Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review: Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon (aka Seepage!)
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
90 minutes / 2005
The film can be seen HERE. 

There are so many genres and subgenres that it is interesting to look at them over time. For example, there was and is plenty of Hillbilly stuff, especially in the 1970s. Hell, even Opie (aka Ron Howard) started by directing in that field (for Roger Corman) with Grand Theft Auto (1977); and Burt Reynold’s whole beginning oeuvre was steeped in it.

Redneck horror is also a sub-subgenre, with the likes of Redneck Zombies (1989), Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires (2004), I Spit Chew on Your Grave (2008), The Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher, and the short-film compilation The Hillbilly Horror Show, Vol. 1 (2014), to name just a small amount.

But there is also a horny human-like fish-monster subgenre as well, with the likes of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, for which this film is named), The Horror of Party Beach (1964), and Humanoids from the Deep (1980; remade in 1996). Yes, I’ve seen nearly every one of those I’ve mentioned in the last two paragraphs, I’m proud to say.
Most of the films I’ve cited, with rare exceptions, are either comedies or unintentionally funny in a campy way (e.g., Humanoids…). But beyond humorous, they tend to be outrageously so, because if you mock someone’s culture, such as the white Deep South, you better make it obvious that it is poking an elbow rather than pointing a finger, if you want to keep your audience (commented on, somewhat, in the 2014 Bigfoot film, Stomping Ground). This is in the same way that films like Car Wash (1976) or Beauty Shop (2005) are presented, with over-the-top stereotypical characters that are broad enough that many can identify with and mock, rather than are being mocked directly (again, socially commented on in Spike Lee’s 2000 social commentary, Bamboozled).

But I suppose that I should start talking about the film at hand, shouldn’t I? Despite it being filmed in Connecticut (except for a coda scene in Rhode Island), director Richard Griffin tackles the Redneck/Horny Man-Fish genres by wisely combining them into an outrageous and profane comedy Seth Rogan would probably kill to be able to do adequately (he would fail, though still attract an audience for some reason). The acting is wooden, as usually is in backwoods low-comedy style, but nowhere near as forceful and purposefully as it is in his last film, Seven Dorms of Death (2016). Considering the decade-plus time difference of release, it’s interesting to compare them, but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

Hillbillies gone huntin'
In a bayou area of the Deep South, the trope of spilling toxic chemicals (e.g., 2007’s Wasting Away [aka Ahh!! Zombies!] and 2011’s Exit 101) into the water is used to produce a hybrid human-fish (that is, man-into-fish, not fish-into-man, or in today’s terminology, perhaps M2F[ish]). This brings four factions contentiously colliding together: (a) a group of young science students who are doing tests on the water (yet still skinny-dip in it); (b) a gaggle of rednecks (two are named Bubba and Cooter) out huntin’, (c) the hitmen from a pharma company responsible for the dumping who are trying to keep it all contained by trying to kill everyone involved (as a reference point, there is The Crazies, both in 1973 and 2010); and (d) the mutant/mutating fish people who have a hunger for human flesh, of course.

There is certainly a – er – certain level a cheesiness present, such as there always seems to be some fog around as people are skulking about, even in a basement. Also, a hillneck (redbilly?) gal in classic daisy dukes and a red checkered Italian restaurant tablecloth design top tied in front falls for a mutant-to-be, a student ends up being an escapee from the evil corporation, and there are hair curlers, beers, and white hazmat suits, along with nudity and lots of decent gore, giving an overall nice scaly shine.

The creatures are definitely a guy(s) in rubber suits – and considering you never see more than one of the monsters at a time, I guessing the same suit – but actually it looks pretty decent for its budget, and I was impressed by them. Truthfully, it looks better than many I’ve seen on shoots with a much larger financial backing.

If you’re not used to these kinds of films, the dialogue may sound a bit, well, stupid, but if you listen carefully with heavy dose of humor, it’s hysterical. For example, when one character sees the dead body of someone he knows, he yells, “Fuck me sideways! Noooooo!” There are also a lot of racial and ethnic comments, and including pointed towards the LGBTQQ+ demographic. This is, however, meant more to shine on the fallibilities of those who are homophobic rather than promoting it.

It’s interesting to see one of Richard Griffin’s earliest releases (which I haven’t seen many) and compare them with his latest (of which I have viewed a few). In this one, it was before he had his revolving company of actors and crew that show up in many/most of the later works. No Michael Thurber, no Sarah Nicklin or Michael Reed, and especially no cinematography by Jill Poisson. His later works have a “look” that this one does not. That’s not to say this film doesn’t look great, because it does, it’s just… different. Good different.

Over the years, there is more confidence built into a final product, and this one is definitely a growth work. What I mean by that is as one learns a craft, one gets better at it (one would hope), and not just in directorial skill, but in fashioning one’s own style and look. On one hand, I think I would say that this looks like a beginning film (it was his fourth) that one learns what’s possible and how to do things more efficiently and effectively. That being said, even with that, it’s actually above most early works of some bigger names (so far). I mean, compare Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1993) with The H8ful Eight (2016), or Cronenberg’s Rabid (1977) with Eastern Promises (2007). The viewer can see the skill set growth comparing them. The spark is definitely there, as it is here, but the early films have a certain clunkiness to them compared to their more advanced counterparts. There is certainly a clunky, amateurishness to this one, but it definitely has that umph that would make Griffin so good at what he does.

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