Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Something Weird DVD
There’s a sign up on the clubhouse door today. The runny, white paint reads:
“Meeting Tooday Fer Lewis Freeks Only. Eve’ry Body Else Git Home.”
I’m not here to waste your time. Before you get too hung up on this double dose of Hershell Gordon Lewis rarities, there’s something you should know. Are you a great believer in the sublime genius of Mr. Lewis? If your answer is “fuck yeah!” then welcome to the club. The door is always open. If not, then forget it. These two films will convert no one — I guarantee it.
This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! is slice-of-life backwoods exploitation with a fat loud guy named Reverend Boone and his moonshine cult. Year Of The Yahoo is an empty political musical that makes sense little sense. These aren’t the most expedient films you’ve ever seen. In fact, I imagine most people will have a hard time spending ten straight minutes of either of these films with both eyes open. Neither is what you’d expect from Hershell’s gory roots, but both remain fascinating snapshots of strange netherworlds that are impossible to pigeonhole.
Welcome to the backwoods of Oklahoma, where moonshine is cheap and This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! Why is Reverend Boone (Jeffrey Allen, familiar Lewis stock player) so high strung? It’s those durn FBI men, wanting to shut down his illegal moonshinin’ business! He spends his days bellowing forth a blabber of religious spit-up…pauses to remember his lines…then goes at it again, straight into the camera. Rev. Boone leads his congregation through “Isaiah weddings” (every guy gets a turn with the bride), hillbilly hoe-downs, and the damnation of patrons at liquor stores. He’s a stinky shyster who knows the value of a buck when he sees it. When the fuzz start cracking down and one of the ladies in the church gets stoned to death (that’s with rocks), things really get — well, they don’t really get anything. The film continues along with a hilarious car chase and crash, complete with airplane sound effects, a boring funeral scene, and a double female crucifixion. Eventually, things wrap up with a dirty deal and Boone’s right hand man (Ray Sager aka The Wizard Of Gore himself) meeting the business end of a shotgun.
Incredibly straight forward, the overlong (99 minutes!!) This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! lacks many things. Most importantly, the trajectory of the picture is nil, as if half a script was written, duplicated, then repeated twice in a row. The insane cackling of Allen’s Reverend Boone becomes, not surprisingly, completely annoying after the first twenty minutes. There’s quite a bit of padding too, whether it be with Boone’s never-ending diatribes or the musical numbers. On the other hand, This Stuff achieves a real sense of dirt and unpleasantness through the nonchalance of the congregation towards their deeds, which include a couple instances of gang rape and the crucifixion scene. The brief bits of gore are minor, but strangely unsettling, as the hillbilly-dominated score cuts out for total silence. Then there’s the 20 second, sped-up Keystone Cops scene around the hour mark. What?
On that note, we take a dive into dirty politicians, country music, and suburban living rooms with insane decorations. Over and over. It’s Year Of The Yahoo! Hank Jackson is a Johnny Cash-meets-Ringo Starr pop singer, played by real life country and western star Claude King. He offers up nuggets of wisdom like “You wouldn’t know music from fartin’ in a rain barrel” and wears pit-stained green shirts with frills. For some reason, Hank is picked to run for senator by a bunch of crooked yes-men. They gain control of the polls through lying on TV, disposable country songs, and an endlessly repeating commercial of Mr. Jackson riding on a horse while the word “HOPE” flies across the screen. Ray Sager returns as the always-pissed right-hand-man, constantly yelling and sharing a gross, unexpected sex scene with a girl who has weird feet. A couple of very fake riot scenes go down, Hank’s fiancee is beaten and raped, and it all caps with defeat, as Hanky decides to go with his true feelings and speak out about what he believes in.
Year Of The Yahoo features some of Lewis’s highest production values and remains his sole bid into the realm of “straight” films, at least story-wise. A political satire is not something you’d expect from H.G. Lewis. Or is it? Yes, attempting such an involved film with pretty meager resources is commendable. Yes, the film is a notch above Herschell’s other work in terms of technical quality. However, it just doesn’t work as a form of entertainment. The subpar acting, endless padding, static shots, and inhumanly slow pace do nothing to enhance the positives. Even more so than This Stuff, the film lacks a consistent voice, further hampered by actors who clearly can’t handle the ridiculous intentions of the script. HOPE!
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Keep in mind, these films are extremely rare. Yahoo was even lost for years until Something Weird discovered a sole print. Given the circumstances, print quality is pretty irrelevant. But if you must know, both full frame prints are very rough, with constant green emulsion lines, lots of noise, and frequent color inconsistencies. Yahoo has a slight advantage with deeper colors and a crisper picture. The mono sound for both was muffled and hissy, sometimes slightly un-syncing with the picture during both films. The picture quality was never distracting, but the audio on both films made it hard to decipher certain bouts of dialogue.
First the minor supplements. There’s a boring four minute clip from Lewis’s Moonshine Mountain (yep, a hillbilly song with Jeffrey Allen again), a ten minute Barry Mahon short called “Naked Moonshine,” which is actually pretty funny, as three girls with super thick NYC accents get topless and swill up some moonshine for a party, a repeated gallery of H.G. Lewis exploitation art with drive-in radio spots, and a nice trailer collection for most of Lewis’s films (including trailers for both features).
Now here’s why you may want the disc after all. In keeping with their always-interesting track record, Something Weird offers up two commentary tracks with Daniel Krogh — Lewis friend, co-filmmaker, and biographer. I actually enjoyed listening to Krogh reminiscence a bit more than watching the films themselves. Every aspect is covered in full, from the shooting locations (Oklahoma City, Chicago, Texas) to Herschell’s impromptu nightclub performance while shooting This Stuff. Didja know that the actors in Yahoo provided their own Mr. Ferley-esque wardrobe? It’s true. Krogh is likable, filled with information, and looks back fondly, discussing not just these films, but going in depth on other Herschell productions that he was a part of. I wanted some more talk on The Psychic though. Steam seems to run out towards the end of both films, but that makes perfect sense to me.
Naturally, every H.G. Lewis fan will want this DVD. I resisted for awhile, but finally gave in. Think of it as a little slice of history; two oddball films that really aren’t too hot, but remain fascinating, especially due to the excellent commentary tracks. Not on board with the Lewis aesthetic? Don’t even bother.