To celebrate the 25th anniversary of JAWS in 2000, writer/director Michael Pleckaitis brought us TREES, a veritable shot-for-shot-on-video parody of Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough blockbuster. It’s clever premise had Ranger Cody (actor Kevin McCauley doing a fair imitation of Roy Scheider) having to close local campgrounds when it’s discovered that a killer Great White Pine is on a bloody rampage. The trouble is that the movie is more clever than it is funny. There are a few laughs – Cody does some research on the marauder and is surprised to learn you can tell the age of a tree by counting its rings – but most of the gags are telegraphed (“This is no lawnmower accident!”), and the cheap production values and relentless synth score are off-putting. However, much like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, the low budget made it possible for TREES to be successful enough to warrant a sequel. This is a good thing, as Pleckaitis has genuine talent, and TREES 2: ROOT OF ALL EVIL delivers much better production values, more natural performances, and since it’s not enslaved to a preexisting plot, it’s much funnier.
The sequel finds the town of Hazelville once again under siege when a ferocious fir fights back against Christmas tree poachers in its forest. Meanwhile, Ranger Mark Cody (McCauley, looking even more like Scheider) is still so traumatized by the “incident” of a few years ago that he’ll only allow an artificial Christmas tree in his house. In addition, he’s become a bed wetter. Distracting him from reports of woodland aggression is his wife Helen (Mary Ann Nilan), who is rekindling a flirtation with high school beau Dougie Styles (Ron Palillo, still known primarily as the nerdy teen from TV’s WELCOME BACK KOTTER well into his fifties). Styles is a millionaire land developer who has recently opened a ski resort in Hazelville, and since he’s also behind the Christmas tree poaching ring, the lodge becomes the focus of the vengeful conifer’s attacks.
Cody calls in his old friend Max Cooper (Phil Gardiner) to help. Cooper suspects that the attacks are due to secret genetic experiments by the National Forestry Service, and fuel is added to his fire when two NFS agents (Brian Reid and Brandi Coppock) show up demanding to take over the investigation. As Cody nears his breaking point, he attacks the decorations at the school holiday pageant, driving Helen further away from him. More romantic subplots fatten up the story, as Cooper and Agent Bentley find themselves attracted to each other, and Cody’s clueless deputy Dusty (Lorne Lakin) is left to look after Styles’ blind daughter Darla (Trish Dunn). But as the attacks increase, doubters are forced to believe Cody – not that it does him much good when a whole grove of psycho spruces invade the town.
The sequel benefits from more than a better script, with HD video photography and cheap but impressive special effects. The CGI-animated trees are hilarious, scrambling around like giant scorpions with glowing, demonic eyes. Planned as a trilogy, the TREES saga is to be concluded in TREES 3: REGENERATION. Fans can track progress at the official website www.TreestheMovie.com.