The Legend of Hillbilly John

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Movie Info

A young man and his grandfather decide to take on the Devil himself in this unusual fantasy, inspired by a story from Appalachian folklore. Even the grandfather's sudden death cannot dissuade the young man, who sets out on a long journey in order to defeat old Satan.

Cast

Val Avery
as Cobart
Severn Darden
as Mr. Marduke
Sidney Clute
as Charles
Denver Pyle
as Grandpappy John
William Traylor
as Rev. Millen
Harris Yulin
as Zebulon Yandro
Susan Strasberg
as Polly Wiltse
Alfred Ryder
as O.J. Onselm
Chester Jones
as Uncle Anansi
Percy Rodrigues
as Capt. Lojoie H. Desplain
Honor Hound
as Himself
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Critic Reviews for The Legend of Hillbilly John

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Audience Reviews for The Legend of Hillbilly John

  • Jul 12, 2010
    <div style="width:320px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com/photos/13654363"><img src="http://content9.flixster.com/photo/13/65/43/13654363_gal.jpg" border="0"/></a><div style="text-align:center;font-size:10px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com"></a> </div></div> <I>THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN</I> (1974) DIRECTED BY: John Newland WRITTEN BY: Melvin Levy based on four of Manly Wade Wellman's "Silver John" short stories. FEATURING: Susan Strasberg, Denver Pyle, R.G. Armstrong, Hedges Capers, Percy Rodrigues, Harris Yulin, and Severn Darden. GENRE: OCCULT-HORROR TAGS: 100% weird, odd, unusual, PLOT: A contemporary Blue Ridge muse fends off Satanic peons while undertaking a supernatural odyssey. Artful, well composed cinematography, stunning mountain locations, and crisp editing distinguish this highly unusual horror film. <I>The Legend Of Hillbilly John</I> is a bizarre, colorful adaptation of four Manly Wade Wellman occult tales. An historian and prize-winning author, Wellman was a multi-genre writer. A cross between James Dickey, Earl Hamner and Rod Serling, he may be best remembered for his imaginative Appalachian horror and fantasy stories featuring protagonist "Silver John." Staring down the audience in the opening scene from a bucolic, wooded hillside in the North Carolina mountains, a dowser (think divining rods) named Marduke (Darden), flatly informs the viewer that the devil is not only real, but alive and well right here in Appalachia. In fact, the Army Corps. of Engineers may be one of Satan's many manifestations. With this little anti-establishment joke drawing the audience into the proper mindset of anti- revenuer style, regional folkways and mores, Marduke magically steps into a highway construction site. Here, the forest is being raped for "progress" and financial gain. The beholder thusly receives a bizarre and jolting transition into Wellman's surreal world, where he easily and unquestioningly settles into a backwoods groove of disturbing, and distinctively different horror. Next, Marduke introduces us to the legend of local folksinger and mountain man "Hillbilly John" (adapted from Wellman's "Silver John," for audience accessibility.) The first of four stories about John's supernatural excursions frames the following three: John (Caper) discovers that his grandfather (Pyle) has inexplicably chosen to embark on a vigil to combat Satan. Conjuring the devil with a magical guitar melody played on a silver- stringed guitar, Grandpappy leaves the divine instrument to John when he matches wits with Satan. Celestial guitar in hand, John joins his grandfather's crusade against hell's minions and embarks on a bizarre mystical quest in which he undergoes perverse trials and tribulations. On his journey, John crosses paths with odd and cursed entities. A greedy, unscrupulous undertaker (Yulin) makes a perverse deal with a conniving witch (Strasberg). A grim gatekeeper to the beyond is prone to unleashing a giant, carnivorous Gooney bird on the unrighteous, and a malignant Voodoo priest (Rodrigues) with a dark secret presides over a visually surreal,infernal cotton plantation. The four creative horror pieces are uniquely imaginative and otherworldly. They are skillfully woven together in a seamless tapestry, full of atmosphere and wonder. Clever dialogue and characterization compliments the concise and well conceived segments. The performances are strongly delivered by a distinguished cast. Regrettably, <I>The Legend Of Hillbilly John</I> was filmed on an inadequate budget, which does a terrible disservice to Wellman's creative foundation. A proper financial accommodation could have produced a prizewinning film. Director John Newland creatively and cleverly overcomes the financial constraint as best he can, but there are places where the technical compromise cripples the film's potential to be an important work of thoughtful, cinematic horror. Dated because a politically thematic undercurrent of environmentalism, human rights, and hippie values manifests itself in the film, <I>The Legend Of Hillbilly John</I> is a salient throwback to 1972 which may erode its credibility for contemporary audiences. PRODUCTION NOTES: <I>The Legend Of Hillbilly John</I> was released in 1972 as <I>Who Fears the Devil</I>. It bombed at the box office and was re-edited and re-released as <I>The Legend of Hillbilly John</I> a year later. More recently it was released again as as <I>John The Balladeer</I>. The film was shot in October, 1971 in Madison County, North Carolina, near Wellman's home, and the setting for his "Silver John" stories. Director John Newland hosted the sci-fi series, <I>One Step Beyond</I> and <I>Tales Of Tomorrow</I>. He directed shows such as <I>Wonder Woman, Boris Karloff?s Thriller, Police Woman, Hawaii 5-0</I>, and <I>Night Gallery</I>. Grandpappy's magic song was composed for the film by music legend Hoyt Axton. While Hillbilly John is played by folksinger Hedges Capers, three heavy-weight, veteran actors with extensive film credits make up the other principals. Grandpappy is played by Denver Pyle, Susan Strasberg plays Polly White, and R.G. Armstrong is Bristowe. The supporting cast consists of foundation television actors. Selected Wellman fantasy and horror pieces have been adapted for episodes of <I>Night Gallery</I>, and <I>Monsters</I>. Other of Wellman's works include historical fiction and nonfiction, mysteries, conventional horror and sci-fi. An author of many books, as well as a writer for <I>Marvel Comics</I>, Wellman's short stories frequently appeared in publications such <I>Weird Tales, Astounding Stories,</I> and <I>Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine</I>.
    Pamela D Super Reviewer

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