“Jackson County Jail” gets a revival in “Forbidden County”, the latest offering from producer David Heavener and “star” Steven Bauer. Heavener is a filmmaker whose website features ecstatic blurbs by the likes of Isaac Hayes (“Amazing! How he does it all…and well.”), Jim Brown (“This man can make a movie!”) and even Sally Kirkland (“David is a good soul and knows how to make a movie”). He has written, directed and starred in scores of low budget action exploitation films, and seems to have been successful enough to control all of his film from script to screen, including distribution. He owns a studio called Action Cat Studios featuring a large backlot and soundstage which is “perfect for all kinds of projects”, such as horror, westerns and two genres I don’t quite understand called ” Mexico ” and “Vetnam”. In any case, Heavener is a veteran filmmaker with a large body of work.
Directed by Carl Sydney, “Forbidden County” is the latest from Heavener, I think, besides “Curse of the Maya”, which may actually be the newer film. With so many titles coming out each month, it’s hard to pin down the chronology. What are not hard to pin down are the low budget nature of “County” and the massive lack of production values on display. The movie seems to have been shot using short ends, which are the tops and tails of leftover negative dumped by the major studios, and a 16mm windup camera with a bad registration system. This is evident in the slippery feel of the image, which seems ready to slide off the screen completely at times. It also seems to be quite evident that the movie was post-dubbed. Now most movies feature some level of post dubbing, but this was clearly the work of former Kung-Fu Theater technicians, as the voices sounded as if they were recorded in a Men’s Room stall and laid to picture with an xacto knife.
Now, this looks like it’s all headed towards a very negative review of the picture, but that’s not the case at all. Heavener’s one-man band approach is actually pretty impressive and I think he deserves credit for lasting so long on the outskirts of the Hollywood system. If Robert Rodriguez is the “rich man’s Roger Corman”, then David Heavener must be his poor distant relative.
“Forbidden County” is the story of Big City reporter Joanna Mason (Catherine Hastings), who drives to a small town in rural Indiana in search of her sister’s killer. Only minutes after the opening credits, she is pulled over by the local Barney Fife, zapped with a taser and locked up in a small cell. She soon teams up with the editor of the local paper, Steven Bauer (“Scarface”, “Raising Cain”), who once tried to make it as a journalist in the big city but has accepted his fate in his old hometown. She and Bauer soon team up in bed as well as they try to uncover the secrets of ” Forbidden County “.
The strange thing about the film is its lack of truly exploitable elements, as though it were edited for television. Bauer and Hastings do have sex, but it’s a couple silhouetted shots and a swift fade out instead of the standard jazzy music and slow motion nudity we’ve come to expect in our post-Zalman King times. The same goes for the violence, which is barely shown. This is quite odd and, one would think, very bad for business, as anyone renting “Forbidden County” or watching it at 2AM on cable would be quite geared up for a “women in prison” skinamax special. I kept thinking the filmmakers were saving all the nudity and gore for a big splashy ending, but this never developed, and I was soon watching the credits roll after some kind of plot was resolved.
Now you never watch these films for their plot or narrative resolution. These movies are driven by soft core nudity, the filmmaker’s insane approach whether intentional or not, weird characters with absurd dialogue, performances like Lou Ferrigno’s in “Cage 2”, and a healthy disregard for all forms of good taste. “Forbidden County” actually seemed to want to be tasteful, never crossing the line into exploitation madness, and featured actors who seemed mostly to be working hard to remember their lines, let alone perform them.
The odd saving grace of the movie was a strange charm that came from the sheer cheapness of everything. You actually feel that in the scene where Bauer and Hastings share a bottle of wine they might have to pour the wine back into the bottle to reuse later. There is also a strange feeling that somehow you are watching a local community theater play with that particular fear for friends and family who might miss a cue or go blank on stage. Bauer seems to have made a wrong turn somewhere and found himself in ” Forbidden County “. He has a permanent expression of confusion throughout, as though he just got off the phone with his agent and was demanding an explanation.
I know ” Forbidden County ” must sound like a terrible movie from the description and it is really quite bad, but I have to say that I was actually entertained and thrilled by its badness, as opposed to something like “Lady in the Water”, which just bored me to the floor. With this kind of movie, I ask all to tread carefully. Warning: Bad movie. To be viewed by connoisseurs of bad cinema.
Carl Sydney (director) / Tom Robbins (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Bauer ….
Catherine Hastings …. Joanne Mason
Clint Vaught ….