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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Review: This Stuff'll Kill Ya!/Year of the Yahoo!

I've been on a Herschell Gordon Lewis bender lately. So here's another disc from Something Weird Video, this time a double feature of two HGL films from 1971/72 long thought to be lost. These two flicks reflect Lewis' back woods obsession, with lots of country music and not so much gore.

First up is This Stuff'll Kill Ya! Jeffrey Allen plays Roscoe Boone, a Foghorn Leghorn type preacher who's church is actually a front for a moonshine operation. There's debauchery and mayhem and several people are killed in a biblical manner as Boone and his congregation attempt to outrun the law. Stonings, crucifixions and country hoe-downs. Yee hah!

Unfortunately, the film isn't nearly as interesting as my description. Most of the scenes run much longer than they need to. Allen is appropriately over the top as Boone, but by the end of the movie, you just want him to shut up. The gore sequences, while tame for an HGL film, seem really out of place and slow the movie down even further.

The most interesting angle of this story, how someone can find a bible quote to justify anything, isn't even touched on, and the whole time I was left wondering just why the things I was seeing were happening. I never could get a grasp on if Boone was supposed to be a con-man or if he actually believed what he was saying.

Next is Year of the Yahoo! This film has a bit of a legend behind it, as HGL himself lamented it's disappearance for years. It's also of note as it seems like HGL was almost trying to make a more serious movie with this one. (Well, more serious compared to his past work, anyway.)

Here we have Hank Jackson (played by minor country music star Claude King) who is chosen by a group of political insiders to run for Senate based on his TV appearances. It's interesting in that it looks like Lewis is actually trying to make a message picture here as we watch Jackson's campaign turned into a continuous all image, no substance television commercial complete with playing up wedge issues and picking on minorities and the poor.

This film is so close to being really good that it was almost frustrating to watch. Claude King and HGL stock player Ray Sager are both really good in their roles. The story is interesting and actually works (not to mention the central theme of media created politicians playing to redneck fears and prejudices is equally relevant today.)

While it fares much better than Stuff, it shares many of Stuff's faults. Mainly that most of the scenes run too long and the story gets a bit cloudy at times. Plus, there is a really long and completely gratuitous sex scene about 3/4 of the way through that slams the movie to a halt. I guess it's the exploiter in Herschell coming through.

Something Weird's presentation of these two films is as good as one can expect. Both prints (which apparently are the only ones in existence) are worn, with scratches, fading colors and emulsion lines, but, I actually kind of enjoy seeing movies like these in less than perfect prints. There's the usually assortment of HGL trailers and a few random clips as bonus and the same HGL Exploitation Art Gallery Something Weird has included on all their HGL DVDs.

The biggest disappointment is no commentary track from the man himself. Herschell's tracks on the other films are always entertaining to listen to and considering he mentioned Year of the Yahoo! so many times in them, you'd think they could have gotten him on board to talk about it. In his place, Daniel Krogh, who was a long time associate and wrote the first book about Lewis, fills in. While Krogh has tons of trivia, he falls into a trap a lot of DVD commentators do of just describing what is on the screen, talking continuously and not coming up for air.

For fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis, this is a no brainer. If you've never seen an HGL film before, I'll be honest, this isn't a good place to start. In fact, I'd recommend this double feature is probably best left to the HGL fanatics. Still, Something Weird is to be commended for bringing these two lost films out, even if they are a bit of a disappointment.

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