Overview: The members of a modeling shoot get captured by a group of Slovenian hillbillies who want to use their brain juices to make moonshine. Artsploitation Films; 2016; Not Rated; 83 minutes.
What’s in a Name?: So . . . Killbillies. That certainly is a title that begs to be remembered. Out of curiosity I checked to see what the original Slovenian title of Tomaz Gorkic’s new horror film was before it got dragged to this side of the Atlantic: Idila, which approximately translates to Idyll. I suppose that title was meant to be ironic since there is very little about Killbillies that could be considered as such. The film is boiler-plate Hixploitation horror following a group of fashion models doing a photoshoot out in the countryside. They get attacked by Slovenian hillbillies who drag them to a murder dungeon, strap them to a bizarre machine that sucks their brain juices out, and use said juices to make moonshine. Two of them, a bored, perpetually pouty brunette named Zina (Nina Ivanisin) and a shallow, perpetually bitchy blonde named Mia (Nika Rozman) fight back, escape, get recaptured, fight back, escape, get killed in a cruel twist of nihilistic fate just as they get away from their attackers.
Dueling Accordians: This all begs the very simple question of whether or not they have hillbillies in Slovenia in the first place. They’re clearly modeled after their Appalachian brethren in their grotesque disfigurements—one of the hillbillies looks sorta like if W. C. Fields’ nose gained sentience, jumped off his face, and metastasized a new body—their love of homemade liquor, and their monstrous rape-lust for nubile females. But here’s the thing: they look like a grab-bag of European stereotypes. The women gussy themselves up like Romani fortune-tellers while the men cavort and murder in tattered lederhosen. Who are these people supposed to be? Are they part of some Slovenian sub-culture unheard of outside of Eastern Europe? Or are they embarrassing minstrel versions of their local poor?
Povertysploitation: Despite boasting some of the greatest films, horror or otherwise, ever made—masterpieces like John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)—I detest the Hixploitation sub-genre. It remains one of the last socially-acceptable methods of systematically dehumanizing and mocking the poor. The two films I mentioned get a pass since they use their stories to make bigger statements on topics like wounded masculinity and the supposed civilizing nature of industrialization. But even then they are tenuous pardons. These films equate a lack of economic and educational opportunities with being irredeemably evil and corrupt. The victims are always middle to upper class white people whose eventual victory against their attackers is lauded as just or their eventual destruction as barbaric.
Overall: Killbillies isn’t smart enough to overcome its blatant exploitation of poverty and not campy enough to justify itself as a guilty pleasure. It plays itself too straight, even during its most preposterous scenes. For the first third there are glimmers of something more ambitious at work than a simple slasher film. There are numerous sequences that externalize Zina’s internal unease and ennui towards her life. But despite Mia’s over-the-top chatterings about the indignities of breaking into fashion and the ludicrous demands of their photographer, the film can’t even muster up the will to satirize the fashion industry which dooms its characters to decapitation and cannibalization. The photo shoot is a transparent ploy for getting a number of beautiful women trapped in the woods with a bunch of psychopathic sub-humans. And the film itself is a transparent ploy for riffing on one of the most shameful sub-genres of horror this side of ’70s and ’80s Italian cannibal films.
Featured Image: Artsploitation Films