by Scott Von Doviak
McFarland & Company, 232 pp., $35 (paper)
For years, it had no name, and even for many who remembered, that thing from the swamps remained conspicuous mostly by its absence. Deprived of its natural habitat as drive-ins folded in the early Eighties, an entire species more or less disappeared from American movie screens and consciousness, only to be glimpsed in hairy, Sasquatch-like flashes: a mullet gag here, a "Dueling Banjos" joke there, or very rarely and blessedly, for the length of an entire Patrick Swayze vehicle. But now Austinite taxonomist Scott Von Doviak names the beast "Hixsploitation," examining its range, its feeding habits, and its leavings in his intoxicated and intoxicating beginner's field guide to the genre. It's a bluegrass-scored world of good ol' boys and bubba sheriffs, where moonshiners give chase in speedboats, 18-wheelers, and souped-up muscle cars, keeping up a steady stream of CB chatter through scrapes involving shotguns, shot glasses, homicidal hillbillies, bigfoots, and assorted vixens in criminally short cutoffs. Less celebrated and discussed than blaxploitation, its contemporaneous urban-grind-house cousin, the hick flick might finally get its due if enough cinephiles take this slim but provocative volume with them to the video store, now that we've all but given up on that Burt Reynolds comeback.
In a mere 200-odd pages, the book hits obvious classics and cult items, but goes further to champion true oddities like the shape-shifting oeuvre of Ron Ormond, a "Dixie DeMille" with work encompassing both The Monster and the Stripper and the ultraviolent evangelical exploitation of The Burning Hell, "a Jack Chick comic come to life." Hick Flicks not only directs the reader to ultraobscure curios like Deadhead Miles, a Terrence Malick-scripted trucker movie starring Alan Arkin(!), but also links the origins of NASCAR to moonshine running; hints at an essential influence on the New Hollywood aesthetic of the Seventies; and glances at the racial, class, and sexual concerns at work in the films without condescension, endorsement, or PC finger-wagging. While forthrightly lightweight, the book's embrace of hixploitation's contradictory pleasures incites all sorts of questions for further study, like, for instance, whether Democrats might do well to quit their hand-wringing and set about reviving the drive-in circuit. But politics and culture aside, the titles index is inspiration enough: White Lightning. Thunder Road. Eat My Dust!. Dixie Dynamite. The Legend of Boggy Creek. 'Gator Bait. Shanty Tramp. Honey Britches. Viva Knievel!. The Year of the Yahoo. 10-4, good buddy. See you on the flip-flop.
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