Saturday, October 29, 2016

31 Days of Halloween 2016: Killbillies (now on video)

[31 Days of Halloween 2016: KILLBILLIES is now available on home video and VOD.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

The folks at distributor Artsploitation have slapped the Troma-like moniker KILLBILLIES onto a serious-minded Eastern European thriller whose original title translates as the somewhat less marketable IDYLL. A somewhat ignominious fate (or is it?) for what is billed as the first horror movie to emerge from the young nation of Slovenia. The version extant isn’t even dubbed in English.

The plot (don’t tell the Slovenian ambassador to Cleveland) is not all that original. In fact it pretty much riffs on the 1977 Wes Craven THE HILLS HAVE EYES (which itself, you could say, owes a debt to Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS and Boorman’s DELIVERANCE, which themselves had slight overtones of Ray Milland's PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO etc. etc.). A group of “civilized” city folk are thrown into a fight for survival against a bunch of feral, misfit degenerates so crude and malformed that they can scarcely be considered human. Yet, after all the two-way bloodletting, you really can’t say one side is any “better” than the other.

IDYLL begins with three amateur photo models in some Eastern European metropolis carpooling into the countryside with a male photographer for a casual fashion shoot. But the rustic denizens (indeed called “hillbillies” in the subtitles; don’t ask me what the Slovene term is) are all menacing, malformed goons in lederhosen-type peasant outfits. Two of the disgusting male cretins attack the city folk and drag them to a rural dungeon.

Rape seems to be on the marauders’ minds, but in fact there’s a very different fate awaiting strangers in this region. Throughout the insubstantial narrative there has been a lot of imbibing of a trendy new liquor with a crudely scrawled pictogram label, that seems to be produced in great quantities in the hills. Horror fans won’t be much surprised at how the kidnapping ties in with the bootlegging. Or that it's the most goth-chick of the imperiled girls who has the fortitude to fight back.

Yes, there is abundant gore, but at least writer-director Tomaz Gorkic doesn’t dwell in extravagant closeup on the sicko mutilation f/x that are the hallmark of torture-porn, and you horndog viewers expecting beaucoup nudity alongside the bludgeonings and piercings are going to be disappointed. And the picture actually does look good, as though the Slovene film industry really did lavish care and budget on this thing, as opposed to much of the backyard-video hack jobs that pass for splatter cinema.

And by the end there’s a message - supremely nihilistic - to all this brutal torment and homicide, put across well enough (and depressingly enough) that the feature equals or surpasses similar Hollywood exercises in sadism like TURISTAS and HOSTEL. But is that entertainment? Maybe for some people, but if the folks behind this expect to crank out a whole franchise of eight or nine sequels with eventual SAW and CONJURING crossovers, then I wish the Slovenians had stuck with Balkan war dramas and Laibach concert flicks, sorry. (2 out of 4 stars)  

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