Thursday, 29 October 2009

Redneck Zombies (1986, Pericles Lewnes)

"Redneck Zombies" (1986, directed by Pericles Lewnes)

Version reviewed: The excellent 2009 no-region-coding 'Tromasterpiece Edition' from Troma Team Video.

Nuclear waste falls into the hands of rednecks who use the drum holding the waste to make a still and brew up some moonshine. After they turn into insanely violent zombies, they attack a group of dysfunctional campers from the city. Interspersed with the film are a series of either comedic or mind-fuck vignettes which consist of at least half the craziness.

The 'plot' is a deliberate (but not ironic) attempt at making a bad horror movie. What makes it different is the fact that, in practice, the film is a flat-out comedy. This gives the movie the feel of something custom built to covertly sit between "Troll 2" and "Zombi 3" on the bottom-shelf of your local video store, while in fact celebrating it's own crassness in a way those unintentional bad movie classics never would.

But, in fact, I am of the opinion the film is a much more worthwhile zombie excursion than the vast majority of "Dawn of the Dead" knock-offs produced in this time. There's definitely a touch of "The Return of the Living Dead" here, not just in it's toxic-chemical induced zombies, but in the zeal of the filmmakers making their own rules up as they go. With this movie, the filmmakers decided to show you things no other zombie movie would! They show you the point of view of a terrified man on acid attempting to perform an autopsy on a zombie by lantern-light and you'll see a corpulant redneck seriously contemplate having sex with the (seriously mutilated) remains of a lady camper. It's easy to forget in this post-"Shaun of the Dead"/"Zombieland" world that they were actually no zombie movies where people attempted to 'act' like zombies to move around the world until Redneck Zombies came around. Why George Romero overlooked this, I do not know.

It would be so easy for me to dismiss this movie for one reason or another - it's inherent trashiness or the fact it was shot on video (note: here I am not talking about 'digital' video)- but the fact is I've seen enough films shot on video I can tell you the difference. Most of them are dull and depressing like "Robot Ninja", some of them are atrocious like the "Zombie Bloodbath" trilogy and some of them are just amateur beyond all fucking belief such as "Splatter Farm", which is made as if the filmmakers have only seen two films before, and I only bought the fucking thing 'cause Frank Henenlotter endorsed it on the box! "Redneck Zombies" manages to, rather quietly really, subvert whatever expectations the audience expects. If the audience expects "Dawn of the Dead 2", they're bound to be disappointed and put off with all the weirdness, comedy and the fact it's cheaply shot on video. If someone expects shot on video trash, they get a film that is pretty well shot for what it is, edited tightly with some really neat, trippy effects and all done with a good sense of humour. Intercut with the gory, comedy of the film are genuinely arresting sequences like the Tobacco Man scene (a kind of revolting, redneck twist on the "Ice Cream Man" ) or the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" influenced scene where one of the rednecks delivering moonshine finds himself in a house where one man, dressed as a butcher and covered in blood, makes an order of 'shine while a bug-eyed redneck holds a rope around a crying woman, tied to a chair. Seemingly, this doesn't really bother our redneck 'hero'. The scene gets weirder - as the girl cries, begs with her eyes in slow motion, close ups on the redneck get more intense, and pretty soon, it's intercut with the slaughter house (actually, beak marking) footage on the TV, featuring a bunch of chirping chicks.
Very strange. "Texas Chain Saw" gets a more direct parody earlier on, when a twitchy barber hitchhiker recreates a similar scene from the Tobe Hooper classic. It's nice to see the filmmakers acknowledge what is, probably, the best 16mm low-budget horror film ever made. There's also some really cool gore and violence here - it's never realistic, but it is frequently disgusting and over the top. One special effect is a clear stand out- one of the best headshots I've ever seen, putting the ones in both "Dawn of the Dead" and "Scanners" to shame, skillfully (and surely patiently) making sure the audience sees for a few seconds the real actor before immediately cutting to the dummy's head exploding apart. The effect is simple but very effective - there's no seam.

I have to give thanks to Troma twiceover - first of all, no one else would release this film. If Pericles Lewnes and co. had made a straight-forward zombie film, maybe they would release it - but ironically, the humour preventing any other company taking the film on is what makes the film so much more worthwhile than it's other shot-on-video ilk. Troma had the good sense (and sense of humour) to release a film that is committed to entertaining it's purely hypothetical audience. Second of all, Troma re-released the film on DVD in this year of our lord, 2009. An earlier DVD from 1998 (I believe) featured a few glitches in the print both visible and, if you scroll down and go to my interview with Ed Bishop, you'll learn parts of the film that seem like cuts are actually glitches too. The only extras were two interviews, one with Pericles Lewnes and one with Ed Bishop. They were okay, but only lasted a few minutes a piece.

The 2009 Tromasterpiece (second in the series, following "Cannibal! The Musical") release is a spiffy two-disc affair that buries any previous versions of the film. The freshly painted cover is a nice touch (though I do miss the original poster, seen up top) and it houses inside two discs - a jam-packed DVD and a CD soundtrack (!). On the DVD, a new transfer has been done that looks a clear three or four times better than the previous DVD edition. There are no glitches in the film so darker scenes (where the problem surfaced before) look a lot better. The whole thing has been colour-corrected, which means it looks much more consistant than the first version did. Perhaps controversial among some small quarters of this film's small fanbase, some of the special visual effects have been redone for this edition. RELAX, this is not a big deal, the two scenes as they stood before were both very funny - the protracted mutation of the rednecks into zombies and the "acid autopsy" scene - but a little dark. This new version preserves the hokey joke of the cheesy effects, but they're more appropriate and less obstructive to the footage underneath. Instead of merely having hundreds of multicoloured squares overlapping themselves to simulate the effects of LSD, this time there are swirls and warping effects, far more appropriate to a "cheesy low-budget approximation of LSD". In fact, I think I saw a kaleidoscope effect in there...?

Overall, the version of the film here is clearly the best there ever was. But wait, there's more! Now there's a commentary from Pericles and Ed, which is a lot of fun and informative too. There's in-depth interviews with just about everybody involved with the production (notably, Anthony Burlington-Smith who was very funny in the film is nowhere to be found here). There is also deleted scenes (including the original mutation and 'acid autopsy' effects), behind the scenes footage, outtakes, trailers, promo-videos and more.

The soundtrack CD, probably the biggest and most unconventional extra here, is a definete boon to fans of the film. Consisting of both Adrian Bond's sometimes hilarious sometimes very effective early synth score and also the songs littered throughout the film, this is an incredible extra to drop on fans (why don't Troma do this with Toxie or "Class of Nuke 'Em High" ? Surely these artists are more obscure!) and a very fun listen for fans of the film.

Overall, in this new DVD I have to say "Redneck Zombies" is one of the best horror or exploitation releases of the year. The extras are really all out, something I never dared hope for in Troma pickup movies, where the cast and crew have usually long given up their filmmaking dreams. I laughed, if you think you will, splash out and join me.

Don't miss out on my great interview with actor/writer/producer Ed Bishop here!

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