesting. I know that at least one of the titles mentioned as one of his previous films is one of Jason Horton’s movies, so I have to wonder how much of these stories are true.
The rest of the cast are likable as well, albeit in their own ways. There’s a lot of personality and even though they seem pretty air-headed for the most part they definitely stand above the sorts of characters that we generally get in films of this nature. Having this be a film crew was a smart choice since it helps to separate it from every “campers get attacked by something” flick while also adding an authenticity to the goings on in this early part of the movie. I would imagine that the characters being a crew on a low budget horror movie added plenty of opportunity for a writer/director who has worked on a number of low budget horror movies to include little bits and pieces from his own experiences.
We’re kept in the dark on the monsters at first, and it had me a bit scared. Not “this movie is genuinely scary” scared, but “this movie doesn’t have the budget for actual monsters and everything is going to happen offscreen” scared. If you’ve been reading these Cult Corner reviews then you’ll know that a lot of lower budget movies fall into that trap. At first there are some bloody deaths that happen off-camera, but after a certain point we finally do get to see the creatures in all their glory, and there’s even more than one! It’s a terrible rubber costume which is just the right mixture of goofy and actually kind of interesting. The design has reptilian and arachnid elements going on and the best praise that I can give it is that it doesn’t quite look like anything I’ve seen before. There’s definitely some creativity going on there. My only major complaint is that while we do get to see these things quite a bit once they show up, we never get a really good look. They’re always either off in the distance or way too close with the camera shaking and them thrashing around. I’m sure this was done in part to hide the fact that they don’t look entirely realistic but I still wanted a better view.
Like I’ve mentioned and you probably should have assumed anyway, this movie is ludicrously low budget, and that brings a whole heap of technical problems with it. The lighting and color correction are incredibly inconsistent, as such the look of the film changes drastically from scene to scene. The opening sequence (which is a scene from the movie they’re filming) somehow has better film quality than the “real” shots immediately after. At times everything is washed out, then incredibly high contrast, and then super bright and colorful. Sometimes the movie (especially in the first half) is filmed in a found footage kind of way. Other times it’s meant to be cinematic. The whole movie has an overuse of “shaky cam” so the parts being filmed by someone in the movie and the scenes that aren’t tend to blur together. There are also stock sound effects used. One scream in particular sounds exactly like the one from the theme song of Ahh… Real Monsters! and that’s fairly distracting. The hell hounds are goofy rubber costumes, the cave looks like it was made with paper mache and the deaths are basically just blood flying. A man chops at something off-camera, blood splashes on rock. Repeat.
Fortunately, the movie doesn’t take itself incredibly seriously and it has a quick enough pace that it’s entertaining in spite of (and probably thanks to) all of these faults. This is a trashy grindhouse movie with bloodshed and nudity and Horton knows that. The plot is absurd, the actors are chewing the scenery, and the monsters are goofy. I’m having a hard time deciding if this is “so bad it’s good” or just an earnest little tongue in cheek low budget movie with some real effort and talent despite being rough around the edges. I suppose it comes down to how intentional the humor was, and on some level I don’t even want to know. It’s genuinely entertaining, and that’s all that matters. Even with a title as telegraphed and boring as A Guy With a Knife Kills People, Monsters in the Woods managed to surprise me. I’d love to see what this guy could do with a bigger budget to put towards some cool practical gore effects, because that would really tip this one over the edge for me. Either way, this is a great party movie for some friends and some beers.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.