“Does anyone here love The Evil Dead?” Brad Mills asked the sold out audience at the midnight Saturday screening of his ’80’s slasher flick, The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger.
“Yeesss!” almost the whole theatre gleefully replies.
“How about Sleepaway Camp?”
“Yeesss!” maybe half of the audience shouts back.
“And who liked Troll 2?”
After a second, a couple slightly enthusiastic “Yeahs” come from the middle of the auditorium.
“Worst movie ever made,” Mills laughs, “You get the T-shirt!” He tosses the shirt in the direction of the loudest voice.
“I liked it!” the voice says somewhat defensively to a theatre-full of laughs.
Then the lights go down and the second public showing of Forest Ranger begins.
The film, shot three years ago over three weeks on a shoestring budget raised on the Internet and made by mostly Cape Breton cast and crew, turns out to be great fun and a loving, and knowledgeable homage to the almost assembly line made gore fests of the 1980’s. The artistic peaks of that genre were franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday The 13th, and the vastly under-appreciated, filmed in Cape Breton, My Bloody Valentine. The troughs, and deep and dank they remain, were Troll 2 and some barely released tax shelter Canadian flicks today mostly to be found in the sale bin at Canadian Tire.
Mills, and his sister Jacquie (who shot the film), evidently love every frame of them because they so lovingly reproduce the set-ups (beer drinking around the campfire, some cheesecake in front of a waterfall) in their hokey glory and include as characters, ready for the slaughter, not one, but two sets of brainless teens each made up of a jock, the practical joker virgin, the blonde fashion queen, and the paranoid brunette along with the title villain/hero (who comes with an extensive backstory: former priest turned eco-warrior turned indestructible squirrel mutilating Satanist).
The dialogue is often hilariously stilted, often riddled with non-sequitors, the plot is deliberately full of holes and lapses in credibility, and the moustaches are straight out of late ’70s porn flicks (so I’ve been told).
It’s a fool-proof aesthetic: when the film crew is reflected in the door panel of a car, is it a mistake or a wink at the audience? Who cares? It’s funny.
Mills has said he has loaded the movie with those kinds of jokes so that there will be something new for fans to find on each repeated viewing (I missed the scene where the sound man actually gets captured on screen), and I look forward to seeing it again for that reason.
The cast includes Aaron Corbett, Bhreagh Lafitte, Brad Mills, Colleen MacIsaac, Elizabeth Mills, Gabriel A House, Jeannine MacLean, Joshua Demeyere, Keith Morrison, Michael G MacDonald, Ron Newcombe, Samuel MacDonald LeMoine and Stefanie Peters, and they play their roles with utter conviction, even when required to spout nonsensical cliches. (Point of interest: Colleen MacIsaac and Keith Morrison both have small roles in the Halifax made ’80s grindhouse send up Hobo With A Shotgun.)
MacDonald, as the title character, has a great physical and vocal presence, and the joy he brings to his sadism is quite touching on occasion. Aaron Corbett, as a more benign if equally odd ranger, is hilarious, getting laughs with just the raise of an eyebrow.
One thing the filmmakers didn’t skimp on is the Surround sound mix: the original soundtrack and effects give this flick real cinematic heft.
There are more screenings planned for Sydney, Halifax, Montreal, Ontario, and at this year’s Atlantic Film Festival. And there is an online campaign to start work on a sequel (in glorious 3-D!).
I would gladly go see it again at the local cineplex (or, perhaps more appropriately, the local drive-in), only a bit earlier in the evening.