POV

Indie Intros: Sam Raimi’s Within the Woods

Before The Evil Dead, there was “Within the Woods”. “Within the Woods” isn’t exactly a prequel to The Evil Dead franchise in terms of story, but rather in terms of style. Many of the motifs common in Raimi’s later works are present in this film, including his love of POV shots, his clear hatred for appendages and of course Bruce Campbell. I’ll warn you ahead of time, the only copy I could find on the Internet looks like it was filmed off a VHS that, similar to the Necronomicon, dates back to ancient Sumer. Sorry everyone, but until Raimi decides to release his Blu-Ray remaster of “Within the Woods” we’re stuck with this. On the plus side, the severe tracking problems kind of add to the eeriness.

The plot of “Within the Woods” is almost exactly the same as The Evil Dead. A group of kids decide to stay the night in a creepy cabin for no other reason than cabins can be stayed in. Where it differs from The Evil Dead is that instead of an ancient book causing all the trouble we get an Indian burial ground, because as movies will have us believe, Native Americans love to plague modern day white kids with posthumous curses. As the kids begin to poke around, people die, come back to life and begin killing to add to their ranks.

Upon watching “Within the Woods”, you’ll immediately begin to pick up on common Raimiesque film techniques. For starters, the famous, fast-paced POV “Raimi-cam” chase shot is in full effect here. Not only would Raimi reuse this shot famously in the Evil Dead series, but also its popularity would be further pointed to in other directors’ works. Perhaps this is due to “Within the Woods” low budget, but the audio techniques from Evil Dead 1 and 2 also seem present here. Like the scene in Evil Dead 2 where Ash loses his mind and the cabin becomes a Pee Wee’s Playhouse of Horrors, Raimi’s Foley work in “Within the Woods” is loud and has all the subtlety of a jack hammer, with loud grinding sounds that overpower any ambient noise.

“Within the Woods” was made for a paltry $1,600, which isn’t bad for half-hour short. It was also filmed on 8mm, which Raimi paid to have blown up to 35mm for theater showings, which might also explain the grainy look on YouTube.

Another thing to note is that “Within the Woods” marks the first pairing of Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi. The two would go on to produce a number of successful film and TV projects like The Darkman series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Tapert would also go on to produce many other popular films such as The Grudge, 30 Days of Night, and arguably Jean Claude Van Damme’s best film, Timecop.

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Spotlight on Shorts: Treevenge

One sad Christmas memory I recall was the annual disposing of the tree. My parents would drive out to the designated dumping grounds and throw the wilting symbol of Christmas spirit back to nature from whence it came. I can still envision the hundreds of dead trees piled upon one another waiting to become mulch or maybe those paper containers Chinese food comes in. To this day I still consider this often overlooked holiday moment to be cruel, despite the fact that I still have no problem eating the hell out of a bacon wrapped filet of beef.

If you’ve ever wanted to see humans finally receiving some comeuppance for their crimes against nature, I present to you “Treevenge” a film by Jason Eisener. Any of you who are familiar with Eisener’s other major work, Hobo With A Shotgun, shouldn’t be too shocked at what they see in “Treevenge”. Much like Hobo With a Shotgun, “Treevenge” takes much from gore-heavy exploitation films (Translation: This video is NSFW). Virtually everyone in this film is subject to a violent death, and I mean everyone. “Treevenge” is not a film that follows any conventional movie “rules”; in fact, it seems more likely that Eisener is consciously trying to break them.

Normally, I’m not a fan of unnecessary sex or violence in movies. Not to say that I’m against sex and violence in and of themselves, but I prefer that there be some justification for their existence in film and not just filmed to increase ticket sales. I make an exception when I come across the type of over-the-top exploitation found in a film like “Treevenge”. This type of exploitation can be found in a lot of Sam Raimi’s work as well as most of Troma’s film catalogue. In films like these you’re almost certain to find insane levels of violence, sexism and objectification, but it comes at you in such absurdly large doses it can’t possibly be taken seriously.

“Treevenge” does some very interesting things with point of view. We actually witness the film from the trees’ perspective. The humans in the film are such overblown caricatures personifying violence and evil, it’s hard to really feel any remorse for them when the bloodshed begins. Furthermore, every death, no matter how taboo or repulsive, is done with a sort of “wink, wink” to the audience. Each death comes complete with some kind of gimmick to make it even more unbelievable. As a result the audiences’ compassion is on the side of these murdering trees who dole out violence in such tongue and cheek way it comes off as entertainment.

Whether you’re a fan of over-the-top exploitation films or not, “Treevenge” still manages to serve as a lesson of how point of view can be used to instill compassion in a protagonist. Even when the protagonists act in ways that are clearly immoral, compassion can still be established by seeing the story through their eyes. And yes, I’m aware trees don’t have eyes.

Spotlight On Shorts: Dark Times

Whether you love them or hate them, one thing’s for sure, holidays are right around the corner and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. For the next month leading up to Christmas I’ll be spotlighting select holiday themed shorts for your viewing pleasure. For our first freakishly festive film I give you “Dark Times”, directed by Peter Horn and Jared Marshall, a tight five-minute short shot completely in the first person.

The directors’ choice to shoot POV gives this film a feel like being on a Disneyland ride. Try to imagine Star Tours set in a zombie apocalypse during Christmas time and you’ll get a good idea of what I’m talking about. The tight running time combined with the shaky cam really amp up the pace of this film.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how quickly we’re thrust into the action. There is no introduction of characters. The film simply doesn’t have time for it. We follow a man, we can only assume is a friend of ours, through a dark forest evading the undead and the like. As we continue through the mayhem that ensues, we are introduced to other zombie apocalypse tropes we have come to expect from the genre. The filmmakers even spare us the end credits as if to protect us from anything that might bog down the fast pace of the film.

An interesting thing happens about halfway through the film that changes the mood and pacing. I won’t give it away, but watch how Horn and Marshall play with our perspective by use of color and camera movement. Those familiar to first person gaming will recognize some of the tricks the directors use, which lead me to believe that Horn and Marshall have probably played their fair share of Call of Duty. Really, this could make a pretty good video game trailer.

Those of you looking to pick up some tips on pacing should give this one a view. “Dark Times” relies on zombie fandom and knowledge of the genre to tell most of the story for us. What’s left is an interesting study on the many ways POV can be used in film.