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Townies   B+

Lurid Entertainment / Tempe Entertainment

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Wayne Alan Harold
Writer: Waybe Alan Harold
Cast: Toby Radloff, Lori Scarlett, Shane Koltnow, Michelle Sibits, Jay Geldhof, P. Craig Russell.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

It's oddball low-budget films like this that make me proud to be a fan of cult and B-movies, despite the fact that my friends and family sometimes think I'm insane because of some of the weird movies I enjoy. That said, Townies is not for everyone. It features a cast of freaks and misfits, one of whom engages in a little hanky-panky with a corpse he finds in a dumpster. But writer-director Wayne Alan Harold never lets Townies become cheap exploitation. Believe it or not, the film has a lot of heart.

Residing in the fictional town of Schlarb, Ohio, Dickey (Toby Radloff) is a lonely nerd who likes to dig around in dumpsters. After unsuccessfully trying to seduce his pal Crazy Connie (Michelle Sibits) by getting her drunk, he finds the dead body of a young woman in a dumpster and stashes her in his basement. Dickie takes a liking to the corpse (after all, she's kinda cute and not too banged up) and he has his way with it.

Pricey (Lori Scarlett) is a mute, mentally challenged girl who wanders around town pushing a stroller with a baby doll that kinda looks like her. She spends much of her time with a single mother and her young son (the mother and her child are the most "normal" people in the film). When the concerned mother asks if Pricey's grandfather, whom Pricey lives with, ever does things to her, like try to touch her private parts, Pricey shakes her head, swatting her on the leg as an embarrassed grin crosses her face. If only Pricey could tell her about the skinned, gravy-covered squirrels her grandfather had cooked up. Yuck.

Then there's Caduceous (Shane Koltnow), a bald guy who never speaks. After two pot-smoking lesbians nearly run him over with their car, he begins to stalk one of the girls -- but what does he plan to do? The girl freaks out and gets her boyfriend and his buddy to beat the guy's ass. Well, soon they'll regret that they ever messed with Caduceous.

There are a few more characters that I haven't mentioned, including a guy who thinks everything that goes wrong in his life is because of somebody named Chico (a hilarious running gag). All the characters and stories weave through one another, and Harold guides the narrative gracefully most of the way through. While Townies has a lot of momentum in its first half, it hits a bump or two along the way and starts to drag just a little toward the end. It's often tough to juggle so many characters and plotlines and create a coherent and entertaining movie, but Harold pulls it off.

Townies, a comedy of good bad taste, is frequently funny and even touching at times. Lori Scarlett deserves kudos for her wonderful and poignant performance as Pricey, whose story is probably the most disheartening, yet also the most uplifting. The climax of Pricey's story is really quite beautiful and moving. Though Scarlett gives the best performance here, the entire cast should be commended for bringing their characters to life so memorably.

The movie has been released on DVD by Tempe Entertainment, the undisputed special edition DVD king in the realm of low-budget features. Tempe doesn't disappoint this time around, as the Townies disc offers a fun commentary track with writer-director Wayne Alan Harold and stars Toby Radloff, P. Craig Russell, and Jay Geldhof; outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage; an interview with Radloff; a short film co-directed by Harold called Payback is a Bitch; a preview for Harold's upcoming Aberration Boulevard; a still gallery; and, of course, a bevy of Tempe DVD trailers and maybe even an easter egg or two. (This paragraph added on September 30, 2002 to include info about the DVD release. -Ed.)

I expected Townies to be a trashy exploitation flick (after all, this is from the director of the Killer Nerd series), but it works on a higher level than that. Don't get me wrong: fans of trash cinema will likely get their fill of the good stuff here (though, of course, there's nothing close to Divine eating doggie poo in John Waters' Pink Flamingos). Despite some of the gross and weird stuff going on in Townies, the film has heart. It never looks down its characters -- however unusual they may be -- and instead views them with a kind of curious affection. I think John Waters would be proud.

Review published 10.20.2000.

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