Motto of a horror film maker:
1. 'The innocent must suffer.'
2. 'The guilty must be punished.'
3. 'You must taste blood to be a man.'
By MICHAEL MCWILLIAMS
News Special Writer
It probably will never be advertised alongside the glossy, big-budget horror movies of our time, but you won't easily forget a locally produced little film called "Within the Woods".
In just 32 minutes, it provides more chills, thrills and squeamish giggles than much recent professional duds as "Prophesy" and "The Amitywille Horror" combined.
"Within the Woods," which will be shown tomorrow at 10:45 p.m. at the Punch and Judy Theatre as a curtain-raiser for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," is a gruellingly effective shocker that displays the audacity and talent of three former Michigan State University students -- Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. It was photographed in 8-millimeter color film on a farm near Marshall Mich., bankrolled by a collective pool of $1,600 and wrapped up in six days of shooting.
"I like it where (the audience) screams." says Raimi, a bright 19-year-old who acted as writer-director for the effort. "when they jump, it's like as surface reaction -- a cheap thrill -- but I like the fact that they jump."
Raimi has been making short films since he was 13 -- 23 of them with Campbell, a former classmate at groves High School in Birmingham, and seven with Tapert who joined the other two last year at MSU. The young producers call their film company Renaissance Pictures Ltd.
Raimi's method, he confides with a sly smile, depends simply on audience manipulation; "I like to know a secret that they don't know," he says, nearly disappearing into a sofa at Franklin Street East restaurant. "They don't know it's coming, but I do."
Adds Campbell who played one of the leads in "Within the Woods" I "You let them think that they know a secret by a fake scare, and then you hit them your own secret -- a one-two punch."
Chock-full of scary secrets, "Within the Woods" concerns two couples who encounter a deadly force from a forest while vacationing in a farmhouse.
One couple (Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss go picnicking in the woods while the other couple (Scott Spiegel and Mary Valentini remains home to play monopoly. On their excursion, Campbell and Sandwiess stumble across an Indian burial ground, where Campbell unearths a cross, a broken bowl and a hunting knife from a shallow grave. He assures his partner that he has not aroused the anger of the Indian spirits.
But he's wrong -- dead wrong. Murdered and mutilated by the spirit whose grave he violated, Campbell comes back to life as his killer's avenging agent -- a resurrected zombie-assassin. In a series of marvellously effective, comically graphic set pieces, Campbell stages a fight to the finish with his former friends at the farmhouse.
There is much compression of gory detail in "Woods" that it sometimes looks to the audience like a trailer for a Roger Corman epic on Charles Manson. "I wanted to hurt them, I wanted to damage their psyches," Raimi explains with such amused intensity that his face is caught between a frown and a grin.
But there is a limit to how far Raimi will go to challenge his audience and his own emotions. When comparing "Woods" to "The Hills Have Eyes", an especially "damaging" horror film about flesh-eating savages for instance. Raimi, Campbell and Tapert become animated, merry and thoroughly revulsed.
"I had a stomach cramps walking out of that one." Raimi says, "I don't want to hurt them that bad."
Raimi's awareness of previous shockers has enriched his own work. In "Within the Woods," He as looked as "Night of the Living Dead" and knows the terror of the grave. He has looked at "Carrie" and knows the effect of a bloody arm out of the blue. He has looked at "Psycho" and knows our fear of knives and cellars. He has looked at "Taxi Driver" and knows the sometimes-psychotic rites of "manhood" He has looked at "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" as knows our primal fascination with blood.
With all this background however, Raimi still has his failings. Above all, he's going to have to learn to limit his point-of-view shorts. In the forest sequence for example, we see things from five separate points of view -- and in one irritating shot, the picnic blanket is thrown over the camera lens.
"I realise now I could have done this like this and this differently," Raimi concedes. "It tortures me. But this is part of the purpose of making (a movie). I think with each successive film, you learn a lot."
Raimi displays a wealth of learning in "Within the Woods." Perhaps he will be able to make a more extended work, a feature film, in which he can clear up some of his technical deficiencies and prove that he has the personal depth to provide a context -- a thematic meaning -- for all his gore.
Like many budding artists, Raimi is particularly skittish on his point of "meaning." He considers it "Silly" to take too seriously what comes to him naturally.
When loosened up by a few jokes, however, Raimi can discuss underlying ideas in his work with considerable wit. for him. there are three recurrent themes: "One, the innocent must suffer. Two, the guilty must be punished. And three, you must taste blood to be a man."
If that doesn't reveal a seriously funny mind at work, I don't know what does.