Although it wasn’t the first film to deal with the terrifying backwoods antics of dubious individuals, DELIVERANCE became a mainstream hit in 1972, leading to a string of hillbilly terror flicks over the decade. One such film, TRAPPED, a Canadian production lensed in 1981, features a reliable troop of behind-the-camera exploitation specialists from the Great White North. Director William Fruet had done the LAST HOUSE clone THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (aka DEATH WEEKEND), as well as SEARCH AND DESTROY and FUNERAL HOME. Screenwriter John Beaird had penned MY BLOODY VALENTINE and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, and cinematographer Mark Irwin had worked on David Cronnenberg’s THE BROOD and SCANNERS. The question is, could such a talented combination generate a worthwhile piece of trashy fun? You bet!
In the rural hills and mountains of Tennessee, a small colony of rednecks live life by their own set of rules, as enforced by the no-nonsense tyrannical Henry Chatwill (Henry Silva). One sunny day, good ol’ Henry finds his much younger wife shacking up with an outside welfare agent, which naturally causes him to go berserk. When the home-wrecker dashes off in his car, Henry shoots the tire, causing it to turn over, granting him an instant prisoner. Henry and his cronies (or “the elders” as they’re called) punish him with a good old fashioned tar and feathering, but while their backs are turned, the adulterer makes his escape, only to be clobbered to death by Henry, surrounded by his devoted buddies. The whole ritualistic murder was also witnessed by a quartet of preppy hiking college students (lead by Nicholas Campbell, of HBO’s “The Hitchhiker” series), most of whom find themselves captured and “trapped” underneath a general store, and it’s up to Roger (Campbell) to free his friends from the psychotic and fanatical Henry.
Also known as BAKER COUNTY U.S.A., TRAPPED takes a simple story of hostile rednecks against civilized folk and consistently piles up the plot devices and sorted characters to make it appealing on many levels. While not wasting too much time to allow the secondary players much characterization, the film is more concerned with letting the action and the dirty deeds take the front seat, and this is all confidently executed in the hands of director Fruet. Henry is introduced roaming the woods, seducing a shapely young hillbilly girl into having outdoor sex with him, only to come home to berate and beat his wife for adultery – and it’s this kind of hypocritical tone that’s given to the characters. Furthermore, the lead hiker Roger gets philosophical about his stance on murder in a classroom – a principle he’s forced to re-think by the time the game of survival is all over. Credit is due to late screenwriter Beaird for allowing a handful of Henry’s people to have a conscious about the unethical treatment of their fellow man, rather than all of them being dimwitted rogues, and also for not letting the southern police to be stereotypical “good ol’ boys” despite the sheriff looking away at a possible murder, most likely due to his own fears.
But let’s not get too carried away about the characters, since TRAPPED is still a bonafide exploitation film, and kind of a welcomed throwback to the grindhouse pics of the previous decade. The film doesn’t shy away from nudity or violence, and uses any and all opportunities to initiate chases (both on foot and in cars), humiliation, beatings, and explosions (things blow up real good!), all leading up to an outrageous climax. The film also boasts one of the most original death scenes ever committed to celluloid, at least I’ve never seen anyone done in by this particular device before! A national treasure in terms of a character actor, Henry Silva is intense and downright nasty as Henry Chatwill, becoming more maniacal as the film progresses. Despite his ethnic looks and familiarity as being a notable Hollywood heavy and from numerous appearances in Italian crime pics, he pulls off the southern drawl well and never overacts too much (one could also imagine Jack Palance in this sort of role, chewing up the scenery) unless the scene really calls for it, bringing to the character an inhuman, detestable quality that makes you love to hate him.
Code Red presents TRAPPED on DVD in a new transfer taken from the original interpositive. Presented 1.78:1 widescreen and anamorphic, the image looks great from beginning to end (and hardly appears almost 30 years old), with bright colors and sharp detail, and only a bit of grain in some of the darker nighttime scenes. The mono English audio is also fine, with no noticeable defects. Extras include the trailer for the film itself (presented here with Spanish voice-over narration!), and trailers for these Code Red current releases and future hopefuls: THE DEVIL'S EXPRESS, WEEKEND MURDERS and RITUALS (more DELIVERANCE-type shenanigans with Hal Holbrook which we need on DVD badly). (George R. Reis)
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