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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Legend Of The Hillbilly Butcher
Legend Of The Hillbilly Butcher
Other // Unrated // September 23, 2014
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted October 4, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher:
This Legend has a lot to live up to. It's a laudable effort with something serious to try, I think, so the only question is: does the butcher butcher like a butcher should? "What's he on about?" That's the question I get most frequently regarding these reviews, so I'll give ya an answer. I'm trying to be clever. Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher wants desperately to recreate the feeling of bedrock insanity assayed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - a feat, I'll wager, no film will ever repeat - and the former film labors to do so with a variety of savvy techniques. What we want to know is whether said techniques are successful, and if so, how does that make you feel?

The short answer, Joaquin Montalvan, (Writer/Director) is 'not exactly'. There's a discourse to be entered into on why and how one can't recreate something that was originally a fluke, but I'll skip that. Of course Tobe Hooper didn't make Chainsaw by accident, but it can be argued that budget constraints, lack of experience, and a willful desire to put his principals through hell to get stuff in the can gelled to form something far more disturbing than Hooper dreamed. One can try to catch that lightning in the bottle, but it's a tough row to hoe.

Montalvan uses deliberately out-of-date audio and video recording techniques, plus a grip of post-production effort, to make a film that looks as though it were shot on Super-8mm and left to sit in a basement decaying for a few decades before it was released. It's pretty remarkable, even going so far as to simulate warp and flutter as the movie unspools before your eyes. However technique only carries one so far, so a good creepy plot, effectively portrayed, is necessary.

As a grizzled grampaw offers to tell a couple of wide-eyed tots either a scary story or one about a bunny, he settles on the tale of Carl Henry Jessup, (because all scary killers are identified by their full names) a crazy dude who had crazy parents, and now lives all alone in his crazy-creepy house in the woods, making moonshine and hanging out with his niece RaeLynn. Only that's about as far as the plot goes. Carl seems less crazy than cantankerous, isolated, and unsure that he's chosen the right path in life. He has a loser friend who comes around to drink the 'shine and ultimately assault RaeLynn after an ill-advised date. Once in a while an unfortunate person or two wanders onto his property, only to be summarily dispatched and turned into dinner. It's not a big deal though, since Montalvan chooses, for some odd reason, not to make it into a big deal.

Seriously, Jessup's cannibalistic insanity is presented as an afterthought to his penchant for sitting around ruminating about his lonely life. Through long, languorous, stately shots of Jessup pulling hooch and thinking, we get ... what? Not an essay on criminal insanity, but rather some lovely, lengthy shots of the backwoods, and a lot of great, eerie music that has nothing to back it up. Towards the end of 99 long minutes, Jessup gets up to some gut-fondling, and we learn that he likes to cuddle with a dessicated corpse, but by this point we'd be more interested if he got a decent therapist and found some hobbies. Two bits sum up the lack of conviction behind Butcher. A couple that should ostensibly be getting-it-on before being sliced not only don't even get naked, but the girl says "I ain't ready, and keep the Lord out of this!" Oooh, hot stuff! What's worse, Jessup himself opines (after a little killin') "I'm getting too old for this shit." Yes, you are Carl, and it shows. Rent It.

The DVD

Video:
It's hard to adequately rate AV quality. The 16 x 9 ratio presentation is worked vigorously to look like really jacked up Super-8 footage, with shuddering, warping, film-damage, light damage and more added in post-production. It creates a palpable atmosphere, but to this reviewer's eyes oversells the concept.

Sound:
Audio is tweaked to a lesser extent, but still showcases a studied use of poor quality recording to create an effect. Faux degradation of dialog recording is very mild, so as not to interfere with our ability to understand it, but if does vary in terms of volume and ambiance. The score sounds fantastic, extremely creepy and effective with both spacy synth stuff by J-Dawgg and evocative banjo work to boot. Audio contains good dynamics; crickets in the distance, weird sound effects, and an overall creepy atmosphere.

Extras:
Three chunky extras are included for your viewing pleasure, including the hour-long Making Of Documentary: "Gutting Da Hillbilly Butcher", which does what so many docs of this type do; bestows some admiration for the effort involved. But, like the movie itself, the doc seems a bit overlong and more relaxed than you'd expect. A 5-minute Short Film: "Straight Razor" uses the same location, similar music, and video techniques to create a disturbing tone poem. It's far more effective in its brevity than the feature is, but somehow also manages to evince the same 'style over substance' ethos as seen in the feature film. Horror Happens is a 30-minute radio interview featuring video footage of the two lead actors and director as they respond to questions. Montalvan does literally almost all the talking, while gesticulating wildly. He's a real character. Trailers are also included.

Final Thoughts:
Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher. It's really not a good title, as it tends to oversell a high-concept movie that does just fine overselling itself. Using faux-degraded footage and audio to create a grindhouse effect, Butcher wants badly to be a return to movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it shows. To wit, you can't recreate magic. Butcher is a bit overlong - too languid and contemplative to generate much tension or anxiety. A late-game gut-fondling party doesn't really save what's more of a mildly creepy character study than a return to grindhouse sleaze. Rent It.

- Kurt Dahlke

~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com

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