While out hunting, Dan accidentally shoots another hunter. Rather than reporting the accident to the authorities, he chooses to bury the body and forget it ever happened. One year later, Dan returns to the same woods for a hunting trip with some friends. Their weekend starts out innocently enough, but while the guys are having fun, something is coming back to life in the woods–and it wants revenge!
The cabin in the woods is a tried and true trope of the modern horror age, one that will probably not be going away any time soon. It also one that has been used with many different plots and pulled off to varying degrees of success. Anything from Night of the Living Dead to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Cabin Fever, three very different movies, could all fall under the same label. So could Friday the 13th, Dead Snow, or, of course, The Cabin in the Woods. The reoccurring set-up is fairly simple; a group of kids finds themselves trapped far outside of civilization, and something is after them, be it zombies, a serial killer, monsters, whatever. The movie that really stands out within the genre (in many, but not all, people’s minds) is Evil Dead. Well, imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, and Jerry O’Sullivan’s 1997 release (or 2001, depending on where you look), Gut Pile, is a very low budget Evil Dead, but with a different twist. And believe it or not, it’s pulled off very, very well.
The movie starts with our protagonist, Dan, waiting out in the woods for someone. He’s ready to hunt, gun in hand, but it seems he’s waiting on someone. He hears a noise, quickly brings the gun up, and shoots in that general direction. He runs what seems like a really far distance to reach his shot’s target, but it’s not a dying deer that he finds lying on the ground, it’s a man with half his face blown off. What do you do when confronted with such a horrible thing? Drag the body off to the side, take a quick trip to the local hardware store for a new shovel, and bury that secret away, of course. Just hope it doesn’t somehow come back…
One year later, we find our buddy Dan bringing a case of PBR into a cabin he’s sharing with his buddies Mike and Bob, all three of them getting ready for the big hunting weekend they have planned. Amidst the playful teasing and poking, Dan takes a trip out to a familiar spot in the woods, the spot where he buried the stranger he inadvertently killed just one year earlier. Whether inspired by guilt or a crazy imagination, or perhaps by foreshadowing, he begins to have visions and daydreams of the man coming back from the ground, replaying his mistake in his head over and over. But pretty soon, these aren’t just dreams, they are real, and no one is safe from the wrath of the dead stranger.
Gut Pile is heavily influenced by Sam Raimi and Evil Dead, but they don’t go overboard with their homages. Dan has a few moments where he stops and looks quickly to the side during close-ups, bringing us happy memories of Bruce Campbell and his over-acted macho man role in the original trilogy (and no, that is in no way an insult on Ash). A lot of the camera work uses similar techniques as well, as we find ourselves in a p.o.v. close up, zooming right along with the camera toward the cabin from various angles. There’s some roaming smoke/fog, and some tree branches that act more as flailing, swinging arms, but this is a very different storyline, different enough to draw only mild comparisons (well, it might draw stronger comparisons, but they aren’t deserved).
It’s as unfortunate as it is exciting to find a rare, hidden gem like Gut Pile. On the one hand, it’s pretty awesome to stumble upon such a great, low budget, completely under-rated horror movie, almost like finding unexpected money in an old jacket pocket. But at the same time, it’s kind of sad. How did this one escape my radar for so long? And even more important, why is this director Jerry O’Sullivan’s only film? There is a lot of potential in this movie, both from an effects perspective and from a writing perspective. It’s interesting, it’s at times funny while at other times kinda dark and creepy, and it’s a fantastic first effort. O’Sullivan even knew when to say when, finishing the movie at a mere fifty-one minutes rather than stuff it with boring filler as so many other rookie film makers are so prone to do.
Somehow, this short little movie just works out. The acting is decent to good, the effects are cheap but effective, the story is a familiar trope taken down a different path. If you’re a fan of low budget horror like Evil Dead, or the somewhat goofy horror films like Porkchop or even Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, you’ll probably love Gut Pile. If you don’t, you’re probably taking things far too seriously.