Written by: : Jean Genut and B.W. Sandefur
Directed by: Richard Robinson and David Worth
Starring: Leslie Uggams, Shelley Winters, Michael Christian, and Slim Pickens
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Eddie knows a lot about poontang, but don’t know nothin’ about women.”
I like finding hidden gems; it’s kind of rare for me in these days to come across a title I haven’t at least heard of in some fashion, so it’s kind of cool to scour the internet and find something that sounds cool. That’s what happened a few months ago when I stumbled upon a list of upcoming DVD releases that included Poor Pretty Eddie; I was already intrigued, but when I found out its alternate titles were Redneck County and Redneck County Rape, I was sold--even more so when I learned that it featured a homicidal Elvis wannabe. Don’t judge me, but I knew I’d have to check into this Heartbreak Motel for at least one night.
Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams) is a popular singer who is taking a break from her busy schedule. When her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she finds a lodge down in the middle of the woods. It’s pretty much uninhabited with the exception of Eddie (Michael Christian), Bertha (Shelley Winters), and Keno (Ted Cassidy). Eddie is happy to rent out one of the cabins to Liz, but he soon becomes infatuated with her; in fact, he’ll stop at nothing to have her, going so far as to basically hold her hostage.
For whatever reason, this kind of backwoods stuff appeals to me on some level, probably because I’ve lived in South Carolina my entire life. One would think I’d get tired of seeing idiot rednecks on the screen since they’re such a stark reality for me, but I guess not. I’ve heard these types of films referred to as “Hicksploitation,” which is appropriate enough--Deliverance especially made them popular again in the 80s, but guys like Harold Daniels and Herschel Gordon Lewis were doing this sort of thing in the 50s and 60s. It didn't take long for the drive-ins and grindhouses to get their own sleazy brand of redneck carnage in the 70s, though. On this front, Poor Pretty Eddie starts off well enough--we’re treated to some eerie, silent opening credits set against an excellently photographed a rural backdrop. It doesn’t take long for you to figure out just how isolated the surroundings are, and the film pretty much keeps us there the entire time. There’s just something inherently spooky about being stuck in the woods, and it’s even worse when you’re stuck there with a batch of demented hillbillies.
And what a pack is on display here. When Liz first arrives at the lodge, she’s greeted at an imposing figure with a huge scar, and he’s holding the body of a freshly decapitated chicken. The fact that he warns her that this is no place for pretty girls seems redundant. You might think this is the psychotic title character, but it’s not--this is Keno, sort of the soft spoken Lurch-type character that Eddie keeps around to help. Eddie himself thinks he’s more charming than he is, and he’s sure his eight year old bottle of whiskey will be the ticket into Liz’s pants (after all, his daddy always said that “warm whiskey could melt even the coldest heart”). He’s also positive that he’s going to make it to Nashville someday--the fact that he’s an absolute nut job might be a hindrance though. Even Slim Pickens shows up as the town sheriff, and he of course has a dimwitted, slingshot-carrying young ‘un in tow.
The oddly-cast Shelly Winters is Bertha, who used to be a Hollywood starlet who knows her glory days are over, so she’s latched on to Eddie in an almost child-like way. She obviously doesn’t take it too kindly when he has an eye for Liz, and there is something strangely pathetic about her in the end. But these are the type of people whose dinner table isn’t complete without a case of PBR and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, and they speak with exaggerated southern drawls. They also probably have more teeth than IQ points--maybe. In the grand tradition of these films, their dementia isn’t contained--before long, Liz discovers that the whole town (including the Justice of the Peace) is populated by folks who like to hoedown under the gaze of the Confederate flag. If HGL ever came up a few maniacs short of two-thousand, these Yankee-hating yokels would be fine substitutes. You can guess what their reaction is when Liz (a black woman) comes into town accusing Eddie of rape.
Speaking of that--yes, there is plenty of sleaze involved, and it’s sort of a testament that this thing feels so grimy without being explicitly gory or even violent until the very end. Instead, the directors manage to create an unsettling mood through incongruent images and music; for example, the film’s rape scene is intercut with a scene that features a bunch of the local hicks watching a couple of dogs fornicate. There’s a country western tune accompanying it, and it’s just bizarre; you would probably expect a little weirdness from this one, but I wasn’t expecting such an artsy approach to things. The violence is similarly handled and features the use of freeze frames and slow motion to give a sense of style. The soundtrack for the film is eclectic in general, featuring everything some reheated Hermmann stingers to gospel tunes like “Amazing Grace.” I guess you could call Poor Pretty Eddie the first experimental avant-garde redneck film because that’s what it comes across as sometimes.
But for all its effort at being stylish, it really can’t hide the fact that it’s only got about three or four interesting sequences. One of these includes a climactic scene of unholy matrimony that redefines the term “shotgun wedding.” It’s a lot of fun (or at least strangely alluring) during these sequences, but everything else is a bit of a snooze. Improbably enough, HD Cinema Classics and Virgil Films have given Poor Pretty Eddie a nice Blu-ray release; the transfer is pretty remarkable and nearly pristine, with the exception of a few rough patches. The soundtrack is equally as impressive and doesn’t sound at all hollow or tinny. Special features include the film’s trailer, a “before and after” restoration demo, an audio commentary with David Worth, an informative essay about the film's production (and indeed clear ups the confusion about just who directed this), and a postcard that reproduces the film’s poster art, and they even throw in a DVD copy as well. Even better, all of this can be had for around fifteen bucks. That’s a pretty good price that puts it near the blind buy range--I might suggest doing that only if you can find it a little cheaper. This one is more of an interesting curiosity more than anything, but definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of silly rednecks. Rent it!
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