Sometimes the person you’re trying to protect turns out to be the one you should fear. That is especially the case if that person is too good to be true, so adept at fulfilling your fantasies that you start to neglect yourself and everything else you love. That’s the not-so-subtle warning that lies at the heart of writer/director Jeff Wedding’s new horror sex comedy Tennessee Gothic.
A simplistic Tennessee farmer (Victor Hollingsworth) whose wife died long ago keeps his family farm running with this help of his equally dim son Caleb (William Ray Watson). When his Paw takes in a hurt young woman named Sylvia (Jackie Kelly) whom he found wandering Tennessee backroads, Caleb’s youthful sexual fantasies soon come to fruition. But all is not as it seems when Caleb catches Sylvia also seducing his Paw. And later, when the Rev. Simms (Wynn Reichert) comes calling to check on small-town rumors about the family’s new living arrangements, Paw and Caleb convince Sylvia to seduce him as well, effectively bribing him to remain quiet.
A not-so-complicated sexual romp ensues in which Paw, Caleb, and Rev. Simms take their turns with Sylvia. On the surface, the men treat her as their personal sexual property. But as their collective obsession with Sylvia takes control of them, their lust, simplistic misogyny, and devotion begin to take its toll in the form of their health and the neglect of their duties. The farm’s livestock soon dies off, leaving Paw and Caleb without much in the way of sustenance. Meanwhile, the reverend’s wife (Christine Poythress) has become suspicious and seems to know that there’s more to Sylvia than meets the eye. Ultimately, all three men shed weight in an unhealthy way and are afflicted with a radiation sickness-style disease that causes their skin to bruise, redden, and severely blister.
The remainder of the film is horror sex comedy gold as the three men try to maintain their lifestyle while they dispatch with threats and suspicious townsfolk. Then, at a crucial point in the story, Sylvia announces she is pregnant. Paw and Caleb decide which of them will marry her by holding a “greased pig contest.” The “pig” in this case is a completely naked Sylvia smeared with bacon fat. She is chased around a trough first by a fully clothed Paw and next by a completely naked Caleb (and for readers who might be wondering: Wedding and Watson were not afraid to show Watson’s junk on-screen). The man who can catch and hold her within 60 seconds gets to take her as his bride.
The ultimate reveal about who and what Sylvia is adds a perfect horror cap on top of what has heretofore been a funny look at the gradual decline of those who believe themselves to be in control of sexual addiction.
Shot on Kodak 16mm film, Tennessee Gothic has a wonderfully timeless quality to it that adds to the experience. It looks and feels like Wedding crossed a 1980s Jim Varney Ernest movie with a tits-and-ass comedy that might have aired on late-night Cinemax in the 1990s. But it’s much smarter than that (and not just because Caleb and Sylvia spend some of their naked romps discussing classic literature). Tennessee Gothic is a movie that starts off looking like a rape-revenge story, fools you into thinking it’s nothing more than softcore premium cable fare, and ends up taking you for a ride straight to Hell. Even so, you might wonder in the end whether the survivors have learned any lessons from experience. There’s a last line of dialogue that indicates otherwise.
Speaking of dialogue, the characters and dialogue in Tennessee Gothic are well written. Even the actors in relatively minor roles take full advantage of that. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to claim the redneck stereotype and use it as an excuse for bad writing. However, Wedding and story writer Ray Russell manage to achieve the simple-minded backwoods family verisimilitude they were going for without taking it full-on Ma and Pa Kettle. The accents are country, but not over-the-top. However, the sound engineering seems a bit off in places. This is most apparent when it comes to Sylvia’s dialogue. Her softer voice was sometimes challenging to understand, even though I was wearing earbuds when I watched Tennessee Gothic.
My only other criticism of this film is that the story feels a little slow following the devastating beginning, at least until the consequences of the sexual relationships that Sylvia develops start to appear. Even so, this will be a fun movie to rewatch now and again when you’re in the mood for a horror sex comedy (and who doesn’t experience the mood for a horror sex comedy?)