A weekend of camping turns into a nightmare when four partying teens become the latest set of victims for the local legend, a killer who haunts the woods. Even when they are joined by another group of campers, they find they are no match for the murderous mayhem of the Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger.
The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger is a glorious throwback to the cheesy VHS releases of the 1980’s, those crazy films that would riff off a popular series of films and make the most of it. Even its tag line, “He just wants to axe you a few questions,” provides insight into what kind of film it sets out to be. In this respect, The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger delivers the campy goods. It would sit comfortably next to the films of Charles Band and Troma on any Mon-and-Pop Video Rental shop shelf. It returns to a time where making sure the main character survives so he can lose his virginity is the key plot point. The film takes stabs at everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Friday the 13th to The Burning and every other killer in the woods film from the Eighties decade; it even satires up the famous “Here’s Johnny” shot from the Shining. Of course, it does. Right? By the time the film is over, there may be no more cheesy one liner puns left to film for its sequel.
The film begins with a prologue unconvincingly set 40 years ago, in fact it looks more modern than the rest of the film. Part of the film’s charm? Maybe, in hindsight. It doesn’t really matter. In the prologue a pair of horny “teens” end up lost in the dark running into the Psychotic Forest Ranger doing his best Freddy Kruger impression, cackling like Dr. Evil, spitting out wisecracks and one liners in rapid fire succession. The maniac Ranger disposes of the two for leaving their abandoned camp fire still burning. This is followed by the opening credits scanning through a mixture of bible quotes and newspaper clipping giving the audience its only clues to the origins of Yogi Bear’s worst nightmare.
The film then jumps ahead to the present day, which may be now, or it may be the Eighties judged by the clothing and tone. Driving down a road with a sign stating “Turn Back Abandone[d] Road,” the recent high school graduates are heading to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying. They quickly attract the attention of the psychotic forest ranger as his next set of victims. The film is totally self aware as evident by the dialog “if the forest ranger saw you do that, he would totally kill you” after one teen, Kyle, throws an empty beer bottle into the woods. The film has an innocent sense of humor and goofy, satirical feel to it bordering on silly, especially with the introduction of the Ranger Dan (Aaron Corbett). When Ranger Dan eventually meets up with the psychotic forest ranger, the killer jokes “I am here to relieve you…of your life” and offs the Barney Fife wannabe. Add in a second group of campers, silly “virgin” references and other horror cliches and the stage is set for the forest ranger to pick off the cast, one by one.
Even though the film does manage to develop its characters just enough to have the audience care about them, sort of, almost, its the psychotic forest ranger that needs to carry the film. Michael G. MacDonald plays the demented version of Ranger John Smith. He is a cross between Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees and dozens of other killers from the VHS heyday of horror films, never delivering a line without a wise crack or joke buried in the dialog. MacDonald never succeeds in giving the character any level of authentic menace – outside a well-stage homage to Kruger appearance in A Nightmare on Elm Street – making his character far more suited for the flop-comedy Saturday the 14th than the slasher films led by Friday the 13th. But he is having such a great time in the role relishing in its absurdity that his portrayal of the psychotic forest ranger is oddly infectious.
Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger is harmless fun, a goofy, silly send up to the slasher rage of the 1980’s with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. With a score that seemingly is not aware of the in joke, the soundtrack awkwardly never jives with the script’s sense of humor. Much of the second act is uneven when the film begins to add more serious tones as the surviving kids discover the rampaging ranger’s secret Scooby-Doo hide-out and face off against his final assault. But the film manages to squeak out a clever, amusing and satisfying ending. As many of the jokes fall flat, the film would be far more successful if the audience was laughing as much as the “crazy forest ranger.” Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger is far better than one might expect but not too far from exactly what the promotion, poster and title suggest.
3 out of 5