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Baker County, U.S.A.
(a.k.a. Trapped & The Killer Instinct)
(1982)
 

Director:William Fruet                          
Cast:
Henry Silva, Nicolas Campbell, Barbara Gordon


From the mid-70s to the early 80s, Canadian filmmakers cranked out an incredible amount of films, at one point getting to the stage where their rate of making new movies was higher than that of the United States (based on the number of films made per year to the population.) The two genres Canada was most famous for in this period were slasher films (Happy Birthday To Me, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine) The locals of Baker County will make your tires squeal like a pig! and "youth oriented" comedies (Porky's, Meatballs, Kinky Coaches And The Pom Pom Pussycats). One minor genre covered by several Canadians in this period that doesn't get much discussion is the Deliverance genre. They include movies like Sunday In The Country, Rituals, and Shoot, where city folk out in the wilderness get terrorized in various horrific ways. Baker County, U.S.A. is another of those films, and just as unknown to the general public today. While no great shakes to the genre (and certainly not in any artistic ways!), it is a satisfying hike, even when it strays into familiar territory.

Opening in the title place, we learn quickly that in Baker County, they do things a little differently there. Somewhere in the Tennessee wilderness, rifle-packing hillbilly leader Henry (Silva) meets his young sweetie by the river, almost immediately slips off her dress (revealing no bra or panties), and starts having sex with her right there. Interrupted by two young scaredy-cat cretins ("Oh, sheeet!") from the village, he gets up and starts chasing them with his rifle. Meanwhile, at "Southeastern Tennessee State University", law student Roger (Campbell), a snotty, holier-than-thou youth, is arguing ethics with his professor in class. He looks youthful here, but believe me, Nicolas Campbell has not aged well since this movie "How can we accept an act of murder being anything but immoral?...Oh, I realize there can be points where a person can be pushed to desperation. But desperation, no matter how intense, can possibly justify the taking of another human being's life!...Maybe it does for you, professor, but certainly not for me!" In the back of the classroom, I poke my elbow into your side, dear reader, and whisper with a smile, "Hmmm....I wonder what Rog will have to do later in the movie!" Smiling, you whisper back, "Of course, Roger is conveniently not discussing what if the one in trouble was him, and he was cornered!" Then we giggle like hyenas until the prof throws out of class.

The only reason I can think of that speech being there is an attempt at building some sort of character for Roger. Aside from that speech, there isn't really anything else done to show what kind of a person he is, or what his background is. Especially less so for the characters consisting of his fiancÚ and another couple, who with Roger decide to go out camping in the wilderness for a few days (Can you guess where?) More successfully realized is the character of Henry. Back in Baker County, he puts aside the chasing of those two cretins when he finds his wife cheating with another man. The subsequent scenes show him to be a hypocrite, a bully enjoying his power over everyone else, and a outright dangerous man. Beating his wife Henry Silva - axe him no questions, he'll tell you no lies for her infidelity, he then gets the other villagers to help tar and feather his wife's lover. (While we only see the first part of the tarring, the whole sequence is still pretty intense, seeing the long hell the furious Henry puts the blubbering guy through before actually picking up the tar brush.) After killing the guy, Henry soon finds out that Roger and his friends accidentally witnessed the killing while camping out in the woods. He then makes plans to stop the four before they can report anything to the authorities. Henry's subsequent actions, as well as the ones previously, do come off reasonably plausible. Silva also wisely keeps down his character's rage and outbursts to a reasonable volume and energy, so he doesn't become another hammy country bumpkin. He ends up being a pretty good villain, both convincing and creepy enough.

Though his acting (and everyone else's) is pretty good, he could have worked a little more on his wavering accent, however. There are a few other things to nitpick about the movie. One thing that may disappoint a lot of viewers is that the body count in this movie is surprisingly low; in fact, so low, there is an almost desperate attempt to increase the count near the end with the sudden appearance of someone who has no impact on the plot at all. Apparently, they forgot to bury the cable connecting the explosives in the pumps Some people will also be disappointed that the movie takes its time to get going, with the heroes finally finding themselves in trouble around the halfway mark. Then when they are in trouble, there are about as many scenes of talking (mostly about the "rules" people follow in the area) as there are of scenes involving action or suspense. The four young adults also make a couple of decisions early on that, while I guess such decisions could have been decided upon if this was a real life situation, still seem quite stupid in retrospect. The movie is surprisingly well photographed, though their attempt at day-for-night photography during the night scenes looks very unprofessional.

Otherwise, the movie has a good look to it, making it clear this particular tax-shelter effort had a decent budget. The outdoor locations are well chosen, with each shot managing to What they meant when they said TV was bad for your healthlook different while convincing us it's all taking place in the same area. The hillbilly village set looks like the real McCoy (or Hatfield, if you of that kin), looking weathered and worn. The villagers themselves looked ragged, and their scenes in the village have an almost documentary feel to them. Fruet's direction also is good in the more intense scenes. While he can't seem to do anything during those previously mentioned long scenes of talking, he knows how to bring out as much suspense from a scene as possible. The more tense sequences are  prolonged to heighten the fear and pain of the unlucky participants, though at the same time are carefully constructed so they don't go on too long. Moments that are more action-filled are briskly paced and filled with some excitement, including the long finale, which packs both an impressive amount of struggle and fighting, as well as some creativity (including a cool bit with a TV antenna.) The whole sequence is very satisfying, and by itself makes up for many of the movie's shortcomings. Added to the other merit found in the movie, and you have a pretty good piece of good-ol'-boy entertainment.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Annihilators, The Road Hustlers, Rituals

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