Weird Wednesday Recap: Hooch

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[Ed. Note: Please welcome our latest contributor to Slackerwood, Anne Heller, who's reporting on one of the Weird Wednesday screenings from July.]

Hooch (director/screenwriter: Edward Mann, 1977) is a very funny, authentic regional exploitation action-comedy starring Gil Gerard (a Southerner himself, later the star of the TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) and an otherwise unknown cast. Shot in Cleveland and Rutherford counties in the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina (also at Earl Owensby Studios in Shelby, N.C.), Hooch is about a small county in the Appalachians and its many moonshine-brewing inhabitants, who are all struggling to make a living. The older "brewers" are pissed off at the success of handsome young upstart Eddie Joe (Gerard), who is charmingly stealing their regular customers.

Meanwhile, the owner of the country store (also a moonshiner) conspires with a trio of carpetbagging Mafioso who want to take over the moonshine business in that county as an extension of their Northern business ventures. The store owner's daughter seduces Eddie Joe, whose steady girl is actually a very childlike, prudish yet buxom youth choir director and Sunday School teacher at the local Baptist church. Her uncle, the local sheriff, has a vendetta against Eddie Joe because he's the only moonshiner in the county who refuses to bribe the lawman to look the other way. (More after the jump!)

The script for Hooch, written by director Edward Mann (whose roots lie in the original "Circle in the Square" Theatre in NYC of the early 1950s) contains great authentic Southern (southeastern U.S.) dialogue, which is delivered by these wonderful little-known actors in spot-on North Carolina dialect. There's at least one bellyaching laugh every scene. The plot contains so many twists and turns that you are constantly engaged in the story. And an authentic hillbilly clogging barn dance is thrown in for good measure!

Speaking of twists, the most twisted and delightful scene in the movie is when the prudish, buxom church choir director girlfriend stares into the mirror alone in her room as she asks relationship advice of her little bear hand puppet. The little bear puppet silently shakes its head yes or no, holds its head in contemplation, and then starts kissing down the girl-woman's breasts heading toward her cleavage. It's practically masturbation by puppet! She stops the wayward bear puppet admonishingly. If I didn't personally know some women like this, I would say the scene was a repressive fantasy.

The degree to which all the actors were dedicated to giving great performances is remarkable, especially since the cast was largely unknown. The viewer gets a real sense of community from the actors pulling together to create, along with the director/screenwriter, a cohesive and thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema, though it be a cheap and lowly bit of regional b-movie drive-in fare.

Hooch is a rare, little-known hicksploitation gem, which is hard to find even in the best video stores. It was released on VHS tape in 1980 or 1981 and has not been re-released since. Luckily, I discovered this gem at an Austin Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday screening of a 35mm film print.