Lucky McKee’s The Woods is a late-in-life memory movie and I’m going to tell you why. It came out in 2006 and 2006 was a very good year for me, which is highly unusual because I don’t have good years. Good days, good hours, good moments, sure, but never a good year and it all started in October of 2005 when my grandmother on my father’s side died. We finally sold her house in January 2006 and my parents gave me a small cut of the profits. This is why that year was good. Money, the root of all evil, like most things is a double edged word, which most of my life I’ve been on the wrong edge of. Only twice thus far have I ever acquired enough dough to make me, dare I say, happy. Once from a near fatal car accident in 2006 that kept me comfortable for about four years and then with the selling of my grandmother’s house, which even though it was no where near the amount I got in the accident, it did keep me “happy” for roughly a year, that year of 2006.
There was this episode of Oprah Winfrey I saw many, many years ago (don’t judge) where she had on this person, I can’t recall who he was now, but he stated there was indeed an exact amount of money that actually brings happiness. Hitting up the net I found this article here that states its $75,000. Of those two previous occasions of “wealth” I mentioned I never once reached that amount of money but regardless the amount I did have made me “happy.”
Back to 2006 . . . I had money now to make some pre-orders, and aside from one flick I simply can no longer recall, I ordered, Feast, The Roost and The Woods. All done in the summer and even though summer is generally my favorite season I remember not being able to wait until fall arrived when those flicks came out.
I’m not generally a fan of Lucky McKee but he did manage to make two movies I liked and still own, his one-hour short for Masters Of Horrors’ first season, “Sick Girl,” and this one here. The Woods, in my opinion, is almost a criminally underrated little horror flick, one that I can’t figure out why it sat unreleased for over three years, finally getting dumped straight-to-DVD by Sony in that magnificently profitable year of our Lord of 2006.
Technically, I guess, you could categorize this as a witch movie, since the term is used a few times, but to me it’s weirder than that. Let’s say, if Lovecraft wrote another tale about witches, this might be it. I’ve always felt there was a very subtle Lovecraftian vibe running through this not to mention an Evil Dead (1981) one as well.
The Woods is a period piece taking place in 1965 up in New England at the sinister Falburn Academy. They’re an all girl school and as recited by a student one night during a skull session roughly a hundred years ago these three girls wandered into the school one day. They were immediately welcomed in but when a student caught them doing “sinister things” (unnaturally “balancing” chairs and desks) in a classroom they were labeled witches and viciously ostracized and tormented. Revenge is the next obvious step and the three witch girls call upon the forest to come up with a solution. One day when all the kids chased the girls into the woods they all return seemingly “under the spell” of Clara Thompson, the alpha witch of the three. But her revenge didn’t stop there. She and her “flock” paid a visit to the headmistress, where Clara ended up taking an ax to her.
These particular woods surrounding the academy aren’t your normal everyday woods. There are souls in it, “witch souls,” and the teachers, who best I can figure are the original souls from that 100-year old revenge tragedy are on a mission to release more of their incorporeal sisters, but to do that they need host bodies, and a specific ritual to get them from the woods into these female bodies. This ritual is so specific it requires girls with special talents, which don’t come along every damn day, you read me?
Enter Heather Fasulo (Agnus Bruckner), a teen who’s had a troubled childhood. She hears voices, voices from the woods who tell her to do bad things. She also has a contentious relationship with her mother, Alice (Emma Campbell). No love lost there. But she’s on good terms with her father, Joe (Bruce Campbell). But it’s her mother that seems to call the shots in the family and she’s the one who’s responsible for shuttling her off to this “witch academy.”
The teachers are strange, so is the headmistress, “Ms. Traverse” (Patricia Clarkson). And the motif around the hallways and rooms appears to be vines, and leaves, one student waking up and combing her hair can be heard uttering, “why are there twigs in my hair?” Hmmm, why indeed?
All the students sleep on cots in this one big room and there’s this special bed over in the corner where the “special ones” are made to sleep, but in the morning these particular students are gone, a bed of dead leaves is all that’s left of them. So, you learn quickly you don’t want to be moved to that bed. Heather’s first day gets her a new friend named, Marcy Turner (Emily Birkell), and a new enemy (or is she?) named, Samantha Wise (Rachel Nichols). Sam’s the classic bully with followers, and she doesn’t like Heather the moment she sets eyes upon her, or does she?
It’s not until in the final act that we learn Sam may have been trying to save Heather by bullying her so much she’d want to run away, which she does twice, but roaming these woods at night is not something you should do and each time Heather tries to get away on foot through that hellish stretch she ends up right back at the Academy. Things finally come to a head between Sam and Heather with the former telling the latter what the teachers are and what they want from her.
You see Heather’s got that “witch gift,” stronger than any they’ve dealt with thus far. She can preternaturally balance objects, and unconsciously commune with the evil spirits of the woods. She’s fucking perfect, and the final component in their ritual. So to the corner bed she goes.
Eventually we finally see what lurks in the woods, or I should say what comes out of it on a routine basis, creeping in through that window and cluttering the hallway with leaves—the woods itself! In the form of sentient, CGI vines. Most of the CGI here was pretty good. They creep in and claim the chick in the corner bed and to the cave they are imprisoned where this final ritual of unreleasing-the-evil-spirits-of-the-woods is performed, and all those girls in that one room are the vessels they will all go into. But not if Bruce Campbell has anything to say about it. Hey, man, you know Bruce, he’s dealt with evil spirits in the woods before, twice even, and even though both times ended with numerous possessions and deaths he’s still the man you want on your side when evil bark is at play.
Even though his part is small his moment of shining though happens in the final act, grabbing an ax and freeing his daughter before being sidelined by the witches. It’s a fitting end for all of them as Heather takes up that ax and sends all the teachers and the headmistress back to the woods they came from. This isn’t an especially gory movie, but the ax deaths of the witches at the end have their spurting moments.
I liked this movie the moment instant I saw it. Horror flicks about witches aren’t generally my bread and butter but I have only one other horror movie about them—Superstition (1982). Aside from the Lovecraft vibe it also has a creepy, subliminal, dream-like atmosphere about it.
Back on September 22nd Olive Films acquired The Woods and finally gave it a much needed blu-ray release for the first time.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—No subtitles
(Note: the incorrect aspect ratio is listed on the back of the case. I can confirm the transfer is indeed in it’s native 2.35:1)
Of all the Olive Films I’ve reviewed this year The Woods has got the best looking transfer. Definitely worth the upgrade, guys. Only thing is since there are no subtitles you can’t find out what the woods is whispering to Heather at various points throughout the movie, until it gets more audible near the end. I wondered what those whispers were saying and the subtitles on the old DVD clarified them.
The old DVD was bare bones so the addition of a trailer here is a step up, plus the trailer has two scenes that aren’t in the movie. Heather balances rocks, her pencil and eraser, and rocks in the movie, but I don’t recall her balancing coins. There’s a quick shot of what looks like quarters being balanced and in that final confrontation with Samantha in the woods, where she reveals the Academy’s secrets, she tells Heather they don’t like it when a girl is too powerful. Dialogue that never made it into the final cut.
This is the third movie I’ve reviewed this year that took place in 1965. I reviewed the Jack Lemmon comedy, How To Murder Your Wife (1965), this past summer, and just a few days ago Moonrise Kingdom (2012), which is also set in 1965.
I almost wished either Kino Lorber or Shout! Factory had gotten a hold of this movie just because they would have put some extras on it and a commentary from Lucky McKee would have been most welcome. Then we may have found out why it went unreleased for years, but I can overlook that because the transfer is so good and in the end isn’t it the movie we treasure most and not the extras?