Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Artsploitation Films for sending me a hard copy of “Killbillies”, one of their latest Horror releases. Killbillies was Written and Directed by Tomaz Gorkic and it’s the very first Slovenian made, horror film. After a night of festivities, Zina (played by Nina Ivanisin), a young amateur model, along with Mia (Nika Rozman), a ditzy colleague, head off on a fashion shoot in the secluded forest with arrogant photographer, Blitcz (played by Sebastian Cavazza) and his make up artist, Dragica (Manca Ogorevc). What transpires from there, is a fight for survival when the group are set upon by two deranged, deformed mountain men. The film also stars Lotos Sparovec, Jurij Drevensek, Damjana Cerne, Matic Bobnar and Damir Leventic. Since being added to the Artsploitation mail list, I’ve received some really cool international films. They distribute films of all different genres and budgets, plenty of which you’d never hear about if it wasn’t for them. Most recently I reviewed a German film they sent me called, “Der Bunker” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/der-bunker-review/. Killbillies immediately caught my attention when I saw that it was the first of its kind to come out of Slovenia.
The first thing is obvious, isn’t it? (haha) The pun filled title is awesome. It’s a shame I can’t say the same about its cringe worthy tagline “The hills are alive with the sound of slaughter” (haha) but hey, I can cut them some slack, after all, this is Gorkic’s and Slovenia’s first crack at it. Neither the artwork or the premise are overly original but most genre fans don’t care about that, they just want to see the next entry and then the one after that and the one after that. As a hardcore fan of the genre, I love me a cannibal in the woods flick and that’s precisely what Tomaz delivers here. I’ve seen countless comparisons being made to Tobe Hoopers, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but I don’t see it. It’s not just that these yokels don’t have a chainsaw in their arsenal, nor is it because they don’t cover their faces with the victims skin, it’s simply a totally different film in almost every facet and much more akin to the “Wrong Turn” franchise than it is Hooper’s film. Big chunks of this film are quite vibrant and the color grading aims to showcase this particular landscape. The location is largely green and very luscious, the mountains in the distance picturesque. Once the film takes its expected dark turn, things become far seedier and most of the scenes take place internally. Right from the outset, a lot of the visuals are quite bright. The opening part in the bar is really nicely lit, as are all the scenes in the hillbillies lair.
The camera techniques are pretty standard but the production value is high, especially when you take into account the budget which is estimated at $300,000 AUD. Directors often shoot car sequences in low-budget horror but they’re usually poorly done. For that very reason I was interested to see Tomaz’s approach to filming this group in the car as they transit to the photo-shoot. It was well framed and the audio was nice and clear (subtitles for English speakers), much better than what I’m used to seeing. There’s plenty of smooth panning and a couple of gentle tracking shots once the film picks up speed. The most memorable shot in the film slides up through grass in a field, over a ridge to reveal the disfigured, Francl and Vintlr (Sparovec and Drevensek). All the performances are pretty standard for a horror flick like this. A few inconsistent moments from most of the cast but Ivanisin more than holds her own in the leading role. Killbillies contains some unforgettable action sequences and remarkable practical blood and gore effects. The makeup is ordinary but it’s made up for with realistic and graphic kill sequences. There are brains being prodded, heads being cracked and limbs being cut off, all using a medieval style axe as the weapon of choice. The film won me over with a ruthless decapitation scene and I’m sure it will do the same for hardcore fans alike. My only criticism with the kills is that they’re thinly spread and you’ve got to wait far longer for them than you’d expect to.
The first thing I noticed with Killbillies was that the opening bar scene had a rock song which seemed to be on repeat for the entire duration of the scene, it got old fast. The score in general, was rather generic and left a lot to be desired. If it’s not the repetition in the beginning, it’s the oddly placed, pop ballad in the closing shots that feels far to positive and upbeat given all that’s taken place. There’s an exorbitant amount of extreme close up shots during a scene where the men try to siphon brain fluid from a victim (at least that’s what I think they were doing). The sequence runs a little longer than it should have and you lose some of that cinematic appeal for that portion of the film. Scenes held in the basement of the house (I think it was?) when the group are first captured, also stretch to greater lengths than required. There’s a still shot in the middle of the room that holds fixed for what feels like five or six minutes. The end of the film is much the same, a dramatic shot slowly pans up, as you’re expecting to be given that jump scare or final revelation but it lasts way too long and nothing happens. There’s a scene where Blitcz pulls the car over to get something to drink from a stand on the side of the road. He meets an oaf of a lady, who pretty much calls him a pig and tells him to get lost. The scene served its purpose in introducing another potential player but when she lets out a laugh that’s greatly exaggerated, it just comes across as stupid and not frightening, negating the scene somewhat.
Being such a huge fan of the Wrong Turn films, it was obvious to me that both of our villains in Killbillies look a lot like those from the aforementioned franchise. Drevensek is even gaunt and lean looking, much the same as Julian Richings who played “Little Finger” in the original Wrong Turn. I suppose when you’ve seen inbred mountain men once (let alone multiple times), it’s difficult to give them a new, unique look and feel. Instead of using a cackle (like WT), the heavier set, Francl engages with Zina via howling like a wolf at her. That character trait was more annoying then it ever was threatening. Some of the dialogue feels immature and out-of-place, in particular the use of the word “broad”. It’s as if Gorkic has seen to many American crime films because that’s not a word that you’d use in horror. Francl also refers to those who disgust him as “snotfaces”, trust me, it sounds as silly and childish as it is. Implementing a car accident at the end of the film was quite an ambitious move but a difficult one to execute well under budget limitations. The scene plays out quite vaguely and until one of the characters belated reactions, I had no idea they’d even hit anything. That part of the film occurs toward the end and leaves things feeling a little convenient. Making matters worse, there’s a certain character you meet earlier on, that you assume will play a part in the groups fate but they never end up appearing again.
There’s been a number of influential horror films come out of Europe since the turn of the century, “High Tension” and “Inside” are just a couple of the well-known ones. Tomaz Gorkic’s, Killbillies isn’t going to win any awards, nor does it break new ground as far as the cannibal sub-genre goes. What it does do is offer solid entertainment value through nasty and explicit action. I love the title, as well as the Slovenian backdrop and the dynamic cinematography that highlights it. The lighting and audio are really impressive and the acting performances are pretty consistent across the board. It should come as no surprise when I say that Killbillies will best be remembered for its kills and practical blood and gore effects. The film falters through its middle act and due to sluggish pacing, becomes rather boring at times. There’s repetition in not only the score but the length of certain shots and sequences too. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and specific character traits aren’t always the best. This one is a little too much like a “Wrong Turn” sequel, which I’d recommend before this (well maybe not woeful number 6) but it’s the first horror film to come out of Slovenia, so lets give credit where credits due. Amidst the flatness, there’s some truly gruesome stuff that definitely make it worth a watch.
My rating for “Killbillies” is 5.5/10