From among the Video Nasties

I could say "a movie from around the turn of the '80s with the word 'Don't' in the title, that caught the attention of Britain's Director of Public Prosecution". I could even throw in the detail that in addition to all of the above, the film is also about cannibals. I guarantee that you still don't have anywhere near enough info to come even close to guessing what the hell is up with Don't Go Near the Park. Indeed, you might not have enough info to do that after having watched it.

The film was the brainchild of 19-year-old writer-director Lawrence D. Foldes, and I hope you'll follow my meaning if I say that first, it is very impressive that a teenager made a movie this ambitious, and second, it is very unsurprising that this film was made by a teenager. The action starts 12,000 years ago, when a pair of caveman siblings named Gar (Crackers Phinn, the pseudonym of Robert Gribbin) and Tra ("Barbara Monker", who is probably '70s TV fixture Barbara Bain, but she's barely recognisable) are cursed by their witch mother for what is probably the crime of incest. It's an extremely specific, convoluted curse: they will live for the next 12,000 years, but they will age horribly fast, growing ten years older for every one year on earth. The only way to combat this is to cannibalise other humans - I don't know if the rules say it has to be children, but children are the only victims we ever see them eat. At the conclusion of 12,000 years, they have to sacrifice the virgin offspring of one of themselves in order to break the curse and live the rest of eternity without being a fast-aging ghoul. I am interpreting some of this and drawing upon plot points that are not spelled out for a good half of the movie as well.

11,984 years later, Gar thus gets busy with the baby making. He breaks into a house where a comely blonde woman (Linnea Quigley, in one of her very first roles) is showering, and she is shocked and horrified until he assures her that he's just looking for a room to rent. She then gives him a tour, wearing nothing but a towel, and agrees to take him on as a renter on the spot. Meanwhile, Tra kidnaps a dog named Starshine to bait its owner (Cambra Foldes, I guess?) into her own trap, in the park that currently occupies the space where the siblings have lived these past millennia. And then it's back to Gar, who successfully creeps on his landlady, despite having not yet behaved in one way that isn't stunningly offputting. Their wedding, sex life, and the birth of their daughter Bondi are swept through in what functions as a musical montage, except that there's no music. Things slow down for just a minute to stop by the child's fifth birthday, a zoo trip involving some confusing but obviously symbolic dialogue about animals, and then one more stiff cut brings us to the present day, with Bondi (Tamara Taylor) nearing her 16th birthday, as Gar, operating under the name "Mark", has lavished so much attention on the girl that his wife has grown actively resentful.

By this point, I was starting to grow slightly baffled, and I felt like this was something of a strange movie. As it turns out, this has so far been the normal part. Over the rest of its running time, Don't Go Near the Park transforms, so invisibly that I don't think I could explain how or when it happens, into a sweet pastoral tale of runaway teens in love: Bondi flees her terrible home and runs afoul of a pair of young rapists and manages to use her inherited magical cannibal powers to send their van over an embankment, whence it explodes. She then finds an old ranch house that's home to an extremely horny eight-year-old named Nick (Meeno Peluce) and a brooding boy her own age named Cowboy (Chris Riley), who are mentored or protected or something by a kind old man named Taft (Aldo Ray, the film's "name"). They're also kind of protected by the scary reputation of Patty, the eyepatch-wearing owner of the ranch, but this is no comfort at all to the viewer: Patty is the current name of Tra, who is looking rather ragged after having eaten no children lately. But that part's in the background: mostly this is about Bondi and Cowboy falling in love in a magical realist vision of rural California, while Taft beams and Nick tries to molest Bondi. Eventually, Gar and Tra shoot beams out of their eyes at their enemies.

And even that only approximates whatever the fucking is going on here. For I haven't said one word about the style of the film, which is where much of the extremely... distinctive tone of the film comes in. Especially the score, credited to Chris Ledesma, though it's hard to believe that just one composer could be responsible for the extreme range of musical styles being smothered all over this movie. For example at the start of the film, there's a starfield onscreen accompanied by a blazing synth piece, whereas Bondi's flight from her warring parents is set to a pure disco beat that takes time for a rousing, brassy horn break. The summer romance between Bondi and Cowboy is, naturally enough, scored with the soft jazzy tones of a '70s television movie.

The film was made on the cheap, and it's always apparent that this was the case: one of the first things we see in the whole movie is a stone age earthquake that involves shaking the camera about, done as poorly as it ever has been: not only is the camera shaking in a manner that doesn't at all suggest the chaotic, inorganic movement of a quake, it's extremely apparent that everything onscreen is perfectly still. The editing is a terrible sight - I don't just mean the weird choppy leaps in time, that's a story issue. It's the way that the film seems to have been taped together, several rough cuts that have no amount of smoothing to clean them up - at one point the score cuts off right in the middle of a bar so that we can hear a wolf howling at the moon. It would be unsporting to criticise the actors, who were mostly teenagers taking instruction from another teenager, so let us say merely that there's nobody onscreen who's terribly convincing, and Ray's relatively smooth professionalism makes him stand out far beyond the intrinsic merits of his performance or his character.

The only place the film seems to have invested in much of anything is its gore effects. This showed up on the Video Nasties list for a reason: the prop abdomens that the crew put together to show Gar and Tra ripping apart the stomachs of their adolescent victims are pretty damn good - you'd never mistake them for the real thing, especially since the blood is such a screaming hot shade of cherry red, but they look terrific for something so emphatically low-budget. And that points us to the most defining element of the film, the one that clearly marks this out as the work of a 19-year-old: Don't Go Near the Park is outrageously sleazy. Kiddie cannibalism is right there in the logline; but there's also the climactic moment when Tra angrily prevents Gar from raping his 16-year-old daughter by reminding him that she needs to be a virgin when they cannibalise here. And there's a whole movie in between those points, one that includes a whole lot of dialogue from an eight-year-old who's constantly trying to get laid.

Somehow, despite this, Don't Go Near the Park feels... frothy? It's so damn weird, and more than that, so damn goofy: a convoluted sci-fi fantasy as whipped up by a boy who pretty obviously spent more time reading Weird Tales-style short stories than socialising in high school. It is a movie drunk on that special "holy SHIT, I am making a MOVIE" joy that only hapless, out-of-control indie films ever express. Pair that with how barbarically difficult it is to keep track of the plot on even the simplest level, and the "made in the backyard" quality to all of the production outside of the oozing torsos, and we have a movie with all the verve of a home video made by overeager teens - for that is exactly what it is - that somehow got released into the wilds as a commercial project. It is easily one of the most broken and strange and inept movies I have ever seen, and it is relentlessly filthy, and it is also fizzy and zesty and fun in the way that only the sunniest of bad movies can approach. Sometimes, you bump into a movie that absolutely defies your ability to explain it at all, and I've more than met my match with Don't Go Near the Park.

Body count: I think let's go with 5, with the caveat that I really have no fucking clue what's going on in the climax.

Nastiness Rating: 3/5, a little Nasty. The word "don't" in the title and cannibalism in the description - the DPP must have been real excited to take this one down. The film is too goofy and chipper to come anywhere close to the scuzziness I think of when I hear the word "nasty"; on the other hand, just transcribing the plot makes me worry that I'll end up on a government watchlist. Let's split the difference.