Color me blood redneck!
The Mr. Rev. Boone is a drunken old coot who has founded a religious order (and rampant bootlegging business) on the curative properties of white lightning. Together with his parish full of singing potent potables, he delivers salvation—and a little brown jug of fermented spirits—for three dollars a pop. Interesting thing is, whenever someone threatens to tell the authorities about his illegal liquor business, they end up dead—really, really OLD SCHOOL style. One young lassie has several rocks of ages hurled at her head. Two tourists find themselves on the Jesus end of the old rugged cross. Even Turnip, a hyperactive runner of sour mash ends up dying a dignified Southern sauce death: his car wrecked Studebaker blows up like a grain silo. With the Feds trying unsuccessfully to put the pickled pastor out of commission and Turnip's college learned son turning his back on the family's legacy of libation, the rot-gutted Reverend is staring distillation shutdown square in the kisser. But the safety of his booze boutique might just be the least of his worries. He still has to contend with this vigilante killer for God, someone who is taking the phrase This Stuff'll Kill Ya literally.
When incredibly liberal and virtually unbeatable Senator Burwell comes up for re-election, the President of the United States wants him defeated. He even handpicks a rube for the job: strumming and grinning goober Hank Jackson, famous in both fields of music: country and western. Sending a triumvirate of trained pollsters and media men into the bumpkin's backwoods barrio, he hopes to help the honky-tonk hick win more than his fair share of the illiterate Appalachian vote. But the glad-handing Governor and his backside smooching sidekick think this corn pone crooner ain't got a chance in Chattanooga of success. It's not long, however, before a sleazy, slick ad campaign and a constant play list of public pandering, philosophically fascist songs has Hank labeled a wholesome homeboy by the neo-conservative race baiters within his constituency. It looks like Jackson will win the gerrymander, even when a rent strike divides his bluegrass bandwagon. As Hank toes the prejudiced party line, his hen pecker sides with the agitators. It takes a sexual assault and a clear case of conscience, along with a lonesome ballad, to help Hank determine whether or not it's The Year of the Yahoo.
Do you like The Bible? A lot? Do you like to have multiple passages quoted at you non-stop? And is it your dream to have said Gospel tidbits bellowed at you by a bloated, beery Southern screwball who sweats sour mint juleps and speaks in a laconic drawl that makes Richard Petty sound like Richard Nixon? If the answer to any or all of those cracked queries is "nope" then you best be getting along, little groggy, and avoid This Stuff'll Kill Ya like one of dem der Moses type apocalyptic plagues. This movie is basically a 95 minute excuse to hear passages from the Old/New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and The Book of Mormon and some dialogue from Ben Hur expelled ad nauseam inside a rootin' tootin' illegal "likker" hillbilly storyline. Apparently in attempt to revisit a past success, 1964's cornpone Moonshine Mountain, director Herschell Gordon Lewis decided to make another exploitation exploration about sons of the soil, except this time he leaves out the carnality and corporal moments. Yes, there is a wonderfully daffy gore stoning and a split-second shotgun to the skull but crucifixions and Isaiah weddings just don't make up for the lack of real ribald hay rolling here. If features like this with their bootlegging, broad stereotyping, and bodacious babes have taught us anything (other than Harry Novak sure enjoys 'em) it's that without buxom ladies cavorting around in their scandalously short Daisy Dukes looking to fornicate with their kinfolk, Southern Fried freak shows like these will be as dull as the Deliverance boy. Without enough breasts or blood or even a "squeal like a pig" moment or two, This Stuff'll Kill Ya turns into a 90 minute ad for Antebellum Alcoholics Anonymous. It's fun, but needs an intervention, quickly.
So you'd think that its DVD companion piece, appropriately named The Year of the Yahoo, would try and provide some hackneyed homespun hamboning. Well, like a certain Pyle'd up military man of the mountains once opined, "sue-prize, sue-prize, sue-prize." Indeed, Yahoo is that rarity amongst supposed exploitation films: a really great movie with an incredibly well written script. Taking a page out of the Face in the Crowd / The Candidate / Primary Colors school of cinema (and when was the last time you heard old HG Lewis measured against Mike Nichols and Elia Kazan), this political potboiler about a podunk country singer candidate being mass marketed to his population of peons feels as fresh and insightful as when it was made. Screenwriter Allen Kahn creates an astute, perceptive dissection of the entire cynical candidacy process that demonstrates how gaining elected office in the United States is not a matter of ethics or integrity. It's all about showmanship and selfless pandering to the public. Unfortunately, a hundred spin doctors doing soundbite surgery at a suicidal rate would have a hard time getting the registered voter hyped about Claude King. Yes, he can carry a tune, but he can't carry a movie. His "wish I was George Jones" persona filled with golly-gees and hair cream just can't seem to slink beyond the initial line reading phase. Still, his "h-yuck yuck" yokelism works within the movie. Actually, about the worst thing you can say about this production is that its low budget, non-professional actor aspects tend to show through more than usual. Funny how good writing will do that. Still, if you never thought that you'd experience high-class social consciousness and shrewd political satire in a Something Weird Video movie, then step right up and cast your ballot for The Year of the Yahoo. It's an astonishingly professional and enjoyable film.
Sadly, what these two Herschell Gordon Lewis films are missing is the one thing that would make them, and this DVD, a certified winner. And that is the great man himself. As he was apparently unable to participate in the creation of this title (one assumes he was busy with Blood Feast 2), we end up with a very nice, but "just not Herschell," set of commentary tracks by Lewis associate and crew member Daniel Krough. Aside from Ray Sager, Krough is probably the only other choice to host this bonus feature. He is incredibly knowledgeable, remembering names and places better than most old movie men, and he even sprinkles the track with trivia questions and scandal (albeit on the slight side) to fill in the gaps. By the end of Yahoo he does seem a little burnt out (perhaps he recorded these both in a single day), but they are still fascinating and filled with HGL righteousness. As for the movies themselves, it's evident why both were considered "lost" for so long. These only remaining prints have seen far better days. Filled with scratches, spotting, faded colors, and editing errors, these are not the best SWV color titles ever released. The full screen images have explicit issues. At least Something Weird gives us a standard roundup of Lewis trailers, a snippet from Moonshine Mountain (the cast warbles "The Old Gray Goose is Dead"), and a Barry Mahon nudie about Denny's waitresses wanting to get their drunk on called Naked Moonshine. When you add the gallery of press material and audio drive-in theater announcements, you've got a fairly plump porker of a DVD presentation. There's even a bevy of bilious musical numbers in each film to round out your sing-a-long satisfaction. This Stuff'll Kill Ya / The Year of the Yahoo may sound like just a couple of country fried film fillets, but take a deeper look. There's a lot more here than fatback and hayseed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Audio Commentary on Both Films by Daniel Krogh, Longtime Lewis Friend, Actor, Crew Member and Author of "The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis"
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