Troma // 1987 // 90 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 7th, 2009
They're Tobacco Chewin', Gut Chompin', Cannibal Kinfolk from Hell!
The 1980s weren't kind to the little guy, except maybe in the video store. With the big studios reluctant to release their films on the blossoming VHS format (for fear of piracy. Sound familiar?), the smaller, more obscure studios (like the loveable Troma) stepped up to fill in the video void. Even after the big guys had embraced the new format, the video store was still known as a place to go for tastes the mainstream refused to cater to. There you could find drive-in fare like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the latest offerings from Eurohorror masters like Argento and Fulci, and the domestic gore-fests of the likes of Troma. Redneck Zombies perfectly epitomizes that heady time in cinema history, where a gentleman from Maryland could direct a movie shot on video (long before the Blair Witch was a glimmer in the eye of a savage marketing geek) and have his creation seen by thousands of people across the country. Twenty years later, Troma is giving one of their most reliable properties the deluxe digital treatment with this Tromasterpice Collection DVD. For fans of the film, Redneck Zombies: 20th Anniversary Edition is a fine update, with new extras and improved sound and video.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. military is in charge of a vat of chemical waste that causes humans to turn into gut-munching zombies upon contact. Also unsurprisingly, they choose the most unsafe method possible to transport it, allowing a single soldier in an unsecured vehicle to drive it across the country. When the poorly secured drum falls off the back of the Jeep, it's picked up by a ridiculously large redneck gentleman who decides to hand it over to inbred family to use as a still in place of the one he destroyed. The three kinsfolk proceed to brew up a batch of their famous moonshine. Despite the brew's green hue, they package it up for distribution around the county. Meanwhile, a group of campers are hiking in the wilderness near the illicit still. They get caught in the crossfire as all who taste the diabolical shine become cannibalistic zombie rednecks.
You've got to give Redneck Zombies credit for an inspired idea. So many zombies are just nondescript, ordinary citizens (the better to hang allegory on, I suspect) that it was time for a change. Much like the blaxploitation horror of Scream, Blacula, Scream, Pericles Lewnes takes a minority group (the American Redneck) and throws them into a horror mold. What emerges from this fascinating mixture is a nightmare episode of Hee Haw directed by George Romero. Only the broadest caricatures are at work here, where all rednecks are either ridiculously corpulent or skeletally skinny. But really, the redneck aspects of the plot are really there for early comic relief and become just a frame to hang gore on. Of course it is really clever that instead of some pseudo-scientific explanation like airborne viruses or strange satellites, Redneck Zombies gives us toxic moonshine.
As for the gore, it's top-notch all the way. Although I'm sure dozens of bottles of food coloring and Karo syrup gave their lives for this venture, it doesn't have the usual feel of most low-budget gore-fests. There's dismemberment, eye gouging, loads of bowels being pulled from the body, and various other icky bits of organ. If I have a single complaint about the effects, it's the non-blood makeup looks sad. But I suspect most people are going to be too distracted by the all the gore that's flying on the screen to notice the pasty faces.
I should also mention that this film is painfully, painfully '80s. From the hair, to the clothes, to the "slang," the entire film just screams that it's from the "Me decade." Considering the film was intentionally going for comedy in addition to the gore, the 1980s fashions only make the film funnier, but many people are probably going to be more frightened by some of the hairstyles than any of the zombies.
Troma has really rolled out the red(neck) carpet for Redneck Zombies: 20th Anniversary Edition. It all starts with a ridiculously good-looking transfer of the video. Troma claims it's a "color-corrected transfer from the original master," and this shot-on-video movie shines. Some might see the updated video as heretical, but the film's low-budget roots show enough that the added clarity doesn't detract. Thankfully, the audio matches the video. Many low-budget films sound like they were recorded in a duffel bag at the back of someone's closet. Those problems are absent during Redneck Zombies; dialogue is clear and easy to follow, and music and sound effects are well-balanced. Unsurprisingly, auteur Pericles Lewnes is featured heavily in the film's extras. Redneck Zombies opens with the usual introduction by Troma maestro Lloyd Kaufman. He does his funny/obnoxious shtick with Lewnes and a Tromette. We're also treated to a commentary with Lewnes and producer Ed Bishop. The two are funny and informative, dishing out production info along with some wry comments on how the film has aged. There are also a host of new interviews with the film's participants which are interesting to see twenty years on. Finally the disc rounds out with a bunch of contemporary promotional material including outtakes, production footage, and promotional videos. Fans of the film's music will appreciate that the second disc of this release includes a CD of the film's music.
There was a time when good gore was novel enough to carry an otherwise lackluster picture, and Redneck Zombies has that aplenty. However, there's maybe enough plot for a 40-minute film. Also, pretty much all of the characters are two-dimensional and annoying. I doubt I have to mention that the acting isn't going to win any awards anytime soon. For all but the most diehard of gore fans, this film will be little more than a trip down the lane of '80s nostalgia.
On this second release of Redneck Zombies, Troma gets just about everything right. The video, audio, and extras are all updated and about as good as anyone could want for the film. The film has taken on a gory, nostalgic charm with its low-budget effects and '80s fashion stylings. If you're a fan of Redneck Zombies then you'll certainly want to upgrade. If you're not a fan then there's very little to recommend the film unless you've got a penchant for zombies, gore, or '80s fashion mishaps.
Redneck Zombies is guilty of being a low-budget gore-fest. The court commends Troma for giving extra attention to its recent DVD releases.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary
* Original Promos