Here’s a pretty obscure one – a good kind of DELIVERANCE / TEXAS CHAIN SAW type inbreds-in-the-woods movie from director Jeff Lieberman (SQUIRM, SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER). Gregg Henry (Val Resnick from PAYBACK) plays a guy who’s inherited some undeveloped land in some mountains somewhere. So against the warnings of a park ranger (George Kennedy) he takes some friends up there to camp and check the place out.
I love this type of movie, and this has a good twist on the usual subtext. There’s the traditional class difference – Henry and friends drive into town in a top-of-the-line RV, listening to Blondie and snapping pictures of people like they’re tourist attractions. Henry wears a trucker cap and sleeveless shirt, so maybe he’s not a yuppie, or maybe he’s a yuppie and a poser. Either way you still get a feeling from that slick RV (I think Kennedy calls it “your fancy wagon” later) that he’s too arrogant about being able to overcome Mother Nature with his money and technology. He and his girlfriend fancy themselves climbers, but they’re kind of amateurs when it comes to camping. Which is allowed. But there’s that whole city-mouse/country-mouse tension, you know.
There’s a great moment when our campers are out at night, in the middle of nowhere, drinking and dancing, blasting their music. And suddenly some old country folk appear out of nowhere, firing a rifle and telling them to leave because they’re gonna “raise the devil.” This scene has a nice complicated tension because their intrusion isn’t as cut and dry is it often is in a movie like this. They’re not exactly trespassers. He owns this land, and didn’t know anybody lived on it. His friend is pushing that logic, but Henry’s not comfortable with it, saying that showing them the deed is not gonna satisfy these people. I think he senses that at least out here “ownership” of land is kind of a sham. Just because your name’s on a piece of paper doesn’t mean you can control this.
But they stay, and the devil is in fact raised in the form of a huge, giggly inbred who playfully attacks with a machete. As he kills them he takes souvenirs, so you end up with the creepy image of a killer halfwit chasing people around blowing a whistle. There’s something about that, just the stupidity of the whistling over and over, it really works. Jason should try that one.
There are a bunch of great scenes (SPOILER): the guy whose rope bridge gets chopped and he climbs all the way back up the cliff only to be pushed over by a foot-to-the-head. And the final kill where the woman literally shoves her fist down a guy’s throat. Also there are some really clever stagings where the characters don’t see what we see. In one scene the couple kisses in front of a waterfall while we see their friend’s corpse flop like a dead fish over the rapids behind them. In another part Henry searches the dark woods with a lantern, repeatedly lighting it so we can see a dead body behind him without him noticing it himself.
I have one nitpicky complaint about the themes of the movie. Not a big one. There’s a whole progression where the girlfriend is the nicest of the group, she doesn’t want to hurt animals, she won’t even hold a weapon to defend herself, etc. And then in the end she’s shoving her fist down a retarded man’s throat. (The potential of ever having to do this is why you gotta carry Handi Wipes at all times.) It doesn’t come off so much like “look, she’s been reduced to an animal by these circumstances” as much as “you can’t care about shit, if you’re gonna survive you gotta kill without mercy!” But it seems a little forced. Sure enough on the extras Lieberman talks about how he liked DELIVERANCE so he wanted to have a character go through the same transformation that Jon Voight does. That’s why it doesn’t quite feel natural, it’s more of an homage than a deepfelt feeling.
I can live with that though. This is a fun one with lots of tension, a little bit of dark humor and a story that just gets more and more interesting as it goes along. Also in my opinion it is a very positive portrayal of homicidal inbred rednecks because in this one they’re not cannibals. Everybody needs role models, you know.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.