D. William Fruet
Code Red DVD
This backwoods liberal college boy learns the true meaning of violence pot boiler really came out of left field and hit me between the eyes. I had never heard of it before and truthfully bought it blind solely on the strength of trying to support the efforts of CODE RED. Though it does star Henry Silva so that was a big plus in the movie's favor, but I honestly had no clue what to expect from this movie at all. The trailer which was on several other CODE RED releases sold the movie hard though as a balls out, backwoods massacre action film with some real bite. The movie on hand does not fail to deliver on that promise.
Perpetual badass Henry Silva gets a lead role here as Henry Chatwill the head crazy in a small backwoods mountain town in rural Tennessee. The kind of town where there are about five houses, one store, no cars and everyone is probably related in some way or another. The movie opens with Henry in the hills putting the moves on a huge breasted teenage girl, that unbeknowst to him, two teenage boys are watching. When he discovers this he sets about trying to kill them. When he chases them back to town he discovers that his equally young and gorgeous wife Amy (Danone Camdon) is fucking a dude from the city while he was away. He goes absolutely apeshit, dragging the man into the center of town, beating the shit out of him and his wife and eventually taking the man hostage after shooting the tires out of his car. This is when we learn that Henry is the "law" of the town and that this man has broken the law. Henry makes it sound as if this man has raped his wife, when it is clear to everyone he has not. But the town elders, all the men folk in the town, are not cool with an outsider coming into town and making it with the lone hot to trot chick, so they go along with it. They all decide this dude must pay for his crime and set about tormenting and torturing him, including a brutal tar and feathering with boiling tar and a hunt into the woods.
Meanwhile a group of very liberal college students have decided to go hiking into the caves that surround this area. The lead of the group Roger Michaels (Nicholas Campbell) is severely anti-violence. So much that when we have met him he is in a deep debate with his philosophy teacher about how it is NEVER right to kill another man, even when pushed to the absolute limits. So right then and there we know he is going to be be pushed to the absolute limits and find out just how far someone can be pushed towards violence. In the 70's and 80's there was a whole sort of sub-genre of exploitation film that was basically the "liberal learns what it is like to kill" plot. Everything from DEATH WISH to all kinds of rape/revenge films fit the bill. This movie fits neatly into the framework, but also fills out on several other levels as well. But this group of fairly likable twenty somethings are our liberal heroes for the movie. On the other side of that fence in the mountain town we get Henry's sister Miriam Chatwill (Barbara Gordon in a terrific performance) who is the lone voice of reason in the town and morally opposed to the crap her brother is selling. But being that this is a man's game she is basically pushed to the side at every turn and ignored. It is only a matter of time before the kids end up meeting up with Henry and his gang of thugs, which happens to be right after they have murdered the outsider that was banging Henry's wife.
From here it becomes a very tense suspense movie as the stakes rise and rise. Clearly Henry wants to kill the kids because they know what is going on. He is using his status in the town as a reasoning for it. The townsfolk are starting to turn on him though, as they see no real reason to kill these kids as they had nothing to do with what happened earlier and are starting to suspect that perhaps Henry has killed some folks previously over some frivolous shit too. When Miriam's boyfriend finally steps up and tries to free the kids (Right as Henry's right hand man is arriving to rape one of them) he is caught and brutally killed setting the whole town on edge and putting in motion a true battle of wills.
Take a large helping of backwoods action such as GATOR BAIT and weld it to the revenge type Liberal baiting genre mentioned earlier and you get close to what this movie is. But what makes it so damn good are two things. One is that the script is surprisingly well oiled and effective. The characters are far more clearly drawn than this type of film usually is given. The kids, though occasionally a little grating, are more or less likable, and are not the cookie cutter, out to get laid and high norm of the era. But the townsfolk are are pretty much full blown characters that seem to be really the kind of people you would encounter in a place like this. Not the caricatures that we often see in the wake of DELIVERANCE, but real life hill folk who simply live a different existence. Unfortunately that place is under the thumb of a psychotic tyrant. The second thing that makes this sing is the performance of that psychotic tyrant by Henry Silva, who is always a delight to watch in anything he does. But here he is allowed to go completely free and doesn't just chew the scenery, he rips into it with his teeth and tears it to fucking shreds in every scene he is in. He cuts one of the most memorable villain characters of that exploitation era, so when he gets his comeuppance it is very satisfying.
Rule #2: No matter how hot that blond little hill tart is, no matter what she tells you. Her husband WILL find out and THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!
Director Fruet did the underrated DEATH WEEKEND previously (not available on DVD) which I liked a good bit, but not nearly as much as I liked this one. His direction is sharp and focused, but never over orchestrated or showy. He's the kind of director that allows the movie that is going on to unfold in front of you, not forcing his own style into the forefront in place of what is happening. He's a story driven director, which is the direct opposite of many directors working today.
Unfortunately the DVD is basically a bare bones job, though the transfer is solid and looks fine as is the soundtrack. There is that exciting trailer and of course the reel of upcoming CODE RED releases (BRUTE CORPS and GANG WARS!!!) but nothing else on here. How awesome would it had been to snagged a Silva interview or a commentary from Fruet? I know those CODE RED guys are operating a super tight financial ship and for a title like this that is a risk to even release at all. So that any bells and whistles are probably too costly to even hope for at this point. But it still would have been great to hear what those guys thought about making this movie. But don't let me discourage you from picking this up in any way. In my opinion the quality of the movie itself makes it an essential purchase.
Reviews © Andy Copp