Lloyd Kaufman’s an old Romantic and you should never trust a damn thing any of us say. Ever. Especially not when we’re telling stories. So when he tells you about two young hotshots who stalked into his office one day with their baby, this flick, clutched protectively between them, don’t believe the hype. They called ahead of time and, hell, the real story of how Redneck Zombies came to be is even more interesting than the most sensationalist ad copy.
This isn’t your typical Bad Movie; it’s consciously crafted to be one of the broadest, goriest, most outrageously terrible movies you’ve ever seen. All because a bunch of friends sat around smoking and joking about the movie they’d love to make one day…and then got off their asses and actually made it. Sure they shot on video, but I’m more interested in what they shot: a zombie comedy that, unlike so many flicks in so many genres, achieves exactly what it sets out to achieve.
Like many a “serious” horror movie either before or after it, Redneck Zombies begins with a yellow wall of scrawling text. No chainsaw-wielding Texans to report this time – only a barrel of “experimental chemical warfare nuclear waste” that “could mean the end of life as we know it on this planet.” These pre-credit crawls (inevitable read to us by ominously deadpan narrators) may be annoying as a rule, but at least this guy doesn’t bullshit us like the Darrow Chemical Company’s narrators. “All Trioxin has since been destroyed,” my ass.
So the Army, in its infinite wisdom, entrusted this one barrel of “experimental chemical warfare nuclear waste” to a stoned fool named Tyrone Robinson (Tyrone Taylor) who apparently likes to get high and take Jeep rides down Maryland’s finer rural back roads. If not for the bright yellow canister of nuclear waste improperly lashed to his Jeep’s ass, I’d say more power to him. Alas, the canister rolls down a hill and into the sheltering arms of local resident Ferd Mertz (Bucky Santini), who quickly convinces Robinson to part with it via ol’ fashion gun barrel diplomacy.
Ferd’s fellow denizens of rural America, the Clemson family, seize the canister from him with the same tactic, taking revenge on Ferd for his shooting up of their still at some point in the past. Outnumbered, Fred retreats, leaving Pa (E.W. Nesneb), Junior (P. Floyd Piranha), Jethro (William Decker), and Billy Bob (our director, Pericles Lewnes), who’d prefer to be identified as Elly May, to the toxic waste. Unable to read the warning labels (cuz…ya know…rednecks) the Clemsons mistake said waste for several key moonshine ingredients and quickly integrate it into their damaged still. The resulting concoction is plainly lime Kool-Aid, but it might as well be the florescent ooze that created Swamp Thing. All it seems to do is make our rednecks more of what they already are…in the best zombie movie tradition.
Meanwhile, a group of campers – Horror Movie Cliche #16B – are casually wandering through the wilderness. The only ones who really matter are Lisa (Lisa M. DeHaven), the Final Girl; Bob (Anthony Burlington-Smith) the Token Black Dude; Bob’s main squeeze, Theresa (Darla Deans); Sally (Boo Teasedale), our First Victim; and Wilbur (James H. Housely), who used to live ’round these parts. Ten years away from home have left Wilbur all the more qualified to lead a gang of hikers to their doom but, of course, Wilbur can’t admit that.
So, while our intrepid urbanites bicker about Wilbur’s sense of direction, the Clemson family cooks on. Since Ferd’s sabotage played hell with the Clemon’s scheduel, Pa insists Elly May deliver the jello-green batch of ‘shine post haste. And so Elly May spends the rest of the film delivering Mason jars full of radioactive liquor to rural Maryland’s more discerning denizens. All agree the Clemson’s new batch smells like a winner…but one taste (as Pa, Junior and Jethro soon discover for themselves) is enough to knock even the casual drinker down into death…from whence they quickly rise.
After about fifteen minutes of the obligatory bickering all characters in horror movies must go through by law, our campers settle down to smoke some pot and giggle. For some reason, our director and his crew choose to juxtapose the camper’s revelry with the Clemson family’s descent into zombie-dom. Our non-Rednecks are shot as normally as one could shoot them with a video camera, while the Clemson’s world is overlain with an entire decade’s worth of cheap video effects. Is this a commentary, stealthily and succinctly contrasting the effects of rampant alcoholism and casual pot smoking? Or is this the usual blanket indictment of people having fun horror movies throw in to satisfy America’s nascent Puritanism? I have it on good authority from the band Toto that “zombie” is an Australian euphemism for marijuana…but, somehow, I feel like I’m giving this too much thought. Well, I’m sorry, thoughtless gits of the world, but I’d like to know certain things. And I’d like to hear the rest of Bob’s stoned, rambling story, which ends with:
…and she said, “it’s three inches!” And I said, “Yeah…from the floor!'”
After a post-smoke-out nap, Sally wanders off to pee in the woods and discovers the still site, sans-Clemons…except Jethro, who proceeds to peel her scalp off. Drawn by those screams, Theresa finds Jethro dining on Sally. Escaping into a nearby cornfield, she finds Ferd Mertz…who, to save his own bacon, quickly throws her back to Zombie Jethro.
It’s not long before the rest of our campers find the remains of their friends…and the still. Andy (Martin J. Wolfman), the one in the Incredible Shape Shifting T-Shirt (I particularly liked its “Same Shit Different Day” form) survives just long enough to work out the plot for everyone else. Wilbur decapitates Zombie Jethro with a shovel (the “Ashley Williams Technique”), solving the immediate problem. But as Our…um…campers…continue their flight the scope of things becomes clear. Our Survivors (there we go) soon find themselves fending off the Living Dead with…canisters of bug spray.
Through occasional check-ins with Elly May, we see that the Clemsons supply moonshine to an entire valley’s worth of one-off, incidental characters. These little asides – to the pair of idiots enjoying the pornographic film Knockers, which consists of some unfortunate woman oiling up her chest; or the single mom who immediately pours ‘shine into her infant’s bottle; or the two twelve-year-old-lookin’ boys who accept delivery for their daddy and immediately dare each other to take a taste – make up most of the running time. And that’s good because, no matter the amount of gore on display, this is actually meant to be a comedy.
Unlike the half-hearted, snarky horror-comedies everyone complains about today, Redneck Zombies is the broadest possible comedy it could be, employing the same shotgun method its (human) protagonists use to great effect in the third act. Yes, this turns the whole film into a stereotype parade, but even that’s part of the point; handled, I might add, much more effectively because no one stops to comment about how much this all resembles some horror old horror movie.
It began life as Pericles Lewnes’ love note to all the independent horror of his age – from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre through Evil Dead and beyond…possibly all the way to Return of the Living Dead Part II, which also begins with a stoned soldier loosing a barrel of unsecured Zombie Fluid off the back of his truck. Except Return of the Living Dead Part II came out in 1988, when Redneck Zombies was already in the can. Did someone at Greenfox Productions or Lorimar Film Entertainment see a copy of Redneck Zombies at some point and, after tossing Lewnes and his “horrible” film out of the office, sit back and think, You know…that opening set-up’s really not half-bad?
Or is it another one of those absurd coincidences the movie business throws at you every once in awhile? Stranger things have happened…
Like this movie, which surprised me by not being all that bad, really. It’s a technical flop, sure, and not just because its shot-on-shiteo. Our old friend, the Visible Boom Mic, makes his presence known, and our non-Redneck actors all struggle to play something more than Stoned Piece of Zombie Kibble #4. Using video tape (substantially cheaper than filming with actual film) left everyone free to ad lib, with all the usual hit-and-miss comedy that implies. (See the Mystery Men review for an analysis of those in general.) I might be more inclined to remember a few more campers if they had more to say…and if what they said were at all interesting. Then again, the most interesting character in the film – whom Nathan called “the other guy” and Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org labeled “the Drinking Dude,” – never speaks…and pulls fresh bottles out of thin air, officially granting him the World’s Most Useful Superpower, If you’re an Alcoholic. So what the hell do I know?
Some bits – like Bob’s LSD-assisted autopsy of Zombie Jethro (he ate the acid before all the zombie shit starting going down), or the comedic asides to Ma Clemson (Alice Fay Stanley) and her pet pig – work exceptionally well. One sequence – Elly May’s visit to Jake the Human Butcher (J. Nick Alberto) – even stands out as an effective piece of actual horror movie making, which totally blindsided me in the best possible way. “Jesus, Redneck Zombies,” I said. “that was pretty intense. Brave,” I knew then, despite being a terrible film, Redneck Zombies had delivered.
Instead of stopping the horrible plot dead for a lame pop culture reference masquerading as a joke, horrific elements play an integral part of the film’s humor, sometimes aiding the punch line, sometimes outright delivering them, and sometimes (like the above, though the Tobacco Man’s monologue also fits into this category) providing a needed contrast by striking out with a sudden onrush of horror, just as we dropped our defenses by laughing at something absurd. I shouldn’t have to tell you how both Comedy and Horror rest on a base of societal transgression. Both draw power by inspiring audiences to be shocked – shocked – that someone would dare step outside the boundaries they’ve dutifully created for themselves.
Like the boundaries of stock characters. And because they’re playing stock characters, none of these performances are going to set worlds afire. Even that’s okay, because all the unremarkable ones get themselves eaten early. The remainders unfortunately tread familiar Romero territory, with the menfolk falling to pointless dick waving contests while Lisa the Final Girl berating them for their stupidity. They don’t listen and so die, eventually leaving Lisa alone to face the redneck zombies with whatever’s at hand in the isolate cabin…sound familiar?
Derivative? And how. Cheap? Well, these zombies do have the odd habit of leaving the lower half of their victims just lying around, despite the buttocks having the most meat. This allows movie makers to stuff pant legs full of spare butcher’s trimmings and pretending it’s (say) Theresa. Also, these zombies can strip the skin off a face faster than anything this side of a Brundlefly’s vomit drop: all this movie’s severed heads have a bad habit of morphing into blood-battered plastic skulls. (Complete with wide, glassy eyebrows). The oatmeal make-up of these zombies makes even the crappiest Italian jobs look like a KNB special.
None of which matters because Redneck Zombies is the film that circumnavigates my critical scale. “So bad it’s good,” is too cliche for this flick. “So bad its fucking awesome,” seems a whole lot better. As no-budget zombie comedies from the late 80s go, Redneck Zombies surprised me with its balance. The first half is almost all comedy, its horror slowly but surely building up to critical mass before exploding all over our Final Girl’s face. (Yeah, I know, where else, right?)
As Final Girls go, Lisa suffers from lack of attention until the cast dwindles down to a manageable pool of victims. She also suffers from a crippling case of Laurie Strode Syndrome – the bad habit of dropping her weapons as soon as the Obvious Threat is removed…the better to allow Hidden Threats to give us a Jump Scare.
Redneck Zombies is the kind of movie I consider critic-proof because, unlike the marquee blockbusters that usually earn that title, nothing about it was ever meant to be anything besides transparently awful. It’ll shock the Normals with its gratuitous fluids and reliance on stereotyping. It’ll shock the Horror fans with its (relative) technical ineptness and reliance on cliche. And if you gather enough friends together it’ll fill your night with joy. Just make sure there’s enough liquor. The last thing you want to do in the middle of a zombie apocalypse is run out of booze. Just ask the Drinking Dude…