“Well, I asked my old pappy why he called his brew
White lightnin’ ‘stead of mountain dew
I took a little sip and right away I knew
My eyes bugged out and my face turned blue
Light was started flashin’, sun was gonna clashin’
WHEW! White Lightnin’!”
Rumor has it that George Jones took 80 takes to get that tune laid down because he was spinning in his own actual “White Lightning” haze. Knowing what we know about Jones, I see no reason to accept this rumor as anything other than fact. The ol’ Possum, “No Show Jones,” probably knew illicit hooch better than anyone else. Who better to croon its praises and perils? Unsurprisingly, the song shot to number 1 in 1959.
Watching “Jug Face,” recently released on Blu Ray and DVD from MVD, you get that same authenticity of setting and flavor. The artists behind this movie are clearly all too familiar with the ‘hill folk,’ the modern moonshiner, the snake-handling sort. A film like this cannot be faked or phoned-in.And it’s just that chilling veracity that makes this one of the best movies of the year. Kids, this is how you stretch a buck when slapping together your indie horror films. The rustic settings on display here are doubly convincing because of the limited coffers the filmmakers had on hand, be it the double-wide domicile of our protagonist or the bombed out Winnebago out back where they keep ol’ mute and mostly invalid granddad.
Lauren Ashley Carter (who is an absolute revelation in this film) plays Ada, an earnest enough teen valiantly tolerating the fanatics in the commune-like village where she has been raised. It doesn’t help that her father, played by indie-horror stalwart Larry Fessenden (delivering a rather touching portrayal of a man trapped by his own dark hysteria), is the spiritual leader. It also doesn’t help that her mama, played with steely force-of-nature gusto by Sean Yean, is bugfuck crazy.
The principle export that keeps this podunk village barely afloat is the moonshine they deliver to the backroom of a pharmacy in the nearest town.
And what deity, you ask, do these hayseeds worship?
A murky, clay-filled hole in the ground they fondly refer to as “the pit.” “The Pit wants what it wants,” is the oft-muttered justification for their very existence.
When this particular hole in the ground grabs ya by the spiritual cojones, you descend into what I like to call a Pit Fit. You can identify someone in full Pit Fit by his or her rolled back eyes and herky-jerky movements. This same Pit Fit is what drives a drawlin’ bumpkin named Dawai to slap together clay jugs with titular faces on them — and if your face shows up, so is your number. It’s the Pit’s way of claiming you for sacrifice, a rather grisly ritual involving some jihadist-like bloodletting.After a rather unfortunate tryst with her brother in the woods (yes, this movie hits ALL the backwoods beats, my friends: incest…moonshine…yeeee-haw!), the Pit directs Dawai’s skillful hands to craft Ada’s face on his newest jug. Knowing the implications, she does the unthinkable and hides the jug, hoping to avoid having her throat sliced open and her very lifejuices drained into the voracious mud-maw of Mr. Pit.
Apparently, not only does “the Pit want what it wants,” but also it clearly doesn’t like to be made a fool of either. Ada’s life becomes even more wrought with terror as it becomes clear that her only chance for survival is escape.
To say more would ruin one’s enjoyment of this obvious labor of love by the filmmakers. This stands as one of the boldest and most creatively audacious horror film debuts I’ve seen in years, at least since Ti West exploded on the scene with his “video store horror section” throwback The House of the Devil. My only gripe would be the fact that it runs a mere 81 minutes and I could have spent at least another half hour with this sad lot of rednecks and the eternally pissed off Pit that rules their lives.What I also adore are some of the stark choices on display here; A ham-fisted, weaker film would waste our time trying to make us guess whether The Pit was really a source of haint-ish tomfoolery or just the source of cultish mass hysteria. Instead, the filmmakers wisely establish early on that this particular Pit is indeed wrought with supernatural juju.
Earl Hamner Jr., the creator of The Waltons, penned some of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episodes. He balanced the otherworldly shenanigans with an unlikely backwoods charm that was pretty much his calling card (specifically seek out “Jess Belle,” “The Hunt” and “The Bewitchin’ Pool” for supporting evidence). I haven’t seen this level of haunted hayseed on screen since those shows, and for first-time writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle (which is the PERFECT name for a director of a film such as this!) to bring the goods with such sure handedness made every moment of it’s undeniably all-too-short running time a treat.
I’m a guy who’s been staring at the horror genre for the bulk of my 43 years of life. Let me assure you that the only real joy left for a jaded horror fan like me is when someone brings some originality and passion to the table.
“Jug Face” has both in spades.
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