Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Satan’s Playground (2006)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

DVD cover for Satan's Playground (2006)Satan’s Playground (2006) by #DanteTomaselli

w/ #FelissaRose #DannyLopes #EllenSandweiss #EdwinNeal

A family gets lost in the Pine Barrens and becomes the prey of the Jersey Devil. Not to mention some crazy backwoods family with a creepy door knocker…

“Enter If You Dare”


Satan’s Playground (2006) is one of those curious movies that I could remember watching some years back – and I could remember a fair bit of detail about it – but I simply never felt like watching again. So why had a kept it in my collection? I must have, at the time, felt like I would want to watch it again in the future. But even since starting this #TrashOrTerrorTuesday thing, I keep looking at it and thinking “not this week.” 

So, I guess that’s reason enough to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.

The first thing that a person might notice about Satan’s Playground is that it’s got an interesting cast. It stars Felissa Rose, who rose to fame as Angela in Sleepaway Camp (1983). She only appeared in a handful of things over the next 20 years, but starting in 2003 she’s amassed almost 150 credits in ultra low budget horror films. 

Ellen Sandweiss plays Felissa’s sister in Satan’s Playground. Her name is not as well known, but she played Cheryl in The Evil Dead (1981). Satan’s Playground was apparently her first movie appearance after that. 

Edwin Neal, who plays a member of a crazy backwoods family in Satan’s Playground, is best known for playing a member of a crazy backwoods family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). He’s also in another one of my favourites, Future-Kill (1985) – not to mention over 70 other movies, TV shows, and video games.

It becomes clear when watching Satan’s Playground, that writer/director Dante Tomaselli is hugely influenced by both The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are stylistic flourishes that seem to evoke Sam Raimi, like a POV camera racing through the woods and a loud, rhythmic banging sound as the characters approach a decrepit looking house in the woods. 

The crazy backwoods family terrorizing (and killing) people seems like a definite nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but like I said in one of my recent #TrashOrTerrorTuesday posts, there are so many ripoffs of that movie out there that it’s almost pointless to mention it. In this case, however, the casting of Edwin Neal seems to make it particularly obvious.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about Satan’s Playground is that if feels like two different ideas fused together. On the one hand, it’s a monster movie about The Jersey Devil attacking people in the woods. This is actually the more underdeveloped side, as we don’t spend a lot of time on it – but it is introduced first. The second idea is, of course, the victims running afoul of the crazy backwoods family in the woods. There is also some nonsense about Satan worshipping cult members in robes, but we only get a few glimpses of them. It may be that they are worshipping The Jersey Devil, in fact. 

So what’s the verdict?

Satan’s Playground is Trash – with a dash of mild Terror on the side. It does actually feature some good cinematography and some creepy atmosphere. There are a few decent moments of horror and gore. However, like many other movies, the problem is the script. Characters make bone-headed decisions, and very little that happens in the movie makes sense. For example…

A family’s car gets stuck on a deserted country road. The father says that he will go and get help. He wanders off into the woods (rather than following the road) in broad daylight. The rest of his family waits in the car until it is pitch dark. I’m guessing that it must be hours later, and the father has not returned. So, his wife decides to go looking for him (or for help), and she wanders into the same woods. Next we see the father arrive at the decrepit house in the woods. Minutes later, the wife arrives at the same house. Huh? How did she manage to catch up with him? Or, how did it take him so long to get there?

This could have been fixed in editing by showing the father arrive at the house first, then cutting to the car hours later. We would just assume that much time has passed. By showing him arrive at the house, and then immediately showing the wife arriving at the house, we are convinced that very little time has passed (although the filmmakers might want us to think otherwise, I’m not sure).

There are many other WTF moments in Satan’s Playground. And even though it does have some decent qualities, I don’t think I need to watch it more than twice in this lifetime. Much like other movies I’ve put to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test, I’d rather watch the films that influenced it, than this one. 

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: The Last House in the Woods (2006)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

DVD cover for The Last House in the Woods (2006)The Last House in the Woods (2006)
by #GabrieleAlbanesi

An Italian gorefest about a young couple being held captive by a sadistic backwoods family. A woman escapes a group of bullies seeking to rape her and takes refuge with a seemingly kind couple who have a dark secret hidden in their quiet, secluded house.

“There are some lines that must never be crossed… beyond them all is The Last House in the Woods”

#Horror #Slasher

The Last House in the Woods (2006) features some pretty decent gore, and there are several scenes of horror and suspense. The problem, it seems to me, is with the script. The story is basically ridiculous. And most of the characters are pretty unsympathetic. Even the two most sympathetic characters behave questionably from time to time.

The movie is Italian, and I have a great love of Italian cinema – Italian horror in particular. But I found this one, right off the top, to be irritating me with bad dubbing . So, I actually switched to Italian with subtitles (which I probably should have been on to begin with, but the DVD defaulted to English). That helped a bit, but I still found myself scratching my head at times, wondering what the characters were thinking.

I won’t try to itemize all of the WTF moments in this movie, but one thing that seems to get mentioned by other reviewers is this: there is a gang of asshole rapists in this movie. They menace the two main characters in a random attack at the side of the highway.  Later in the movie, the three rapists return to the area and – for reasons that I can’t understand – they decide to look for trouble in the woods. They stumble onto the house or horrors in which our two main characters are being tortured and terrorized.

The movie seems to recast them as “heroes” at this point. The rapists decide to attack the other bad guys and rescue the very girl they had been attempting rape a few hours ago. I honestly wasn’t sure who I was rooting for. As luck would have it (SPOILER ALERT), pretty much everyone dies so either way it all works out.

So what’s the verdict?

The Last House in the Woods (2006) is Trash. Some may be sufficiently entertained by the gore gags and scenes of horror to call it a mild Terror. I must have felt that way myself 15 years ago when I first watched this thing. I kept it in my collection, after all. But looking at it again now, it just makes me want to watch the better movies that probably inspired it. For example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A messed up family living in the woods, using unfortunate travellers as a source of food? There’s even a creepy dinner table scene, and a deformed looking guy wielding a chainsaw, so you do the math.

Of course, so many films have ripped off – I mean, been influenced by – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over the years that it’s almost pointless to mention it, but… 

The gang of rapists could be a nod to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) – as the title (The Last House in the Woods) seems to imply. But their role in this movie is so head scratchingly strange that I’m not sure.

There’s also a  tumour-popping moment that conjures up memories of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive AKA Braindead – which I consider to be a masterpiece. 

I would watch any of these three films – as well as many, many classic Italian horror films – over The Last House in the Woods again. It’s not a complete waste of an evening, but I think twice in a lifetime is enough for me. 

Friday night at the home drive-in: Pieces (1982)

When I was 13, a friend convinced me to sign up for Tae Kwon Do lessons. The school he attended was about a half hour bus ride from where we lived. There were closer places, but my friend had an overprotective mother who didn’t want him to go downtown. I’m not sure what she thought would happen if he did, but it most likely involved crime, violence, and/or drugs. So, we were stuck taking two different buses into a suburban area that was far away from our own neighbourhood.

On Saturday afternoons, when the weather was nice, we would sometimes walk home. It probably took us a good two hours – longer if we decided to pop into any stores or restaurants along the way. This was back in the early days of the home video boom, when it seemed like there was a Mom and Pop Video store on every block, and when we came across one we’d never seen before we would often go in.

On one of those occasions, we found ourselves standing in front of a horror section, perusing the titles, when a nearby adult man began to speak to us. I’m not sure how old he actually was, but at the time he seemed really old to us – like in his 30s. We were surprised that anyone that old could be interested in horror films, but he was clearly browsing through the section just like us.

“If you’re looking for a good chainsaw massacre,” he said, perhaps reacting to the box of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) that was in front of us, “You’ve got to take a look at this!” He picked up a movie called Pieces (1982) and handed it to us. “It’s nothing like Texas Chainsaw,” he explained. “You can see everything in this one! It all takes place in broad daylight!”

I think it’s fair to say that we were intrigued by this information. We had rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre about a year before and been disappointed to discover that the image was incredibly dark. So dark, we used to joke, that all we could see during the second half of the movie was a black screen. We could hear screams and sound effects, but we couldn’t see what was going on. Years later I finally saw a good print of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it blew my mind. But when I was 12, I just didn’t get it.

So, the news that you could see EVERYTHING in Pieces was definitely exciting. Of course, we didn’t know if we could trust this old man. Perhaps he was a lying huckster who was trying to drum up rental business for this video store. But he seemed legitimately excited as he talked about it – and his assessment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre matched our own experience of it.

Incidentally, the old man also recommended a movie called Don’t Go In The Woods (1981) for the same reasons. “It takes place in broad daylight!” he repeated with a gleam in his eye. But that is subject for another Friday…

By the time this ancient horror fan walked away with an armful of tapes, my friend and I were convinced that we needed to see Pieces, but we couldn’t do anything about it. Neither of us had a membership to this video store. And in those days, you generally needed an adult with a credit card and other valid i.d. to get one. All we could do was put the box down and hope to find Pieces in one of the stores that we frequented in our own neighbourhood. Alas, it did not happen for some time.

When I eventually saw the movie, it did not disappoint me. It was shocking, and sleazy, and unlike anything I had ever seen before. And it DID take place in broad daylight, and you COULD see an extreme amount of gore. That creepy old video store man had not lied to us. Looking back on that first viewing of Pieces, I think I found it downright disturbing. Something about the stark, gritty sleaziness of it. I guess it creeped me out.

Years later, as an adult, when all those Mom and Pop video stores were being driven out of business by the corporate giants, I found a copy of Pieces for sale and bought it. Ironically, it was a censored print that did not have all of the extreme gore. But the funny thing is, I still loved the movie. But perhaps for slightly different reasons. I could appreciate the campy humour of the film in a way that my 13 year old self could not. Details like the killer wearing back gloves while woking on a jigsaw puzzle at home – alone (!) – tickled my funny bone. I guess he was protecting his identity from us (as if we could have recognized his fingers).

I could describe many scenes and moments that I think are absolutely #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold, but this is already the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I’m not a big fan of spoilers. Suffice it to say that I find this movie a delight from beginning to end.

I’ll finish by saying that I recently bought the super deluxe Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing and it is some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Finally, I can watch the uncut version of the movie again. Perhaps even more uncut than the version I saw back in the ’80s. This three disc set contains two different uncut versions: the unrated U.S. theatrical cut and the original director’s cut. I’ve only seen one so far, but am looking forward to the next.

It also includes the original soundtrack on cd (!), and you know I’m going to be listening to that for many years to come…

Pieces (1982) is a #CertifiedAngusKohm personal favourite, and a masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – if you’ve never seen it, take this creepy old horror fan’s word for it, it’s unbelievable!