Yee-haw! Judge Dennis Prince gots hisself a mason jar o' moonshine an' a big ol' shotgun an' he's just a-hankerin' to find anyone that can squeeeal like a piggy. C'mon piggy! REEEEEEEE!
Hey! These here filmmakers are on a tight budget, so let's not dilly-dally on their dime, 'kay? Let me tell ya the tale of The Thrillbillys:
Dodger Cole (Erin Snyder) is just steppin' outta the slammer and waitin' for a ride back to her Virginia hills homestead. That no-good-for-nuthin' brother, Wes, never shows up, so she shuffles off down the road. When she finally catches up to Wes, she sets in to chew him a new one until the two witness the destruction of the Cole family's moonshine distillery. It seems some modern-day corporate carpetbaggers are fixin' to open up another of them damned Super-Great Marts. While Dodger and Wes were already fed up with the spread of these shopping holes as well as all those damned Doodle-In quickie-marts, now it's gotten personal. They round up cousin "Baby" George and begin their rampage on anyone and everyone associated with the stores screwing up their homeland. Posing as the notorious Cole Brothers Gang, the three set about to rob every establishment at gunpoint in hopes of pressuring the corporate crock-suckers to vamoose.
Now, if y'all stuffed manure in an old boot, set it in the sun for a day, then stuck yer face in it to take a big whiff, what would it smell like? Well, I dunno, but I'd have to reckon it would be a long ways more inviting a prospect than watching this crap-fest.
Look, I honestly enjoy low-budget and no-budget films, since that's where the core essence of the craft of filmmaking is found. I think about folks like Sam Raimi, Don Coscarelli, and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and am amazed at what these folks were able to achieve on shoestring budgets. Then I look at this distilled dreck, written and directed by Jim Stramel, and wonder why he even bothered. Other filmmakers have proven time again that you don't need (or necessarily want) major studio backing to bring forth a picture that will have folks talking for a long time to come. Many of these filmmakers started with nothing, made some little films of their own as learning tools, and then kept those stuffed away because they were the equivalent of diner napkin doodles. Stramel, however, thinks his doodles are of interest to others; they're not. Y'see, many of these kinds of doodles can be worthwhile, but only if they're transposed to proper drawing materials, refined, detailed, and brought to life. Stramel actually has something of potential here but, rather than tidy up his initial scrawling, he chooses instead to quickly tape his scribbling on a decrepit public restroom wall and hope someone will call it art. Nope—the leading "f" is missing from this "art." It's mighty stanky, too.
It appears that writer/director Stramel attempted to lay out a raw, edgy, and unafraid effort that would be heap full of cold-blooded vigilantes, foul-mouthed morals, and lotsa bloody shootouts. Unfortunately, it seems the pocket lint he was able to dig deep from his pockets just wasn't near enough to realize his "vision." All we get, then, is just about all you might expect for the deep-pocket hubris available: a poorly shot, barely audible, rottenly acted waste of film. I'm sorry to say that—remember, I really do enjoy low-budget creativity—but the facts is the facts, ladies and genteel men.
As for the acting, well, there ain't none here that I can see. Erin Snyder as Dodger Cole is crummy, reminding me of those 70s "stoner chicks" who never seemed credible and always mumbled because they knew what they were saying was garbage. Wes Freed as Wes Cole is just a bit better but comes off as something of a holdover from Sam Elliot's biker gang of 1985's Mask. George Archer, Jr., is rather wooden as "Baby" George and notes as much during the film's audio commentary. And Angry Johnny, the lead man from the soundtrack's "Angry Johnny and the Killbillies," simply struggles as Charlie Buckett, unable to avoid looking like he's in some abysmal high school play.
Now, let's get back to the premise here because it certainly has plenty of merit: Those Mega-Marts are the ire of our new age, stomping their massive footprints across the nation in order to tantalize us with the lowest prices imaginable on patio furniture, disposable diapers, and Chex Mix. Citizens are crying foul, however, citing the insensitive sprawl of these merchandising mammoths is bulldozing over precious acreage and putting every Mom-and-Pop shop quickly out of business. Great premise, especially when we take a gander at how the semi-civilized deep South might react to this sort of "modernizing" of their untainted landscape. And while the dialogue tells us that the late Sam Great—he thought up them Great-Marts—was originally from Arkansas, the whole corporation is run by a bunch of Yankee executives; ya cain't trust none of them varmints.
Now seein' as I'm not a "hanging judge," it's fair I tell you what's on this disc. It's coming from Go Kart Films so you know it's going to be a homegrown affair. The widescreen transfer (it actually appears to be a 16mm open frame artificially matted at top and bottom) is grainy as hell but that doesn't really matter, 'cuz it ain't no good to look at no how. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is garbled and uneven as if it was looped inside a Johnny-on-the-Spot, and who cares? I will say, though, that the many Southern-style blues and rock tunes on hand sound pretty decent and are quite toe-tapping, to boot. As for extras, there are about 20 minutes of outtakes that are of the same quality as the finished film itself, so it's difficult to understand what made them "outtakes." Then again, it's mostly blown lines and malfunctioning props, so it's really a blooper reel, I s'pose. There's a trailer for the film such that if ever you were to see it first, you probably wouldn't watch the movie anyhow. And there's the audio commentary in which Stramel is joined by actor George "Baby George" Archer, Jr. The two make little excuse for their zero-budget outing and Stramel often has to distract Archer from indulging the illicit use of some film elements during the production. If you want to find out what this sort thinks about when they're not hung over, this track pretty much explains it all.
So, all in all, Thrillbillys is afflicted with genuinely lousy cinematography and unbearably bad acting, and it just shows this hummer came out of the womb too soon; it could have been something, in another time, in another place, in another filmmaker's hands. Here, then, is a five-point plan y'all can follow:
1. Consumers should skip over this DVD; don't even think about encouraging it or anyone involved in it as it stands now.
2. Jim Stramel, the screenwriter, needs to go back to tidy up and finish this story that bears some great potential (no kidding).
3. Jim Stramel, the director, might consider hiring a casting director to land some decent talent. He should forget about working with any of his friends or kinfolk if he wants this thing to truly succeed.
4. Jim Stramel, the director (again), should hop out of the canvas-backed chair and let someone with keener vision bring his anti-mart tale to life.
5. Then, and only then, can we all crack open a kegger and enjoy the results. And none of that moonshine; crap'll rot yer guts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Go Kart Films
• Audio Commentary
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