Sunday, April 11, 2010

Movie Review: Redneck Zombies (1987, U.S.)

21 years ago, Troma Pictures made minor cinematic history when it released a “Zombie Classic” straight to video (and it was shot entirely on video, something unheard of at the time if it wasn’t pornography). I’m talking about those “tobacco chewin’, gut chompin’, cannibal kinfolk from Hell”…Redneck Zombies. Fangoria Magazine called this movie a “backwoods blood bath that’ll tickle your funny bone then rip it out”. I credit this movie, for better or worse, as one of the main influences on why I went to Film School. Redneck Zombies showed that you could make a movie and have it released by a major studio straight to video without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (before El Mariachi, Clerks & Reservoir Dogs). The story in Redneck Zombies is pretty straight forward: the military loses a barrel of chemical waste, a redneck family discovers the barrel and decides to use its contents in their latest batch of moonshine. As the rednecks deliver the shine to their patrons, the toxic brew begins to turn the locals into zombies and mayhem ensues. As all of this is happening, the viewer is also introduced to a group of hikers camping in the wilderness of backwoods Maryland. They eventually come upon the deadly moonshine still and have to fight off hordes of the Redneck Zombies.

This movie is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. A small part of my brain shrieks in repulsion as I type those words but I don’t care. This movie is fun, pure and simple. The director, Pericles Lewnes, makes no apologies for its over-the-top campiness. This unrepentant approach helps make the movie that much more enjoyable. It’s hard to find a movie that incorporates some of my favorite things, including zombies, the Three Stooges and homages to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Recreational Drug Use, Rocky and Bullwinkle & Day of the Dead. There are so many jokes in this movie, both visual and aural, that it will take multiple viewings to catch them all. Even as I write this review, I am catching new things that never occurred to me before. For anyone that has been lucky to catch this movie before now: the director’s commentary is hilarious as hell. There are so many back-stories to Lewnes’ friends and family that helped in this movie. One of my favorites is that one of the actresses in the film was threatened to be excommunicated by her church if she didn’t stop participating in its productions. She was actually forced to attend an intervention. Another one included the zombie, Ferd Merz, and the make-up nightmare that he had to go through. His zombie makeup consisted of pretty much a Jell-O substance. The makeup artist forgot to put in a chemical to make the Jell-O pliable. The substance in turn hardened on Merz. On the special features, there is actually video of Lewnes and company extracting Merz out of his Jell-O shell. You won’t see that on the 50th Anniversary of Gone with the Wind.

The cinematography and lighting in this movie rivals several more expensive films that are considered successful by box office numbers. Some of the shots look like small “love letters” to the early work of Sam Raimi, with unique choices of camera placement and angles. Raimi actually sent a letter to Lewnes to tell him how much he enjoyed Redneck Zombies. The special effects are pretty damn good considering the budget. The movie definitely delivers the gore. Interestingly, there were two cuts of this film. A sanitized, censored version which was carried by the bigger video chain stores while the “Mom & Pop” stores carried the uncensored version. I reviewed this movie on the Troma 20th Anniversary DVD. It has a new color corrected transfer from the original stock and is chock full of DVD extras that make the viewing experience a very immersive and enjoyable one. It’s important to note the social and pop culture mentions that this movie has obtained: writes up in major newspapers such as The New York Times and The London Times as well as officially being a Trivial Pursuit question. Lewnes is no slouch either. He went on to work for Llyod Kauffman at Troma (the modern day Roger Corman), working in several films including Toxic Avenger II & III, Sergeant Kabukiman & War. He worked on Ang Lee’s first film as well as directing the music video for the band Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, “High”.

Is this movie bad? I don’t think so if you look at it from Lewnes’ point of view. Everything is exaggerated for the purpose of satire. The zombies serve as comedic relief in the movie. This is the type of movie that you get a bunch of your film geek friends together for on a Friday night, buy a case of beer, light the hooka and enjoy everything that is right, and wrong, in this movie. I highly recommend this for anyone’s zombie collection, for both historical reasons as well as having a good laugh every once in a while. Keep your eyes open for Redneck Zombies 2, as Lewnes mentions that it is in the works.

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