Stash is two movies in one. Even though it's only about 80 minutes long, this minor sleaze epic of weed-smoking, rape and torture porn really packs it in. Low budgets and some amateur performances don't get in the way of depredation, evil and horror - there's even a point to it all, and glorification of pot isn't it. And just when you think you've seen something kind of special, you get to see something really special. Then again, Stash is still a cheap, grimy, slimy and nasty exploitation flick, so there you go.
We have a college girl driving the back roads of Kentucky when her car breaks down. Two neo-hicks (you know, soul patch, backwards baseball cap) pick her up, dropping her off at their pot-dealer friend Bud's house, for some homemade-cage-in-the-basement type fun, and all hope for humanity (at least rural humanity) is lost. Sensitive, God-fearing people, (and those who stop at stop signs) at this point should have lost all hope for a movie they can stomach, too. Fans of vengeful mutant hicks, however, will be surprised by this tarnished little gem.
Stash's two-movies-in-one motif - the first a somewhat thoughtful exploitation programmer, the second a crappy, low-rent grease-ball - starts at the get-go with incredibly dumb credits appearing as poorly-rendered CGI puffs of pot smoke. Then the stylish title card finally surprises us after 20 minutes of an unnerving abduction sequence. Writer/ director Jacob Ennis wants it both ways! Ennis' film combines the on-the-cheap 'let's make a horror movie' ethos of the '80s with today's ugliness in a grudge match of message versus madness; against all odds he pulls it off.
But it's an effort all the way. Extremely distasteful subject matter - a fat, greasy, sleazy pot-smoking loner living in a shack, who likes to keep women in cages in order to rape them - doesn't aid a small group of not-great performances. That's the kind of stuff that can kill any movie, even one that's supposed to offend. Struggling manfully, the cop investigating missing persons cases introduces himself to worlds-better Debbie Rochon (in a cameo) with a halting "I'm Detective ... uh ... Gilmore." Not the take you want to leave in a movie. This and one or two other supporting parts jar the movie slightly, but Kevin Taylor in his debut as the Big Sleaze Bud, is maniacally amateur. But maybe a lack of believability on Bud's part saves this from being moral repugnance of indefensible order. Or maybe he's just a poorly rendered cackling doofus. Either way, this depiction of an Appalachian Charles Ng cuts the ladies but not the muster. Still, his vile actions paint Stash as hardcore horror.
Awful men, awful actions, awful acting - par for the course in this world, right? But Ennis does a brave thing, actually painting most of his principles as real humans, and more importantly providing unflinching details of suffering - not only of the victims, but also of their families. That's not something we gorehounds are used to seeing, since we like our exploitation sans indictment. But as a mother sobs when she learns her daughter's been missing just a few hours, those sobs are too real, and they hit home. Nor are they forgotten as we watch the neo-hicks try to talk themselves out of responsibility for their part, not portentously put across, it's sobering stuff.
Maybe it's all too much for this type of movie, too effective. What if lazy, sleazy minds that'll go for a movie with loads of nudie-trauma, misogyny and vilifying of backwoods folk can't handle the suffering? Well, then they're in for a bit of a treat, an exploitationer with a brain. Loaded with trashy scum and evil, Stash delivers for horror fans, but it's more than just countrified fear mongering - it's got an ending that dumps the whole thing right back in the trailer-park just before the tornado hits. And I mean that in a good way.
Director's Commentary reveals this movie was shot on a Panasonic DVX 100 camera. The letterboxed 4 x 3 transfer (1.66:1 ratio) is decent but no great shakes. Colors are a little washed out (a stylistic choice I'd guess) but natural, while a preponderance of dim and dark shooting highlights good black levels. Aliasing appears in a cold grip, (there's a lot of it) and otherwise the image is just OK in terms of detail and crispness. It's a low budget production, and it more-or-less shows.
Stereo Audio is likewise on the downward side of the hill. Live recording translates to occasional difficulty hearing dialog, however the stylish soundtrack and gritty incidental songs are mixed up front and sound good.
In addition to being far more than your usual backwoods-rape-killer movie, Stash packs a fat sack of extras. First up, are two separate feature-length commentary tracks. The Director's Commentary Track features a laconic Jacob Ennis taking a serious, nice and honest approach while sparingly doling out meat-and-potatoes type factoids. He'll comment on a boom shadow in frame or talk about using clear Gatorade to sub for moonshine because it's got a little more substance to it. He's a man of few words, so be ready for plenty of pauses, but enjoy a refreshing track that's not big on just bogusly pumping up the movie like so many others. The Producer's Commentary Track stars Billy and Denise Blackwell - married - and one of whom acts in the film.
Their connubial repartee is sometimes charming, sometimes dorky, while touching on things only producers think about. And yet comments such as "Stacey, one of your nuts is stickin' out - he didn't fuckin' know it," make it oh so worthwhile.
A 15 minute featurette, The Making of Stash, takes the EPK-ish route, with cast and some crew interviews knocking out the tidbits; how about locals interfering with location shooting with a little shooting and feuding of their own, or coming at you with a knife? Eight minutes of Bloopers and Outtakes bears only a fifty-percent success rate, however. There's also a three-minute FX production montage (prosthetic makeup) detailing Creating Bud Jr., and five minutes of a Debbie Rochon Interview, during which the flu suffering actress says some enthusiastic things and some curious things. A POWND "Still I Bleed" Music Video displays the band's chunky, blues-inflected doom metal, that owes a tiny debt to Alice In Chains, I think. Finally, four Bloody Earth Trailers and nine Camp Motion Pictures Trailers deliver about a half-hour of sleazy, bloody fun.
Low budget indie exploitation flicks about pot-dealing rape-torture-murderers in the backwoods of Kentucky have limited appeal, and they're probably meant to suck hard. Stash, despite a few shaky performances, parlays its misogynistic menace and rural hick horror into moments of thoughtful characterization and affecting emotional trauma. Though low on the gore score, (thanks Chas) Stash has enough evil and plausible scuzz to appeal to sickos, while actually forcing us to think a bit, before that final dumb-ass kick. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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