Tuesday, June 17, 2008


One thing I'll never understand is when a filmmaker (or fan) will defend a movie by saying, "But it's supposed to be bad!" Now, I certainly don't get why anyone would want to make an intentionally inferior product--with the myriad entertainment choices vying for people's attention, I'd think you'd want to give yourself every creative edge possible--but what really gets to me is the semblance of avoidance behind this logic. If it's supposed to suck, then you can't say it does because the filmmakers beat you to it! It's one thing for a director to have a self-deprecating sense of humor to blunt the edge of ensuing criticism, but this tactic is really just laziness--why bother creating three-dimensional characters, a coherent and consistent story, or coming up with new ideas when you can just throw whatever you want together and call it shit?

Perhaps it's just an understanding of the limits of no-budget filmmaking; when you've got barely any money, a non-professional cast and crew, and stuck shooting on video rather than film, the deck's stacked against you making a good movie. So why not embrace your limitations and cut loose?

This was no doubt the reasoning behind Pericles Lewnes's 1987 production REDNECK ZOMBIES, one of the more prominent entries in the shot-on-video genre of the late-'80s. He reportedly opted for a cheesy, over-the-top gory approach for this Maryland-based production to offset its amateurish nature. But unlike other let's-suck-on-purpose filmmakers, Lewnes brought a warped sensibility to the proceedings in an attempt to make up for its SOV liabilities--and dammit, he almost pulled it off.

REDNECK ZOMBIES's premise--in which a backwoods clan brews moonshine in a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste, which turns those that drink it into flesh-eating zombies--is really just an excuse to string together a series of hit-or-miss comic vignettes. Though the film's humor is broad enough to nail to the side of a barn, relying on stock hillbilly stereotypes and a decidedly low-brow slant, it's still good for a drunken chuckle or two; some of the best moments have a strange, almost surreal quality to them, like the Elephant Man-resembling tobacco salesman, or a dumb-but-funny TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE parody. It's even entertaining enough to distract from the cheapjack camera "tricks" Lewnes uses to shake up the stagnant videography (the camera tilts enough to disorient Andy Milligan).

But somewhere around the midpoint the movie runs out of creative steam and slams to a halt, its final thirty minutes a slogging, laborious death march to a finish line that seems to never come. Any laughs have dried up and blown away, leaving you with an uninspired parade of gooey gore effects.

REDNECK ZOMBIES took a lot of grief upon its initial release for its video-based photography (which is at least clean and clear--two decades of crappy backyard flicks makes this look like Conrad Hall was calling the shots) and its poor acting (not completely hideous, with co-writer "Zoofeet" standing out as gender-confused redneck Ellie Mae; and Keith Johnson, who plays an asylum attendant, graduated from this to bit parts in shows like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET and THE WIRE), but Lewnes deserves credit for making the most of a bare-bones budget. If he'd have maintained some kind of creative momentum REDNECK ZOMBIES might have a greater legacy than "This looks stupid. Let's watch it!"

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