Horror Challenge entry #5: Redneck Zombies (1987, Pericles Lewnes)
I don’t know what’s more unexpected - that most of the best parts of a film titled Redneck Zombies have nothing to do with either rednecks or zombies, or that a film titled Redneck Zombies has “best parts” at all. I know that sounds like snark, but I mean that in all sincerity - Redneck Zombies isn’t really a good film, and who would really want a “good” film about ’80s-fashion-victim campers beset by undead rednecks poisoned by hooch laced with government-sourced toxic waste? Beholden as it is to the lower-than-lowbrow Troma aesthetic, it’s open and cheerful about embracing its badness; rather than try to take a dopey premise and prove himself by crafting something “serious” from it, writer/director Lewnes goes blessedly bonkers with the dopiness, loading up on redneck humor and gross-out humor and drug humor, while still finding sneaky ways to prove that he’s got more talent than the average video-camera-toting auteur. His visuals, in particular, are more ambitious than most low-level gutmunchers; whether it was the appeal of fucking around with the video image in ways that hadn’t yet become commonplace in the genre market or simply a sense that he had nothing to lose, Lewnes throws every warping effect that he can at many of his shots. Looking at the opening sequence, set in a dilapidated asylum and replete with whooshing canted Raimi-esque angles, colorful video psychedelia and cacophonous reverb-drenched soundtrack, you’d be forgiven if you thought for a minute that you wandered into some other, creepier film. Lewnes returns to the lysergic whenever it suits him, and while the encroaching zombie attacks are effective in their way, the most impressive pieces of this patchwork work are those which allow him to indulge that, i.e. the spaced-out meltdowns upon the first consumption of the chemical-waste-tainted moonshine and, especially, the increasingly absurd and weirdly hilarious autopsy performed on a zombie by a med student tripping on acid.
Furthermore, Lewnes airs out that tendency towards the creepy with the occasional appearance of the Tobacco Man (a hooded, towering beast of a man with a digitally-altered voice) and a bizarre, inexplicable sequence in the house of the neighborhood “freelance butcher.” In these sequences, we can see Lewnes straining against his self-imposed limitations to show what he can do beyond goofy gory kitsch. I’m not dissing the kitsch, mind you - I enjoy an unapologetic zombie film as much as anyone. It’s not the second word in the title that gives me pause; the film’s weakness, truth be told, is in the idiots-in-pants-and-overalls setup. While there’s some incidental silliness and likable running gags (like the constantly-changing T-shirts on one fellow I nicknamed Jerkass Camper), the bulk of the humor is broad and dumb, hick humor at its most indulgent. There’s a lot of redneck to get through before the zombies show up, and while this isn’t nearly as tiresome as, say, Sassy Sue, a little of it goes a really long way.
I will say, though, that I appreciated the double-edged payoff in the shot of the alcoholic camper downing a pint of Graves’ Grain Alcohol right before a zombie attack.
I will also say that, no matter how bad a film is otherwise, I cannot fail to give at least a half-hearted recommendation to a film with this particular zombie extra:
Ain’t he just the cutest little flesh-eater ever?