Better Than What I Could Do With $400

Reviewed by Ross Peterson on 03/19/13

The Woodchipper Massacre is representative of what Donna Michelle Productions was all about: It was shot on video, released on video, it's a horror-comedy, it was made for $400, and has a bloody slipcase cover. It was the second Jon McBride movie, after Cannibal Campout, distributed by Donna Michelle Productions: the short-lived distribution company that put Z grade, homemade horror movies on the shelves of video stores in the late '80s. 

Considering that Woodchipper Massacre was a do-it-yourself quickie with no budget, it's pretty entertaining. Everything about the movie is admittedy amateur: the filming, editing, lighting, acting. Parts of the soundtrack sound like the pre-programmed music on cheap, electronic keyboards. It has the same production look to it that I remember the don't-talk-to-strangers videos had from 1st grade. Every actor in the movie is obviously a friend or family member of director Jon McBride, and it has nowhere near as much blood as its cover art suggests.

-Its plot is strikingly similar to Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. It was made, however, three years prior. Tom, Denise, and Jon are three ideal suburbanite kids. They do their chores, get good grades, but encounter circumstances beyond their control. Their father, who has rented a woodchipper for the weekend, must leave on business. He assigns his sister Tess, similar to Piper Laurie in Carrie, to watch after Tom, Denise, and Jon while he's away. Horror movies? Heavy metal music? Dates? Stern and intensely religious, she will not permit them. Things take a turn for the worst as Aunt Tess, trying to confiscate Tom's Rambo survivalist hunting knife, accidentally impales herself. The three kids worry that they could be found guilty of murder. They have two choices: confess and risk life in prison, or chop up her body and feed it to the woodchipper. They opt for the latter, and try to resume normal lives. Things get tricky, however, when Aunt Tess's unstable, ex-con son comes snooping around. They must find out the hard way that " can put whole people through the woodchipper...but it sure is...messy." 

Woodchipper Massacre is a lot better than I could do with $400. Jon McBride, in order to make this movie, bought a Super VHS Panasonic camcorder, rented a woodchipper, and convinced his friends and family to provide him with a cast and crew. Aunt Tess, in fact, is played by Jon McBride's mother, Patricia McBride. He shot the movie entirely in his house and yard, and had no anticipation of anyone ever seeing it. 

Most of the plot makes no sense. The three kids are roughly 13, 16, and 20. You'd think at least having the 20 year old around would eliminate the need for a babysitter. The kids, from a legal point of view, also have no need to sneakily dispose of Aunt Tess's body. They are innocent; they didn't kill her. Why do they act like they did? Hence, Woodchipper Massacre's addling incoherence. 

But it's not terrible. Patricia McBride, on a Bette Davis overdose, makes for a delightful caricature of a mean old bag. There are some great one-liners and memorable scenes. The movie might be incoherent, but at least it's not pretentious. Jon McBride knew what he was making: a cheap movie for fun. He didn't expect it to be distributed. But he was in the right place at the right time. Donna Michelle deemed Woodchipper Massacre worthy of distribution, and his no budget outing found its way to video store shelves... at a time when people didn't know any better and rented it.