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Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon
Not every old fashioned fright flick needs reinvention. While it may seem viable thanks to today's CGI-reliant creativity, a giant animal epic like Food of the Gods would still be silly. Similarly, alien invasions need to turn up the terror less they look like outtakes from The X-Files. Oversized human horrors would never work today. They would have to be played for laughs or, some manner of Incredible Shrinking Woman satire. Sitting right in the center of the incapable of recreation dynamic is the aquatic creature feature. Jaws more or less settled the sea's scariness once and for all, with updated takes like Leviathan and Deepstar Six proving the power in Spielberg's subtle, suspenseful vision. So a lampoon of the lamprey is about all one can hope for, and in the case of outsider auteur Richard Griffin, this appears to be his approach. His 2005 effort Seepage wanted to take the gillman conceit to hokey, hilarious heights. Sadly, even in its re-titled form, Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon is just plain dull. To paraphrase the old adage, it's both fish and foul.
While delivering some radioactive slop to a local swimming hole, a goofball backwoods worker gets covered in genetic goop. He turns into a ferocious fish beast and begins terrorizing a small, dullard infested area. A group of college kids investigating the possible polluting of the pond are the first one's affected by the creature. A skinny wisp of a fellow is bitten, and he slowly starts turning amphibian. When corporate goons from the local medical lab responsible for the spillage start spraying the countryside with bullets, it's up to the local yokels to fight back. Of course, they have to take on the killer carp as well. Hopefully, the undercover agent whose been trying to crack the case can lead these redneck refugees to safety. But there may be more to this Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon than meets the uneducated eye.
Stifled by its own stupidity and feeling twice as long as its 90 minute running time, Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon is something derivative done rather poorly. Director Richard Griffin, responsible for the far superior zombie satire Feeding the Masses, takes a major creative step backward by trying to revive the long dead and buried aquatic creature creep show. Perhaps a cowering Cold War audience, unable to fully wrap their brains around the notion of nuclear annihilation, could appreciate the concept of a murderous fishman stalking the suburbs. But in 2007, when similarly looking monstrosities are given fame whore celebrity (right Paris and Lindsey???), such scaly scares just don't cut it. Of course, it doesn't help matters much that Griffin found the only amateur acting cast in the entire Western Hemisphere that couldn't concoct a decent cracker accent (they sound more Southern Boston than Southern belle) and a plot that tries for both the gory and goofy at the same time. Equally upsetting is the lack of standard exploitation elements. If you're going to push for some aesthetic link to the drive-in fodder of decades past, you better have your grindhouse gears good and juicy. Without the mandatory T, A, B, D, and S, you might as well be mimicking Bert I. Gordon. Or better yet, remaking the Polonia Brothers recent retardation, Splatter Beach.
There is a highly uneven tone here. Half the movie wants to be a 'Sons of the Soil' spectacle with all manner of white trash running around showing off their Springer inspired social inappropriateness. We get half-dressed matrons brandishing curlers and chain-smoked cigarettes. There are goony good old boys with gapped teeth and coveralls that barely cover all. It's the kind of situation where NRA membership is mandatory, incest is implied and joked about, and beer flows like noxious natural spring water. Unfortunately, none of this is very fresh - or funny. On the other hand, Griffin also goes for thriller intrigue and espionage. Our chesty heroine spends the last half of the film in a clingy t-shirt and shoulder harness, packing fake heat like a perk punk rock champion (her single nude scene shows off ample body art). Her speeches about lethal genetic experimentation and toxic waste make for quasi-compelling stuff, but the movie never makes good on the implication. Instead, we get a last act trip into quirkiness when a highly strung mad scientist shows off her remote controlled creature (apparently, all it can do is slap people upside the head and frug).
But the biggest sin that Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon indulges in is a lack of fun. There is very little that is remotely entertaining or endearing about the characters, their simpleton backwater antics readily ripped off from the sloppiest of stereotypes. The college kids, on the other hand, give even the most unhinged horndogs a bad name. They're like the cast of American Pie without a behavioral filter. This is a movie that suffers from randomly vanishing plot points, incomplete ideas, a lack referential efficiency, and a serious deficiency in humor. While the original title - Seepage - might more accurately reflect the film's intensions, you can tell that Griffin thought he was making a tasty retro spoof, a hilarious hoot accented by ample gore and an excess of lunkheaded illiteracy. But the reality of what is on the screen if far more inconsistent. It may just be the silly subgenre he choose to explore, or the lack of real imagination when it came to realizing said aims, but Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon is an inconsequential mess that fails to measure up to its creator's past projects. It's guaranteed to leave you feeling waterlogged and washed out.
Crafted on camcorders and then given a post production film polish, there are parts of Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon that look very good. The night shoot material is excellent, and many of the interiors work well. But there is a fuzzy, grainy quality to the daytime exteriors that really ruin Griffin's artistic intentions. Even the ersatz theatrical presentation of a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image doesn't improve the picture all that much.
The sound, while perfectly acceptable, does offer a few minor misgivings. First and foremost, this is a cast who fails to understand the concept of inflexion and delivery. They mumble their lines, or rush through them with "first time on film" abandon. Even worse, the supposed bumpkin score stylings are just plain stupid. You won't laugh with them, but 'at' whoever actually sat down and wrote them. Finally, we get a little too much background ambience during scenes. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo seems to pick up every stray noise and underbrush crunch.
As for added content, Shock-O-Rama and Pop Cinema offer up decidedly different versions of what's actually included on this DVD. We are treated to deleted scenes (all of which focus on a dopey character narration that was eventually rejected) and a selection of trailers. Equally compelling is a commentary track from director Griffin and his producer pals Ted Marr, William Decoff, and Don Foley. While these guys have far too much faith in this film, their behind the scenes anecdotes and numerous production insights are a pleasure to listen to. But on the cover art, there's an indication that a Making-of featurette was to be included here. Sadly, no such extra exists. It would have been nice to see how some of the effects were realized, as well as how the actors dealt with many of the obvious performance pitfalls. Still, for the bonus material offered, this is a decent digital package.
There will be some b-movie believers who take one look at this title and celebrate another attempted slice of self-referential schlock. Others will ogle the cover art, muse on the only clever thing about the entire enterprise (the tagline - "It turns rednecks into deadnecks"), and recognize a waste of their precious time. Somewhere in the middle lies the reality of this amiable if awkward attempt. While a Skip It could legitimately be considered, a Rent It offers a more viable solution. Besides, there will be those who successfully sync up with what Griffin is attempting and scoff at any suggestion of incompleteness or incompetence. The sad fact is that Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon should be much better than it actually is. Instead of offering nonstop Appalachian antics, all we get are veiled country rube rejects.
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