Don’t Go Near the Park DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Dark Sky Films
Directed by Lawrence D. Foldes
Written by Linwood Chase and Lawrence D. Foldes
1981, Region 1 (NTSC), 84 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on April 25th, 2006
Aldo Ray as Taft
Meeno Peluce as Nick
Tamara Taylor as Bondi
Barbara Monker as Patty, Tra, Griffith’s wife and Petranella
Crackers Phinn as Mark and Gar
and Linnea Quigley as Bondi’s mother
Don’t Go Near the Park is billed as “one of 39 films banned by the UK courts as depraved,” according to distributor Dark Sky Films’ box cover. But frankly, the most disconcerting thing about it is the jailbait look of star Tamara Taylor, who plays a 16-year-old virgin, looks even younger, and goes topless — crying for her Daddy — during a would-be-rape scene.
And for an early-’80s horror release that has cannibals, zombies, laser beams and 8-year-old Meeno Peluce (of “Voyagers” fame), there’s surprisingly little to recommend it.
I’m sure it made its way onto the blacklist because of a couple of stomach-churning, if obviously fake, effects, and those early kills are the high point of the movie. But the effects budget seems to have run low after that, and two late-film cannibal attacks don’t even break the skin. Seriously. The film’s first two cannibal kills feature fake stomachs being torn open and fake guts being munched in almost nauseating fashion. The third involves bloody fingers pressing down really hard on an actress’ real stomach, then smearing the blood around while she holds her breath.
There’s more realistic violence on prime-time television these days. And if violence is a film’s selling point — Park can’t have been banned for bad acting alone — the violence better measure up. And, despite the gut-munching and some effective late-film zombie makeup, Park’s doesn’t.
It’s not like there’s anything else the film can hang its hat on. Among the leads, the veteran character actor Aldo Ray (The Green Berets) is passable, if overbilled, and it says something about a film when future scream queen Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons) gives the second-best performance. Peluce and Taylor (who’s really about 20, the same age as her “mother,” Quigley) are cute, especially when delivering dialogue that sounds like it comes from someone three times their age.
But from the opening scene, which features a dizzying “earthquake” that consists of first-time director Lawrence D. Foldes shaking his camera like the proverbial ferret on crystal meth, Park is 100% grade-Z cheese.
It doesn’t help that Barbara Monker and the implausibly named Crackers Phinn ridiculously overact as the film’s 12,000-year-old villains. It’s no wonder both used pseudonyms — I wouldn’t admit to those performances, either.
As for the plot, well, those villains have to kill Taylor’s character, a girl named Bondi, for some reason never adequately explained. That way, they can achieve eternal youth; otherwise, they are aging in dog years, which they can only slow by killing and eating younger people. They’re apparently hiding in California’s Griffith Park, the land where they’ve always lived. I say “apparently” because the park is barely shown in any obvious way, but is referred to from time to time and gives the movie its current title (of the many it’s had over the years). Otherwise, the film is pretty much the occasional cannibal attack alternating with scenes of Taylor screaming, Taylor running or Peluce talking about exposition with Ray.
A special demerit should go to whoever edited the first half of the movie — it jumps around so abruptly, you can almost see where the film is spliced. There’s even a spot where it cuts from Quigley raising her nightgown over her head straight to her wedding. It’s not like Foldes is avoiding the nudity — she’s topless twice in her short stint — he’s just making viewers wonder what the heck is going on.
On the bright side, the filmmakers did cut out Taylor’s other jailbait nude scene.
Video and Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen image suffers from the flaws in the source material, but Dark Sky has done an admirable job of working with what it had. The movie is a cheapie from 25 years ago, so the picture is soft, there is plenty of grain and some noticeable print damage. The dark scenes suffer the most, particularly at the film’s climax, which takes place at night, in a cave, and is nearly lost in the subsequent lack of light.
That “nearly” may be damning with faint praise, but it is nonetheless a positive for Dark Sky’s video achievement — the DVD is far clearer and brighter than any VHS tape could hope to be, and Park needs every line of the anamorphic resolution. The struggle with the final scenes is an unfortunate end to a surprisingly watchable film.
The only audio track provided is a Dolby mono 2.0. It is serviceable, but the dialogue — much of which is clearly looped, and about half of which is delivered by an 8-year-old boy or an overacting woman — is very, very tinny. Screams, too, tend to top out, and that’s even more of a detriment to the film, given how often one of those screams turns into an unintended screech. My guess is that this is again a weakness of the material Dark Sky had to work with, and no fault of the company’s.
English subtitles are provided.
Give Dark Sky credit: It put together a nice package of extras for this little-known flick.
Foldes (who was only 19 at the time, and has worked as a director as recently as 2003, believe it or not) and Quigley provide a commentary on an alternate track, along with moderator David Gregory. Park was Foldes’ directorial debut and one of Quigley’s first films, so both seem to really enjoy reminiscing. Foldes does the vast majority of the talking, and despite a few dead spots, keeps the commentary both entertaining and informative. He mentions how he sort of swept the film under the career rug for a while, but he seems genuinely fond of it.
A second nice extra is some extended and deleted scenes, which feature almost a half-hour of trimmings. A note says they were culled from the only existing source, and thus inferior to the main movie’s quality. That’s too bad, because there’s plenty that could have been made the film better — or at least more interesting. There’s additional cannibalism, the Quigley nudity missing from the bad pre-wedding cut and that second disconcerting Taylor sex scene — which was probably excised because, even though she’s willing this time around, somebody probably realized she’s supposed to be a virgin sacrifice.
Strangely enough, the clip labeled “Grue!! (Gore Outtakes)” is a bit of false advertising, with a lot less blood than the extended scenes. It’s only two and a half minutes of the same few effects, repeated from different angles. And unlike the extended scenes, it’s no more gory than the film’s finest moments.
There are two trailers, labeled “English” and “Spanish,” but the Spanish one is a subtitled version of the cheesy red-band English one (which dramatically overplays the minor zombie angle). A TV spot is shorter and slightly less cheesy.
A decent photo gallery is a nice addition and includes posters for several of the film’s various titles.
|Movie:||– The best gore scenes have lost their power with age and the advent of better effects, and they’re all the film has in its favor.|
|Video:||– Given the source material, it is probably an A- effort, but that original image is weak, and Dark Sky can’t overcome it at the most important point in the film.|
|Audio:||– The audio track really struggles to keep up.|
|Features:||– A darn good package for a below-the-radar quasi-“cult classic” from 25 years ago.|
|Overall:||– A film with little going for it gets better treatment than it deserves.|
Don’t Go Near the Park is a novelty because of its “video nasty” label, but that’s all it is. What was shocking in 1981 is unlikely to impress audiences in 2006. There’s a little bit of good-quality gore, but not enough, and Tamara Taylor’s perpetually-braless outfit may provide the most uncomfortable moments in the film for post-pubescent male viewers.
It might be worth a rental for insatiable fans of gut-munching, and “video nasty” completists probably will snap it up for their collection. But they’ll be the only ones who appreciate Dark Sky’s wasted effort on the DVD.
(Weapons of Choice: Mitsubishi 1080 series 42” TV, Sony DVP-CX995V DVD player, Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers and, in certain situations, Panasonic 27” TV, Panasonic A110 DVD player and Bose TriPort headphones.)