Indie backwoods horror flick The Devil’s Woods combines a bit of 1970s occult with 80s slasher. This is shocking for me to say, but I think this hour and fifteen-minute movie needed to be longer to tackle and fully realize the marriage of both subgenres!
The premise is simple. Two couples are heading to a music festival, but stop along the way and camp out near the remnants of an old castle. Around the fire, the boys tell stories of Satanism, sacrifice, and rape that took place there and may still go on today. Before long, the four are being stalked and killed by a masked figure.
The Devil’s Woods pretty much covers all necessary slasher ground. There’s some good killer POV accompanied by effective, ominous musical cues. One stabbing kill is particularly spectacular (no CGI), and there’s a good old chase scene with a final girl. However, with only four main characters (aka: victims), the thrills are over almost before they’ve begun. Not even a random hitchhiker, crazy old man babbling about the dangers of the woods, or stupid cop happens by for a bonus kill scene! An extra ten to fifteen minutes would have offered the film ample opportunity for some suspenseful stalking scenarios and a larger body count.
Instead, we’re presented with hints of the cult/occult angle. There’s the boys’ brief story of Satanic worship in the woods. Weird looks and awkward exchanges the friends experience at a bar feel like the work of a typical group of backwoods guys with dirty minds, so the cult’s existence wasn’t quite established to the point of dread for me.
The “what you don’t know is more frightening” approach is okay, but plot points that seem to be in place simply because this is a horror movie and it was time for a scary part left me with lots of questions. For instance, the opening scene presents a woman with a mask in her possession falling victim to two different assailants, yet we never find out the significance of any of it. Two of our main characters have brief, bloody visions, yet neither is psychic, nor do the random flashes play any part in how they handle the danger. And when something hits the group’s windshield, we can assume the locals threw it, but we never even learn what it was.
Finally, is there any intent behind the kills? While most of the characters die at the hands of a single person, there’s something more grandiose in store for the final girl. Is she somehow more deserving of the whole cult’s special attention? We’ll never know, so you kind of have to go into The Devil’s Woods knowing a group of kids is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and falls victim to a mysterious cult, and that the occult and slasher subgenres always run parallel rather than fully coming together. That’s where an extra fifteen minutes could have come in handy!
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for some pop culture and horror references, including a Captain Spaulding bobblehead, some movie posters, and a lineup of 90s throwback bands playing at the festival: The Shamen, The Prodigy, and Happy Mondays. Okay, bonus points because of that.