aka Black Vengeance
aka Heartbreak Motel
aka Redneck County Rape
Directed by Richard Robinson
Cast: Leslie Uggams, Shelly Winters, Michael Christian, Slim Pickens, Ted Cassidy
Virgil Films & Entertainment / Region A / Rated R / 1.78:1 widescreen / ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1 / 86 minutes
Special Features: Trailer, Before and After Restoration Demo, Commentary with cinematographer David Worth
As we slip fully into the long and gamy days of summer, I find my viewing tastes changing to reflect the season. And for me, when you’re reaching to peel the shirt from your back and blink the sweat form your eyes, nothing plays better than a sleazy slice of southern-fried cinema, the hicksploitation film.
Sometimes referred to as “urbanoia” or “southern discomfort” films, hicksploitation genre films shine a wobbly, flickering light on an exaggerated, worst-case version of the South, specifically rural whites (the ‘hicks’ being -ploitationed, as it were). And from this ripe story concession staggers all manner of subgenres; good time moonshinin’, Civil War revenge, straight horror, and the rape/revenge motif, to name only a trickle. It is that last, oft-maligned subgenre, the rape/revenge story, that informs Poor Pretty Eddie, and why it is a particularly sleazy hicksploitation entry.
Traveling alone on a backwoods road, celebrated singer Liz Wetherly (Leslie Uggams) experiences car trouble and hoofs it to a ramshackle lodge, looking for assistance and shelter. With no immediate hope of having her car repaired, she reluctantly checks in, where she meets boozy, washed-up performer Bertha (Shelly Winters), the leering Sheriff (Slim Pickens) and rhinestone-bedazzled, sociopathic Elvis wannabe, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian). In short order, Liz is attacked, debased and thrown into dire circumstances from which crimson retaliation is her only option.
Poor Pretty Eddie has a “you need to see this” reputation and it is easy to understand why. Everything about the film, from the pacing to the soundtrack, from the performances to the cinematography, feels bizarrely off, just askew. But this works in the movie’s favor, keeping you always moving an inch forward in your seat, wondering if you just saw what you think you did, and what could possibly come next. The perplexing and absurd flourishes are somewhat more subtle than your typical wad of drive-in gunk, relying on weird sound fluctuations or oblique edits, or playing an awkward scene dementedly straight, as in my favorite moment.
With the whole ‘family’ gathered at the table, Eddie is coaxed into performing. With a practiced degree of “aw shucks” modesty, he takes the stage. And while trying to strike his dollar store version of a pose by the King, promptly drops his guitar. In that moment, Eddie looks devastated with genuine embarrassment, worse than if he’d just been knocked out with one punch. The oily scumbag doesn’t earn your sympathy of course, but the juxtaposition in atmosphere is wrongly exhilarating. He then croons a haggard version of a genuinely lovely song (‘Smoke Filled Bar’ by Moe Bandy) before returning to his place. It all seems so innocuous but you’re left with the foreboding feeling that strange and uncertain things are ahead.
Beyond the grasps at a seedy art-house sensibility, Eddie delivers the trashy drive-in goods. You feel the building to Eddie’s attack on Liz, but are unprepared for how sudden (and twistedly edited) it is. When she goes to the sheriff, the resulting victim ‘interview’ will have you roaring with gleeful disbelief. And while the film is short on nudity, the violence escalates to a slapdash but mostly satisfying conclusion.
I am staunchly anti Blu-ray, so I viewed the DVD portion of this combo pack. And while other reviewers seem thunderstruck by the supposed levels of DNR (digital noise reduction -Ed) this poor (pretty) disc had to endure, it is still plenty grainy, blemished and looks the part of a grindhouse sleazefest. The bonus features are slim (Pickens. Please stop me!) but HD Cinema Classics has done as good as job as one should expect for the film. Earning its hicksploitation stripes through sweaty, backwoods setting and lecherous coveting and victimizing of an affluent woman (rather than ratcheting up the racial tension, which is barely present), Poor Pretty Eddie is an obscure but worthy stop on the mud-caked and booze-soaked road of hicksploitation.