Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema
by Scott von Doviak
order info: www.mcfarlandpub.com
No doubt about it, my friends, we are now officially slogging our way through the thick, moonshine infused miasma of a bonafide redneck renaissance.
As the sun sets on another long day and I find myself sprawled out on my sagging, antediluvian, formerly beige couch like a low-rent Caesar with a half-eaten bag of Bugles on my chest and a microbrewed IPA within leaning distance, all I want out of life is some entertaining distraction with which to unwind. With my crunchy-corn taloned fingers I raise my magical scepter (also known as the remote) to unveil 563 channels, all of which are at my disposal, but the bitch of it is I can’t seem to find a single station that doesn’t have a massive time slot dedicated to some obnoxiously rustic slice of countrified Americana.
Everywhere you look it’s Rebel flags and swamp folk and Duck Dynasties. Reality TV, it seems, has grown weary of the antics of dimwitted Jersey folk and spoiled, talent-less “celeb-utantes” and decided, in all its infinite wisdom, to shift its focus down south. With eye-catching (and spirit sagging) titles such as Hillbilly Handfishin’, The Legend of Shelby the Swampman, Moonshiners, Swamp People, Swamp Pawn, Lady Hoggers, My Big Redneck Wedding, Hollywood Hillbillies, Party Down South and, arguably my favorite title, Guntucky, * it would seem as if The Year of the Yahoo (God bless Herschell Gordon Lewis) has finally arrived… But, even though these exercises in cable broadcast dreck lack the charm, exhilaration and vitality of their predecessors, this is not the first time that uptight, ivy league, liberal America has become culturally captivated by their bucolic brethren — not by a long shot.
Those of us who were lucky enough to be born in (or before) that glorious era known as the 1970s, bore witness to one of the most extraordinary evolutions ever to occur in motion pictures. While grind house horror, kung-fu and urban ass kickers dominated the 42nd St. set, something absolutely astonishing was brewing in the drive-ins south of the Mason-Dixon line. In fact, to borrow the immortal words of Dave Bowman from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was… “something wonderful.”
In those golden, pre-internet days when folks still sipped lemonade on their front porches (maybe they still do, I don’t have a porch) and teens perilously snuck their buddies into the drive-ins in air- tight trunks in order to save a $1.50, the screens of the nation (particularly the open air ones) were spellbound by images of rural, red blooded American heroes and heroines. White lightening runners and rebels; laconic men with lean bodies, long drawls and lead feet, and sensual southern belles barely clad in cut-offs with sassy smiles and sardonic wit… Yee-ha!
These larger than life, corn fed champions of the county line became the envy, inspiration and fantasy objects for a generation of men and women… hell, my parents (both good hearted city folk who never so much as rode in a souped-up muscle car, much less sipped on hooch) bought a damned C.B. radio that sat unused in our den until some lucky bastard made a steal at a garage sale in ‘83… But I digress.
What I’m here to discuss — nay celebrate — is the fact that a significant (and oft neglected) chapter in this unparalleled era of American filmmaking (and myth-making) has finally been properly chronicled in a book that is a simply a MUST HAVE for anyone who finds themselves humming “Eastbound and Down” or smiles at the memory of the Duke Boys Hooting as they make a jackass out of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane for the umpteenth time. This book that I speak of is actor and film critic Scott Von Doviak’s (a great super villain name if I’ve ever heard one, especially if he happens to be a Baron) Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema.
This love letter to the halcyon days of hixploitation reads like brew fueled conversation with a good buddy who can spin a yarn and happens to know a helluva’ lot about a fascinating subject. Covering everything from the ubiquitous racist, redneck sheriffs, to gallant moonshiners, to gritty truckers to chainsaw wielding cannibals to good ol’ BIGFOOT himself (to which an entire chapter is dedicated), Von Doviak manages to navigate all of the myriad back roads of hixploitation with the deftness of a hillbilly Magellan. That may not sound like exceptional praise, but trust me, it is. The task Von Doviak set for himself when he undertook to write this book was not a modest one — and he pulled it off like a champ.
After spending years wading balls-deep through dry as dust, scholarly tomes that try their level best to render everything from blaxploitation machismo to zombie eviscerations impotent with their overly academic reinterpretations of what was always designed to be good, old fashioned huckster cinema, it is absolutely refreshing to come across a film history/criticism book that is not only scrupulously researched, but actually a joy to read.
For film lovers, like myself, who have a soft spot for everything from Smokey and the Bandit to Gator Bait to Cannonball Run to the irrefutable, stone classic of crypto-cinema The Legend of Boggy Creek (and everything in between), this book is for you. For aficionados of cult cinema in all its innumerable incarnations — and this tome has it all; with chapters like Hick Chicks, Creepy Critters, Hillbilly Horror and The Death of Bigfoot, not to mention tons of car crash classics — this book is for you. For folks nostalgic for Daisy Duke‘s shorts, Burt Reynold’s mustache or C.B. culture in general, this book is for you… heck, if you like good writing that makes you laugh out loud while you pick up a thing or two, then, for the love of Hal Needham, this book is for you!
When all is said and done Hick Flicks is not only a thoroughly enjoyable, romp down memory lane (or, Tobacco Road, if you prefer) with a damn fine writer, but it is also, quite simply, an important book.
Why is it important, you ask? It’s important because it finally cements the fact that these movies have a legitimate cultural value that far outlasted the drive-in screens they once played on. Loathe it or love it (I love it) hixploitation embodies an indisputably vital element of the modern American psyche and deserves the regal treatment that Von Doviak has finally given it… and this is coming from a bleeding heart liberal, NASCAR loathing, Daily Show devotee from the great state of New York, so that’s saying something.
In summation; Scott Von Doviak’s Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema receives my highest recommendation. That’s right ladies and gents… FULL METAL! Go to Amazon and buy it now! Do it I’m waiting… seriously, it’s that frikken good.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bag of Bugles and an old VHS copy of Grizzly callin’ my name!
*(I wish I could say that this was a complete list of redneck reality shows, but alas… there are scads more, and surely — woefully — more to come. Where‘s Jerry Reed, a pooch named Fred and a big rig full of bootleg Coors when you need em’?)