Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honey Britches (1971)

AKA Shantytown Honeymoon, Honey Pie, Hillbilly Hooker, Little Whorehouse on the Prairie, Demented Death Farm Massacre
Rated R

"These hillbillies are big, dumb, and strong. They got muscles they ain't even used yet. Especially in their heads."

Alright, so Kentucky-fried exploitation handyman Donn Davison wasn't the greatest filmmaker - even by my bottom-shelf standards, he's was a cinematic bungler - but he was fantastic at yo-yo tricks. A world champion, even. He was also a magician, specializing in grisly spookshow gags. He also ran the notorious Dragon Art Theater in California for a spell, did voice-overs on countless movie trailers and radio spots, and acted as producer, screenwriter, and director of promotions for Film Ventures International. He also released several helpful how-to books on hypnotism and magic tricks, and even wrote a novel. He might have also gone to the moon once. And listen, the poor fella died at the relatively tender age of 55, so who knows what else he might have accomplished had he lingered on a little longer? So let us cut him some slack on this movie directing thing. He clearly had bigger fish to fry than this goofy bullshit.

Davison shot Honey Britches in Alpharette, Georgia. From its friendly, easy-to-navigate website, the city has clearly grown into its own in the past 35 years. But as depicted in Honey Britches, it's pretty much just a clump of trees and a few shacks. Perhaps it's my Yankee upbringing, but there's something magical about the (non)set design in this movie. How could a place like this exist? Who would live there? You could take all the actors out of the movie and just film the decayed backwoods scenery, and I'd watch it, completely transfixed.

Ah, but you get more than a creepy travelogue here. You get a crime story!

A mismatched group of jewel thieves - Phillip (Mike Coolik), a stuffy, bearded, pseudo-Brit; Kirk (Jim Peck), sideburned slickster; and Karen (Pepper Thurston) and Susan (Trudy Moore), two sharp-tongued gangster molls - crash their getaway plane (!) in the woods of North Carolina. They decide to hole up in the nearest shack and wait until the heat is off before they make their next move.

Meanwhile, a couple of backwoods moonshine runners drop off their weekly shipment to Jessabelle's house of ill-repute. Jess (Valarie Lipsey, a hilariously bad actress) is a statuesque, Pam Grier-ish beauty with full command over her body and her business, which clearly confuses the backwards local yokels. Head shine-pusher Harlan P Craven (George Ellis, Legend of Blood Mountain) exchanges sharp words with the unlikely hillbilly hooker, but she quickly puts hypocritical Harlan in his place.

Interestingly, even though it looks very much like the movie will be about her and her relationship to the bigoted locals, Davison never returns to Jessabelle's house or her story. So why did we go there in the first place? It's as if he changed the entire plot mid-stream, just because he found a girl with bigger tits. It couldn't have been her atrocious acting. There's plenty more of that in here.

Anyway, the blundering robbers ditch their jeep in a clump of trees and then wander through the forest until they come upon the shack of Reba Sue Craven (Ashley Brooke, who is listed as a one-time actress, but looks hauntingly familiar to me. I'm guessing obscure 70's porn starlet?), Harlan's inexplicably gorgeous young wife. She offers them some meager hospitality, and the eagerly take it. As the Craven's do not have any indoor plumbing, Karen and the Amazonian Susan throw on bikinis and head over to the nearby pond to bathe. Reba-Sue is thrown off by their big-city immodesty, but she rolls with it.

Harlan comes home from a busy day hustling corn liquor to find his wife innocently entertaining the two city fellas. This does not make him happy. Along the way, he found their abandoned Jeep and appropriated it, so they're not so thrilled with him, either. But then Harlan gets an eyeful of Susan's magnificent rack, and everything gets smoothed over. Harlan lets the strangers stay the night. He even lets the girls take his bedroom. He and Reba Sue bed down on the kitchen floor, but when his new wife strips down to her underwear and tries to get it on with her hubby (showing off her cesarean scar in the process), the drunken, conflicted Harlan just pushes her away. Clearly, this pop-eyed old fellow has problems.

Speaking of problems, the next morning, Harlan listens to the radio and hears a news report about the missing jewel thieves. Even in his alcoholic haze, he figures out that the culprits are his new house guests. Phillip pulls a gun on him and tells hem that they'll be staying a while. He also orders Reba Sue to rustle up some clothes for them so that they'll fit in with the mountain-folk.

Later on, while Karen, Harlan and Phillip are out doing god knows what, Kirk sits at the kitchen table, bickering with Susan. He finally tells her to get the fuck out, because he's got pressing business with the lady of the house. He barges in to Reba Sue's bedroom, startling the half-naked hillbilly. Then he forces himself on her. When Karen gets wind of it - they're a couple, apparently - she goes bananas, and she and Reba Sue get into a vicious catfight on the kitchen floor. The scuffle ends when Reba Sue cracks Karen's skull with a moonshine jug, killing her. When Kirk announces that Karen's dead, Reba Sue stares directly into the camera and lets out a throaty scream. It's pretty awesome.

So now the robbers have Harlan over a barrel. If he makes a peep about their whereabouts, they'll spill the beans about Karen. He agrees, and buries her in the backyard. Inside, Reba Sue confesses to Kirk that she was forced to marry Harlan because her father owed him $200. Kirk shows her his stash of diamonds and promises to take her with him when they split, if she, you know, plays her cards right.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Phillip cook up a scheme to further wreck Harlan's life. Kirk figures that Harlan must have a stash of moonshine profits somewhere in the house. He tells Phillip he'll start tagging along with Harlan on his runs to keep him away from the shack, while Phillip roots around for the cash. Phil also instructs Susan to use her powers of seduction to weaken Harlan's resolve, so that perhaps he'll just tell her where the money is hidden. So, that's the plan.

Kirk shows up for his first day of work, and Harlan promptly jams a pitchfork through his neck. I did not see that coming. Phillip finds out and gives chase. Somewhere along the way, Big Tits Susan gets run over by the Jeep. Phillip chases Harlen through the woods, and they wrassle. And then Phillip kills the smart-alecky bastard. He comes home to find Reba Sue rifling through the dead city-slickers belongings, which includes a handgun and a million dollars worth of diamonds. Harlan reckons he can take that shit to his shifty pal in Charlotte, who will give him a pretty penny for it. A pretty penny, indeed. "With all the money I'll have, I can make a new start," says Harlan.

Reba stares at him quizzically while fondling the handgun. All the money you'll have? Fuck that.

One of the more stubbornly artless offerings from the 70's drive-in canon, the only element that elevates Honey Britches from Super 8 home movie level is the fact that it was actually shot on 35mm. It does have a surprising amount of blood for 1971, but its also got a surprising dearth of nudity. Reba-Sue briefly flashes boob when Kirk's molesting her, but molested-boob hardly counts, does it? Otherwise, the film is quite chaste. So what are we left with? Well, as with all choice nuggets of badfilm, Honey Britches is a full-immersion experience. Nothing - not the badly scratched print, the woeful acting, the eyeball-offending ugliness of the shacks and the barren woods, or even the tomato sauce gunshot wounds - can pull you out of this movie's hypnotic spell. For the 80 or so minutes that it ever-so-slowly unspools, you can't help but to be fully engrossed in this lurid melodrama, acted out by clueless non-actors in some strange and distant land nearly 40 years ago. It is fitting that most of the cast came and went with this movie. The better to imagine them as ethereal spirits of the Georgian woods, who somehow managed to manifest themselves for Davison's cockeyed camera, and then slipped back into the darkness of the undergrowth. I haven't seen anything so oddly soothing yet vaguely troubling since the last time I chugged an entire bottle of Nyquil and spent 36 hours snoozing away on the couch.

I'm not sure if that's a recommendation for Honey Britches or Nyquil, but I'd certainly try one of 'em this weekend, if I was you.

By the way, in the mid 80's, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers helmer Fred Olen Ray edited some random John Carradine footage into Honey Britches and sold it to Troma, who released it as Demented Death Farm Massacre, and hyped it as "Deliverance Meets A Fish Called Wanda". Holy smokes, they are fucking crazy at Troma.

Honey Britches is available from Something Weird Video.

Clip: Honey Britches trailer!

- Ken McIntyre

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