Normally I review Hollywood movies because that’s what everyone has access to, but this week I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to review a little indie horror film that premiered in my town last Wednesday night. I heard about it through an acquaintance of a friend whose relative is a member of a group that knows someone who was involved in the movie (that’s generally how things work in Cape Breton – we’re not big on advertising). Anyway it’s a parody, and I’m always on the lookout for something new to laugh at, so I gave it a chance. The premise was promisingly simple:
One by one, a group of teenagers stranded in the woods get killed by a psychotic forest ranger.
The tickets for Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger were even more expensive than normal movie tickets ($15 on a weeknight compared to $9.99) so Psychotic Forest Ranger was going to have to work about 33% harder than a normal movie to be worth the price (doesn’t seem fair because it’s indie, but this is how the world works). And while the movie itself isn’t $15 worth of fun, the whole experience of seeing the film in such a hopped-up environment is.
The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger is a comedy (well, horror/comedy), which means the success or failure of the film is going to hang on how many people in the theater are laughing. For this showing, producers Brad and Jacquelyn Mills wisely decided to amp the audience up with a brief stand-up act by a comedian. I was left wondering for a couple of hours who the swearing man had been before my friends and I eventually discovered his name was Nick Beaton (bit of advice Nick: comedians on TV say their names every two seconds for a reason!) Only after we were all laughing were we permitted to see the actual film.
The film opens with a couple camping in the woods, and since it’s an 80s-inspired homage/parody, they spend about two minutes making pathetically lame come-ons (guy) and rolling their eyes (girl) before they are slain by a cackling forest ranger in mirrored sunglasses (Michael G. MacDonald).
GIRL: “Honey, I think I saw a snake!”
GUY: “I’ll show you a snake…” (etc.)
The requisite montage of news clippings shows us how said forest ranger got to be psychotic (some combination of fire and overzealous dedication to woodland creatures?) with a really catchy soundtrack that was surprisingly good for a film with such a small budget.
I especially want to buy an mp3 of that “Never Say Die” song.
Then we’re moving right along into the story, which follows four teenagers heading into the woods for a fishing (but mostly drinking) weekend. There are only four of them in the beginning (Bhreagh Lafitte, Colleen MacIsaac, Joshua Demeyere and Ricky Newton… I think) which made me think: “only four? This is going to be a short movie.” Especially after they ran out of gas five minutes later and started being pestered by a creepy forest ranger (not the killer one, a different one). But then they picked up an extra (read: expendable) foursome after they found a conveniently unoccupied house and the partying/bloodletting/thickheadedness could begin in earnest.
FRIENDS OF MURDERED PERSON: Oh no, what a terrible accident! We should split up
and wander the woods in the dark until we find a forest ranger who can help us!
Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger follows the standard “bad 80s horror movie” formula without many detours into the land of pithy insight. Instead, the comedy comes from the fact that they know the formula is lame and cheesy and full of holes and are hamming it up for the benefit of the audience (in other words, it’s a parody, not a satire). The entire movie is one giant wink at the audience, and in some places, it can get a little annoying. The “teenage” actors, for example, deliver every line in a way that made me expect them to turn around and look at me to see if I was laughing.
GIRLS: Tee hee! I wonder if anyone is going to see us bathing each other suggestively?
ME: Hurry up and get killed already so I can stop listening to you overpronounce all your ‘ing’s.
This was probably on purpose, as writer/director Brad Mills states on his website that: “The actors were so good that they had to be frequently shown clips from Psycho Cop to get them out of good acting mode,” but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. Compared to Michael G. MacDonald’s performance as the ranger, the “kids” came off looking pretty amateurish. They were giving off a vibe that says “I’m ACTING! Look at me!” while MacDonald seemed to really believed he WAS a psychotic forest ranger, and that it was the ranger, not the actor, who was ridiculous.
Yup, they’re definitely doing it on purpose. This looks like a scene out of Scooby Doo.
The ranger is easily the best/funniest/cleverest element in the film (as he should be). The gimmick is that in order to set him off, you have to break one of the park rules. The unfortunate couple in the beginning didn’t put out their fire all the way. The party kids litter, and so on. This allows the ranger to spout hilariously cheesy park-related one-liners as he murders people. Among my favorite ranger quotes are:
“I’m here to relieve you — of life!”
“If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!” and
I bet it helps you get into character when you’re dressed as an invincible
undead scout leader who watches too many Indiana Jones movies.
I wouldn’t rank Psychotic Forest Ranger near the top in any of the relevant categories (horror movie, horror/comedy, parody, indie film, etc.), but it is pretty impressive because it’s not awful even though it was filmed on a budget of $50,000 which was raised entirely on Facebook. To put that into perspective: the Conan the Barbarian remake (which IS awful) cost $90 million. Making a movie for $50,000 is like building a house with the contents of your penny jar. I went in expecting it to be made out of Styrofoam and held together with used chewing gum, but was pleasantly surprised when the wind blew and it didn’t fall over. Add in the stand-up comedy, the speeches, the enthusiastic, cheering audience, and the invitation to an after party with the cast and crew, and there are a lot worse ways a horror fan could spend $15 bucks.
Visit their website for details of future showings and to request a showing in your town.