Color, 1981, 80m. / Directed by Lawrence D. Foldes / Starring ALdo Ray, Meeno Peluce, Tamara Taylor, Crackers Phinn, Linnea Quigley, Barbara Monker / Dark Sky (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A film that never fails to leave first-time viewers in a state of utter disbelief, this completely insane mixture of gory cannibalism and time-hopping weirdness lurks behind an innocuous title easily confused with countless early '80s slasher films. Don't expect panicked babysitters or holiday-obsessed stalkers in this one, folks!

Our story, such as it is, begins in prehistoric times as incestuous, flesh-eating cave dwellers Gar (the hilariously pseudonymous "Crackers Phinn") and Tre (Monker) are cursed to an eternity of munching on human entrails to maintain their youthful appearance, with only the sacrifice of their teenaged offspring able to break the bloody cycle. Flash forward, oh, several thousand years, and Gar (now "Mark") is prowling the wilds of Griffith Park in Los Angeles, now finally deciding that maybe it's time to end his eternity of bloodlust. Finally deciding on a mate (an early appearance by the oft-nude Quigley, he sires a daughter, Bondi (Taylor), whose big sacrificial day on her sixteenth birthday is postponed when she runs away from home and falls in with a bunch of pedophilic hippies, a presumably intoxicated Aldo Ray, another little boy named Nick (beloved '70s TV tyke Peluce), and her aunt Tre, whose abstinance from blood-drinking has left her looking like a school play witch. And it just gets stranger from there, with a big fiery finale and a half-hearted "twist" ending.

Basically an early '80s heir to the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Don't Go Near the Park boasts a more ambitious narrative than the Godfather of Gore ever attempted but still features many of his trademarks: graphic but cheap gore (Blood Feast, etc.), a fake-looking witch and utter temporal dislocation (Something Weird), tormented blood-drinker protagonists (A Taste of Blood), a brain-blasting lack of coherence (Monster a Go-Go) and bland, nailed-down camerawork whose dead-eyed observance gives the proceedings a numbing sense of watching something broadcast from another planet. As a traditional horror film this is completely ineffective, but viewers with a developed taste for the bizarre will find this a rich banquet indeed.

Briefly released on the regional theatrical circuit in the early '80s after being trimmed to avoid an X rating, Don't Go Near the Park was briefly released on VHS and somehow wound up banned as a "Video Nasty" in the UK (which makes about as much sense as most of the other head-scratching titles they selected). Needless to say, Dark Sky's immaculate, colorful presentation is a huge shock compared to all past versions, and while the budget-impaired film itself doesn't exactly benefit from the added clarity (at least not in the traditional sense), it's nice to see it looking so fresh and vibrant. Optional English subtitles are available for those who want to memorize every last, priceless bit of dialogue.

Good sports all around, Quigley and director Foldes sit down with featurette ace David Gregory for a lively commentary track that answers many questions about this very mysterious film. Various stories include the financing, the origins of the script, Ray's personal status at the time (following his brief and notorious venture into porn as a non-sex thespian), and Quigley's reactions to her first "legitimate" screen appearance after journeying through the world of softcore fare. Equally fascinating is the huge amount of excised material, presented as both a quick presentation of extra gore and then a much longer reel of full deleted scenes including quite a bit of additional nudity and sex. Other extras include two trailers, a TV spot, and a still gallery including some illumianting newspaper ads. Like it or not, this is a welcome and important release in the history of '80s drive-in weirdness and certainly not easily forgotten.

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