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Pulp Culture
Hillbilly horror
pits red states
against blue

September 25, 2003
By Franklin Harris

In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, pundits made a big deal out of electoral maps, which depicted a major geographic rift in the political landscape. Every network and cable news channel used the same color scheme. Red states voted for the Republican candidate, while blue states supported the Democrat. So, a pattern emerged. Largely rural states were all red, and mostly urban states were blue. The divide between city and country was even more obvious when broken down to the county level.

Writing in The Atlantic Monthly, columnist David Brooks summarized the situation: "In Red America churches are everywhere. In Blue America Thai restaurants are everywhere." Blue America is everything educated, fashionable and good. Red America is everything bigoted, tacky and evil. Or at least that's what the folks in Blue America think.

As Brooks would have it, America is two nations, slightly divisible, with "Blue America" looking down its designer nose at "Red America." Speaking for his fellow Blue Americans he writes, "All we know, or all we think we know, about Red America is that millions and millions of its people live quietly underneath flight patterns, many of them are racist and homophobic, and when you see them at highway rest stops, they're often really fat and their clothes are too tight."

By now you're thinking, "Yeah. Sure. But what does all of this have to do with sci-fi movies, comic books and the rest of that stuff you usually write about?" Well, as I say, everything goes in cycles, and it happens that we're in the middle of a prolonged fit of 1970s nostalgia. And one '70s staple that is back with a vengeance is the hillbilly horror movie.

So far this year, the films "Wrong Turn," "Cabin Fever" and "House of 1,000 Corpses" have pitted Blue America against Red America. And in three weeks, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," a remake of the most infamous red vs. blue splatterfest, arrives in theaters nationwide.

It began with 1964's "Two Thousand Maniacs," written and directed by drive-in sleazemeister Herschell Gordon Lewis. The inhabitants of a small Southern town trap and kill Yankee tourists in revenge for their town's destruction by Union troops during the War of Northern Aggression. But the floodgates opened with "Deliverance," John Boorman's 1972 film based on James Dickey's novel. Four friends from Atlanta, the model of the New South's budding cosmopolitan sophistication, venture into the wilderness on a canoeing trip. They happen upon some violent and amorous hillbillies, and then bad things happen. Very bad things.

Soon after "Deliverance," college students on joyrides and families on vacation were taking wrong turns and getting into all sorts of trouble. Apart from the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," there were films like "I Spit on Your Grave" and Wes Craven's "The Last House on the Left." It wasn't safe to be a city slicker in the sticks.

Of course, it wasn't just the Southern hillbillies you had to watch out for. Craven set his next film, "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977), in the Southwest, and that film's most memorable villain, Pluto (Michael Berryman), is arguably the hillbilly you least want to meet.

This week Anchor Bay Entertainment released a two-disc special edition of "The Hills Have Eyes." The set retails for $29.98.

The intriguing thing about hillbilly horror movies is that the best of them work on two levels. For Blue Americans they show a rural America filled with violent, illiterate, inbred goons. For Red Americans, they depict city dwellers and suburbanites as na´ve, inept and one misfortune away from becoming just as savage as the rural folk they despise.

If rural and urban America really do view each other with post-election suspicion, the resurgence of hillbilly horror couldn't have been better timed. And its modest success in theaters and on home video can't be a surprise.

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