“Paddle faster, I hear banjo music.” If this quote is familiar to you, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen the 1972 John Boorman classic “Deliverance” starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, and destined to be the “butt” of many jokes, Ned Beatty. Although this line was never actually uttered in the film itself, it’s become a “cute” little bit of humor that now graces souvenir signs that can be purchased from many a roadside trinket merchants, next to the pickled pig’s feet and illegal fireworks. In other words, the film has become a common staple in Southern pop culture and ingrained forever in the subconscious of filmgoers, young and old, who paid their hard-earned cash to see this rural adventure on the big screen. And pay they did, as “Deliverance” became the fifth-highest grossing film the year of its release, and its theme tune “Dueling Banjos” won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. So if there was ever a flagship film of the genre of “hixploitation”, then without a doubt, the bucket of fried chicken goes to this oft-quoted portrait of hillbilly horror.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “hixploitation” (also known as “whitezploitation”), it’s simply a (hay)field of cinematic wonder generally called “redneck cinema”. According to “Celluloid Mavericks: A History Of American Independent Film” by Greg Merritt (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000), they were films that weren’t necessarily conservative, essentially apolitical, were set in rural settings, featured a vigilante or criminal male antihero, corrupt authorities, and a distinctly Southern perspective. These celluloid tales did big business on the drive-in circuit, primarily in the South (of course) and the Midwest. Their heyday was the mid to late ’60s all the way through the ’70s into the early ’80s, although “hick flicks” have been with us since the beginning days of film, and are still with us today.
Growing up in the ’70s, there wasn’t any shortage of drive-ins like there are today. Going out to one on a Friday or Saturday night with my parents was a common ritual that I looked forward to every approaching weekend. It was here, while gobbling up handfuls of fresh, buttered popcorn that I witnessed such gems as “Billy Jack”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”, “The Legend Of Boggy Creek”, “Smokey and the Bandit”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “She-Devils On Wheels”, and that symbol of backwoods terror, “Deliverance”. In those pre-cable TV days, you could feel comfortable that the love you had for such low-budget bliss could be rekindled the next Summer when your favorite all-night haunts would screen them again on a double or triple bill. And it was these experiences from my childhood that’s made me the passionate film buff (nerd) that I am today, collecting titles to watch over and over again, taking me back to my younger days, minus the crackling speakers you hung on the car windows.
Having amassed a collection of films on DVD and sitting in unblinking hypnosis for hours watching bonus feature after bonus feature, my hunger for more knowledge on this much-derided form of entertainment only intensified with every ice, cold Schlitz I gulped down. Surely there had to be a tome committed to these redneck motion pictures that were now getting the “Special Edition”/”Collector’s Edition” treatment. So on the search I went, using whatever key words that I deemed necessary to fulfill my quest, confident that I would at least find an extended entry in a film history encyclopedia, or something. Eventually, I did find THAT book, and when I came across it, it hit me harder than the opening guitar riffs of “Amos Moses”…
“Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema” by Scott Von Doviak (McFarland & Company, Inc.,Publishers, 2005) is the first, and possibly only book that takes a comprehensive study of the hick flick milieu, beginning with Hollywood’s early depictions of hillbilly characters. Most of what’s considered the “Golden Age Of Redneck Cinema” is the ’70s, but Von Doviak makes it clear that the time span is one open for discussion, stating that the true “Age” started in the late ’50s with “Thunder Road” and extended to the early ’80s with “Stroker Ace”. A wide chasm, indeed, that even the General Lee would possibly have a hard time jumping all the way over. But even after Burt Reynolds parked his Trans Am for good, these films kept coming, quenching the cinematic, blue collar thirst with such examples as “Road House”, “Days Of Thunder”, “Black Dog”, and “Pumpkinhead”. And Von Doviak masterfully breaks down the entire genre into such chapters as “Moonshiners”, “Hick Chicks”, “Hillbilly Horror”, “Honky Tonk Heroes”, and so on. There’s even an exhaustive filmography loaded with titles of films that you’ve either forgotten about or never knew existed. To say that this piece of work has been a priceless reference guide, is simply an understatement, and with the writer’s own wit applied, it’s been a fun reread.
After reading “Hick Flicks”, I became interested in reading more of Von Doviak’s literary contributions and learning more about his background, especially what led to him to taking on this historical document. He was gracious enough to grant me this interview…
What was your background that led to you being a writer? Was it an ambition you realized when you were in high school or college?
It was an ambition almost from the time I learned to read. As a kid I was always working on my own homemade comic books and stories based on whatever movies or TV shows I was into at the time. I wrote my first reviews for my grammar school “newspaper” (it was more of a mimeographed zine), and I recall my teacher taking exception to my claim that the Lord of the Rings books were maybe a little too long. I did a little writing for my high school and college newspapers, but wasn’t hugely involved with either. I studied film at Emerson College, which is where I first started writing in-depth about movies, as well as working on my own scripts.
What was your first writing job?
While living in Los Angeles in the early-mid ‘90s, I got work as a script reader for several production companies. That entailed reading a screenplay and then writing up a summary/analysis of it with an emphasis on its commercial prospects. In a sense, that was how I started reviewing movies professionally, although they were movies that weren’t made yet (and in most cases never would be).
How did you land the position of being the film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (and how long were you there)?
I’d been reviewing movies for a site called Culturevulture for a year or two when I saw a posting on a message board for film critics advertising an opening at the Star-Telegram. I sent in my best clips and got the gig. I was there roughly from 2001-10, but with budget cuts they stopped using freelancers and went to wire service reviews instead.
According to the IMDB, you were in the film “Apocalypse Bop”. Had you done any acting before and what were the circumstances in which you were involved? Friends? Or just an audition?
My friend Andrew Osborne, who I met during my freshman year at college, wrote and directed “Apocalypse Bop.” I’d acted in some other shorts and video projects he’d done, but I think my real appeal was that I was willing to quit my job to do the movie (although it turned out I didn’t have to). It was a great experience, and “Apocalypse Bop” is now online for all to view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z45YGwHlpcA
You were also in “What I Like About You”, in which you co-wrote. How long of a process was it to get the story from a written treatment to an actual filmed project?
I don’t really know the answer to that because I wasn’t involved in the project from its inception. The director approached me with a script that he didn’t originate, but had been hired to direct. He didn’t think the script was workable as it was, and he’d read some of my stuff, so he brought me on to do a rewrite. Of course, I took the opportunity to write myself a supporting role.
Have you been involved in any other film projects and/or do you plan on working in film production again?
I worked on a few movies as a production assistant or runner when I lived in LA in the early ‘90s, and I once sold a script to Willie Nelson’s production company (although it never got made). I don’t have any immediate plans to work in film again, although I’ve always thought “Hick Flicks” would make a fun documentary.
In your book “Hick Flicks”, you detail the circumstances that inspire you to write it. Did you have any difficulty finding a publisher who understood what you wanted to do and not have apprehension on the project?
I had written a fairly detailed book proposal with a couple of sample chapters, so the tone and style of the book was pretty well set before I ever tried to sell it. I found an agent who liked it and he hooked me up with McFarland, who basically gave me free reign.
Chris Gore writes the forward to “Hick Flicks”. How did that come about?
I wrote for Film Threat in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, and got to know Chris a bit when he would come to Austin for film festivals and such. One of the times I ran into him, I asked if he’d write it and he was happy to do it.
Your other two books, “Stephen King Films FAQ” and “If You Like the Terminator…” are also tomes on genre films. Did those come from your own personal desire to write them or were you approached by a publisher to do them? (If they were yours, did you have any difficulties securing a commitment for publishing them?)
My friend Leonard Pierce wrote the first book in the “If You Like” series, which was about the Sopranos. He mentioned that they were planning a Terminator entry in the series, but he had no interest in writing it. I pitched myself to the series editor and got the gig. As soon as I finished writing it, the editor asked if I had any other book ideas, so I sent him a few to choose from. He liked my idea of a book about Stephen King adaptations and thought it would be a good fit for the FAQ series.
You are currently writing for the AV Club. How long have you been with them and what were the circumstances in which you became a staff member there?
I’ve been writing for them for six or seven years. I started with the local Austin AV Club, which no longer exists, and then one night I filled in on reviewing a show for the national AV Club and have been doing it ever since.
You cover the episode recaps for the Flash TV series. Was that an assignment given to you by the AV Club or was that your decision?
I volunteered for it, but the TV editors make the final decision on all assignments.
Are you given assignments by the AV Club? Or is it more of a loose atmosphere that allows you to submit articles on anything you have an interest in writing about?
It’s not quite that loose, but we’re always free to pitch articles on topics that interest us and then it’s up to the individual editors to decide whether to go forward with them. As far as TV coverage goes, any of the writers can volunteer for new shows or current ones that become available and the editors make the final assignment.
Are there any more books on the horizon that you’ve been working on? Or do you have any ideas for future releases you would like to do?
I recently finished a crime novel I’m trying to sell. I’ve got a proposal for another film-related book in the works, but it’s too soon to say much about it.
What are your “Top 10” fave films of all time?
Jaws is my favorite since seeing in it a theater when I was eight years old. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. Last summer I fulfilled a longtime ambition by visiting many of the locations on Martha’s Vineyard. Other all-time faves, off the top of my head: The Shining, Slacker, Taxi Driver, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Psycho, Repo Man, The Road Warrior, Sunset Blvd. and Mulholland Drive.
You can order “Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema” here from Amazon.
Also, check out “Stephen King Films FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About the King Of Horror On Film” and “If You Like The Terminator…Here Are Over 200 Movies, TV Shows, and Other Oddities That You Will Love” over on Scott’s author page on Amazon’s website here.
Scott Von Doviak currently resides in Austin, TX, and you can follow him on Twitter.
Joey Camp was the former host of numerous podcasts, including “40 Oz. Nonsense” for the GaragePunk Hideout and “Cheap Beer & BBQ Radio” for Real Punk Radio. He currently resides in Roanoke, VA and you can follow him on Twitter.