Terror at Black Tree Forest 2010
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Allison Scott II, Paul Albers, Steve Carty
Review by Luis Joaquín González
One of the toughest tasks that blog authors/critics face is that we often converse with filmmakers before seeing their movies. Sometimes they’re generally nice people and if their movie sucks thereafter you do feel a shade of guilt for having to put into words all that was bad about their effort. It’s tough, honestly it is, but it’s something that we must do. When I posted the write-up of Cheerleader Camp: To the Death, Dustin Ferguson wrote a very honest comment beneath and warned me against his debut feature, Terror at Black Tree Forest. He said that he was expecting a negative rating, because he’s made 29 films since and has obviously improved upon his breakthrough flick. With this in mind, he’s made my job a whole lot easier, because my expectations are now already lower than Christ of the Abyss and I don’t have to worry about offending him. Nice…!
Twenty-years after the rape and murder of a married couple, the only survivor, a young child at the time, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to Black Tree Forest. He arrives just when two couples and a pair of campers are planning a fun-packed weekend and he soon begins lurking ominously as they unwind. Will any of them escape the blade of the vicious masked maniac…?
Despite being a pretty cool guy, it’s fair to say that Dustin Ferguson is also fairly modest. You see, if a filmmaker himself tells you that he’s picture’s bad, you can be pretty sure that it’s not going to be anything other. Fortunately, I’d have to disagree with him on this one, because Terror at Black Tree Forest may not be the Maradona of slasher movies, but it’s not quite the Ali Dia either.
Before the pre-credits, we are shown two trailers of seventies cult classics in an effort to relive the experience of watching rental VHS cassettes. The films chosen were Robert Englund’s ‘Slashed Dreams’ and the Christmas shocker, ‘Silent Night Bloody Night’. Whilst this is a fairly simple technique and not particularly authentic, it worked because Terror is shot with a lens-gimmick that gives the screen a static/fuzz that’s reminiscent of those 16mm prints that we all know and love. Even if the opening scene is the only one that is set in 1970 (the rest of the action is twenty years later) they choose to film the entire runtime this way, which is certainly unique.
Aside from that, what I feel really made Terror stand out was the killer’s bloodied burlap sack-guise and a deep haunting electronic soundtrack from Nathan Christensen. At times his accompaniment single-handedly carried the tone, because it’s so effective in its ability to unsettle the viewer. There’s a murder late-on that may be poorly lit, but the actor’s pre-death gargling and the strength of the keyboard sampling really does create a macabre feeling. We also get a tacky but solid ‘knife through eyeball’ gore shot that brought to mind Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Ferguson’s films almost always include a solid playlist and this, his first picture, is no different in that respect. As a director, it’s clear to see that he values in the importance of well- produced audio. His choice of camera movement and angles also show that he sees his pictures with a creative vision and I believe this is why his projects overcome their fund-related deficiencies.
So after all that I’ve stated above, why was Dustin so keen to prepare me for the worst? Well, there are a few reasons. I watched Terror on a three-hour flight, which meant that I was something of a ‘captive audience’. I can imagine that the mid-section may begin to drag for those that are surrounded by possible distractions, because the dialogue is predominantly routine and the characters lack intrigue. It’s also worth nothing that a lot of shots could have been shortened by at least a few seconds and it seems strange that this wasn’t noticed during editing. I can only guess that the financiers for the picture gave Ferguson a runtime and said it had to be filled?? The net result is a 1.5 star movie at just over an hour that could have been 2 stars if it were reduced to 52 minutes. I also thought it was strange that after a lengthy and smartly put-together chase sequence, the final stand-off between the heroine and the killer is left off-screen. Perhaps they ran out of budget?
As I said earlier, the boogeyman truly looks scary, but I had to read the back of the cover to make sure who he was because we don’t really get an explanation. I mean, sure, we can work out that he’s the kid from the opening scene, but in that case what happened to the rapist/murderer that killed his parents? Was he captured? Is he on the loose? Oh and whilst on the subject of the opening sequence, Terror has stolen the crown from Nail Gun Massacre for the most comical rape sequence in horror film history. Still, I’d prefer that any day to the grotesque stuff we saw in Gutterballs.
Terror at Black Tree Forest is a cheap and cheerful slasher movie that scores points for the level of creativity and a few good ideas. It’s got gore, brief nudity, a cool killer and a fantastic score, which is quite a lot for such an obscure flick. I would say that this is perfect viewing material for a train/plane journey when you have an hour or so to waste…