Review Date: August 12, 2009
Released by: Code Red
Release date: 9/4/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
The Canadian tax shelter years will probably be remembered best for their contribution to the slasher genre with retrograde classics like My Bloody Valentine
, Prom Night
, Happy Birthday to Me
. If not as a slasher outpost, then perhaps as the land that fostered the subversive cinema of David Cronenberg. Yet, there exists a genre in Canadian film probably more prolific than any other at the time – the backwoods revenge. At this point it’s almost inexplicable why there were so many hillbilly action flicks to come out of our land in the north, but looking back makes it a little clearer. Deliverance
hit in 1972 and dollar signs hit all the eyes of would-be producers – here’s a formula that can be banged off just like a slasher. You didn’t need stars – hell, the hillbillies could be as photo repellent as possible. You didn’t need lights and you didn’t need permits – all the action took place during the day outside in a generic wilderness. Not only that, but the hillbilly genre even had prestige (especially compared to the slasher) with all the awards Deliverance
was up for. The Canadian tax shelter was introduced in 1975 and after all the negative press about tax dollars going to the esoteric grue of Cronenberg’s They Came From Within
, producers needed something that would not only bring in the bacon but would save face in the trades, too.
The two years from 1975 to 1977 saw no less than six notable Canadian rural revenge rip-offs: Sudden Fury
, The Clown Murders
, Vengeance is Mine
, Death Weekend
, and Rituals
. You’d think that would be enough, but no, still Canada forged forward in hillbilly horror, with Storm
and the death knell for the genre, Junior
all landing in the second wave throughout the eighties. The only man to direct two on the list was veritable Canuxploitation mainstay, William Fruet. The director of both Death Weekend
, in addition to favorites like Funeral Home
and Killer Party
, Fruet, along with maybe Paul Lynch, was Canada’s unsung tax shelter hero that unfortunately never received the recognition of Canadian contemporaries like Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Ivan Reitman. Still, he knew how to make ‘em, and Code Red brings his second rural revenge flick, Trapped
, home on DVD. Is it worth killing for?
Self-righteous schoolboy, Roger Michaels (Nicholas Campbell
from Cronenberg’s early films like Fast Company
, The Brood
and The Dead Zone
) is a political science major too good to take his girlfriend’s offer of a job with her father’s law firm. From the start he preaches, during a classroom discussion on murder, how no matter what the pressure or circumstance, premeditated murder should never be acceptable. He’s obviously never been to Baker County. Meanwhile, in good ol’ Georgia, hillbilly hunter Henry Chatwill (Henry Silva
, also in Shoot
) is walkin’ ‘round the woods looking at his animal traps when he comes across a buxom brunette country gal. Without saying a word, he removes her top and starts to have sex with her by the lake. Uh, all right. Well, it turns out there are a couple horny teenage voyeurs (they probably took a wrong turn on the road to Porky’s
) and Henry don’t like that too much. He chases them back to the little bumblefuck village only to get sidetracked once again when he walks in on his sexy wife, Amy (Danone Camden
, TV’s Dallas
) porking the local welfare agent. That’s a no-no, and with Henry’s law, adultery is punishable by death.
The social services rep get hung, tarred and feathered in front of the cat calling populous, but Henry takes it a step further when he pummels him to death with a log. He’s gone took it too far, but since the Sheriff (John Rutter
, the memorable laugher during Black Christmas
’ fellatio scene) is also Henry’s brother, putting him away doesn’t look like it will be happening any time soon. As if the day wasn’t already eventful enough for Henry, Roger, his buddy and their girlfriends (one of which is Joy Thompson
who played Jude in Prom Night
), just happened to witness the murder while hiking through the forest. Whoops! Like the walking Code of Ethics that he is, Roger waltzes into the town to call the police, making his status as witness public knowledge. Henry won’t like that too much.
Eventually all his friends get trapped (hey, just like the title!) in the cellar under the town shop, while Roger sneaks around trying to find them. Knowing sheer pathos won’t bring Roger out into plain sight, Henry decides to take out his girlfriend, rip off her shirt and yell “I’m gonna fuck her! I’m gonna fuck her good, boy!” Subtlety was never Henry’s strong suit. Naturally, that sends Roger over the edge, forcing him to confront not only the bad guys, but also his pompous views on laws and ethics. People will die and lessons will be learned – it’s the American way.
While many of the rural revenge films made in Canada were set in an indistinguishable “Anywhere, North America” Trapped
, or more fittingly Baker County, USA
, by comparison goes whole hog into producing Americana. Shot entirely in Georgia, it exaggerates American stereotypes and tropes to the point where it almost becomes parody. That inexplicable beginning where Henry just rapes a random, silent country girl, or the whole frontier-era tarring and feathering just make a total mash of all America’s dirty history. You half expect to see some KKK members having a beer at the local brewery. All this seems to be exaggerated to help hammer home The Message of the movie, that America is a country forged in violence yet one that tries to sweep it under the rug with faux civility. It’s certainly not responsible filmmaking, but damned if William Fruet doesn’t make it entertaining.
Oddly enough, a film with such American excess could really only be made outside the country, since America had, and still has to this day, such strict policies towards sex and nudity in film. Thanks to Canada, though (like Italy and all those gialli prior), skin knows no limits, and the free flow of flesh here gives the film a more natural feel than even out of the system American films like The Last House on the Left
. It’s almost liberating seeing the scene where Amy and the welfare worker have sex and have their sheets ripped off them, only to reveal both completely nude and the guy actually erect. How many times do you see that during Hollywood lovemaking? Trapped
has a nonchalant approach to all the excesses that the MPAA commonly censors, and even in all the over-the-top action and confrontation, it still comes off as feeling as organic as mud. As dirty, too.
has a weird story structure, the opening interlude with Henry much too long and not really significant (he never does catch those peeping toms, and really their only purpose seems to be to let the viewer in on some skin and to get Henry back into town), while Roger and his friends don’t get enough development to make their trip to the hillbilly woods seem all that convincing. Really, would a straight arrow like that want to dirty himself up in all that wilderness? Roger seems more fit to be writing an LSAT in his spare time. Once it gets going, though, Trapped
grips and does not let go. For a small little Canadian flick, too, it has its fair share of elaborate stunts and pyrotechnics. The truck chase inside a building is pretty notable, but the highlight is probably the death by satellite skewer. That explosion at the end is no slouch as well, and another fine nod to the American excesses the movie tries so hard to lampoon.
Following the Canadian dramatic tradition, though, William Fruet knows when to be serious, and after all the hysteria ends the film on a somber gut punch. The music is wall to wall with thriller music cues and twang, but for the credits it lingers in deadening silence, forcing a reflection about the chaos that just ensued. With American action you get drawn in; you pick sides and you savor all the heroics. The ending of Trapped
does an almost Brechtian swipe at our willingness to experience depravity by essentially stopping the film before any easing conclusion can be drawn. As the writer of Canada’s most acclaimed drama, 1970’s Goin’ Down the Road
, Fruet knows how to deliver a message, and with Trapped
he does it with even more brawn. For 97-minutes he delivers a rough, exciting and exploitative action picture and for the final minute he makes you question just what you were enjoying. A bold move from one of Canada’s grandest cinematic talents, and one that doesn’t even let the main character off the hook. Trapped
hooks you in and then makes you cry for mercy after all is said and done – that’s how you make a movie!
Although this was shot by Cronenberg’s at the time cinematographer, Mark Irwin, don’t expect any stylish visuals here. You can count on Irwin to expose everything nicely, but like the films that inspired it, Trapped
takes on a totally naturalist aesthetic. Framed in 1.78:1, anamorphic and progressive scan, this Code Red transfer is adequate but by no means their best. Thankfully, though, the print used is at least very clean and mostly devoid of blemishes or any major damage. The transfer is soft and detail is lacking – since this was likely shot on a higher speed stock to make the most of the natural lighting, it’s got some grain to it, too. Colors look pretty good, the red of Henry’s flannel standing out from the greens and browns of the landscape. There is a bit of inconsistency with the timing from scene to scene, though, and a few flutters in color from the age of the film print itself. Some scenes have some unflattering blue fade that pops up in the blacks. I noticed a few bits of interlaced combing, too, like those found in The Dead Pit
. Still, the film has largely been impossible to find anywhere, so that it’s being released in the proper ratio, anamorphic and in progressive scan is certainly good enough. It’s just not quite at the standard of better Code Red releases like Don’t Go in the Woods
or The Unseen
The sound is in English mono, and sounds about as it should. There are no dropouts or bits of distortion and all the dialogue and music come through with good clarity. Eric Robertson’s appropriation of the banjo jigs of the American South are pretty humorous, so it’s nice that everything audible has been preserved well here.
I’ve maintained before that nobody does extras like Code Red, but in this case Code Red doesn’t even do extras. All we get is the trailer, which is actually Spanish and different than the one included on the The Strangeness disc, and Code Red trailers for Devil’s Express
, Weekend Murders
, and the similarly themed Rituals
. Code Red has been teasing Rituals
for awhile, hopefully they release that Canadian classic soon! It’s a real shame there are no extras here, William Fruet is one of the most important figures in all of Canadian film, and never has there been any pieces devoted to his career. I’d love to hear the man speak – he deserves a voice and if any company is capable of giving it to him, it’s Code Red. A DVD of his Spasms
is reportedly in the works from Code Red – hopefully they take the time to either let the man talk about his career or have some historians do it for him! No extras here is a real missed opportunity and the first time Code Red’s gone bare bones. Hopefully this isn’t the start of a trend.
is a riling and rough little rural revenge thriller that inflates the excesses of nudity and violence as some grand parody of American values. The end smacks somber, though, and compellingly challenges the illusions of Hollywood escapist filmmaking. The film’s a watcher, but Code Red certainly hasn’t given it the grandest treatment, with a ho hum transfer and, worst of all, no extras outside of trailers. Through the tax shelter years Canadians made countless films for American distributors – now it’s time for American distributors to give back and recognize all the fine work with some worthwhile extras. If not, I’ll have to sick ol’ Ezra Cobb from Deranged
on yer asses!
Movie - B
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B
Supplements - D
- Running time - 1 hour 38 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Spanish theatrical trailer
- Code Red trailers