We begin in 1945 where a soldier soon to go off and fight Nazis is making out with his girl, before the girl resists his advances and runs off into the woods, only to be killed by a creepy little boy. We cut to the present day and the very same woods are now considered a shortcut you risk at your own peril. This is because of the legend of that horrible event long ago and the fact that creepy old dude Raymond J. Barry lurks around in those woods scaring kids. This guy is the supposedly last remaining member of a family held with deep suspicion by others in town due to various missing kids and missing dogs too. Drew Seeley is the new student at high school whose gullible kid brother (Nicholas Elia) makes the unfortunate mistake of taking a dare to travel home via the shortcut and is shaken by his run-in with Barry. Oh, and a dead dog that he finds. Seeley finds out that the school’s head jock has a dog that’s missing and so they decide to team up and confront Barry. Katrina Bowden and Shannon Woodward (the latter is cute as hell) tag along as respectively the pretty cheerleader Seeley has a thing for, and his smart-mouth female friend who clearly wants to be more. An extremely creepy William B. Davis (misspelled as ‘Davies’ in the credits, shockingly) has a small but pivotal role as an old man in chains.
Directed by Nicholaus Goossen (the Sandler-ish comedy “Grandma’s Boy”), this horror item might not be to all tastes (reviews haven’t been good), but I reckon it’s pretty damn good. It’s not especially scary nor terribly gory (not every horror film has to be), but it’s well-shot, creepy, and has an interesting story. This one surprised the hell out of me in terms of quality (it’s from Scary Madison pictures, AKA Happy Madison, AKA Adam Sandler’s company), if not twists and turns, though those are fun too. The film has a double twist, really, and whilst the first one is good (if predictable), the second one is even more predictable and contrived, albeit enjoyably nasty at the same time. Personally I think the Sandler connection (which includes co-screenwriter Scott Sandler, Adam’s brother) might’ve predisposed people to hack on this a bit because it’s a good little yarn (somewhat Stephen King-like) and better than most teen-oriented horror.
Raymond J. Barry is creepy as the old man, even if you’re unable to shake the thought of ‘Wrong kid died!’ from your mind whilst watching him. All kidding aside, he’s well-cast and a reliable genre hand in a role that only R. Lee Ermey or Bruce Dern would’ve handled as well as Barry, if not better. The best thing, though, is that these young characters are by and large, pretty average, relatively well-defined and identifiable characters. There’s a jock, but he’s not a complete jerk, and even the cheerleader is kinda nice.
Nice cinematography too, with terrific lighting both aesthetically and functionally, and a good use of shadows. There’s also some excellent shots with twigs and grass in the foreground, which I always appreciate. Never underestimate the value of good cinematography in a genre film. One could argue that the film is a bit slow and there are a few too many daytime scenes for it to be scary, but I appreciate the time taken to give us characters who you actually cared if they lived or died for a change.
It could’ve been even more unsettling than it is, but this is a cut above most teen-oriented horror films and I was satisfied. If you’re a gorehound, you’ll mostly be disappointed, but I urge all others to give it a go.