Thursday, February 25, 2016

TRAILER PARK OF TERROR (2008) - DVD Review

Poster for TRAILER PARK OF TERROR (2008) - image source: Summit Entertainment. Fair Use asserted, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27218796












Good horror times can be had if you're a fan of "The Last Knock" podcast. Hosts Billy Crash and Jonny Numb -- a pair of smart horror critics -- often reference genre flicks about which listeners might not have heard. They usually have a good reason for mentioning a film, even if it's just to warn you away from a dud. More often, they'll point you towards a hidden treasure. That's the case with "Trailer Park of Terror" (2008).

As Billy and Jonny noted when they briefly mentioned "Trailer Park of Terror" in their "Hodgepodge of Horror VII" podcast (January 31, 2016), the film's title is deceptive. It makes the flick sound like it's cheap, stupid, and poorly-made. In fact, it's only the first. It was made for about $2 million, but it's nevertheless clever and well-crafted.

Trailer Park of Terror issue 1 cover
Trailer Park of Terror comic, issue 1, color cover by Nelson - Fair Use asserted

The title comes from screenwriter Timothy Dolan's source, the Trailer Park of Terror comic (published by Imperium Comics from 2004 - 2006). The comic itself (which qualifies as "comix," meaning it's edgy, artistic, and published by an "underground" press) harks back to the 1940s - 1950s, when Entertaining Comics produced such titles as Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear. According to Jeff Provine (writing on the Blogcritics site),
Each issue was a collection of short stories with fascinating twists and chilling morals, all hosted by iconic joke-spewing characters like the Old Witch, Vault-keeper, and of course Crypt-keeper, who would later be revived through the acclaimed HBO series. The comics inspired a generation of youngsters about the power of storytelling, including Stephen King, who gave a little back with his Creepshow films. Others thought that the stories were too much for young minds (EC editor Will Gaines agreed, saying they were for adult readers). Sixty years ago this June [2014], the matter came before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, and the comics were shut by the resulting Comics Code.
Just as Trailer Park of Terror is not a mere imitator of its EC inspiration (it "takes the classic storytelling modes and gives them a fresh twist"), so its cinematic adaptation does not merely translate it into tired, old horror film tropes. Instead, writer Dolan and director Steven Goldmann slip in some interestingly highbrow features into an apparently run-of-the-mill, lowbrow horror movie.


Norma and her ghoulish neighbors - image source: http://missd615.tumblr.com


Unless you actually watch the film, however, you'll be unaware that it's more than it appears to be from its title. The film's IMDb plot summary (lightly edited by TFK) demonstrates how conventional it appears on the surface:

Six troubled high-school students and their chaperone, an optimistic youth ministries pastor, return from an outdoor character-building retreat in the mountains. During a raging storm, their bus crashes, hopelessly stranding them in the middle of the Trucker's Triangle, a forgotten locus of consummate evil in the middle of nowhere. The hapless group seeks shelter for the night in a seemingly abandoned trailer park they find across the road. However, when the sun sets, it's not refuge they find. Instead, terror finds them in the form of Norma, a damned redneck reaper with a killer body who dispenses vengeance and death aided by her cursed companions, a bloodthirsty brood of undead trailer trash.

The film opens with the main character, Norma (Nichole Hiltz), inside her trailer. She's getting ready for a date with her boyfriend. Afterwards, she gazes at two photos on her mirror. In one, she poses with her mother; the other is of her boyfriend. These images turn out to represent the two alternatives she has in life.

Norma (Nichole Hiltz) at the opening of "Trailer Park of Terror" - image source: fanpop.com


Norma is distractingly sexy, but the camera loses interest in her in favor of a cable-access horror movie show playing on her television. Mixing "high" and "low" styles, it features couple of redneck critics as hosts. They close out the show with a recommendation to see the very movie that we are watching: "Trailer Park of Terror." Very "meta" -- could we have a "postmodern" horror movie on our hands?

Perhaps. Another postmodern feature here is the type of "homage" that Dolan and Goldmann pay to the drive-in variety of grindhouse film. "Trailer Park of Terror" is an exploitation film. More specifically, it's a hixsploitation flick. In referencing these horror subgenres, the filmmakers also make fun of them, subverting their tropes in the process.

Case in point: when Norma leaves her trailer to go meet her boyfriend, the denizens of her trailer-park world swoop down upon her. All of them are stereotypical, yet exaggeratedly so, for comic and satirical effect. It's very clear that Norma is different from them, both in appearance and ambition. Young and beautiful, she is determined not to become like them by escaping the hell in which they live.

Norma (Hiltz) and Sgt. Stank (Ed Corbin) in "Trailer Park of Terror"
Norma (Hiltz) and Sgt. Stank (Ed Corbin) - image source: fanpop.com

Nevertheless, Norma's also an exaggerated stereotype. She's the hot, young Cinderella who thinks she's found her Prince Charming: here, a more upscale country boy, one who lives in town and has a future. She hopes he will rescue her from becoming another trailer-trash loser.

However, her neighbors are not about to let her do that. They dispatch the boyfriend in grindhouse style. At her wit's end, Norma makes a deal with the Devil (who appears like a rogue country-music star), kills everyone (with a gun that the Devil gives her), then destroys the trailer park, ending her own life in the process. All of this is shown in over-the-top, gruehead style.


 photo trailerpark.png
Norma (Hiltz) prepares to take vengeance - image source: comptonabbas on photobucket.com

At this point, viewers realize that the first act has been all back-story. The film cuts to the present day and begins to tell the main story (as summarized above). As Pastor Lewis (Matthew Del Negro) and his six juvenile-delinquent charges (each a reduction to the absurd of a teen stereotype) enter the uncannily intact trailer park on a stormy night, they pass a sign that announces its name: "Tophet Meadows."

Tophet is a Hebrew term that refers to a location in the Valley of Hinnom, which was a cursed (and possibly legendary) region south of Jerusalem in the times of ancient Israel. A trash dump that was kept perpetually in flames, Hinnom was used biblically as a metaphor for Hell. Tophet was the place in this wasteland where worshippers of pagan gods sacrificed children via immolation. Not coincidentally, Norma ends her own young life and destroys the trailer park in a similar fashion.

At this point, viewers know that things will not be going well for the seven newcomers, who are welcomed to the park by the undead Norma herself. Although the Bible-quoting pastor does not yet realize that Norma is not among the living, he should realize the meaning behind the trailer park's name, yet he misses the Scriptural allusion.

This mistake is consistent with the satire of fundamentalism that's often part of hixsploitation films, but here it's part of a meta-satire of the stereotypical fun that such movies poke at Southern evangelical Christians. In "Trailer Park of Terror," this trope builds to Pastor Lewis' expected fall from grace in the face of the temptation posed by Norma, followed by his just-as-inevitable punishment at her hands. All of these anticipated events are so exaggerated that they're campy self-parodies.


Norma reveals what happened to Pastor Lewis - image source: 5wordmoviereviews.com

Before all this happens, though, Norma leads the group in an indoor version of campfire ghost-story telling. Through Norma's "scary story," the film gives us more of her back-story. Her mother, Jean (Priscilla Barnes) was a local whore, an unmarried mom who doesn't know the identity of her daughter's father. Her mother's forced participation in amateur BDSM porno videos, directed by the local Sheriff (who is stereotypically sleazy and corrupt), results in her death at the hands of the Sheriff (Duane Whitaker) after she balks during a take. When one of the teens offers sympathy to Norma, who witnessed her mother's murder, it sets up a darkly hilarious throwaway line. Norma replies that she helped the Sheriff to finish the film by taking her mother's place. This response is exactly the opposite of what would be expected from a straight grindhouse film. 

There are many more instances in which the film turns horror conventions on their heads. It's all part of the double fun with which "Trailer Park of Terror" rewards horror fans brave enough to watch it. On one level, it's a good, old-fashioned, grindhouse exploitation film. On another it's a darkly comic, postmodern parody of this type of film. All in all, the movie is an example of a particularly clever way to construct a good horror comedy without sacrificing terror, gore, or laughs. It can be found (in unrated and R-rated versions -- TFK watched the former) on VOD via Amazon Video and DVD via Netflix.

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 6 out of 10 stars



Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on DVD from Netflix and wrote this review based on personal selection. No review request was involved in this choice.