Thursday, January 1, 2015

Psycho From Texas (1975) review


John King III (Wheeler), Herschel Mays (William Phillips), Tommy Lamey (Slick), Candy Dee (Connie Phillips), Janel King (Ellen Peterson), Joann Bruno (Bertha), Reed Johnson (Steve Foster), Jack Collins (Sheriff Tom Peterson), Christian Feazell (young Wheeler), Linnea Quigley (barmaid), Colette Magoon (dead girl)

Directed by Jim Feazell

The Short Version: This Christmas set, Southern Fried crime thriller is regional hixploitation at its finest. A terrible film from the first grubby frame to the last, Jim Feazell's patchwork sleaze features fantastic local flavor, an almost non-stop barrage of obscure country tunes, a Shatnerian performance by lead scumbag John King III, a naked Linnea Quigley doused with beer, and what has to be the longest foot chase in cinema history. There's also a few moments of patented 70s offensiveness sure to piss off PC crusaders. PSYCHO FROM TEXAS is 100% Angus beef Drive-in trash from down South.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity!***

Wheeler, a psychopathic hitman with a mother fixation is hired to kidnap a retired oil baron. Things don't go quite as planned when the wealthy businessman escapes leading into a long distance chase on foot. Meanwhile, the deranged Wheeler puts in a visit to the rich man's family.

An unsung classic of bad cinema, this riotously wretched little movie comes to the exploitation masses from writer, producer, director Jim Feazell; a singer, rodeo rider, and veteran Hollywood stuntman of numerous John Wayne and Sam Peckinpah movies. Most know Feazell's obscure celluloid fried chicken from the VHS days where it graced video store shelves courtesy of Paragon Video and the memorably shabby poster/videocassette design it was saddled with under its more (in)famous PSYCHO FROM TEXAS moniker.

The GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY of the Hixploitation genre, PSYCHO FROM TEXAS is more Bad and Ugly than anything resembling Good. However, despite being a production that was tampered with after its original release, it has an undeniable charm that shines through in a few ways. Whether you take that as a recommendation will depend entirely on your taste in motion pictures.

In its final form, PSYCHO FROM TEXAS is a virtual Frankenstein's Monster of patched together footage. The body of this film has some of the choppiest editing you'll ever see; and it's not limited to the scenes with the actors, but the soundtrack as well. Music begins and ends, then starts up again. Background dialog is heard on a loop over and over; such as a waitress asking "You wanna root?" Since it's in a diner, it's likely she's saying "You wanna root beer?" but the 'beer' is cut off. Feazell's film had an equally choppy history after its initial release as WHEELER in 1975. Unfortunately, the original edit of WHEELER hasn't been seen since its initial 17 theater run when the director four-walled it in Louisiana and Southern Arkansas.

According to the director in his autobiography, 'Feathers', WHEELER more than doubled its budget in box office receipts during its first run. When Feazell tried to show his picture in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was thwarted by theater chains lorded over by United Artists who allegedly threatened to withhold prints of JAWS (1975) should those theaters show his movie! The director then hit on the idea to amp up WHEELER with extra scenes of sordid material. Depending on your point of view, this shooting of new footage and the resulting re-edits ended up with a chaotic mess, or an inadvertent instance of slapdash brilliance.

Additional scenes were shot in 1980 to give the picture R rated appeal with the trash crowd. Since original DP Paul Hipp was unavailable, Feazell acted as both cinematographer and director. These newly shot scenes included a dead girl in a motel (Tommy Lamey's girlfriend), a sex scene with young Wheeler's whoring mother, and the infamous bar sequence where a totally naked Linnea Quigley has a pitcher of beer poured over her as Wheeler taunts her, forcing her to dance.

In 1981, the newly re-cut picture bore the name of 'The Hurting'. Feazell sold the picture to California based Showcase Entertainment Enterprises. It never did play under that title and was sloppily re-edited by the distribution company much to Feazell's dissatisfaction. The company re-titled the picture under its more famous appellation, PSYCHO FROM TEXAS. From there, it found a new life on VHS amidst a tidal wave of similar low budget fare. Over the years, this strange film garnered its own cult following. This fascination, or even devotion to Feazell's movie is due to at least two inarguable factors; one of them is the man that played Wheeler, John King III.

Wheeler's from 'main' -- the main part of Texas, that is. As played by John King III, this long-haired Texas misanthrope is a mentally unhinged individual with a mother fixation. Abused as a child, he doesn't think a whole lot of women (or anybody else, for that matter), nor is he able to maintain his facade of politeness for very long. The script is vague, but it's derived he's a hitman of sorts, having been hired for this kidnapping job, and to dispose of the body (or bodies) once the ransom has been paid.

King essays the character in an unorthodox fashion espousing his lines with a Shatnerian delivery while repeatedly flicking his little pocketknife at folks; a knife that, in this post CROCODILE DUNDEE society, defies you not to utter the famous phrase, "That's not a knife...". Wheeler's tiny sticker does come in handy when he needs it to make a mustard sandwich.

John King III was, like Feazell, a stuntman, and a friend of the director. He played Johnny Reb, one of the bikers in BLACK ANGELS (1970) before getting the lead in WHEELER. Sadly, and like much of the cast in the film, King III did little else in front of the camera.

Tommy Lamey, one of the few people involved on WHEELER who had a healthy career in show business afterward plays the low level redneck moll Slick. He occasionally steals the film away from ol' Wheeler with his down home twang and idiosyncratic mannerisms. The scene in the diner where he feverishly gnaws on a matchstick as if it were a chicken bone is a highlight of many. Still, Lamey shares equal, if not more responsibility with King III in this films cult status on account of an utterly, and ridiculously farcical foot chase sequence that takes up nearly 30 minutes of the films running (haha) time. There's actually two foot chases (the second, shorter, more serious toned one comes near the end), but the one being discussed is key to the longevity of this picture.

In it, Mr. Phillips escapes and Slick gives chase over various terrain from wide open spaces, to muddy bogs, thickly wooded areas, and a porcine ensconced pig-shit paradise. Throughout this lengthy marathon, the lithe Slick finds himself constantly out-brained and out-ran by the bowl-bellied Mr. Phillips. Literally a live-action redneck version of a Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, 99% of this chase is played for laughs -- culminating in a grim bit of finality.

Lamey's twitchy disposition often makes sure the viewer is focused on him. His absurdly brilliant performance spits out some fantastic dialog, too. His dialect is so over the top it borders on parody. An example of this is Slick's unique intonation of expletives during his cross-country trek like, "Gaaawwwddaaaaayyyuuuuummmmn, shiiiiiiiiiiit!" Or his threatening proclamation, "Gaaaaawwwddaaayyyyummmn, Phillip, I got pig shit all ova' my ayyyssss, when I ketch ya', I swayre ta' Gawd I'm gon' kill ya'!" The best is his high-pitched assertion that,  "IIIIIIIIIIIIIII got cho' ayyyssss!" That last one is followed up with one o' them Deep South 'boing boing' stingers. Which brings us to the music....

As per the requirement of 70s Drive-in cinema, the PSYCHO FROM TEXAS has his own theme song, a melancholic crooner by the name of 'Yesterday Was A Long Time Ago' written by Feazell and sang by Wayne Dee. Rarely does a few minutes go by that a country song isn't playing on the soundtrack, or playing on a jukebox in a diner or bar. Jaime Mendoza-Nava, another friend of the director, did the score. His work on other Drive-in items like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976), and THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976), he had the right stuff for Feazell's regional thriller. 

Another area of PSYCHO FROM TEXAS that's strangely alluring is its local sights and rural iconography. It's a time capsule exhibiting a bygone era of small town life where everybody knew everybody; there were wide open stretches of countryside and a diner on every street corner; and inside every diner were pool tables and counter tops adorned with jars of pigs feet, hot sausages, and boxes of Schlitz stacked against the wall. A lot of movies from the 70s have this atmosphere about them. Feazell used a lot of friends and locals to make his film, and it's this atmosphere, regardless of how good or bad the film might be, that gives PSYCHO FROM TEXAS that air of realism indigenous to 70s cinema.

Something else present here that is synonymous with 70s cinema -- in this case it's those of the regional, or rural sort -- is an innocuous, yet no doubt bound-to-offend aura that will surely piss off PC crusaders and the touchiest of individuals; most notably in the mammy archetype of Bertha (Joann Bruno), the domestic in the Phillips household. Some will either cringe at her dialog, or wonder if they're not viewing outtakes from GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).

The acting varies wildly as virtually the entire good-bad spectrum is covered by the cast. Herschel Mays as the kindly oilman is absolutely atrocious, making even the worst Ed Wood performance seem Oscar worthy by comparison. Still, it's hard not to like his character. The hilarious foot chase sequence puts Mays in good stead with the viewers, who summarily forget about his acting that redefines robotic.

Candy Dee on the other hand, is quite good as Phillips' soon to be married daughter, Connie. She brings a Southern Belle quality to her role, as well as some noticeable traits via her body language. Unfortunately, the very leggy, and beautiful actress didn't do much of anything else afterward.

Last, but certainly not least there's another cog in WHEELER's wheel that has kept it alive in the minds of cult collectors, and that's an early role by Scream Queen supreme, Linnea Quigley. According to Feazell, Quigley was one of four actresses up for the barmaid role in the added sequences shot in the summer of 1980. Her participation was to provide the newer, trashier version with the most gratuitous amount of naked flesh. Quigley's first major role came in 1981 with the lower tier slasher, GRADUATION DAY. Subsequent roles in films like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984), RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988), and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) ensured her popularity with fans as one of the best Scream Queens, and a horror icon of the 1980s. 

As bad as Feazell's movie can be (judged solely on the PFT cut), some other areas show signs of effort being put into it. Some of the photography (from both Paul Hipp and director Feazell) contain some striking compositions; such as an opening shot on a river with Phillips and a young boy he fishes with; and a wonderfully framed, yet grim shot of Wheeler taking one last look at his naked victim before exiting a motel room. 

Over the years the value of this quirky little movie has increased in the eyes of junk movie connoisseurs. Its first ever widescreen presentation is fitting coming from Code Red, a niche DVD label specializing in Drive-in movies, DTV obscurities, and the occasional overlooked gem. PSYCHO FROM TEXAS is a highlight of its genre style, even if it's not necessarily for the right reasons.

This review is representative of the Code Red Six Pack Volume III 2 Disc set. Films are not in order as they appear on front of box and description on back. Disc One: SINS OF ADAM & EVE, HELL HOUNDS OF ALASKA, GUMS. Disc Two: BOOGIE VISION, BAD GIRLS FOR THE BOYS, PSYCHO FROM TEXAS. All transfers 16x9 widescreen; no extras save for 1 trailer for BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH.

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