Just when you thought that SWV had milked its H.G. Lewis library for all it was worth, here comes one of the biggest surprises of 2003. THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! has been available for quite some time from Something Weird, but the real cult discovery of the year has to be YEAR OF THE YAHOO!, a film long thought to be lost. While some of Lewis' films still remain lost to the ages (BLACK LOVE), this was the one missing-in-action that the man himself was pushing Mike Vraney to unearth. Now, through a lengthy search across the country, SWV has found the single remaining print of the film. It's time to celebrate, folks!
In THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA!, bug-eyed overacting Jeffrey Allen stars as Roscoe Boone, a hollerin' spitfire-spewin' fake preacherman who runs a church as a front for moonshine dealing. As interesting a plot idea as it is, little happens in this film. During a wedding between two underage youngsters, Boone reveals the young woman is not pure and takes it upon himself to have a piece of the bride, along with every other man in the church! Boone holds a moonshine barn dance, wreaks havoc in the local drugstore, and has a couple of harlots. Alas, none of it's very interesting. It's kind of like a less cartoonish, horrific version of 2000 MANIACS, with a mad group of fake religious types taking action against followers who betray them and feds who try to infiltrate their moonshine operation. I just wish it delivered the goods like other Lewis flicks. There is one out-of-left-field gore sequence with a poor girl being stoned to death and screaming for an eternity (it's very effective), and another disturbing sequence of two girls mistaken as spies gorily crucified in the scorching sun. Nasty stuff, and both scenes actually belong in another, better movie. Jeffrey Allen, who also wore out his welcome in 2000 MANIACS, spews so much religious mumbo-jumbo and hicksploitation philosophies that he wears very thin on the viewer's nerves, so if you thought THE MAGIC LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE was a chore to sit through, give this one a try. It took me five sittings to finish it!
Look fast for one of the first screen appearances of character actor Larry Drake of DR. GIGGLES, DARKMAN, and numerous other low-budget genre films. There's some fine country music spread throughout the film, connecting what little plot there is, but a lot of the tunes sound identical and go on forever. And you do get to see the great Ray Sager in a small part as Boone's right-hand man. But in the end, THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! is far too long (almost 100 minutes), has little exploitation of interest, and ranks as one of Lewis' most disappointing films.
SWV's full screen transfer of THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA! is probably the worst Lewis transfer I've seen so far, and that's really saying something considering the stellar restoration track record of his filmography. It's a transfer befitting of a less-than-exciting motion picture experience, with lots of green emulsion lines, dull fuzzy colors, print jumps, and grain up the wazoo. Some sequences have very nice color, but they're few and far between and fleshtones are usually quite ugly. The mono audio was badly recorded to begin with, so nothing much could be done to salvage the dialogue and fiddle music. Print counts of this film were quite small, like the co-feature YAHOO!, so the fact that SWV managed to get their hands on one in any kind of presentable shape is a miracle. It is what it is, and the intent of preservation prevails over any qualms over the a/v quality. It's just too bad that the film is so disappointing.
Now on to the gold of the disc: THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO!, which thankfully lives up to its Holy Grail reputation. How a well-made H.G. Lewis film, which is a rare thing indeed, could be lost while other lesser Lewis has been readily available for years is a hard thing to comprehend, but that's exploitation for you. Opening with an addictive country tune by Claude King, we're introduced to Mr. King as country singer Hank Jackson, an incredibly popular star in the American South who is recruited by three political advisors to run for State Senator. Their plan: sucker the public into voting for the All-American man, then take all the responsibility of running the country themselves. Through flashy commercials, rigged talk shows, and all kinds of just plain wrong campaigning, King loses his friends, his pretty girlfriend, and questions his all-American values before deciding to stand up for himself and the public he loves. Well-shot, well-edited, and with a compelling script, YEAR OF THE YAHOO! has remained lost for far too long. Lewis nails the political satire perfectly, with the rigged announcement and King continually ruining the shooting of his TV commercial providing the best laughs.
But it's not all funny. King's opposing party tugs at the heartstrings of voters by appealing to the lower class, and his girlfriend Tammy is brutally attacked by paid thugs when she changes sides. Claude King's soundtrack is 60s country at its best, making one wish the recordings were available! Jeffrey Allen returns, in a relatively restrained role, and is pretty good as the state governor. It is Ray Sager who steals the film as the sleazy young hot-shot advisor who takes the entire campaign into his slimy hands. The scene of him berating a rowdy audience who isn't rowdy ENOUGH is brilliantly acted and very funny!
The transfer of the last remaining print of YEAR OF THE YAHOO! is, predictably, not a dazzling affair, but come on, it's YEAR OF THE YAHOO!! There are green and white lines, greenish skin tones, and some muddy colors. But this is the only way you're going to see this film, and I'd rather see it than not at all. Thanks to SWV for bringing this undiscovered gem to DVD, picture-perfect quality be damned!
The star extra of the disc is a twin pair of audio commentaries by Daniel Krogh (pronounced "crow"), long-time H.G. Lewis friend, actor, and crew member, in addition to being the author of "The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis," the first book on Lewis. It's a shame Lewis didn't want to do a commentary, especially on the film he was most anxious to be found, but I guess he just got tired of watching his movies and talking about them. We miss you, Hersch, but these aren't bad audio essays without him. Krogh discusses the shooting locations of the films (KILL YA was partially shot in Oklahoma, surprisingly!), the various actors and crew members, and several low-budget filmmaking tales (the car chase in KILL YA provided loads of problems). He provides far too much play-by-play narration in both, which is unfortunate, but there are enough good nuggets of information to warrant at least one listen each.
The original theatrical trailers for both films are included, and both previews contain alternate takes and footage not included in the finished films. KILL YA! has an alternate take of the gang-bang wedding, and YAHOO! features a garage band singing a comic version of "America the Beautiful" sliced from the final cut. Completing the trailer collection are a handful of more H.G. Lewis previews, including SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, A TASTE OF BLOOD, THE WIZARD OF GORE, THE BLAST-OFF GIRLS, and SOMETHING WEIRD, all of which are on DVD from Something Weird. You can play them all one after the other, which is a great option.
Two shorts are included on the disc, and both are pretty cool. First up is "The Old Grey Goose is Dead," a musical number from Lewis' MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN (again with Jeffrey Allen!), which is coming to DVD soon. It's a pretty bleak folk song, sung by an inbred mountain family, and makes me want to see the complete film. "Naked Moonshine" is another marvelous color sound short from Barry Mahon, one of a series that comprised probably his best filmmaking venture(s). Starring some of the best models in the NYC area during the 60s, this one features Sharon Kent (Wishman's INDECENT DESIRES) as one of a trio of young working girls in desperate need of some money who get a recipe for cheap moonshine for a big party. All of the girls have delicious New York accents, and have great improvised dialogue, plus you can hear Barry Mahon's real voice as an off-camera character. Required viewing, lots of fun! More Lewis madness continues with the great Gallery of H.G. Lewis Exploitation Art. We've seen it all before, but the tantalizing ad campaigns never get tiring. An Easter Egg on the Extras menu highlights the trailer for another obscure Lewis outing, ALLEY TRAMP, due on DVD soon triple-featured with SHANTY TRAMP and MOONSHINER'S DAUGHTER. See JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT star Steve White in a sex scene, and the trailer is narrated by Lewis himself!
Even if you aren't a Lewis fan, you should pick up this disc for historical value alone. YEAR OF THE YAHOO! was one of several American exploitation Holy Grails and the fact that it has been discovered and slapped onto DVD is a sign of how far we have come in terms of film restoration and documentation. A required purchase for cult film fans everywhere! (Casey Scott)
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