Gopher Wood (2010) – By Cary Conley

Gopher Wood is a fictional place where hillbillies make moonshine, terrorize local youths, and raise the dead.  The Burrows family has gone back to the roots of grindhouse cinema to create a grindhouse film that looks more authentic than even Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s own Grindhouse looks.

Filled with film scratches, jumps, lurches, fades, poor looping, and missing sound effects, the film has the feel of a real grindhouse picture, along with a plot straight from H.G. Lewis himself.  The film follows three groups of people towards a conclusion that connects all three groups together.  The first group is a hillbilly family that makes their money moon shining.  When they aren’t producing moonshine, the hillbilly father is busy reciting magic spells that will bring his dead wife back from the grave.  The second group of people is a family headed by a weird old man who runs an even weirder book store.  By day he is merely an eccentric shop owner, but he spends his nights heaping various abuses on his family, whom he keeps locked up in a basement, never having even seen the light of day.  And the third group is composed of a group of youthful idiots with nothing better to do than steal moonshine and dance (badly, I might add) the night away.

The (very loose) plot has the kids steal the hillbilly’s moonshine, so the hillbillies track the kids down, terrorizing them and killing one before the youths kill the hillbillies.  Meanwhile, the hillbilly dad has successfully brought Mom back from the grave as a zombie.  Hillbilly zombie mom promptly starts spreading the disease.  As more zombies are created, one of them finds their way to the book store owner’s home.  While the shopkeeper is successful in killing the zombie, he is dispatched by one of his daughters, who is tired of the beatings and rapes, thus freeing the family to actually go outside and try to live a normal life.  Whew!

As I said before, the filmmakers were intentionally trying to produce the look and feel of a grindhouse film, and in large part, they succeeded.  I enjoyed that aspect of the film and can appreciate it for what it is.  I have spent a lifetime watching these kinds of films, many times in horrendous condition, back when VHS bootlegs were the only way to see some of this stuff.  But there are several flaws with this film.

 First, the sound was so bad that the film was hard to follow.  Some actors could be heard clearly while others in the same scene couldn’t be heard at all.  The sound was so bad that I missed entire conversations.  I found myself constantly adjusting the volume of the TV, which is a major pet peeve of mine.  I finally gave up, turned the volume to a normal level, and caught what I could.

The acting was atrocious.  Now maybe I can forgive the acting as being a part of the whole “grindhouse feel.”  But the editing was also bad enough to be distracting.  It was very choppy with not a single transition between scenes.  This meant that the film seemed to be cobbled together from various scenes and jumped from one thing to another.  For example, there are a series of scenes when the youths are drinking and dancing (did I mention they dance very badly?!).  These scenes are intercut with the hillbilly dad trying to raise his dead wife.  Aside from the fact that this series of scenes lasted forever, they literally jumped from singing and dancing (badly) to hillbilly incantations.  It was so choppy that sometimes the beginning of the hillbilly dad’s words were cut in the scene.  No transitions whatsoever!

Many scenes lasted entirely too long.  There is a death scene where one of the female youths is shot, and she takes about five minutes to die.  The sound is bad, so you can’t hear what she is saying, but her friend is holding her and howling her lines.  Finally the girl dies, so her friend breaks down in hysterics for another couple of minutes—almost like the director wants us to see this tour de force of acting, screaming and crying.  And it’s not half bad—just three times longer than it needs to be, so it ends up being annoying.  There are several scenes like this that run way too long.

Some of the dialogue is too sappy as well—if you can hear it.  I especially disliked the ending dialogue when the family comes out of their house to see the sunlight for the first time.  The dialogue is way too melodramatic and fake.

So on one level, the filmmakers succeeded.  They accurately created the look and feel of a grindhouse film.  Even the classic exploitation plot was a mishmash of 2000 Maniacs, Night of the Living Dead, and Moonshine Mountain.  But while those films all have a quaint amateurishness surrounding them that makes them fun to watch and to laugh at, unfortunately, Gopher Wood isn’t much fun.  I did, however, enjoy the musical score.

If you like hillbillies, zombies, or hillbillies and zombies in the same film, and don’t mind that grindhouse look and feel, you might enjoy Gopher Wood.  For more information, see Dura Mater Productions at http://www.duramaterproductions.com.