Troma's back baby, and it's good to have Lloyd Kaufman and his merry band of b-movie bad-asses delivering DVDs again. After taking a break to produce and promote their mega-masterpiece Poultrygeist (if you haven't seen it yet, you're a tool! Run out a get your Tromasterpiece Collection copy today!), this last summer saw a run of excellent home video fare. From the insane vampire farce Bloodspit to the far more serious Spanish splatter job Belcebu - Diablos Lesbos, the company gave anxious fans reason to rejoice. With the cracked comedy Offensive Behavior, the rural horror homage The Demons Among Us, the gay monster mash-up of Yeti: A Love Story and the sensational Hollywood satire Cyxork 7 among recent titles, Troma has been delivering nothing but the good stuff. There's even a new anniversary edition of the Trey Parker and Matt Stone classic Cannibal!: The Musical.
2009 promises even bigger and better offerings, beginning with another Tromasterpiece Collection title - 1989's Redneck Zombies. This gore-drenched goof from director Pericles Lewnes (yes, that's his real name) was a favored Saturday Night video rental for many a dateless fright fan. This DVD update does the often inspired gross out genre gem proud.
Somewhere in the middle of rural retard country, smack in the heart of moonshine making territory, a barrel of experimental toxic waste is unleashed. Believing it will make a better still than the crappy container they have now, the Clemson clan decides to hook it up and brew up some mash. The resulting liquor has a bad side effect, however. It turns the drinker into a blood thirsty monster. Meanwhile, in another part of the backwoods wilderness, a group of campers is lost. Hoping to find their way back to civilization, they run right into the center of a Redneck Zombie hoedown. The resulting carnage is complicated by the local military, angry that the government sponsored goo got into the wrong hands. By the time they saddle up and head out, the land is overrun with overall wearing undead inbred hicks.
For those of us old enough to remember the birth and phenomenal rise of home video, a movie like Redneck Zombies brings back nothing but fond, fond memories. It's the perfect example of how direct to VHS (later DVD) became the lynchpin for a thousand glorified geek-outs. As a fright film, Pericles Lewnes really doesn't deliver the shivers. This is more of a gore zone zonker than anything else. But buried within the skin snacking and gut ripping are moments of comic bliss, a few kitschy over the top qualities, and enough missing chromosome rambunctiousness to make the Deliverance kid's eyes cross. With that being said, RZ remains a solid product of its time. The late '80s outfits are just laughable, the acting is beyond amateurish, and just like many homemade auteurs, master Lewnes doesn't know how to finish. Instead of going out with a bang, Redneck Zombies just kind of peters out. Clearly, both creative and financial limitations played a part, but when you can manufacture hilarity out of a single repetition of the F-bomb (or an incredibly funny fat guy), money should not be an object.
Indeed, one of the best things about Redneck Zombies is Bucky Santini as the bumbling behemoth good ole boy Ferd Mertz. Every line reading is a rip snorter, every reaction shot a combination of classic silent movie mugging and devil may care camp. By the time he's trying to have sex with a severed pair of legs (don't ask), we'd follow this freakshow anywhere. Sadly, unlike other overused characters in the film, Mertz makes his impression and then fades into the woodwork. Another great addition is Tyrone Taylor as Tyrone Robinson, the military man who starts all the radioactive mayhem. While his opening scenes are shaky, he's hilarious when dealing with a slightly fey foot soldier. He's Walter Sobchak to the gay GI's Donny Kerabatsos. Unfortunately, there are other individuals who overstay their welcome almost from the moment they turn up onscreen. Most of the campers are tough to take, and the title white trash are beyond caricatures. Still, thanks to the kinetic energy Lewnes brings to the material, we can (almost) tolerate the aggravation.
And then there's the gore. While many may have never seen the film in its original sluice juiciness (a MPAA mandated cut made the rounds long before the "director's" version), Troma delivers the full blood and bile goods. There are some incredibly nauseating elements here, from disembowelings to the always icky eyeball eating. Certainly, the grue is quaint compared to the autopsy like professionalism of today, but back when it made its initial splash, Redneck Zombies was a notorious video nasty. It was right up there with Street Trash and Nekromantik. Today, it feels timid, if still slightly sickening. And since Lewnes and his cast are out for as much comedy as carnage, the subpar splatter gets a pass. Indeed, when viewed some 20 years later, Redneck Zombies, as a whole, manages to transcend many of the things it does badly. Taken in total, beyond the bumbling performances, middling make-up, and last act loss of focus, it's still a goofy little Grand Guignol groove. It's also a nostalgic nod to a simpler entertainment time - one that many Mom & Pop video store aficionados surely miss.
Advertised as a new "Color-Corrected Transfer from the Original Master", the 1.33:1 full screen image for Redneck Zombies is a little off-putting at first. We expect our camcorder classics to look videotape tacky. We don't mind the messed up lighting, out of focus framing, and lack of cinematographic continuity. By cleaning it up, Troma takes an analog turd and tries to present it as a digital diamond. It's more like a revisionist rhinestone. While definitely not up to the standards of homemade moviemaking circa 2008, the presentation here is passable.
Unlike some remastering job which throws the music to dialogue ratio all out of whack, the sonic situation here is solid. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 serves the script well, and when Lewnes goes in for some aural antics, the mix manages to capture it all splendidly.
One of the most intriguing things about Redneck Zombies was the original score. While the background ambience is pure genre cues, the various original songs written for the film are quite funny. Thankfully, Troma has tricked out this DVD release by offering the full soundtrack as a bonus CD. It's a whole lot of sh*t-kicking fun. As for the film itself, we are treated to a commentary track from Lewnes and producer Ed Bishop, an amazing set of "where are they now" interviews (be prepared for more than a few update "shocks"), a great intro with Troma chief Kaufman and the filmmaker, and a wonderful selection of outtakes, deleted scenes, making-of material and other promotional elements. Overall, this is another stunning digital package from Troma, and a product that proudly wears the "Tromasterpiece Collection" title.
As with any walk down memory lane, the past is often far more potent than the present. Even now, films like Redneck Zombies no longer pack the glorified gag reflexology they once had. Still, you have to love what director Pericles Lewnes and his band of buddies put together, and thanks to Troma's terrific treatment of the title, a new generation can discover its outrageous wonders. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, this is one of the reasons Lloyd Kaufman and his company remain a viable part of contemporary independent cinema. While continuing to champion golden moldies like this, as well as breaking new ground with modern macabre like Poultrygeist, they never forget to support their "cinema as art" creed. While fans feared the worst, it's great to see the iconic corporate logo back on DVD product once again. And with offerings like these, it does indeed look like 2009 will be a very good year for Toxie and his sidekicks in schlock.