Friday, March 11, 2011

Sufferin' Shocotash: A Mess From Ole Miss

Southern Shockers (1985)
West Point, Mississippi

Last month we wrote about our discovery of a previously-unheard-of, shot-on-video film from Mississippi called Southern Shockers that had turned up on video in Spain under the title Spirit of the Zombie. I found this discovery to be doubly exciting since not only was this an otherwise unknown film, but it was shot in West Point, Miss., a town where I spent six or seven summers in a row during my wayward adolescence. I was in West Point the first time I tasted alcohol, the first time I drove a boat, the first time I was almost arrested, the first time I ever walked into a public restroom in the aftermath of a knife fight, and the first time I ever saw a drunk man wildly fire a small-caliber pistol into a stocked pond during a fishing trip. Watching a cheap horror movie made during the same period I was actually visiting this town would be like time travel for me.

Well, thanks to the efforts of our new friend Jose, we have since been able to view said mystery film, and are happy to report that a) it does exist; and b) it's not nearly as bad as we thought it would be, which in the world of SOV horror movies is something of an accomplishment.

Since the film was apparently never released in the U.S. in any form, and even my contact in Spain was never able to bring himself to watch the entire film, that means that, other than the director and editor, I may very well be the only person on the planet to have watched Southern Shockers from beginning to end. Since we may never find out exactly who made the film or why it was never released on video, and because the one existing print is entirely dubbed in Spanish, I've decided to do you all a favor and provide as accurate a description of the film as possible.

And so, without further ado, the low-down on Southern Shockers -- with screen caps!

The film opens in some kind of filthy min-mart/diner combo where a weird-looking guy with thick glasses (sort of a poor man's Toby Radloff) meets two men in suits (a younger guy with a discrete mullet, and an older man) for lunch. The three of them promptly leave the diner and head to a nearby church, where we are first introduced to Preacher Hopewell (Eric Shusterman).

"Heavenly Father, please forgive our murky lighting..."

When Hopewell sees the men enter the church, he tosses his prepared sermon and launches into what I'm sure is an impassioned speech about ... something (remember, it's dubbed in Spanish) while his mousy organist nods in agreement.

Cut to our first story ("RX"), in which the fellow with the mullet (Tom Hatcher) arrives in West Point, Miss., to set up shop as the new town doctor.

Bitchin' cars and cheap gas -- that's why we miss the '80s

He's a bit disappointed to find that his new home is a dilapidated wreck, but happy to welcome a dark-haired beauty into the house while some locals stare bug-eyed at him through the windows of Marcia's Diner.

Mississippi version of a fixer-upper

Later that night, the young lady returns and has some lusty, back-lit sex with the doctor. The next day he awakens to find that he has mysteriously aged, and he becomes increasingly disoriented while walking down the street -- people keep touching him, apparently draining his life force. Or something. It's hard to tell. He eventually flees town in his car, but is hauled back by a policeman. After escaping the squad car, he's chased by a mob of townspeople until he reaches the scene of an accident. He's forced to touch an apparently dead man who is bleeding in the street, which causes said corpse to open its eyes. Cue unexpectedly fluid crane shot.

I don't know where all these people are going,
but I wish one of them would help us
find more information about this movie

Because the dialogue is unintelligible, the first story comes off the worst, because it's impossible to tell what's going on. Not so for the second story ("Moonshine"), in which the older gentleman from the diner (Robert Harrell) is shown making some white lightning at his run-down shotgun shack.

Another Saturday afternoon at Haley Barbour's house...

Soon, a gaggle of gnarly hillbillies arrive, looking to purchase some of his home brew.

"Buenos dias!"

Later that night, the moonshiner accidentally spills some of his latest batch on his hand, and is horrified to see that it nearly melts his skin! He briefly considers alerting his most recent customers, but instead dumps the booze and dismantles his still. Meanwhile, his impressively bearded customers begin melting and mutating in front of their horrified friends and families (and this was still two years before Street Trash!).

I see someone's been reading Tom Savini's Grande Illusions

They then predictably turn up at the cabin as puffy-faced zombies, out for revenge.

"Was that moonshine manufactured in an FDA-certified production facility?"

After being cornered in his cabin by the angry zombies, the moonshiner finally decides to do the only admirable thing, and swallows the rest of his tainted hooch.

"Moonshine" works much better than the first story, and has a nice (if cheap) EC Comics feel, which is what I think the director was going for. In any case, it's the highlight of the film.

Next up, our bespectacled third protagonist (Mike Gordon) gets the Preacher Hopewell treatment in "King of the Road." Gordon is first seen flying down a rural highway in clear violation of local traffic laws. He stops by a bar, where some good-looking girls and their boyfriend taunt him, then ask for a ride.

Trying to impress his carload of bimbos, our nerdy hero first drives really, really fast, then harasses a slower, elderly driver who crashes into a ditch. He then dumps his shocked passengers on the side of the road.

Our hero?

Enter a rampaging spirit of vengeance in the form of a long-haired demon (played by David Hopper, effects artist Chris Witherspoon, and Andrew Stewart) driving an old hearse with a skull strapped to the hood. The screamin' demon chases Gordon until HE crashes into a ditch.

If you're in the business of harvesting souls, always keep a bungee cord on hand

From that point forward, it's a foot race between the pudgy Gordon and his lithe, leather-clad, scythe-wielding tormentor. The two of them awkwardly gallop from a nearby Indian burial site (this is an actual historical site near West Point) and then through a junkyard, where Gordon finally meets his unpleasant end.

I foresee a future in producing music videos for local bands

Back at the church, the nervous men leave as the church organist congratulates the preacher on his sermon. As the preacher turns to leave, we get the expected ironic coda in which we discover that Preacher Hopewell was, indeed, born with a tail.

So, what do we make of Southern Shockers? While it's cautionary comic book stories are a tad predictable, the film itself boasts some decent special effects, okay lighting (always a problem with these Betacam and Super VHS movies), some interesting camera work, a decently executed car chase, and some banjo music to enliven what is otherwise a typically droning synthesizer score (to be fair, the score may have actually been dubbed in by the Spanish distributor).

In fact, while it's no classic, it's certainly on par with other contemporary SOV films from the same period, which makes it even MORE of a mystery why no one has ever heard of or seen this thing before.

We really would like to track down some of the filmmakers and find out more, so here's a more complete credits list. If you know any of these people, we'd love to hear from them.

Southern Shockers (1985)

Director: David Coleman
Producers: Mike Gordon, David Hopper
Editor: Ken Sanders
Make-up and special effects: Chris Witherspoon
Music: Ron Evans and Mike Hampton

Eric Shusterman
Mike Gordon
Robert Harrell
Tom Hatcher
Tammy King
John Sorrels
Thomas Shinn
Ken Sanders
Ronald Demerit
Don Smith
Jerry Sanders
Lyndon Love
Anna Wilson
April Fleming
Greg Jeffries
Andrew Stewart
Vicki Stevens
Greg Stroud


  1. Can I point you toward two movies I've worked on that are "regional horrors?"

    FREAKSHOW and HELLBLOCK 13 - both starring Gunnar Hansen. Shot in SC, and featuring a mix of names and local talent in front of and behind the camera.

    Shoot me an email.

  2. A very excellent review (especially given you had no access to any English transcript, amigo, si?)!

    As writer/director/co-conspirator on SOUTHERN SHOCKERS aka SPIRIT OF THE ZOMBIE (love that title, btw!) I want to thank you for your Holmes-like ability to sleuth down ANY info on this effort, as there is none on the Internet nor any reference books (to my knowledge) prior to this posting (though, naturally, you credit the forums for your own leads).

    Would be happy to talk with you about the project. A lot of truly talented folks (besides myself, mind you!) worked on it, so for a SOV feature from the 1980s, it had much that set it apart, in retrospect.

  3. Thanks for chiming in, Dave. Watch this space for an in-depth interview with Mr. Coleman about the history of this SOV oddity.

  4. "He's forced to touch an apparently dead man who is bleeding in the street, which causes said corpse to open its eyes. Cue unexpectedly fluid crane shot."


    That dead guy was me @ 18 years old (I am 45 now). I was just watching the shoot on the sidelines and was picked at random to do it.

    I never saw the film and had always wondered what the whole movie was about. Do you know how I might get a copy of the Spanish dub or download it? Would pay for it if it is at all possible.

    Randy Morris

    August 5, 2011 12:45 PM

  5. An hour ago I googled 'horror films made in mississippi" and found your blog. My grandparents live in West Point and they use to work at an old blue jean factory there. Anyway, SO GLAD to have found this blog. I always had a fascination with horror films shot outside of hollywood ever since I learned that Blood Feast was filmed in Miami. This site is incredible!

  6. hey, this is my dads movie he did, we gotta VHS of it in English, I would take it to friends houses and we would watch it. Good stuff, I am technically in the movie because my pregnant mother was in a scene lol! We have all kinds of old production photos and stuff, its quite a neat deal.

    David Carson Hopper III

  7. That's fantastic, David. In addition the interview with director Dave Coleman (now finally transcribed) I hope to post some info from your father (producer David Hopper) as well.

  8. I was one of 2 DP's on the film if your interested in any of the technical details. There's some interesting behind the scenes stories as well. I have been trying to get in touch with David Coleman since we wrapped and haven't spoken to since. Call me David.

  9. Part One

    When I ran across this blog I was truly southern shocked.
    I was originally hired as the gaffer and Michael Gaylan was DP, a talented shooter from Los Angeles. After about a week or so something changed and I was asked to step in a as DP. I still remember Michael's last shot, the zoom in of the old man driver who runs off the road when being chased by either the kids or the hearst monster. He wanted to zoom in and I wanted to zoom out, or was it the other way around. ah, the good ole days. Then he left the set. Cool guy, he was LA and I was Mississippi and I missed him, although I eventually ended up moving there.
    When we had our first meeting at WLOV TV, the station where the Director was manager, he called a big meeting in the conference room and mentioned that we would shoot a full length motion picture. At the time I was a full time camera operator and editor at WLOV and was excited about getting out of the office even though the pay was the same. Then I was told that we would be flying in some key people from LA which I thought was odd because we really didnt have much money. I heard 30K was our budget but not %100 sure. Our gear consisted of an Orange Ikegami tube camera where you had to be cabled to a 3/4" deck which usually ended up on someones shoulder. if not mine. The camera required an enormous amount of light to get a good exposure indoors and our lighting package was a one or two 1200 HMI's and some rag tag Lowel lights,2 Totas and 2 Omnis and no stingers, no grip supplies, nothing.It seems that later in the movie we lost the HMI's. When I read the comment above that the lighting looked ok that was a tremendous compliment since most everything was lit by 3 lowell lights being run by a Honda generator that was constantly running out of gas.. Early in the process we took some test footage and had it shipped to California to transfer to film. Then we rented a local theatre and projected the footage, which looked great considering. When the film was finished it got picked up by a distributor with the option that it had to be bundled with 2 other films and be sold in Spain. As far as I know it never made it to the States and we broke even.
    When we began casting literaly the whole town of West Point showed up at a local high school gym and it seemed to have taken a week, maybe a little less but it seemed much longer. Everyone was eager and we actually got some decent performances from people that had never acted.
    (I think all the church scenes were shot in LA by Michael after the picture wrapped)

  10. Part Two
    When the LA "Unit" showed up they put everyone up in a great two story house somewhere in West Point. Early on I would walk down from my room to find the great Chris, the makeup magician, building a replica of Dweezels head or painstakingly putting hairs in the Demons head or building hands. Dweezle was not a big fan of having his head covered in plaster. Tucker would be bullhorning the halls making sure everyone was awake. One morning I was awoke about 3 in the morning with a large cloud of smoke, so thick you couldn't see your hand and I thought the house was on fire. It turned out to David shooting a semi nude scene by himself in the living room all night using a fog machine and after a few dozen takes the house was drenched in slippery white fog, but it was great. As the weeks whipped by so did the crew, Near the end it seemed it was David and I shooting a modern day reality show. To this day I don't remember ever seeing a sound man on set (sorry soundman)but I'm sure he was there so he must have been good because I never heard one boom shadow complaint. In one of the stills above there is a shot of the towns people running down main street. They were chasing the doctor who could heal you simply from a touch. That act of the movie was written on location while we were shooting another segment because the movie wasn't finished, we just wanted to start shooting and leave our day job.

    When we wrapped I asked where we we were doing the post and it turned out to be at some guys house with his computer and a keyboard. Back then it was semi pretty impressive but I still remember thinking "this kinda sounds like the 80s" the way you think of the 80's now,but we were out of money and under the gun.
    This movie was a great experience in friendship and experimenting although Im not sure I would want to do it again. 14,16,18,24 hour days but no one ever complained. In a way it was a prelude to todays reality TV except for the complaining. To everyone that worked on it ..thanks for the positive spirit of doing what you love and lets do it again in the next life, except next time with a better camera.
    Doug Moore
    "2nd" Director of Photography

  11. Wow, Doug. Thanks for those great memories of the shoot!

  12. I would absolutely LOVE to get my hands on a copy of that movie. I like to watch zombie movies, and the fact that it was shot in my hometown makes it that much more impressive to me.

  13. This sounds amazing. I am slowly becoming a collector of SOV films. If anyone knows how to get a copy, please let me know.

  14. Really wish a copy of this would surface! I few shot on video films that were lost have been released recently; such as Night Feeder (1988) & Cards Of Death (1986)