It Came from the Camcorder: Redneck Zombies

According to Lloyd Kaufman, so some of it is probably true, Pericles Lewnes and George Scott wandered into the offices of Troma one day in the late 1980s with a finished movie they wanted Troma to distribute. Kaufman and his business partner Michael Herz agreed, on the condition that Lewnes take on unpaid work at Troma to work off the money Kaufman was sure this movie would lose for the company. And, thus, Redneck Zombies was unleashed upon the world.

Directed by Lewnes from a screenplay that has to be a pseudonym for either he or Scott, Fester Smellman, Redneck Zombies is one of the more ambitious efforts, gore-wise, that has been featured in It Came from the Camcorder. In tone, it fits right into the Troma stable, as Lewnes was very much a fan of their work. As the title implies, this movie is about zombies, who happen to be rednecks.

Way down yonder in the boonies, a soldier (Tyrone Taylor) is transporting a barrel of nuclear waste. A little distracted driving leads to the drum taking a tumble down a ravine, where it is recovered by members of the Clemson family. It’s a fortuitous occasion for them, as they are moonshiners in need of a new still, and the large, 55-gallon drum seems perfect for the job. If only it hadn’t been filled with toxic chemicals. Then again, that’s how we viewers get a movie.

The batch of ’shine cooked up by the Clemsons causes all sorts of problems. Anyone who drinks it, which is every redneck in the area, turns into a bloodthirsty zombie, ready to prey on anyone they come across. It’s an idea with the perfect amount of simplicity. Toxic waste, zombies, victims. No more, no less. Well, that’s not completely true.

The first half of the movie is a comedy of the Troma type. That means there’s slapstick, sight gags, and drug humor. It’s the type of movie that college burnouts would watch over and over again back when it was released, until they realized that the tape Redneck Zombies VHS boxwas way overdue back at the video store. That kind of humor doesn’t play perfectly, especially coming from a filmmaker that had no experience with professional comedy. Still, that’s okay. Because of his inexperience as a comedian, and as a storyteller, Lewnes has no problem with shifting the tone of the film from black humor to heavy gore and absurdity once the introductory stuff is done away with. The movie loses most lightheartedness and gets weird. It also becomes a much more compelling movie when that happens.

There isn’t much in the way of story, but Lewnes did give us some straight characters to root for. They are a group out camping, and it’s up to them to be the audience surrogates. They are also the least interesting characters in the movie. It’s the rednecks, whether it be the Clemsons, their rival in Moonshine, Ferd (Bucky Santini), the local butcher, or the mysterious and disturbing Tobacco Man (credited as E. W. Nesneb) that are the characters of most interest. They exist as savage stereotypes of southern, rural whites — unwashed, uneducated, unsophisticated, and aggressively insular. Even had there been no zombies in this movie, Lewnes would have had no trouble turning the rednecks into a menace, as so many other movies have done.

The last act of the movie is an unadulterated festival of gore. There are blood and guts aplenty, and some decent makeup work, despite what had to be a miniscule budget. Horror movies have shown again and again that some filmmakers are able to work magic with limited resources. Lewnes and company weren’t going to win any awards with their unsettling brand of gore, but the scale of it was welcome in a movie that was barely being held together.

The objective quality of this movie is poor. At Missile Test, that means nothing. Up until the final act, I was ready to dismiss Redneck Zombies as a cheap movie that came nowhere near what the filmmakers saw in their heads. Then I saw the autopsy scene. Redneck Zombies doesn’t crack the top half of the Watchability Index, but don’t let that scare one away. There is some there, there. Redneck Zombies displaces Cocktail in the #256 spot.

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