Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 35.2 (2005) 101-103
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Deep in the Appalachian Woods
In film studies, 1970's American cinema is an important and groundbreaking period that has been studied and analyzed by the great media scholars. While most, if not all, of these studies center on films in the context of the changing American culture and political landscape, they always tend to lean in two distinct directions; the blockbuster genre of Star Wars and Jaws and the new Hollywood maverick directors, Altman, Coppola, Raefelson, and Scorsese. What about Hal Needham? Or Ron Ormond and Earl Owensby though? Did these directors not contribute a significant piece to the 70's American cinema puzzle? If you ask author Scott Von Doviak, the answer is an easy and adamant rebel [End Page 101] yell, "You're darn tootin they did!"
In his new book Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema, Scott Von Doviak has given the study of this important decade a much-needed shot of moonshine. He has created a substantial and necessary addition to film and popular culture. Simply and effectively he has established a new genre or at the very least resurrected a genre buried deep in the Appalachian woods. Advancing from the rising multi screen and art-house theaters in our country, to the drive-in circuit, for Von Doviak this is no mere backwoods exercise—it is an advance in film and popular culture studies.
He achieves his advance in two ways. First and most importantly is the detailed use of the films of the genre. While he spends an ample amount of time on motion pictures you would suspect such as Convoy, Smokey and the Bandit, and Deliverance, it is his use and resurrection of such lost drive-in classics as the Roger Corman produced Cockfighter, the Burt Reynolds honky-tonk underdog film W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, the feminist sexploitation film Dynamite Chase, and the Jaws inspired Grizzly where he truly fleshes out the meat of this southern bar-b-que! While chapters on Moonshiners, films about "feuding hillbillies and their illegal mountain brew", and Red-Necked Sheriffs are to be expected, it is his deepening and fleshing out of the genre that truly makes his work impressive. Chapters on Hick-Chicks, where he details the hick flick career of Russ Meyer, the "poet laureate of enormous breasts", and The Death of Bigfoot and Creepy Critters. Those "things in the woods … missing links or genetic mutations" that live "within the realm of redneck cinema." All of these chapters help take this book into true genre defining territory. Anyone willing to sit through 24 hours of Hillbilly Horror films, movies like Southern Comfort, The Hills Have Eyes and all four Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, and document "descent into madness" deserves kudos from everyone!
Secondly, his use of humor keeps the book light and interesting and shows his true love and appreciation for this genre. Usually an author is limited by the quality of the films. Who wants to see a bad film let alone read an entire book about them? Well, Ok, I confess, I do! Still, this is where Von Doviaks humor is essential. Whether he is describing the Sam Elliott played Wade Garrett in the "uber hick flick of the Eighties" Road House, with his "lanky frame. [or, writing] Shambling gait, greasy mane of grey hair and weeklong hangover beard, he makes Dalton (Patrick Swayze) look even more like the preening candy pants he is", to his description of the Jon Don Baker played by Buford Pusser in Walking Tall "with his ingratiating Elvis grin and honey-dipped drawl", Von Doviak describes in his witty and sometimes sleep deprived way, "the last thing he (Pusser) wants to do in the world is start whaling on you with a slab of hickory." This use of humor is...