Two couples, on their way back from a vacation in the Ozark Mountains, accidentally run over a man in the road. Their car is damaged badly enough that it won’t run, so they start walking down a rural back road strip of pavement. After many hours, they happen across a ramshackle house in the middle of a field. Tired, hungry and desperate, they knock on the door hoping to make a phone call. What they get is humiliation, rape and murder.
Filmed in black-and-white and made for a little over $4,000, Roadkill is co-writer/director Jeff Chitty’s ode to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The resemblances are many, including a crazed, cannibalistic backwoods clan forgotten by civilization; a carload of kids who run into the family; a large, retarded man-boy who wears a mask; a dinner scene with a skeletal “grandma” in a wheelchair, an opening narration of the events, and over-the-top, hysterical characters. But whereas Tobe Hooper has freely admitted that his film is grainy and gritty more due to poor film stock and the process of converting 16 MM film to 35 MM film, Chitty has manipulated his film to have the grindhouse feel.
From a technical standpoint, Roadkill is made very well. Chitty has a knack for the camera and the musical scores for the two features I’ve seen of his are also very good. In this film, the score fits very well and Chitty makes use of some strange cues to throw the viewer off. For instance, during one death scene, a child’s music box melody plays as the victim is bludgeoned to death.
Another difference between Chitty’s and Hooper’s films is the amount of violence. Hooper’s film is infamous for being banned and censored in certain parts of the world. Many people—those who wave a banner for the cause without ever having seen the film—decry its violence. But for all its notoriety, Texas Chainsaw is a masterpiece of subtlety. There is very little overt violence in the film and no real bloodshed outside of a cut finger. Texas Chainsaw’s power comes from what it makes people think they have seen. And as crazy as the cannibal family is, the viewer has sympathy for them because they come across as genuine characters. The viewer may not understand how this family could have regressed to the point of cannibalism, but we can appreciate the fact that they are trying their best to operate as a family. But Chitty takes the subtlety of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and throws it out the door. Make no mistake about it, Roadkill is a mean-spirited, violent, nasty film. We see both men and women raped and murdered in gory detail. This isn’t necessarily a criticism; rather an observation. Some viewers will most likely find the content of the film disgusting and distasteful, but others will revel in the violence and perversion (you know who you are). The scene where “Mama” rapes a man tied to a chair and then cuts off his member, splattering her chest with blood before beating him in the face with his own penis has to be seen to be believed.
This is Chitty’s first full-length feature (which actually runs a little short of a normal feature at about 70 minutes), and there are some rough spots. Many people will be turned off by the obvious source material. Chitty knows his exploitation flicks, and he isn’t afraid to use that knowledge. So the film isn’t the most original piece of work out there, which may be a drawback for some. Also, there are several scenes that could have used another take, especially the dinner scene when Grandma is wheeled out. Grandma’s wig keeps falling off, causing the actors to have to pick it up and replace it several times, which was obviously unplanned. But when the wig falls off, the skeleton is revealed to be plastic as evidenced by the fact that there is a line in the skullcap where the top can be removed. There are also more than a few inconsistencies in the film (can someone really die by stabbing when you use the rounded end of a broom handle?). But these criticisms can, perhaps, be ignored when one realizes what was accomplished using amateur actors, working weekends, and literally spending pennies to complete the film.
The acting isn’t the most solid, as befits a shoestring-budgeted picture, but in a way, that is also part of the charm of the picture. Ironically, probably the best actor was also by far the most irritating character, and that was the character of “Mama,” named Lita in the picture. Played by Stephanie Reed, she gives an absolutely hysterical performance throughout the film. Constantly screaming in a tone that grabbed the lower portion of my spine and vibrated it, she was totally irritating. It was difficult to understand what she was saying most of the time, and most of the time it didn’t matter to me. I was grateful for her death because it meant a definite decrease in noise for the end of the picture. Having said that, Reed gives it her all and her performance is actually pitch-perfect, if more than a little annoying.
Roadkill is not a perfect movie and some may dislike the amount of violence as well as the obvious use of source material. But if you don’t mind some perverted exploitation on a shoestring budget, you might want to give this one a try. I’ll say one thing for Chitty: he doesn’t shy away from the macabre. Roadkill can be bought as a download at www.digitalgrindhouseentertainment.com, and while you’re there, try out some of the other exploitation films Chitty has ready for download as well.