(1993, Mx.)
2 and a half stars  

directed by: Carlos David Ortigoza
starring: Jorge Reynoso, Sergio Bustamante, Alejandra Espejo, Andrea Aguirre, Lorena Victoria, Andrés Bonfiglio, Leonardo García Vale, Andrés García Jr, Alfredo Gutiérrez

choice dialogue:

“They killed Jacinto and threw his head at us through the window!”

- bullseye!

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

Teenagers go to the woods. Teenagers get dead. Ever since the release of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) this was a staple of North American horror throughout the 1980s. By 1993 few filmmakers were still sending vans of horny teens into the woods to get sliced and diced – at least not with a straight face. Yet BOSQUE DE MUERTE is an anomaly. It’s like Grunge never happened and boom-boxes and legwarmers were still the in thing. Unlike the teenagers in this film, it’s as if the 1980s never died …

  The world's oldest teenagers take a one-way trip to the woods in BOSQUE DE MUERTE

I think it’s fair to say that, much like Italy, Mexican genre cinema in the 1980s was more often imitative than innovative – but always with its own unique Latino flavour. North American horror and slasher films were incredibly popular with Mexican audiences (especially if a religious good-over-evil angle was thrown into the mix), so it was hardly surprising that the film industry there saw the potential of video and home grown low budget quickies. 1980s Mexican horror movies are still relatively unknown outside of their country of origin – and even largely forgotten there today – but were popular enough in their time to set off a mini wave of genre and subgenre films modelled largely on North American hits. The best known of which are Ruben Galindo Jr’s CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985), DON’T PANIC (1988) and GRAVE ROBBERS (1989).

Which brings us to BOSQUE DE MUERTE (which literally translates as FOREST OF DEATH). 1993 was just three years before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson both spoofed and reinvigorated the presumed moribund teen slasher movie with SCREAM (1996). Yet Carlos David Ortigoza’s film plays everything relatively straight (well, as straight as can be given the plotline). It was almost as if Ortigoza – who was 78 years old when he made this – had found a script that had been lying around since 1983 and shot it without any updates what-so-ever.

The film’s basic premise is as old as the hills. Six young people head to a remote cabin in the woods and then start dying one-by-one at the hands of an axe-carrying lunatic. … Eventually. If the film has a main problem is that the slasher element doesn’t really kick into the last 20 minutes, or so.

  Bowling Mexican style!

Silvia (Alejandra Espejo) is joined by her boyfriend Cesar (Andrés Bonfiglio) and two other young couples: Laura (Lorena Victoria) and Adolfo (Andrés García Jr.) plus Raul (Leonardo García Vale) and Tamara (Andrea Aguirre). They are headed to Silvia’s childhood home deep-in-the-woods, where – 12 years ago – her mother supposedly drowned in the nearby lake after arguing with her father (Sergio Bustamante). Silvia hasn’t seen her father since the tragedy – in exposition that is sure to be relevant later in the movie.

The group accept antifreeze for their failing van from the local vigilante forest ranger named Jaguar (Jorge Reynoso) (who has just shot-gunned off the leg off an illegal logger (perhaps only in Mexico!)). They eventually get to the cabin – which turns out to be more of an estate. One of the boys proclaims: “This place smells like a cemetery!” Despite there being a well maintained stable, they are surprised to find a creepy janitor Jacinto (Alfredo Gutiérrez) lurking out on the grounds – he practically carries a sign proclaiming: “¡Cortina de Humo!” (“Red Herring”). All the while a lone smoke machine chuffs out puffs of mist into every scene in a somewhat desperate attempt to add to the atmosphere.

In keeping with the early 80s slasher feel, the principle characters – whilst little more than the usual ciphers – are generally likeable and almost childlike in their appetite for fun and ghost stories and the macabre: “And now the Ripper is going to show up with his machete and get us all!” Not so childlike, but appropriate for the subgenre, the teens split up for some soft-core rumpy-pumpy come nightfall. Well, apart from Sylvia who complains of a headache and goes to bed solo; leaving Cesar alone on the sofa downstairs. Cesar is attacked by a dripping figure in a yellow rain coat, wielding a large chopper – which turns out to be a dream sequence. His screams bring the others running and blame his nightmares on eating too many sausages (!). A reference to “Freddy” helps place the film in context.

  The splatter eventually arrives in BOSQUE DE MUERTE ...

Much of the central portion of the film concentrates on Silvia’s musings about the fate of her mother all those years ago. In a somewhat unlikely development, it turns out that the hulking Jaguar was her childhood sweetheart and they reconnect – with him calling her: “The perfumed one” (which is perhaps lost in translation). The other teenagers frolic around the property and it’s all fun and games until they discover Adolfo has gone missing on the very same lake that Silvia’s mother vanished on. Before long (well, admittedly 60 minutes into this 80-minute movie) an axe-wielding killer turns up and starts logging some teens …

Curiously, given its teen slasher pedigree and adherence to many of the subgenre’s tropes, the film rejects the usual one-death-every-fifteen-minutes to top load the slasher action to the end of the film. This is unlike Galindo Jr’s 80s movies that spread the slasher action out across the running time. However, the film’s easy charm and quirky characters certainly help fill the gap. Jaguar is an early, if unlikely, eco-warrior – who will shotgun anyone who threatens his trees (and even practices bonsai in his ranger’s cabin). Tamara is the ‘Sally’ character, who is afraid of everything (including horses), but who – unlike many modern horror characters – comes off more fun than annoying. Alejandra Espejo as Silvia even manages to keep a straight face when she is required to mimic Lynda Day George in PIECES (1983); rolling her eyes and gnashing her teeth, shouting “Bastido! BASTIDO!” after finding two of her friends butchered.

  The Mexican Lynda Day George!

The killer’s identity is certainly predictable, but the motive is as nonsensical as it is loopy. However, the violence in the film is somewhat uneven, with some effective gore gags and some ineptly handled death scenes that make it difficult to fathom what occurred. The film does, however, boast the show-stopping scene where the killer throws a severed head through the window at two startled girls.

Alejandra Espejo perhaps took the cliché of the over-aged teen a little too far (she was around 43 when she made this!). The actress passed away in 2004 at the age of 54. A familiar face to Mexican slasher fans might be Andrés García Jr. as Adolfo – who had a floating axe-to-the-head in CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985), but whose character here frustratingly vanishes at the midway point never to be seen again. Andrés Bonfiglio was in Ruben Galindo Jr’s later slasher GRAVE ROBBERS (1989). Man-mountain Jorge Reynoso fulfils the trope peculiar to Mexican genre cinema of the stoic yet heroic middle-aged man who saves the day. Director Carlos David Ortigoza was perhaps an odd choice as director. Previous to this he had directed 253 episodes of a romance telenovela in the mid 1970s.

It is unclear whether BOSQUE DE MUERTE got any kind of cinema release in its native Mexico but given the avalanche of STV releases at the time it’s perhaps unlikely. Despite its flaws, the film is still a fun ride and worthy of rescuing from obscurity if you can find a copy deep in the woods.


Keep Hysteria Lives! alive. Donate:

BODYCOUNT 7   bodycount!   female: 2 / male: 5

      1) Male killed (method unseen)
      2) Male hacked with axe
      3) Male decapitated (off screen)
      4) Female has throat slit with knife
      5) Female found with hatchet to the head
      6) Male killed (method unseen)
      7) Male shot dead