I really thought this was going to suck, after the newly-filmed opening. Lloyd Kaufman, Troma head honcho, does the “hilariously” named Kaufman’s Kultural Korner (KKK ohmygodmysides) and interviews director Pericles Lewnes. As far as I’m aware, Troma had nothing to do with the production of the movie at all, only picking it up for distribution after the fact – one can admire Troma’s dedication to independent cinema, while finding their business model a little…sleazy? Plus, several honourable examples aside (brand new “The Slashening”, for one, which is amazing) their quality control can be non-existent, as I’ll never be able to truly love the company that tried to fob “Surf Nazis Must Die” or “Rabid Grannies” on their own fans.
But wow, was I ever wrong about my initial guess on the quality of this. One of the earliest shot-on-video movies, while it’s very obviously not the highest-budget movie of all time, it’s inventive and funny and has a cast of almost complete non-actors who, rather than looking bored or nervous like so many other low/no budget epics, commit to their roles with great gusto. Plus, it’s got a title that’s fun, and delivers on its promise!
Saying that, the beginning is confusing. We get an info dump about a missing barrel of something so toxic it could kill everyone on earth, but then a bit later the barrel is seen being driven around by an army guy. Anyway. For some reason (perhaps the most used phrase in movie reviewing history), the army guy is driving down dirt tracks in redneck country, in a jeep, with this super-toxic barrel just sort of casually placed in the back. When it falls off the back of the jeep, it eventually finds its way into the hands of a group of rednecks, who decide to use the barrel as the heart of their moonshine still. They can’t read, obviously, so the warnings painted on the barrel mean nothing to them.
The rednecks aren’t your average bunch, as since they got satellite TV all the “boys” have got odd ideas. In fact, one of them now wishes to be known as Ellie Mae, which annoys the Dad but is completely fine to the numerous customers the family has for their moonshine. Isn’t it sweet, with understanding, welcoming rednecks? But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. The new moonshine turns everyone who drinks it into a zombie, and Ellie Mae delivers it to a lot of local families (including, memorably, a couple of cannibalistic serial killers, who have a living soon-to-be victim tied up in their lounge). The army guy finally gets back to base and is told to go back out and find the barrel: he takes a bored lunatic and the campest stereotype I’ve ever seen. In the era before even “don’t ask, don’t tell”, this is a bold directorial choice. And rounding out the cast is a group of hikers.
Well, I think they’re hikers. IMDB lists them as sophisticated city slickers, but some of them are definitely students…they have someone with them who’s either a guide or used to live in this area (again, unclear) so off into the wilderness they go. Thanks to this group, we get some quite clever video effects – first, when the “guide” lights a joint which is so potent it knocks everyone out (accompanied by every multi-colour video effect the director could manage), and second when they’re trapped in a shack with a corpse, and one of the group decides then would be a good time to drop some acid. His five minute, definitely improvised, bit where he pulls entrails out and his acid-fried mind imagines the handfuls of guts to be shoes, cans of beer, and so on, is exhibit A in “why you shouldn’t let some guy who says he’s hilarious have free rein to prove it on camera without checking first”. Or “film enough, so if one of your bits is terrible, you can cut it”.
Lewnes really goes out of his way to offend and disgust, and does it with some style. One of the moonshine customers is watching what I suppose you’d describe as porn, but super-weird; and the serial killers are watching footage of animal cruelty to really get them in the mood. Plus, there’s a zombie baby! It takes a while to get going (no zombies til about 40 minutes in) but when it gets going it just doesn’t stop. Entrails everywhere, blood and gore soaking everyone and everything…it shows they made every penny of the apparent $10,000 budget go a long way. The zombie makeup is wonderfully bad, on purpose apparently, and shows Lewnes probably deserved better than going on to be special effects supervisor on a bunch of Troma’s in-house productions.
Of course, there are a lot of bits where you’re scratching your head in puzzlement, which is probably why it’s not that fondly remembered, even by some Troma fans. The hikers seem intent on burying their friends, implying they’re a long way from civilization. But, you know, they only set out that morning! And the rednecks are able to drive into town fairly easily, so if I saw the bottom half of one of my friends in the woods, I’d probably run like hell to the nearest road and get some help. And if we’re talking things that put you off, the camper who takes the acid is so far over the top that it’s almost impossible to like him. And there’s the way the gay soldier runs into the middle of the redneck zombie horde, without realising their zombies, saying “you ever seen Deliverance?”, the implication being he wants them all to rape him. Oh dear.
So, you have to take the rough with the smooth. But it’s so wild, and tries so hard, that I think you’ll enjoy it. Or perhaps I’m so far down the rabbit hole of crap that I can’t see daylight any more. Either way, check it out!
Rating: thumbs up