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Tennessee Gothic Main

Tennessee Gothic Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by GypsyRoot Productions

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Directed by Jeff Wedding
Written by Ray Russell (short story/screenplay) and Jeff Wedding (screenplay)
2019, 88 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 15th, 2019

Jackie Kelly as Sylvia
William Ryan Watson as Caleb
Victor Hollingsworth as Paw
Wynn Reichert as Reverend Simms
Christine Poythress as Mrs. Simms

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You know why we call ‘em “the classics”? Because they flat-out work, that’s why. You can change the setting, time period, or particulars; you can put a filter on it, or straight up weird it out, but the classic stories always do the trick. When they come from talented people with an eye for detail, you’re in for a treat. With Tennessee Gothic, you’re in for a sleazy, horny, and lecherous treat with the aftertaste of pure Southern white lightning.

Originally titled American Gothic and written by Ray Russell (The Case Against Satan, X, The Premature Burial), the story most famously appeared in the anthology Dark Masques. Adapted for the screen by director Jeff Wedding, Tennessee Gothic is the story of Caleb (William Ryan Watson; The Dooms Chapel Horror) and his widower father, Paw (Victor Hollingsworth), two simple Tennessee farmers who find a battered young woman named Sylvia (Jackie Kelly; In Memory Of) on the side of the road. They take her in and help her recover, though both quickly fall for her ripe young body and wily charms. Before long, they’re both “plowing the hired girl” on a regular basis; even Reverend Simms (Wynn Reichert; Secretariat) gets in on the action! The only one knows something is amiss is the devout Mrs. Simms (Christine Poythress; Worm). The men become sicker and frailer, and things go from bad to worse as Sylvia turns up pregnant and they realize she isn’t at all what she seems to be. She may not even be human…

I must confess that I was tickled when I saw the trailer for this film. I’d read the story back in 2001 or so, and even in an epic anthology loaded with big names and great stories (Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, F. Paul Wilson, Robert Bloch) American Gothic stuck with me. Its black humor is perfectly balanced with the horror of realization at what these men are up against. It’s also written in a lovingly overdone deep South dialect that sets the picture perfectly. I was mildly apprehensive about the translation to film, but thankfully I needn’t have worried.

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Tennessee Gothic is shot on actual, honest-to-goodness 16mm film, and it makes for a look that lends authenticity to the grindhouse aesthetic blended with a horrific “aww, shucks!” Southern goofiness. Frankly, it’s beautiful in an earthy way. Don’t be fooled by that goofiness, though – it’s some horrifying shit. The SFX are sparse but effective and competent when used. The power of the source material is not lost in translation. Director Jeff Wedding has a great eye for the little things, but what really shines through here is his passion for the story of the life-draining monster and the weakness of man in the face of beauty and raw sex appeal.

And make no mistake about it, Jackie Kelly has some acting chops and shows it with surprising depth for a monster while baring everything in seriously bold fashion. She drips with desire and commands your eye whether you’re a man or a woman or somewhere in between. The entirety of the small cast is great in their roles, but it’s the relationship between Caleb and Sylvia that makes the screen adaptation.

There are some notable changes from the written word to the screen, but they’re all for the sake of turning a 19-page short story into a feature-length film and adding some dramatic stretch to the proceedings. There is an entire subplot involving the brother of Sylvia’s previous victims that feels, at times, to be a bit out of place with the insular nature of the tale. It’s not too jarring, but it has a totally different vibe that throws you off a tad.

The open is particularly nice, too – text on the screen gives a stanza of John Keats famous poem, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”:

I met a lady in the meads

full beautiful – a faery’s child

her hair was long, her foot was light

and her eyes were wild.

The translation of the poem’s title is “The Beautiful Lady without Mercy”, and that really tells you everything you need to know about Tennessee Gothic.

Like I said, they call ‘em “the classics” for a reason.

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Movie: 4 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer - USA
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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