Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Pánico en el bosque (1989)

... aka: Panic in the Forest

Directed by:
Roberto 'Flaco' Guzmán
Roberto Marroquín

Veteran Mexican character actor Guzmán (who managed to amass well over 200 acting credits from 1972 until his death in 2002) made his directorial debut with this one and, wouldn't ya know it, it also happens to be a super low budget kinda-sorta backwoods slasher flick. This also happens to be the only film he ever directed over the course of his long career and, if you manage to make it all the way to the end, you'll probably understand why! It's worth noting that the credits list a co-director (clean-up man?) for the film, as well.

So let's take a gander at our charming characters. First there's our upstanding, wise, hard-working and noble protagonist: Veteran park ranger Ricardo Álvarez. Bet you can't guess who plays him. Roberto 'Flaco' Guzmán, of course! You think he's not going to be the hero of his own film? The 50-something star is the head honcho at a large park / nature reserve and married to a pretty young thing called Sonia (Mineko Mori), who is, as per a general rule in Mexican cinema, about roughly half his age. The two also have a very young son who cries and whines a lot. Guzmán has cast fellow prolific character actor Carlos East in the role of his assistant, Isidoro, and even allowed East's eight-year-old son Carlos East Jr. have the role of his nephew, Raulito. Now Carlos Jr. is supposed to be so adorable and cute with his little John Wayne cowboy routine and everyone sighs and goes "awww!" every time a word that exits his mouth but his nails-down-a-chalkboard voice and constant demands make him come off like a spoiled little brat instead.

Not enough nepotism for ya? Well, Guzmán has also given his own son, Jorge Guzmán, the role of Rudy, who's part of a trio of criminal punks that also includes Charal (César Bono) and Morongas (Alfonso Zayas Jr.; son of yet another well-known Mexican actor). These punk are hilarious in that "only-in-movies-made-by-older-folks-who-hate-youth-rebellion's idea-of-punk" kinda way. They have some of the most ridiculous-looking hairstyles imaginable (which aren't even cool looks for any punk era that I'm aware of), scream all of their dialogue, constantly harass women, steal everything they can get their hands on, only seem to care about getting drunk, smoking weed and huffing chemicals out of a plastic bag and behave like brainless, obnoxious morons the entire time. There are endless scenes of them lying around cackling and shouting insipid dialogue that are difficult to get through.

There's also a psychotic, raggedy old harridan (Leonor Llausás) in here with a young daughter who looks around seven years old. When she finds out her husband has forgotten to leave her booze money before taking off, she turns to her little girl and threatens to cut off her pigtails and sell them (?) to get the money. Then she threatens to cut out the girl's tongue (!!) so she won't tell the dad and then threatens to outright kill her. She finally opts for slapping the shit out of the girl while screaming things like "You evil little bitch!" right in her face.

In what is, I suppose, an attempt to counteract all that nastiness, there's an almost comically pristine couple, Carmen (Leticia Perdigón) and Jorge (Armando Coria), in here, too. She lives at home and helps takes care of her sick mother and skateboarder / spark plug thief (?) kid brother. He's currently employed by a trucking company and has just been accepted into mechanic's school. His goal is to make enough money to marry Carmen and buy a home for them and her family to live in. They do nice stuff like take walks, have picnics and indulge in overlong, nauseating conversations about how much they love one another so you just know something terrible is going to happen to them.

The three punks, who are busy getting wasted, the nice couple, who fall asleep under a tree, and little Raulito and his glamorous granny Julieta (Rosángela Balbó), who can't keep up with her grandson during a game of hide-and-go-seek, all end up stuck in the woods after nightfall. The punks then go on a laughing, frantic, drug-crazed killing spree, which includes cracking a neck, bashing a head in with a rock and taking a rifle from one of the rangers and shooting him with it. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that there's also a heavy-breathing, grunting, facially-scarred "monstruo" (Gerardo Zepeda) on the loose. How could I forget such a thing? Easy. After killing a couple of people at the very beginning of the film, he doesn't make it back into the movie until the last 15 minutes!

Most of the running time is actually spent following the park rangers on their daily routines. There's a tiny bit of commentary in here about the importance of conservationism and how this federally-funded park suffers from government cutbacks that have left them understaffed and with shoddy vehicles (they mostly use horses) and equipment. However, much more time is spent with the rangers dealing with all of the dangerous, irritating shitheels who hang out there. So when they aren't dealing with psychos going around slaughtering folks, they're dealing with drug dealers, belligerent drunks who refuse to abide by the no alcohol rule, assholes that refuse to leave at closing time, gang rape enthusiasts who like to snatch large-breasted female joggers off the trail in the middle of the day until they're beaten unconscious with clubs and careless litterbuggers who can't figure out that water puts out fire and instead dump hot coals on the side of a cabin and torch a bunch of sleeping people.

This whole thing feels very fragmented, as if the filmmakers weren't quite sure what kind of film they really wanted to make and just threw together a bunch of talky vignettes utilizing the shooting location. I have some questions, too, like who exactly is that old witch holding a knife and a severed head on the cover of the VHS tape and why isn't she in this movie? Also, why do the opening credits feature carnival music and a long tracking shot of a dwarf dribbling a basketball? And why did they bother including a scene where a policeman recommends that the psycho (who only murders bad / evil people) be apprehended alive and put in an asylum, only for him to then be shot dead as soon as our "hero" next lays eyes on him? I could keep going here.

The cast also includes Bruno Rey and Antonio Raxel in insignificant, one-scene cameo roles. The print I viewed was in such bad condition I couldn't tell if this was shot on video or film, though I'm fairly certain this was made specifically for the Mexican home video market. There's no evidence it was released anywhere else, nor any evidence that it ever played in theaters.

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