Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (on DVD and Blu-Ray 10/25/11) is but the latest in a long, long line of movies demonizing the Deep South and portraying its residents as homicidal maniacs just itching to take out their frustrations on entitled city folk. The genre is clearly intended for the urban dwellers more than actual Southerners, since it exaggerates their nagging fears that modern society has ill-prepared them for actual life-or-death situations, the kind which seem so distant from their metropolis of choice. That these fears are projected onto a specific social group is interesting, and in its own way also a little backward. Who are the real demons here, anyway?
But whether they're driven by class warfare, religious fervor or just a craving for raw human flesh, these psycho hillbillies have become a part of the pop culture firmament, appearing in many classic action movies, horror movies and even comedies throughout the years. Here are our picks for The Ten Best Psycho Hillbilly Movies.
10. HUNTER'S BLOOD (dir. Robert Hughes, 1986)
Hunter's Blood has been just about completely forgotten, just like the rest of Robert Hughes' movies, which boasted titles like Memorial Valley Massacre and Zadar! Cow From Hell. That's not really fair though: Hunter's Blood is actually a solid little hillbilly massacre movie that hits all the tropes of the subgenre from kidnappin' the womenfolk to hunting "accidents" gone horribly, horribly wrong. In the film, Sam Bottoms and horror mainstay Clu Gulager take a hunting trip and accidentally piss off the locals, whose leader is played by pointy-faced Untouchables villain Billy Drago. There are no shocking twists on the formula here, but the low budget doesn't stand in the way of some truly memorable kills and suspense sequences. Gulager was nominated for a Saturn Award for his performance, but more interestingly Hunter's Blood also includes the first on-screen performance of Billy Bob Thornton.
9. TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! (dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1964)
Herschell Gordon Lewis is famous for his low-budget, quickly shot grotesqueries. You may also be familiar with such titles as Blood Feast and The Wizard of Gore. Most people seem to agree that Two Thousand Maniacs is one of his best. It's also one of the first movies in the whole "killer hillbilly" subgenre. The film, like most others like it, is about the horrible fate that befalls some city folk when they travel to the Deep South, in this case for a centennial Civil War celebration. Surprise! The locals are still pissed about how that little skirmish went down, and exact their revenge upon the Yankees in absurd, horrifying ways. Fun Facts: he creepy story was inspired by, of all things, the Lerner and Loewe musical Brigadoon, and the title was a direct inspiration for the band 10,000 Maniacs.
8. HATCHET II (dir. Adam Green, 2010)
Few attempts to create a new slasher icon have been as successful as the Hatchet movies, which may not have been big box office but do have an enormous cult following. The first film was an over-the-top comedy horror film about a group of tourists who wind up on the wrong side of the bayou and fall prey to an undead hillbilly murderer named Victor Crowley, whose backstory is actually one of the most genuinely tragic you're likely to find in horror fiction. But Hatchet II upped the ante in every way: the kills are more memorable, the characters are more interesting, and even the lighting seems to have had a major upgrade. It's a delightfully absurd ultraviolent feast for gorehounds with one of the best countrified killers around.
7. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (dir. Rob Zombie, 2005)
Rob Zombie made a somewhat inauspicious directorial debut with House of 1,000 Corpses, a movie about a group of city folks (again) who fall prey to a clan of psycho southerners (again) and finally sank into a literal pit of mad scientists and mutants (agai… actually, that part was new). Simultaneously overblown and undercooked, it nevertheless spawned an infinitely superior sequel in The Devil's Rejects, which found the evil Firefly Clan from the first movie on the run from a similarly unstable sheriff played by William Forsythe. The Devil's Rejects is also an exercise in excess – Zombie forces you to sit through all of "Freebird" in the big finale, for crying out loud – but it's a lot more focused than the first one, ignoring the sci-fi nonsense in favor of a good old-fashioned grindhouse murder spree perpetrated by villains who are actually a little sympathetic tis time, if only because they're being chased.
6. DERANGED (dirs. Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby, 1974)
Deranged is one of two movies on our list that were inspired by the real-life murders of serial killer Ed Gein. (You probably already know what the other one is, and also where it ended up in the ranking.) But Deranged stands on its own as a creepy cult classic. Roberts Blossom, better known to young audiences as "Old Man Marley" from Home Alone, stars as Ezra Cobb, a man with a sadistic mother who can't accept that she's dead. So he digs her up and starts luring other women to his home, and does simply unspeakable things to their corpses. Underplayed and eerily melodramatic, this eerie film technically takes place in the Midwest but it clearly belongs in the psycho hillbilly genre anyway with a secluded, deluded protagonist murdering unsuspecting "normal" people because of his backwards ethos.
5. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (dir. Wes Craven, 1977)
Wes Craven's Last House on the Left almost qualifies as a psycho hillbilly movie, but the killers in that bizarre and ultraviolent classic were escaped cons torturing their way through a vague Vietnam allegory, so we feel that it doesn't quite fit the genre. The Hills Have Eyes, on the other hand, totally works. This time an urban family's camper breaks down in the middle of a wasteland caused by nuclear testing and fall prey to a mutated clan of locals who kill, rape and kidnap with terrifying intensity. The point, Craven makes a little bluntly, is that civilization is a construct easily torn down by violence and mortal necessity. Remade – and actually rather well – by Alexandre Aja in 2006, both versions spawned less than memorable sequels, but are both worth watching.
4. DELIVERANCE (dir. John Boorman, 1972)
Considered by many to be the prototypical psycho hillbilly movie, John Boorman's skillful deconstruction of masculinity follows a group of city folks (yes, again) into the woods where they are unexpectedly assaulted by a gang of rednecks. The "squeal like a pig" scene has became an unexpected cultural milestone, largely because it comes completely out of nowhere in a film by acclaimed Point Blank director John Boorman (who went on to make such other classics as Excalibur and Zardoz… yes, Zardoz). This is no grindhouse exploitation fest. It's a smart, harrowing tale of a group of men, played by great actors like Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox and Burt Reynolds, fighting literally and figuratively to reassert their strength after a brutal victimization.
3. SOUTHERN COMFORT (dir. Walter Hill, 1981)
Walter Hill is best known for directing the cult favorite The Warriors, but believe it or not his best film may in fact be Southern Comfort, an impossibly tense story about a group of National Guardsmen tromping through the Louisiana bayou on a weekend retreat. When they steal a boat belonging to the native Creoles, they bite off more than they can chew. Soon they're besieged on all sides by faceless maniacs out to kill them, and they're not even carrying live ammunition. The tough guy cast includes the likes of Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine and Fred Ward, but they're horribly outnumbered and outgunned, making Southern Comfort a roaming siege movie like few others, culminating in pulse-pounding climax taking place "behind enemy lines." This is a damned good movie.
2. TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (dir. Eli Craig, 2010)
Let's say you were born and raised in the big city, taking a trip through the Deep South, and you're approached by a large hillbilly wielding a scythe who only speaks in creepy, high-pitched giggles. If you've seen any of the other movies on this list, you're probably not going to assume he's a nice guy who has trouble making friends. Well, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil thinks that you're the jerk. Firefly star Alan Tudyk and Reaper comic relief Tyler Labine play Tucker and Dale, two lovable rednecks who just bought their first fixer-upper vacation home in the woods which just happens to be near the campsite of a group of judgmental college kids. One misunderstanding leads to another, and pretty soon our hapless heroes are beset on all sides by a pack of homicidal 20-year-olds who are convinced their lives are in danger, and who accidentally kill themselves off in hilariously gory ways. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a brilliant deconstruction of the psycho hillbilly genre that, in the end, actually manages to work as the very thing it's satirizing.
1. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (yes, "chain saw" is supposed to be two words, look it up) may not have started the psycho hillbilly genre, but by God did this movie define it. Tobe Hooper's incredible and shocking horror story about a group of surprisingly unlikable city kids visiting an old house in the back country takes its sweet time getting going, building palpable suspense until a cannibal in a human flesh mask suddenly bursts into the frame and gets the horror started. (Yes, this is the other movie based on Ed Gein.) After that, it never lets up for a second. The grainy film stock makes the entire movie feel like a snuff film, so it seems like anything can happen to these characters, some of whom would be untouchable in just about any other horror movie. (The guy in the wheelchair? He gets it bad.) Justifiably lauded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, it spawned a host of lesser sequels, a lesser remake in 2003, and an even lesser prequel in 2006. Whatever. Horror movies just don't get any better than the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Full Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Fox Home Entertainment.