||I moved up here to redneck land in an effort to escape the grubbiness and misery of the inner-city; the heroin-dealers, thieves, killers, cheap prostitutes (as opposed to classy whores) and lunatics too poor to be given a place in the local asylum. Big mistake! I mean, rednecks are pretty cool behind the protective window of the TV screen, raping, murdering and eating unsuspecting tourists who see them as quaint, but when they're putting your windows through and threatening you in the street things seem a little different. But being the tolerant, understanding guy that I am, I wanted to know more. Why are these people so retarded, so ignorant and deformed? Why so violent? Why the hell do they shag their brothers and sisters without wearing a condom? And why do they smell so much? I intended to find out. With the help of a bag of Betamax videos found in the skip behind the Sell-It-For-Smack second hand shop, I embarked upon my quest...
I have discovered three reasons why hicks are so boorish. The first one is vengeance. Revenge against the cruel system that ruined their small, yet prosperous, businesses back in the nineteenth century by setting their slaves free and subsequently bankrupting the entire Deep South. Despite their limited education, all good hillbillies know this and want to settle the score in the bloodiest manner possible. H.G. Lewis also recognized this when he directed the first 'real' hillbilly flick, Two Thousand Maniacs.
Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) is the second in Lewis' so-called 'gore-trilogy' (even though there are shit-loads more of them, but hey, who's counting?) and to me, one of the finest. It involves a group of Northern tourists who are lured into the pleasant valley of Pleasant Valley whose residents just happen to be preparing for some centennial or other. Against their better judgement, the tourists decide to stay and find out the hard way the full extent of bad feeling that still lurks within the Southern states, finding themselves dismembered, crushed, spiked and pulled apart by wild horses (one of the victims is later barbequed) before it is finally revealed just what this centennial is all about. It turns out that the town of Pleasant Valley was razed to the ground by Union soldiers exactly 100 years ago! (That's 100 years from then, not 100 years from now by the way...) Pretty bad luck, eh?
Like I said earlier, Two Thousand Maniacs is one of my favourite Lewis films, and I really have not a bad word to say about it. It's certainly one of the most unusual redneck flicks. For a start the murders are, in true Lewis style, completely absurd, yet admittedly inventive (and amusing too). One woman lies underneath a giant rock as if digging her own grave and is flattened for her trouble, and some silly twat climbs into a barrel like he's unlocking his own crypt, only becoming suspicious when the leering locals begin to hammer nails into it. The dialogue is utterly ridiculous, with one of the hicks remarking that 100 years into the future visitors will be landing in rocket ships. Also, it looks nothing like the scummier redneck flicks of the 1970's, opting for a more garish, 60's look that makes everything look like some fat nightclub slapper's thong: cheap, tacky but entirely palatable. This bizarre feel sets it apart from all the rest and it is a great pity that Lewis' other hillbilly flicks, Moonshine Mountain and This Stuff'll Kill Ya have, to my knowledge, never been released on video.
Rednecks don't like city boys anyway, and they like 'em even less when some of 'em are building a dam right across their fucking river! Despite having nothing whatsoever to do with this engineering feat, X-treme Sportster Burt Reynolds and his cosmopolitan buddies Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox find the 'shine turning sour all too quickly when they start mincing around some desolate township talking their big talk and bright ideas. John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) follows the antics of Reynolds and co. as their weekend canoe trip into the middle of nowhere goes tits-up. Oh yeah, everything seems to be goin' just fine as they canoe, fish and open their hearts to each other in the way that suburban males tend to do when they have had two beers each. But then, disaster strikes!
Now, surprisingly enough, it isn't Reynolds who ends up on the wrong end of some hillbilly's oily corn-cob despite the fact that he's exhibiting his big, hairy chest beneath little more than a tight, black, rubber waistcoat. Instead it's chubby Ned Beatty who finds himself squealing like a pig, which no doubt leaves big Burt feeling glad as hell that he'd shaved off that seedy sex-club moustache of his before he came on this trip. Presumably, when it comes to penetration, Burt prefers to be on top, so when one of the redneck rapists tries to chat-up Voight with the immortal line, "Ever had your balls cut off you fuckin' ape?", Reynolds fires an arrow right through his chest!
And, er... well that's it really. You know, it's really sad when a movie reaches it's peak before the half-way mark, but that's indeed the case with Deliverance. Sure, a couple of things happen (I mean "couple" in the literal sense of the word), like the boys lose their canoes in the middle of nowhere and are preyed upon by a toothless sniper, but these scenes are drawn out for so long that boredom soon sets in like gangrene on a hillbilly's dinner-plate. And when the boys finally do reach civilisation we're subjected to misery, remorse and more dilly-dallying around as we wait seemingly ages for the promised dungaree-bursting climax that sadly that never comes. In the end it's the onset of the end credits that provides the real deliverance.
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not wholly condemning the flick because, in places, Boorman sure does know what he's doing. Many of the early scenes in the woods are pretty oppressive and are sure to leave first time viewers with the idea that something is actually gonna happen, and the movies most famous scene, the Duelling Banjos, tends to satisfy others even if I find it less than uninspiring. But where Deliverance really succeeds is in its carnival display of chromosome-damaged pieces of white-trash. They're so repulsively ugly you have to wipe the grease off your TV screen every time they appear! Boorman should take pride in giving me nightmares for the rest of my fucking life! Jesus, I hope that I never have kids like that! Or if I do, let's just pray that no-one, including me, ever finds out....
Life in Dixie can get pretty boring. It's enough to drive one nuts! And it does! That's another reason why hillbillies murder folk. Because they're utterly and completely insane! They'll do anything for kicks as long as it's free and there's nothing cheaper than some outsider's life! Sometime's it's for fun, sometime's for money... Sometimes it's just for the hell of it. What the fuck do you care? No-one will ever find your bones out here baby!
Billy Townsend's just another regular small-town retard. But when he picks-up four city girls in his dilapidated pick-up truck (the perfect vehicle for picking folks up) he finds out the hard way that he's actually a character in William Girdler's 1972 sleaze-a-thon, Three On A Meathook. No sooner has he got them home than they are despatched in a variety of gruesome ways; knife, shotgun and by that old redneck classic, axe! Could this be the best decapitation in movie history? See for yourself and then tell me I'm right! Billy's Pa ain't too pleased when he finds out where his son's learning difficulties have led and sends him to see a movie (The Graduate, no less.) while he cleans up the bodies. Whilst in town, the apparently murderous Billy gets plastered, meets a beautiful young waitress, and falls in love after pissing himself in front of her (I did that once... She never spoke to me again...). She and her friend Becky go to spend the weekend on Billy's farm...
Okay, so it shouldn't be too hard to work out that it's Pa who's been killing all these local girls and pinning the blame on his simple son. But that's the easy part. We also find out that Billy's supposedly dead mother is a cannibal and has been living secretly in the house for over ten years! In case you don't quite understand what the hell's going on it doesn't matter, because Girdler provides a psychiatrist to take up the last five minutes of the movie and explain it all to us. What a guy!
So this is one bad movie, huh? The direction's inept, the plot stinks, the wooden acting has dry rot (and starts to stink pretty bad too!) and the not-so-special effects are not really all that special, nothing more than a ketchup truck-spill. But still, it’s movies like this that put the "shit" into "shit-hot". It's great! Its dumbness is overshadowed by its complete absurdity, and anyway, any movie that can wallow so deeply in its own shame with a straight face and its head held high deserves at least a little admiration.
But the main thing is that Three On A Meathook never gets tiresome. A lot of people complain about the mid-section, which they claim is boring but I honestly can't agree. It's so good to see zany twenty-something’s cavorting innocently in the fields; for example playing hide and seek (see what happens when you don't get your kids hooked on drugs?). Even better is when they open their soon to be devoured hearts to one other with their naive youthful philosophies, such as Becky telling us how Vietnam ruined her marriage. Well, it's topical enough, ain't it?
Here in Britain, Dustin "Gonzo" Hoffman and Susan "Bullets" George found out that, contrary to popular belief, there are just as many rednecks down South as there are up north. In Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971) neurotic math professor David Sumner (Hoffman) and his somewhat childish wife Amy (George) take time out from the violence and brutality of American life to take time out in a remote Cornish farmhouse. Things start to go downhill from the minute they arrive, with George looking saucy and Hoffman being both an American and a weirdo, not to mention a patronising little twat. Despite his high and mighty exterior however, David has a sweet, soft centre (he's a coward), thus making him an ideal target for the local hooligans who play a variety of childish, but amusing tricks on him - pinching his wife's knickers, abandoning him on a duck-shoot, hanging his cat in the wardrobe and finally raping Amy. But things get really out of hand when village idiot Henry (pronounced 'Enree') Niles (pronounced 'Noils') strangles a young teenage minx and takes refuge in the Sumner's house, prompting a violent backlash from her wino father and the other local retards.
Undoubtably Peckinpah was a brilliant director, perhaps best known for his 1969 classic The Wild Bunch, yet still many film critics over the years have, and still do, considered Straw Dogs to be, at best, a mediocre thriller and, at worst, a depraved porno-flick wallowing in a pond full of hot, fresh meat. It's actually pretty sad, although not surprising, to see 'serious' film-critics take such a dim view of such a great movie. Many complaints are made about the rape scene on offer here, but then again the rear entry in Deliverance is just as painful to view. Personally I would say that Straw Dogs is closer to that other outlawed classic, Death Wish: not only do both movies regularly find themselves on the slimy end of a film-critics tongue (it's not as much fun as it sounds...), but they also both contain an average Joe (a coward and a pacifist, respectively), violently fighting back against society's shitheads and, even worse (or better if you're like me), actually gaining satisfaction from it! Just look at the smug grin on Hoffman's face in the final scenes, you'll see what I mean.
But there's much more to Straw Dogs than mere savagery. For a start there's tons of interesting characters, from the poncey David Sumner to the bizarre locals. Add to this Peckinpah's increasing sense of unease and paranoia that permeates all of Straw Dogs and you have a top movie that stands head and shoulders above regular exploitation level. In fact Straw Dogs is such a good film, I've already started writing a sequel set in Leeds/Bradford airport at Christmas-time. It's called Straw Dogs 2: Woof and Ready. What do you reckon? (Soz).
So that brings us to our final reason: food. This is by far the biggest reason for redneck murder, and it's really not surprising. The failure of superstores like Netto and Lidl to break into a market where the annual wage is akin to just one week's welfare cheque means that decent meals consisting of nine-pence beans and oven chips are at a minimum. Scraping road-kill up off the street compensates somewhat but, during the 70's, more enterprising hicks came up with the idea of slaughtering lost tourists to fill their guts...
Everyone should be familiar with Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Yeah, that's right, it's one of the few he did before he went shit. It involves Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine gang (is it just me who thinks Velma's attractive?) picking up a greasy, giggling hitch-hiker and, in true dumb-tourist tradition, only realizing that something is wrong when he starts slicing himself, and others, up with a penknife. Needless to say, he is turfed out on his ear, but then, as is often the case in these situations, the youngsters run out of gas and find themselves at the spooky Old Franklin Place. "Who will survive, and what will be left of them?" screams the movie's tag-line. Well, without wanting to ruin it for everyone, it's Sally (Marilyn Burns), and she's pretty much intact, although shaken up somewhat.....
To be honest, it's hardly a Texas Chainsaw Massacre as such: most of the characters being dispatched by sledgehammer and meathook, but otherwise it's a masterpiece. Sure, we're treated to suspense and tension and all that, but leave all that to the serious film-critics like Barry Norman. What we're interested in is the cast of cruel and unusual characters such as The Hitch-hiker (whose bizarre mannerisms we've already seen), Grandpa (who's too incapacitated to collect his pension unassisted, never mind slaughter innocent victims), and last but not least, the oafish Leatherface (who looks like a typical American barbeque chef). These fruits add a surreal touch to the movie, the word "surreal" used here in the worst possible sense. The movie's documentary feel suggests that all this could be happening in your very own kitchen, while you're sat in the front room whacking-off over Peggy from Married With Children (Ahem...). The fact that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is based on a "true story" will keep many a big-girl's-blouse awake for weeks, whether they live in Texas or not.
What really does it for me, however, is the film's ultra-scummy look. You could be at home curled up on the sofa eating crisps and drinking tea, but you're still made to feel like you're nestling between Jon-Boy Walton's arse-cheeks, sweating like a pig and puffing on Capstan Full Strength. It's really horrible, with a thick coating of grease covering the film that will leak out and cover your carpet for days. All the finest horror films, from Hitch Hike To Hell to Porno Holocaust look like crap, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre has its butt perched firmly on top of the shit-heap. Needless to say, subsequent sequels suffered from "Big Ideas Syndrome", their beady little eyes fixed on Hollywood, nice, shiny, glossy, and let's not forget worthless movies that would ooze a smug sense of pride at being released straight-to-video as long as they were wrapped in a huge, airbrushed cover and trimmed to perfection. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is perhaps the ultimate insult to the series, with Leatherface being elevated to the tame, sanitized heights of Jason Voorhees and (ugh!) Freddy Krueger: clean, middle-of-the-road "super-villians" of the sort who would rather have their dole-cheques paid directly into their bank-accounts rather than prowl the bus-station begging for cider-money...
But let's get back to crazy redneck characters, shall we? The Deep South is a place so alien to us that it is a perfect breeding ground for mental movie weirdos, even more so than deepest space or the darkest jungles.
Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) provides the viewer with a plethora of fruits (including the repulsively ugly Micheal Berryman) living deep in the desert. When a retired police officer and his wife, accompanied by their entire family, decide to visit an abandoned silver mine to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary (Cheap bastards! They deserve to die!), they come up against these cretins and must fight to the death to survive. We are treated to a couple of pitifully miserable deaths (such as shootings... yawn.) but this is more than compensated for when middle-aged ex-cop Big Bob Carter has a heart attack... then is crucified... then is filled with gasoline siphoned from his own car... and then set alight! That wisp of smoke escaping from his charred, cracked lips is indeed a haunting scene! Sadly, the huge array of other potential victims is not utilized to its full extent and much too many of them escape intact. The stolen baby, which we are promised will be eaten, gets out completely alive and unharmed, an insult that would make many Italian directors turn in their graves.
The Hills Have Eyes waits right until its abrupt conclusion to play its final card. The moustachioed Doug repeatedly stabs one of the hillbillies, and then the film just stops there. This really is depressing, very reminiscent of Craven's earlier Last House On The Left, another film where the heroes seem to get absolutely no satisfaction whatsoever from extracting their revenge on their tormentors. It's sad, very sad indeed to see wanton death and destruction providing not even the merest hint of a smile to the killer. Could this be rampant nihilism? Or the celluoid manifestation of (retch!) Christian "thou shalt not kill" values? I'd say neither. I think the film just runs out of steam there and then.... It's still a bloody good film though!
Organizations like the RSPCA and PETA have recently singled rednecks out as the social group most likely to abuse their pets. After sitting in this darkened room for hours upon end, just staring at a flickering box, I can confirm that this is not true. In fact they feed their pets with only the finest meat available. In Pigs (Marc Lawrence, 1972) for example, an ex-circus tightrope-walker, aided by an escaped mental patient (she literally walked out of the asylum), who feeds his pigs out back on the flesh of various unfortunates who happen to venture into his grubby little cafe. Can you guess how this is gonna end up? Yeah, that's right, The Great Zambrini goes to the porkers, while the nymphoid-nutcase escapes scot-free, free to kill again. Generic stuff alright, which by rights should mean "shit-hot movie" (Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!). Sadly, what we have here is a potentially silly premise taking itself much too seriously giving it that ultra-sleazy feel that is usually reserved for the likes of Hitch-Hike To Hell and others of that ilk. Not that I'm dissing sleaze, no siree, but there's a time and a place for everything, and a tale as ridiculous as pigs eating people is not one of them. Don't get me wrong, this is nowhere near the bottom of the dung-heap, but it's nowhere near the top either.
Much better is Tobe Hooper's 1976 (bell-end) cheese-fest Death Trap (aka Eaten Alive), the film that was apparently responsible for alerting Mary Whitehouse to the decadent social problem of "video-nasties". Often unfairly compared to his earlier (and more well-known) Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this movie tells a vaguely similar tale but in a completely different style...
After Buck (Robert 'Freddy' Englund) demands some back door action, a young girl runs away from Madame Hattie's whorehouse, only to find herself at the dilapidated Starlight Hotel. The owner, Old Judd, promptly stabs her with a pitchfork and throws her to his crocodile. Despite the fact that Old Judd never has any customers, a good few more victims soon turn up, as is often the case in stories like this. A neurotic couple Faye and Roy and their young daughter Angie arrive, only for their dog Snoopy to be eaten by the croc. Despite this misfortune, they check into the hotel. Then Harvey Wood and his daughter Libby wander in, looking for a girl who looks just like the one Judd spiked earlier and threw to his crock! Hellraiser Buck also makes an appearance, raisin' hell as usual. Most of these are offed and chucked to the crock too, before Judd is thrown into the swamp and gets his comeuppance at the hands (or rather, the jaws) of his rowdy reptile.
Despite a couple of periods of dragging boredom, Death Trap is still a cool film. The characters are completely insane: Roy grinds his teeth, barks like a dog and rolls around on the carpet while Judd constantly mumbles his crazy-talk to himself. The atmosphere is well-spooky, with thick fog drifting across the sets and quiet country-and-western tunes play menacingly in the background throughout. Robert Englund has a pointy nose and his eyes are much too close together.
But what I really love about Death Trap is the aesthetic. Everything is overstated just that little too much, like the sets and both the characters' looks and mannerisms, making the movie seem more like a 50's comic book than a former "video-nasty". Conversely, the gore is very understated despite pitchforkings and multiple scythings, preventing Death Trap from becoming just another typical blood-fest. The whole effect seems, to me anyway, quite surreal. Hooper was apparently "less than satisfied" (that's short for "no c*nt liked it": Homer Simpson, 2001) with Death Trap, although a peek just a few years into the future would give him even more cause for embarrassment, squeezing such turdola's as Salem's Lot and The Funhouse out into the pan.
By the way, I feel I have to warn you, when you're holidaying down South please don't book into any of their ghastly hotels. If Death Trap wasn't warning enough, then check out Motel Hell (Kevin Connor, 1980). Here the repulsive Farmer Vincent and his sister (it is not clear whether or not they have shagged each other) slaughter passing strangers for meat to sell to unsuspecting middle-class buyers only too eager to take a genuine bite of the real South. It sounds a lot nicer than it actually is. What they actually do is cut their victim's vocal cords, bury them up to their necks in the back garden, and use a bizarre contraption to invoke an acid-like trip (you know the ones I mean, with flashing lights and shit). In the end though the foul siblings thankfully get their just desserts, with a chainsaw-duel (the bad guy wearing a pig's head) and the unfortunate victims digging themselves up and wandering around like zombies, intent on revenge!
Motel Hell doesn't take itself too seriously, which makes a nice change from some of the scummier hick-flicks. While not a comedy as such, it's very light-hearted which makes for a couple of laughs at least. The climax is ridiculous. The trip-machine is even more so. The title's cheesy play-on-words is straight out of an old EC comic book. Add to this the fact that it's exceedingly well made and you've got yourself a great film, that these days has, sadly, been consigned to the "never-heard-of-it" bin. Take my advice dear reader, search this film out at all costs (Although I can't guarantee that you'll like it. I know what you crazy kids think of my movie tastes! D'you hear me! I know who ya are!).
We have more hillbillies killing for food in Redneck Zombies (Pericles Lewnes, 1988), although this time it's not really their fault. You see, these lame-brained hicks decide to use a barrel of 'chemical-warfare-nuclear-waste' to make their moonshine still. Under normal circumstances this would invariably end with the Deep South drunkards contracting cancer and going blind but, as this is a Troma film, filmed in 'Entrail Vision', they find themselves turning into bubbling, pustulating Redneck Zombies instead! A group of happy campers come up against these zombified monster-mashers, discovering that a sure way of killing them is by spraying them with deodorant, which causes them to melt on their feet. Add to this, you get zombie children, tons of acid freak-out scenes and tons of OTT gore, not to mention an abundance of crass humour about sex and bodily functions and you've got yourself a typical Troma film, neither really good nor really bad, but damned good fun all the same!
However, what sets Redneck Zombies apart from other Troma flicks are the truly, truly mental characters. You get Billy-Bob, who wants Daddy to call him Ellie-May. You get the psychotic disposable-razor wielding hitch-hiker, otherwise known as The Shaver. You get the disturbed Freelance Butcher, who has his friend torturing a woman in the front room while watching slaughterhouse footage on TV. And, best of all, you get the Tobacco Man, peddling his wares to youngsters while giving remorseful lectures on the dangers of mouth cancer! These are really crazy characters that remind me a little of some of the fruits who used to turn up on Father Ted. So, while Redneck Zombies revels mainly in extreme gore (and believe me kids, it is extreme!), and crude, juvenile jokes, there are many moments of inspiration that really sets it apart from other movies. And it's great to see Troma continuing with their hardline anti-nuclear message. Very admirable guys!
By the way, I thought you might like to know that the screenplay is by (wait for it!).... Fester Smellman! How come I feel the need to, after every comment I make about this movie, add the words "I'm not lying!"?
But isn't all this wrong? Isn't it wrong to portray a section of society as feral, simple-minded beasts, more cunning than clever? Isn't it wrong to portray these people as psychopathic, incestuous alcoholics? Isn't it wrong to say that these people smell? Isn't that discrimination? Well yes it is. But it's all true! It's true I tell you!
Listen, if you wanna see some real rednecks, why don't you come and visit me up here. I'll show you the twin brothers whose heads are too big for their bodies and still haven't left home yet, despite being close to thirty. I'll show you the psychopathic ex-DJ who had been out eating grass one morning. And you can see the pub next door to my house where, only two days ago, someone had their arm cut off with a machete (sadly I didn't get to see it). These stories are all true my friends. Reality is certainly stranger than fiction. And a hell of a lot scummier.