Just when you thought it was safe to tuck the entire mutant redneck sub-genre off to sleep for twenty years or more (I'd be cool with "or more" by now), along comes this grimy little early survival horror entry from our pals in the Great White North, reminiscent at times of Boorman's Deliverance (1972), and Lieberman's Just Before Dawn (1982), which came over a half decade later, but I happened to see prior to tonight's review, also released ten minutes shorter, as The Creeper in 1977. Hal Holbrook of The Fog (1980) et al, takes center stage here, along with the film's producer, Lawrence Dane, though the real star of the picture is the dense-then-desolate Ontario landscape, intensifying the harrowing feeling of isolation that steadily grows amid the main protagonists throughout, in this obscure Canadian shocker.
"Who's Jeffrey Dahmer and why is he throwing us a 'Stag Party' ?"
We're introduced to five doctors as they embark on their yearly vacation, backpacking fifteen miles into the wilds of Canada this time around, with a destination called the "Cauldron of the Moon" by local Indians, as the optimum fishing spot for six days free from humanity, before they're picked up by the plane that dropped them off. Almost instantly, things go wrong, as all five men's hiking boots are lifted right under their noses from their campsite on the first night. D.J. (Gary Reineke) volunteers to hike off in the direction of a hydroelectric dam up river, to find help, while the others are left to bicker among themselves, smoke pot, fondle blow up dolls, and drink excessively. Except someone or something has left a stag's headpiece, freshly skewered on a bloody stake, as a grim memento. The remaining campers, shaken up by the experience, decide to follow D.J. towards the dam, but someone hurls an enormous beehive bursting with angry bees at the men like a shrapnel grenade, killing Abel (Ken James) in the process, before the treacherous foam of the rushing rapids hides crippling bear traps, which leave Martin (Robin Gammell), D.J.'s gay brother, unable to even stand on his own. "I'm only on the edge of my seat because I've been crucified to it..."
Forced to stretcher a burdensome and steadily worsening Martin through impassable forest and a rocky waterfall, Harry (Hal Holbrook), a Korean war vet who cut off his alcoholic father, and Mitzi (Lawrence Dane), are driven past the point of breaking, snapping at each other, as they stumble upon Abel's head on a stake in the same manner as the stag, with x-rays dated from the World War II era attached to it. The doctors surmise that whoever is responsible for their predicament is exacting vengeance upon them for what terrible maltreatment they've suffered at the hands of other doctors in the past. Soon the overgrown forest becomes a burned out, post-apocalyptic landscape, with sheer rock faces set against a dreary sky. The men come upon the dam, which has long since been abandoned, looking as though it had been bombed out during the war. D.J.'s battered body, barely clinging to life, and impaled to a chair, is also discovered, and Harry is forced to put the dying man out of his lingering misery with hands that are accustomed to saving, not taking lives. On a far off plateau, the silhouette of a man is seen, watching intently...
Tune in next week on "Fucked Dynasty" when Cousin Zeke will show us how a burst roadkill 'possum can feed twenty-five of your nearest and dearest kinfolk...
Peter Carter you may remember as the director behind The Intruder Within (1981), an Alien-inspired made-for-tv ripoff. He's truly inspired here, with some exemplary use of atmosphere, cinematography, soundtrack, and solid acting performances from the cast to whip together a slightly disturbing, though mostly bloodless and altogether boobless ride (you're only kidding yourself if you're expecting a gore-drenched bloodbath from a Canadian film made in 1976), rendered obscure by poor distribution (maddest props to the folks over at Code Red for the definitive dvd restoration and release, to date) , that's sure to satisfy genre fans looking for something that's different, yet the same... much like Cheech and Chong's band uniform concepts, I guess. To me, the whole experience was excellent, indeed, genre movies the way they used to make 'em. Three wops, and a strong recommendation. See it!
...followed by Wicker Man, M.D., check your listings for details.