Katie Connors (Vanessa Leigh) isn’t having the best life. She’s married to a moonshiner named Melvin (Michael Fredianelli) who is abusive and cold. One day however, she gets her chance to be rid of him once and for all, while at the same time keeping her hands clean in the deal. When her husband runs to town one day, she gets a call from Richard Hayden (Jeremy Koerner), who places a huge shine order for his boss. When Melvin returns from town, Katie lies to him about the size and quality of the order, so when Melvin goes to deliver the goods, Richard, who is incredibly hard core and unscrupulous, shoots him dead on the spot for not delivering. Unfortunately for Katie, he then started harrassing her to fulfill the order, which she refuses to do. Even though she has the moonshine to give him, she knows if she does, he’ll have no reason not to kill her. She ends up seeking help from a government agent named Higbee (Don Williams), who both tries to help her, and ends up screwing her over as well, before ultimately trying to help her again in the end. Will Katie survive in the end, or has she used up her nine lives? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
This film was actually sent to me because I know one of the actors in it, Jeremy Koerner, and he had the director send me over this film and one other he appeared in to review. In real life, Jeremy is a really nice, friendly and funny guy. In this movie, he’s an unscrupulous bastard…to say the least, and his performance was, as I always expect from him, outstanding.
I wish I could say the same for lead actress Vanessa Leigh unfortunately, who played the role of Katie in such a stiff manner that at some points it almost felt autistic. I can’t fault her entirely however, because for an actor to really bring out their character, the writing has to be there for them to work with, and in this case, the torrential flood of illogic that sprang from this character really didn’t leave her a lot to work with. For example, if she had just fulfilled the moonshine order, which she had the product to fill it with, when Hayden first showed up at her house looking for it, the whole thing could have been done and overwith. She could have just given it to him free of charge and the whole thing would have been over and done with. Instead, she hides it away, gets several other people involved in her problems, which leads to several deaths, and inexplicably continues to hold out until the very end rather than just giving them what they want. I realize that giving them what they wanted right from the beginning would have basically ended the story right there, but it would have been nice if her reasons for not doing so made more sense. That plus the lack of personality in the character really hurt the film, as it made it nearly impossible to feel anything for the character.
Jeremy Koerner’s character on the other hand was rather unique. He was smooth talking and polite, while at the same time always having an undertone of a threat in his voice. He also had an added perversion that he was obsessed with women’s butts, and felt a compulsion to touch them whenever possible. This had nothing at all to do with his character or his role in the film, but it made the character more interesting by showing that there was more to him than the "threatening thug". Those little, unimportant quirks can really flesh out a character and make them far more interesting to watch.
One of the themes we run into later in the film is that of the racism that existed in the South at the time. Katie hires a black shoe shine man named Willie (Gift Harris) to help her get the stills running again so she can produce moonshine. This is a situation that her neighbor, who is a member of the KKK, find untenable, and ultimately leads to he and his family first trying to drive Willy away, and then when that doesn’t work, capturing the both of them, making Willie beat the crap out of Katie and then ultimately killing Willie. Later, Katie lies to her step father and tells him that they were the ones who killed his son Melvin so she could get him to help her get revenge on them. Again, another reason to feel no sympathy for Katie. There was a little side thing with Willie as well that was just inexplicable. He kept complaining that he had bumps on his feet that he was concerned about, and this was mentioned by him a few times, for no apparent reason, as we never did find out why he had bumps on his feet.
Another aspect of the film that seemed strange was the government agent’s sudden love for Katie that seemed to appear out of thin air, which drove him crazy when it was unrequited and pushed him into using her neighbors to do what they did to her and Willie. The writing for that character just seemed random and unbalanced.
Now I know the problems with some of the characters make this sound like it was a bad film, but honestly, it wasn’t at all. It was too long in my opinion because it got sidetracked from the main story several times unnecessarily, but the film itself, from a production standpoint was actually quite good.
The film is supposed to take place somewhere in Georgia. The town scenes were actually shot at History Park in San Jose, California, and the scenes with the farm house were shot out in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Half Moon Bay, California. You’d never know it though. They really captured the feel of the South in this film, and everything from the costumes to the cars to the set design and props were all just spot on. Other than the film being too long and getting sidetracked from the main story, I really have no complaints whatsoever about the production quality. The whole look of the film is very professional and considering that it was shot on such a low budget, is nothing short of an incredible accomplishment.
While not perfect, Black Cat Whiskey from writer and director Michael Fredianelli does contain some good performances, the most notable of which are from Jeremy Koerner and Gift Harris, and is definitely worth checking out. There are some scenes that are quite intense and disturbing, and the whole look of the film really drops you into the not so distant past, where shine was the order of the day and people were willing to kill to get it if necessary.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the Wild Dogs Productions Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wilddogsproductions.