Horror has never been a subtle genre; even the best of the best wear their ethos like a bright red overcoat dripping with entrails. But Killbillies—billed as “Slovenia’s First Horror Film” (a specious claim that, try as I might, I could not disprove) from a company called 666 Productions—is especially conspicuous. Using time-honored horror tropes, Killbillies is an odd Slovenian export, and while mostly astoundingly daft, it’s often entertaining for how audacious it’s willing to be.
We know the story: a group of city folk—in this case: models Zina (Nina Ivanisin) and Mia (Nika Rozman), their photographer Blitcz (Sebastian Cavazza), and model svengali Dragica (Manca Ogorevc)—enter the woods (after being warned away by a native and an accordion playing man-child, an oddly effective Slovenian homage to Deliverance, no-doubt) only to be hunted down by deranged hill-people. The twist in Killbillies is that the hill-people in question are hunting down city folk to drain their brains and/or spinal fluid, ferment the resulting solution and sell it as some of the most cogent moonshine the hills have to offer.
Hillbilly-horror is a popular sub-genre—if not among mainstream audiences than certainly with hardcore horror hounds—gaining traction in the seventies, thanks to a few jewels in the genre’s crown (Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the most precious of them all) and kept alive in today’s modern horror tradition (the tired Wrong Turn series lost a mainstream following after its first installment but has flourished enough with horror fiends to warrant five sequels with another on the way in 2017). With Killbillies, the sub-genre transitions fairly seamlessly to Slovenia; unfortunately, in 2016 all of these tropes are weary and far less relevant, veering Killbillies towards hackneyed pastiche. Utilizing staple techniques of the slasher genre—including the omnipresent villain (try as they might, our heroes can’t outrun the torpid lumber of their foes) and the slow reveal, Killbillies can’t quite stick the landing. The slow reveals are muddied in sinuous camera work, wherein all suspense is squandered by languid, uninteresting shots, only to unveil a scare that wasn’t worth the build up. But that’s not to say the film is totally incapable of effectively pulling off a tried and true horror trick. When our protagonists first encounter trouble, it’s a wide shot that introduces the monster (in this case, the Killbillies) against the paradoxically lighter and more ebullient backdrop of green, rolling hills; not unlike Michael Meyers, shot in a wide angle lurking behind the vibrant fall colors of a Haddonfield suburb. For better or worse, it would seem Killbillies is only as good as the trope it mimics.
However, the most welcomed trend borrowed from recent American horror offerings (You’re Next, It Follows, The Descent) is the final girl (or girls) who is willing to put up a fight. Whereas films like Halloween and Friday the 13th frequently see their female protagonists flee in terror until they are eventually saved by chance or opportunity, Killbillies sees its female lead morph into an unrelenting iconoclast, rebelling against the idea that female horror protagonists should go with the latter in a fight-or-flight scenario (it should be noted: this prevailing feminist undertone is a bit sullied by an ill-conceived coda to the film’s primary plot).
Despite its shortcomings, Killbillies is exhilarating if only for its audaciousness (starting first and foremost with that ridiculous title that engenders both laughs of shame and appreciation). It’s filled with intriguing (though not necessarily fleshed out) characters thrust into a bizarre recreation of horror tropes. It’s chocked full with gross out gags and gore that are surprisingly effective considering there is not much at stake for the audience. Killbillies isn’t a film I can seriously recommend for any real purpose other than it being a disarming oddity. And if nothing else, you can take a bit of glee in the fact that there’s a real movie called Killbillies.
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.