[All sorts of content warnings for this film and article, it is grindhouse after all. If you like horror but are still unsure: the gore is goofy and the sexual violence is implied rather than onscreen]
I caught this gem at an all night horror movie marathon. It’s was the only one that stood out in my memory other than the opener: Häxan live scored by some sort of electro-classical goth quintet (it was fantastic). So what could rub shoulders with something like that? Here’s the plot boiled down to its bones: Satan worshiping hippies roll into a small town and start causing havoc, child feeds them rabies tainted pies, hippies spread the rabies and the town is consumed in psychedelic bloodbath. There are a lot of great things in this movie, and I’ll get into that, but there’s two that keep this from being just another zombie movie. First, the portrayal of the roving gang of hippies is… inspired. They’re supposedly based on the Manson Family, but they behave more like a frat whose hazing traditions are witchcraft themed. Sure, they’re more sociopathic than your average frat (albeit not by much), but their cult aspect has the feel of a bunch of drunk people with a Ouija board. The second thing is the way rabies is understood. It’s like a mix between a public service announcement depiction of being on psychedelics, people doing chimpanzee impressions, and grindhouse cannibalism. In real life, rabies will kill you if not treated quickly and people don’t really have much time to go around biting others much less throwing axes around.
If that’s enough to get you interested, and you don’t like spoilers, go ahead and watch. For everyone else, here’s how things go down. The fantastically named Horace Bones and his band of sub-culturally confused cultists are writhing naked and intoning things like “Let it be known sons and daughters that Satan was an acid head, drink from his cup, pledge yourself, and together we’ll all freak out.” Right from the get-go. Though the writer-director, David E. Durston, claims to have been inspired by the Manson Family, Bones’ cult looks more like a mishmash of things middle aged 70s upper class parents are afraid of. You’ve got an Indian guru, hippies, an unwed mother, hip youth, and inexplicably a much older Asian woman cast and costumed as an “oriental” stereotype.
The inciting incident is the implied rape of a local girl, Sylvia. While the movie doesn’t show anything and it’s never referenced beyond saying she was “beaten”, the context makes it pretty clear this was an edit at some stage in development. Despite this, concern for Sylvia and her own behavior after she recovers would have you think she scraped her knee. The cult finds themselves stranded in town and settle right into an abandoned hotel, holding a rat catching contest to see who will be “The supreme leader of Sados for one night.” They smash the building up with abandon, shooting pistols and laughing hysterically. Meanwhile Sylvia has gone home to her younger brother Pete and her grandfather Doc Banner. Doc grabs the ol’ 20 gauge and heads off to teach those hippies some manners. He walks in on them spinning an unconscious member, who is bleeding from the feet, from a hoist on the ceiling. The blood spattered cult promptly force-feed the old man acid and send him home with his grandson.
Here’s where the movie really kicks off. Pete’s no ordinary little kid. He’s righteous, determined, and willing to kill. The second grandpa goes to bed to sleep off his trip, Pete grabs the shotgun like he’s done hundreds of times before and heads off to massacre the devil worshipers. Instead he kills a rabid dog, and comes up with a plan. Pete prepares a bag of veterinary tools with the methodical calm of a serial killer, pausing to look upwards resolutely like god is telling him to defeat the English and end the 100 year war. Meat pies are poisoned, then eaten by cultists who unpredictably (to Pete, who merely wanted to quietly exterminate 7 souls) go bezerk.
What follows often feels less like a story being told and more like a series of vignettes from rabies town. One cultist chases two others though the woods with an axe, grinding his teeth and moving like he’s practicing for a Bigfoot hoax video. A cultist, out of fear of being alone, sleeps with a horde of construction workers who are then infected themselves. The cult leader finds a huge boa constrictor and they have a real soul to soul moment before a man in a pajama onesie interrupts them, only to be chocked so hard his dentures shoot out. Some townspeople standing in shallow water splash at the infected who react like so many Frankenstein’s monsters. People are hung, people are eviscerated, people are pitchforked and decapitated, everyone has machetes for some reason. The rabies afflicted mug wildly and amble around the scenes like orangutans. There’s a self immolation, a duel fought with wood axe versus rapier, a pregnant woman commits suicide by staking herself through the stomach, the carnage isn’t just gratuitous; it’s bizarre in execution. Ultimately a few good townspeople get free, including god’s angel of death Pete, and the local police eradicate the infected with a wall of bullets.
The movie is wild, it takes the premise and goes in every direction imaginable with it. The result is a movie constructed like a fever dream; with confusing starts and stops, a soundtrack of mismatched guitar riffs and high pitched squeals, acting from the emotionless to the clownish, all all of it playing along to a high strung anxiety and absurdity. Enjoy some more gifs: