“Black Holler” on Blu-ray Home Video from Wild Eye Releasing! Available at MVDVisual and Amazon.com!
The Black Holler woods has a notorious reputation for being cursed by a lost ancient artifact that once broken into two would sic supernatural powers upon to anyone disturbing the grounds. A class of half-witted community college Archepology students embark on a field trip to the very same Black Holler woods. Among them is the rebellious yet grounded black belt Laquita Johnson forced to tagalong in order for a last ditch effort for an educational institution to accept a reformed her despite the refractory record. As soon as the class steps foot into the woods, one-by-on they begin to disappear mysteriously as the area comes alive with the vengeful spirits of a long forgotten tribe that once inhabited the land. Poor decisions, ultra-egos, and classic horror movie tropes amalgamate into a don’t go into the woods with white people scenario of the year 1989 proportions.
Let me set the scene for you: Back in 2017, Jason Berg and his cast and crew set out to make and release a homage horror-comedy that wasn’t just bloody and supernatural but was also drenched in the broad quintessential tropes of 1980s horror film. Berg directed and cowrote the U.S. film alongside Heidi Ervin and Rachel Ward Heggen on a modestly budgeted scale that relied mostly on slapstick wit rather than full blown genre makeup and effects but the comedic style also treads into the parody territory, reminiscent of the days of yore with “Airplane” or even the relatively more modern version, and related horror-themed, “Scary Movie” series, aiming to cast objectifying humor as well as generate other politically incorrect forms of laughter that many Hollywood studios and off-Hollywood indies are afraid to touch with a 50-foot pole today with the fear of being criticized, sued, or even worse, #cancelled. “Black Holler” isn’t having none of that black listed nonsense in its Troma-transgressional fashion. “Black Holler” is a crowdfunded, Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaign production with executive producers Jim and Phyllis Casebolt, Heidi Ervin, and Wesley Rutledge and is filmed in and around Nashville, Tennessee with sponsorship by the Nashville Film Festival and production credits under the banner of Grand Prize Studios.
One thing to notice about the Tennessee-native Jason Berg’s obscure, campy, and modern-day slice and dice of satire is that “Black Holler” has a large, sprawling cast acting in different, diverse locations though ultimately winding up backdropped in the woods like most low-budget horror films do. Numerous principal leads receive nearly equal screen time to follow individual storylines with predominately Tamiko Robinson Steele (if that isn’t a Blaxploitation name, I don’t know what is) being the empowered, karate-instructed, skateboarding, last minute addition, Laquita Johnson, to a predominately white class of vanilla misfits. “The Dead Center” Steele rarely engages an interaction with fellow camping characters but eventually Laquita glues herself to the scrawny nerd Walter Love (TikTok influence Nicholas Hadden). As Laquita and Walter work on Walter’s social awkwardness with a quick hip-throwing lesson, the other students, led by the overly pretentious assistant Professor Thompson in a wonderfully painful and zany performance by Jesse Perry (“Zombies vs Strippers”). Perry’s know-it-all façade is complimented by his awkward hand gestures and ridiculous facial expressions to make Professor Thompson a full-bodied caricature. Much of the cast are equally as lampooning the usually trope characters: the stoners (Bruce Ervin and Betty Williams), the angsty goth (Sarah VanArsdal, “Chest”), the goody two-shoe (Heidi Ervin), the slutty hot girl (Rachel Ward Heggen), the over-sexing couple (C.J Stanley and Stacy Gazenski), and a self-serving and bullying handsome jock who is satirically played by numbers actors of all races and ages with the in-script context that shows and movies recast principal actors with other actors who look nothing like the original and that the general audiences won’t notice. “Black Holler” rounds out the cast with Brad Edwards, Wesley Rutledge, Leah Helena Miller, Justin Terrants, Brian Russell, Miguel Otero, and Stayc Givhan as Laquita’s white, queer cousin and who outperforms with sass and confidence to the near point of stealing the entire movie.
Director Jason Berg recreates the late 1980’s to early 1990’s milieu and very well I might add. “Black Holler” has the skater-grunge dress, early model cell phones that are the size of a football with an antenna, and crass, douchy attitudes that fit the period’s horror catalogue casting call. Not one to take itself seriously, at all, “Black Holler” just needs to be sat down with and watched for what Jason Berg intended his debut film to be – one big parody of paranormal patterns. Berg achieved the goal in depicting an outlandish ensemble of highly vain characters too entrenched in their own objectives of “Pet Semetary” resurrecting animal rituals, engaging in hot premarital sex, and smoking pot while swimming with sea-sludge covered dead. Aside from the little “Pet Semetary” nod that goes hand-in-hand with the sacred Indian ground, the film pulls in and ties together inspiration from other 80’s era classics like “Evil Dead” with the forest jetting out vines to snatch and grab as well as a compilation of every horror movie set on a camping ground with a nefariously spooky and anecdotally deadly past. Many of the gags and goofs land in a generic vane tapped too often to strike it rich but there are a few outliers, such as the seamless Brett bit that tackles trite truth with well devised humor or when Professor Thompson, in one of his many zany arbitrary acts, climbs a tree like a squirrel that does provide a good chuckle, but then there’s the whole systemic racism callout that flies over my head as, to my memory, wasn’t a big thing in the 80s or 90s. Perhaps, the concept plays into the whole token black trope that Laquita represents to the group, as in what the title alludes to in tribute and in theme.
“Black Holler” is receiving a re-release from Wild Eye Releasing but in a new special feature-laden Collector’s Edition! Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a AVC encoded, high definition, 1080p Blu-ray, “Black Holler” does have quality appeal despite various gradings and stylistic choices, such as color filtering to de-age into black and white. Compression appears stable with no noticeable ghosting, aliasing, blocking or banding. Details and delineation are sharp enough for videophile nitpicking to be at a minimum. Despite some use of a blue tint during a flashback, nighttime sequences convey just enough sparse lighting to not be overflooded and still maintain a sense of darkness in neutral contrast. The English LPCM Stereo 2.0 audio tracks offers a crystal clear digitally recorded dialogue that’s free of obstruction and background noise. If you watch the gag reel, the crew does a remarkable job holding action in place until the boom is free of all sorts of motors, planes, and other environmental sonances. Depth works out mostly in the foreground amongst closeups and medium shots while range mostly revolves around quick whips of vines and the splatter of blood. Special features include a director, cast, and crew commentary, deleted and extended scenes, a gag / blooper reel that consists mostly of the ambient noise holds, an alternate opening and ending scene, We Made Our Goal and Guns & Roses parody song tracks, a “Black Holler” Kickstarter promotional video as well as a faux promotional video with Professor Thompson as host and oozing with Archepology excitement, and Wild Eye Releasing trailers. Collector’s Edition release is housed in a cardboard slipcover with what appears to be colored graphite art of some semblance of the colorful characters clumped together flaunting their idiosyncratic characteristics and personalities. The clear Blu-ray case with snapper, which has become more and more common than a traditional blue hued snapper case, frames the original Wild Eye releasing cover art of Laquita holding up a machete in an ebony femme fatale pose. Both slipcase and Blu-ray back covers have identical layout designs. If you unlatch and open her up, the reversible cover art has a great group picture of the cast in character and there’s also a folded illustrated poster in the insert which you can see on the disc art without having to unfold the poster. The unrated flick comes region free and has a runtime of 89 minutes. “Black Holler” is a love it or hate it satirical salute to horror stereotypes forged from out of a screw loose admiration that can be, at times, too immature to find funny but the whole package functionally works as a comedy peppered with genre elements.