Sunday, 13 July 2008

My Favourite Genre...

I have to admit that my favourite genre, or I should probably say sub-genre, is your rural killer movie. Backwoods slashers, inbred families, good ol' boys vs city types, and the city boys a-comin' off worse. In a word...Hicksploitation. Whether it's because I'm from the suburbs, and therefore don't have to take a side in the eternal country-vs-city fight, or whether it's a result of being brought up in a succession of dull British towns, and finding everything American exotic and exciting (I remember being fascinated that you Americans have a chain of shops called 'Piggly Wiggly'...and you don't think that's at all odd?), but I do love them. Of course, they are basically an American thing; here in the UK we just don't have the room. There was that episode of Torchwood with the Welsh Valleys cannibals, but everyone south of Pontypridd or east of Swansea thought that was a documentary...Internationally, there are a few interesting Australian entries like The Cars that Ate Paris, and Wolf Creek, and from Europe there's Calvaire, and I've heard interesting things about this new French film Frontieres...but for me, to have the backwoods slasher in its true form you need Interstates and 'Gas, Food, Lodging' signs.

And, in that spirit; ten signs that you're watching a hicksploitationer:

  1. Stupid city people: The most common formula tends to be one or two teenage/college age couples and a boat-anchor hanger-on (relative, stoner who owns the van, one of the girls' whiny best friend). Increasingly of late, the girls will tend to wear vest tops with no bra; said top to generally be light-coloured and end up splattered with someone's blood, not necessarily that of the wearer. Occasionally a film will have a lone female, very rarely a lone male, and once in a great while (Deliverance, basically) a group of men. Mild recreational drug use, and distribution of one character note per person is usually seen, as a chance to make the victims 'human' (annoying) before the movie stops pissing about and gets to the kills.
  2. Stupid country people: Overalls optional; number of fingers variable. Generally just as creepy-looking as your antagonist(s)/cannibal(s)/guy(s) with power tools, and just as likely to have a gutted teenager in the shed, but usually just there for the orthodontically challenged contrast with the tanned, vitamin-ed, flouride-in-the-water-ed city types. Likely to also fall under point #3:
  3. The guy at the Gas Station: He's in on it; of COURSE he fucking is. He may be all smiles and barbecue, but he just wants to dump you in a sack and take you back to the creepy house. What do you think the barbecue is, anyway, when you haven't seen a cow in 200 miles?
  4. Useless law enforcement: Whether dumb and horny enough to fall for the voluptuous horror of Karen Black (House of 1000 Corpses), or Head-Satanist-takes-off-hood-and-OMG!-It's-the-sheriff!!11! ('surprise' ending of every small-town Devil-worship TVfilm that was ever made), anyone wearing a badge will not help you here. Especially if you're a pinko Commie longhair faggot collegeboy city type; which, let's face it, is all of them.
  5. No phones: since the ubiquity of the mobile phone, harder to make the 'killer cuts the phone line/lines down in the storm/'oh, no, Missy, we don't have no phone out here' sound convincing. Now films have to be set in the 10 square miles of the country with no coverage, or in the 1970s, to prevent the audience wondering why the characters don't whip out their iPhone, call for help, and end the movie in 10 minutes. A 'period' '70s setting also has its advantages in that it allows the costume designer to break out the tank-tops and hotpants, and the writer to haul out what I'm going to charitably describe as 'pre-feminist' attitudes with only a modicum of audience eye-rolling.
  6. 'They moved away the highway': I confess, I claim no knowledge of the complex decision-making process that covers major road placement in the United States, but it seems to me that there would be a lot less trouble if you just put the road where you wanted it to go in the first place. Do you people not plan ANYTHING? In the US, do roads just...happen? It seems to me that moving roads causes a lot of trouble for the small towns who suddenly get no passing trade, and leave the inhabitants therein with nothing to do all day except go crazy, build waxworks and have sex with their relatives. Leading us neatly to points #7 and #8:
  7. Unnatural relations: apparently every country in the world has an area about whom the same sorts of jokes are told; 'where men are men and sheep are nervous', '"Let me introduce you to my mother, my cousin and my sister; her name's Ethel"'. Odd families. Marrying farm animals, dead people; anything suffixed -philia, basically. Family trees with a few less branches than they, perhaps, ought to have. I too have tried to work out the family dynamic of the Leatherface clan in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series; so, if Grandpa is Grandpa, and Grandma's upstairs, then is the Gas Man Dad? And where's Mom? And the platehead guy in the sequel? And where exactly does Matthew McConaghey fit into all of this? Then I had to go and get coffee and paracetamol, and I never did get back to getting it worked out. Anyway, like I say, also point #8:
  8. Creative impulses: you know, country-style handicrafts are not all quilting and corn dollies, whatever Martha Stewart says. Your rural slasher will tend to have a sideline in anything from eerie, possibly ambulatory, waxworks (Tourist Trap) to eerie, made-from-dead-people waxworks (House of Wax remake), to...ahem...'found objects', which avant garde stylings might find them a place in some ritzy Manhattan gallery, if they could only get an agent. Also, if the world was ready for an artiste using the medium 'human skin, chicken bones, innards and the occasional face'...That isn't Damien Hirst.
  9. Cannibalism: yes; long pig. Considering the ease of modern intensive farming methods, not to mention the comparatively-long maturation period of the average human and the low body weight of most of the tank-top girls in these movies (not to mention the fuss they make; all the screaming and running around and all), you would think it would just be easier to raise, you know, actual pigs. Still, cannibalism does seem, from my highly unscientific what-films-spring-to-mind-right-now statistics, to be one of the most popular reasons for preying on the passing tourist. Perhaps, though, we just don't get to see all the occasions when the anthropophages lucked out to a bus full of an outing of the Texan chapter of the BBWs society, which kept them going for a whole winter.
  10. Country people hate you: That's what it boils down to, really; whether you're Northern, 'hippie', 'Liberal', female, 'college boy', draft dodger, 'city type', or just come from more than 15 miles away, they hate you and they want you dead. You come down here with your fancy talk and your 10-dollar words and your shiny car and your tank tops and your teeth...#spit#...and you think you can do what ev' you want? This ain't the way we do things down here...boy...
Ahem. Well, you get the point. So, I'm going to be commencing a fairly-irregular series of reviews of my favourite 'Don't get off the highway' films. As irregular as everything is around here. At least it should give me a break from all those awful remakes I've got lined up for Mondays. Just to whet your appetite, follow the link for the theme song from what is probably one of the Ur-texts of the genre; the Northern-hating, banjo-playing, spiked-barrel-rolling 2000 Maniacs:

All together now: 'The South's gonna rise again...'

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