Home Sweet Home: Alone in the Woods (1996)

Dave pitches his tent alongside a family film with a familiar premise.

Boasting a worldwide box office tally just shy of half a billion dollars, it’s no wonder that every producer of the ‘90s with even the slightest hint of entrepreneurial instinct wanted a slice of the Home Alone (1990) pie. And boy, did they milk it! From big behemoths (Disney and Blank Cheque (1994)), to inventive impresarios (Full Moon and Remote (1993)), the notion of a wily kid thwarting bumbling hoodlums was a cash cow. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before producers Andrew Stevens and Ashok Amritraj and their company, Royal Oaks Entertainment, came to the table. Stevens had form in family fare, having directed and produced The Skateboard Kid (1994) the year before, but ALONE IN THE WOODS was to be the first under their new topiary-themed banner, wrapping its brisk two-week production schedule eighteen days before their more familiar Invisible Mom (1996) began shooting.

Despite its rather ominous title, John Putch’s film is about as goofy and irreverent as you can get. Justin Rogers (Brady Bluhm), a young boy with an obsession for kiddie-friendly gadgets, reluctantly embarks on a camping trip with his folks (Daniel McVicar and Laraine Newman) and his big sister Kate (Sarah Bibb). During a rest stop, the mischievous lad sneaks out of the car to grab some candy and, with his head in the clouds, accidentally gets back into the wrong vehicle. With his Walkman blasting away, it’s not until he reaches an unfamiliar destination that panic sets in, and he realises that he’s hitched a ride with Perry (Chick Vennera) and Kurt (Matthias Hues) – two bumbling hoodlums who have kidnapped the daughter (Krystee Clark) of millionaire toy magnate Stu Stuart (Stephen C. Bradbury).

Alone in the Woods might have a derivate aspect to it, but you’ve got to admire the sheer gall of its production designer for positioning a VHS cassette of Home Alone next to the TV in one shot. Besides, you’d really have to be a humourless old fart to not have your chuckle muscle tickled at least once in this picture. Consider any begrudging admiration a counterculture middle-finger in the direction of John Hughes.

Seemingly saddled with a relatively thankless Poundland Joe Pesci role, the late, great Chick Vennera certainly proves he has comedy chops equal to the fiery Oscar winner, and he just about covers for Matthias Hues who looks awkwardly out of place for ninety minutes. Thankfully, first-time scripter J. Riley Lagesen throws a few curveballs into the narrative to free it from the total rigidity of its Culkin-template, notably the introduction of whacked-out tracker Jim Doughan – a total hoot. Helmer Putch also does a good job – and off the back of Alone in the Woods, Stevens and Amritraj would hire him to craft a couple more movies like The Boy Who Saved Christmas (1998) and Tycus (1999) (though he’ll no doubt be forever known for playing Sean Brody in Jaws 3-D (1983)).

Bizarrely for a film you’ve barely heard of, Alone in the Woods bagged a remake in 2009: Lost in the Woods, directed by Jim Wynorski. Aside from Chuck Cirino’s score, it’s not a patch on the decent and amusing original – even if it does boast a top-billed cameo from Michael Madsen and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) director Tony Randel in the editing bay.

USA ● 1996 ● Family, Comedy ● 88mins

Brady Bluhm, Chick Vennera, Matthias Hues, Willie Garson ● Dir. John Putch ● Wri. J. Riley Lageson

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