Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hackers, The (1988)

Directed by:
John Duncan

This no-budget, homemade, shot-on-video effort from the backwoods of Michigan (the Croswell and Lexington areas to be exact) is one of the rarest of the 80s VHS releases I've seen thus far. When trying to determine just how rare one of these things actually are, I typically look at three factors. The first is the amount of reviews and votes over on IMDb. If a film has fewer than 50 votes and just one or two reviews, it's typically pretty hard to come by. This one currently has no reviews and fewer than five votes. Well actually, the database doesn't bother registering fewer than 5, so it's hard to tell if thing has received even a single vote. Secondly, I look at the distributor. This film was apparently self-distributed by its own production company; Camelot Studios, who claim to have moved just 3,000 copies of the film during the VHS era. Finally, I do a google image search looking for posters or VHS / DVD covers. This film brought up just a few tiny images of the original VHS box cover, all of which are far too small to use here.

All of above begs the question: Is this film even worth looking for? The only answer I have for that is: It depends entirely on what you're looking for. If you're looking for an undeservedly obscure gem, then look elsewhere. However, if you happen to be a fan of 80s camcorder regional productions and love these things warts and all (or perhaps partially because of the warts), then you'll find a decent amount of home grown goodness to enjoy here. The film is clearly inspired by the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and falls into the ever-popular "hillbilly horror" subgenre, which was popular in the 80s and has resurfaced again in recent years thanks to the popularity of the TCM remake, WRONG TURN and others. So basically, this is an attempt at black comic horror with a killer redneck / white trash family as our lovably scuzzy bad guys.

Elderly, bib-overall-wearin' drifter Eldon (or just "Pa" if you're kin) Hacker (Howard Coburn) heads up this particular clan of whack-jobs, which includes two mentally retarded grown sons. The first is Arnie (Dale Caughel). He's short, wears glasses and a bandana and has shaggy hair. He never grew up quite right cause (as Pa states) "...he didn't eat potatos when he was small." Eldon Junior (Steve Prichard) is the other son. He has a beard and rotten teeth, shakes when he's nervous and wears a silver mask over half his face because he accidentally mangled himself with a chainsaw. He's also mute because as a child he bit off his own tongue. Naturally, all three of these cats are pretty direct copies of the Cook, the Hitchhiker and Leatherface from TCM, but the actors are authentic and well cast in their respective roles. Hell, they're far more believable backwoods psychos types than what you'll find in any of Rob Zombie's films.

The Hackers stars Howard Coburn as Eldon "Pa" Hacker.

Dale Caughel as Arnie Hacker...

Steve Prichard as Eldon Hacker, Junior...

And introducing Michelle Rank as our helmet-haired object o' hick lust Marcie.

The unkempt trio basically drive around in a camouflage truck, taking up odd jobs for the locals here and there, and kill fairly indiscriminately. During the opening sequence, they even slice off a hitchhiker's thumb as they drive by him! Immediately after, they pick up an obnoxious girl (Laura Forbis) wearing headphones and cut her throat. When a couple refuses to pay them for a lousy roofing job they did, they hack them up with a machete. Eldon Junior eats worms during a fishing trip (before they decapitate a fisherman) and they impale a gardener (Bruce Phillips) on a light post and then jams a corn cob in his mouth. By the way, much - but not all - of the gory stuff takes place off-screen. In between killing, Pa takes his boys to a playground where they swing, play on monkey bars, go down the slide and then harass a woman trying to go across a rope bridge.

Our heroine is a writer named Marcie (Michelle Rank), who gets a housesitting gig at her bosses country home for a few weeks. Her sister Angelia (Denise Ferris) doesn't think it's a good idea to go to "redneck country" all by herself and gives her a gun to take along just in case. Apparently her boss had already hired Eldon and sons to fix the roof while they're away and poor Marcie gets stuck dealing with them. She gets annoyed with them for coming inside without knocking and gets even angrier after she catches the sons peeping on her after she gets out of the shower. Pa calls her a "sassy bitch" and blames her for distracted his sons, even going so far as saying she "put a hex" on them. During one scene, the sons are so busy staring that one slices off the other's fingers with a circular saw! The finale (which features use of guns, a machete and a hook), is fairly lively, though it's capped off with one of those annoying 'here we go again' style twists. There are a couple of 'police investigation' scenes of Lt. Badger (James Larsen) and Det. Hall (Dave Hall) trying to apprehend "The Lakeshore Murderer," but thankfully those bits are brief.

Compared to other SOV efforts from this time, this has decent acting from the leads (some of the "victims" on the other hand... whew!), a minimum of flubbed lines, a high enough body count and enough cheap bloody moments to please fans of this stuff. Despite being shot with a camcorder (and featuring some horribly bright exterior long shots), some attention is paid to the camerawork and there are tracking shots, panning shots and point-of-view shots. There's even a silly theme song ("Just slash 'em, bash 'em, trash 'em! Throw another corpse in the pile!"). A few of the scenes are half-baked and seem unfinished. During one of them, one of the sons approaches a woman sunbathing, reaches out and touches her hair and then disappears (?!) Oh well, it's just 71 minutes long, has some regional charm and passes the time easy enough so I'll cut it some slack.

Though the original VHS editions of the film are nearly impossible to find these days, Camelot Studios offer the film on DVD, along with another of their films called BLACK RIVER MONSTER (1986), which I don't think was ever really released. They also sell a limited edition Hackers poster. You can go RIGHT HERE for more information.



Anonymous said...

I've never even heard of this before!


Anonymous said...

My dad was Rick Robbins who played the bar heckler in this movie. Michele Rank later became my stepmother. I'm proud of both of them for this movie that was filmed in our local area.

Chris coburn said...

Hey I'm Chris Coburn ,Howard Coburns 's great grandson and I love this movie. Watch the movie its a good one. You should buy it just to have around. I also you used to live around the area were it was filmed. I have ment one or two of the actors. Yes black river monster is done but I never watched it yet. They also had another movie in the works but my grandfather died so they didn't get to finish that one. .

so please get this movie and watch it and you be the judge of if you like it. Don't let someone else tell you what they think and then you never watch it.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thank you guys for your posts. Considering they obviously had very little money to work with, at least they came up with an entertaining film and I had more fun watching this than many big budget movies with the same set-up.

And thanks for the heads up on Black River Monster. I'll try to find it!

william macdormott said...

here is a link to the Black River Monster


william macdormott said...

here is a link to the Black River Monster


The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thanks William. I plan on checking that one out as well eventually.

Anonymous said...

Howard is my great grandpa and i think that if people are going to watch this movie then they should do a little research on where the film was made and who was in it. my grandma was the first person to show me this movie and i couldn't believe how much i already knew about the movie. but that's because my family has token the time to tell me the history of the film and i think that everyone would understand and like the film better. and thanks for taken your time to post this on your website. I love seeing my grandpas film on other peoples websites.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Your grandpa was one of the best things about the movie. Thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

Michele is my aunt. Rick Robbins, now deceased, was my uncle. Some of the kids on the playground are my cousins. And of course Denise Ferris is my aunt. I just watched this movie as an adult and I am amazed!!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Seems like more people have been checking this one out since I wrote this. It has enough votes to register on IMDb and has a decent rating plus it's listed on Letterboxd and TMDB.

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