Horror and exploitation movies from the non-CGI era reviewed semi-weekly
Saturday, August 29, 2015
#214: Backwoods aka Geek (Dean Crow, 1987)
This low-budget straight-to-video micro-indie shot in rural Indiana explores one of my least favorite subgenres of horror -- city slickers terrorized by backwoods hillbilly psychos -- but it manages to develop the characters beyond most films of this type and give them unexpected traits. It avoids some of the duller and more irritating cliches, and though it's hardly a wonder of visual expressiveness, it doesn't look sloppy or inept. I may be damning Backwoods with faint praise, and I wasn't a huge fan, but it's a decent little horror movie.
Backwoods begins with our leads, couple Karen and Jamie (Christine Noonan and Brad Armacost), in the midst of a cycling/camping vacation. They're biking back to their home city of Detroit and decide to take a break and camp for the night in small-town Indiana. Karen and Jamie are an intelligent, resourceful pair, but they're also a couple of smartasses, as we discover when they tell the park ranger (Gary Lott) that they're brother and sister when they're clearly a couple and as we keep discovering when they encounter the family in the woods. Writer/director Dean Crow seems to be going for some of the smartass chemistry Albert Brooks and Cybill Shepherd shared in Taxi Driver (minus the unrequited sexual tension on Albert's part) and Armacost appears to be doing a Brooks impression. (By the way, Armacost is the only one in this cast of nonprofessionals who had an acting career after this movie. He primarily works in theater, but he's appeared in small parts in several movies and TV shows.)
The park ranger gives them some camping options but warns them away from a particular stretch of the woods, saying that a group of Indianans tried to settle there in the 1920s but died out and that locals steer clear of the place. That sounds like the perfect spot for Karen, and they pitch the tent there despite Jamie's reluctance. The next morning, they hear a gunshot right by their tent and find a man standing over the body of a young girl. She's been accidentally shot. Fortunately, Jamie's a doctor. He's able to help the girl, Beth (Leslie Denise), and her imposing but grateful hillbilly father, Eben (Dick Kreusser), tells them to come with him. They can camp on his land, and he will feed them in return for their medical assistance.
In spite of genre stereotypes, Eben and Beth are not crazy inbred psychos, though Eben is pretty eccentric and can be intimidating when he's drunk on moonshine. He's basically a goodhearted man with some quirks. Unfortunately for everyone, Eben has another kid, a grown man with the mind of a feral, animalistic murderous lunatic who lives in the abandoned smokehouse and bites the heads off chickens. His name is William (Jack O'Hara). He spies on Karen skinny dipping in a nearby lake and gets fixated on her, to the downfall of almost everyone. I was worried when this scene started, but fortunately this movie avoids rape scenes. Rape horror is my least favorite subgenre by a huge margin, and it too often goes hand-in-hand with the crazed hillbilly movie. Christine Noonan's character is capable and resourceful, but she still has to get naked in several gratuitous nude scenes, probably a prerequisite for 1980s video distribution money, but I'm grateful rape scenes weren't a part of it.
You can probably guess the rest of the story, but Crow generates genuine suspense, and O'Hara is a frightening presence. The performances are rough, as is to be expected from a movie where everyone is making their first and in many cases only film appearance, but the lack of polish has an authentic charm I value. I can't say I genuinely enjoy this type of film, but this one is a lot better than it has any reason to be, and Crow knows how to make his tiny budget work. This one is hard to track down now, but as of this date, someone has put it on YouTube.
Dr. Mystery, aka Robot X, aka Raul "Sous Chef" Mendoza, aka Josh Krauter was killed in a brawl in a Pizza Hut parking lot after expressing his disappointment with the "Dippin' Strips" pizza. His skeleton was saved and inserted into an apesuit-wearing robot powered by an electrical current emanating from the still-beating heart of deceased actor Zero Mostel. He is also a limited liability company and writes the weekly advice column, "Pull Your Head Outta Your Ass," for the Vermont Luthiers Annual Newsletter.