United States. 84 minutes. Directed by Lawrence David Foldes, 1979. Starring Aldo Ray, Meeno Peluce, Tammy Taylor, Barbara Monker, Crackers Phinn, Linnea Quigley.
Millennia ago, Gar and Tra discovered the secret of everlasting youth: a cannibalistic ritual that allowed them to consume the youth of their victims. For the crime of preying upon the children of their cave-dwelling tribe, their mother cursed them to an eternity of old age, their only chance to break the curse coming far in the future, with the sacrifice of a virgin of their family line.
Twelve thousand years later, in late ’70s California, a young woman named Bondi runs away from home shortly after her sixteenth birthday due to an argument with her parents. She falls in with a pair of runaways who live in a run-down house in a park with an eccentric old woman named Patty. Unbeknownst to her but knownst to us, Patty is the cavewoman Tra…and her own father, Mark, is really Tra’s brother Gar. Can Bondi uncover the secret of the strange murders and disappearances associated with the park, and save herself and her friends from the murderous plans of her elders?
There are films that are bad, and then there are films that are so bad that you weep for humanity at the realization that at some point there was an executive at a production or distribution company who seriously thought it was a reasonable idea to take this incompetently-made piece of cinematic garbage and allow it to be screened for mass audiences in exchange for money. Don’t Go Near the Park is a prime example of such a film.
Just about every aspect of this so-called “movie” is an abject failure that trying to analyze it on a critical level is futile–you’ll just end up with a laundry list of things that director and co-writer Lawrence David Foldes got not just wrong but abysmally, soul-crushingly wrong. Whether it’s casting a 21-year-old actress as the mother of a teen girl, playing an 8-year-old kid’s attempt to rape Bondi while she sleeps as a comedic scene, or costuming an actor in a loincloth with belt loops for a crucial prehistoric flashback, not a minute of footage goes by without something happening that will cause the audience to cry out, “What in the name of fuck do these people think they’re doing?”
It’s a black mark on the CVs of the various cast members, several of whom were apparently professionals who had done this sort of thing before. The ensemble includes Aldo Ray as a kindly old man who dutifully dispenses backstory, Meeno Peluce (star of the legendary time-travel flop Voyagers!) as affable preteen punk, Linnea Quigley as a character so crucial to the film’s plot that she’s credited only as “Bondi’s mother,” the improbably named Crackers Phinn as Gar/Mark, and someone that IMDB insists is Mission: Impossible star Barbara Bain as Patty/Tra/Griffith’s Wife/Petranella. I genuinely hope none of them, even Crackers Phinn, put this film on their resumes.
Not even the people responsible for the promotion of Park had any respect for it, considering they saw fit to spoil the film’s final scene and OMG shock twist! in the promo poster art. Said poster designers also saw fit to claim that the film had won at the Paris International Film Festival (which doesn’t seem to exist, at least not according to my scattershot research) and from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (aka the Saturn Awards; I can’t find any record of what award it supposedly won, and when).
The only thing in this movie that’s done even remotely well is the gore, and even that’s merely “okay” as opposed to “good,” and it’s certainly not good enough to lift the quality of the surrounding material out of the sucking quicksand of failure. But it was good enough to earn Park a place on the list of films banned by Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions for being in breach of the Obscene Publications Act (y’know, the “video nasties” list), so that means…something. Presumably.
That all being said, I do have to admit that Don’t Go Near the Park is one of the funniest unintentional comedies I have ever seen. I laughed my ass off from start to finish. If you must watch it, I advise you to do so with friends and have a steady supply of booze on hand.