Death Ranch sees writer/director Charlie Steeds (The Barge People, An English Haunting) mixing blaxploitation films with grindhouse horror and, at times, healthy doses of black humour. The result is a gory, over-the-top exercise in bad taste that has to, and should be, seen to be believed.
It’s the 1970s and somewhere in Tennessee Brandon Cobbs (Deiondre Teagle, Painted in Blood) has just escaped from prison. He’s picked up by his sister Angela (Faith Monique, Zero) and somewhat reluctant brother Clarence (Travis Cutner, Spooked). They have the perfect place to hide out, an old farm that’s sat empty since their uncle died. At least they think it’s empty, the noose on a roadside tree casts some doubt on that.
As it stands they don’t find out until that night when they’re woken up by screams. It seems a local chapter of the KKK has been using it for their rallies. Rallies that include feasts featuring a particular kind of dark meat. The Cobbs are going to have to fight for their lives, and they may well make the hooded hatemonger wish they’d just gone to McDonald’s.
Death Ranch lulls viewers into a sense of complacency with an opening act that focuses on family reunion and Brandon’s siblings urging him to stay out of trouble. Then, Steeds dramatically changes the tone when the Klan shows up. Shot in slow motion, with their torches, robes and hoods the scene resembles something out of one of Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films. It’s an impressively done introduction, one that made me wish he had been the one to make last year’s Curse of the Blind Dead.
From there on the violence rarely stops. Shootings, stabbings, rape, castration, a severed head used as a weapon you name it, it’s in there. And Steeds isn’t shy about showing it either. It’s on the screen courtesy of some excellent, and painful-looking, practical effects. Even the gunshots and blood spray were done without CGI, and they look much better for it.
I do wish the film had been a little more in the authentic grindhouse style rather than Tarantino’s updated version of it. Granted the updated approach helps at times, such as the way the film’s rape scene was shot without attempting to sexualize it. But overall a bit more grit and less gloss is usually a good thing.
“I didn’t make the script for about three years, because I was kind of scared at first. I didn’t know if I should, as a white, British guy from London. Is it really my business to go over to Tennessee and make this sort of movie?Charlie Steeds writer/director of Death Ranch
My one other complaint is that the Klansmen are portrayed as a bit too stupid and incompetent. It takes away from the sense of threat and, apart from Gator (Brad Belemjian, American Hunt, Ouija Craft) and their leader Delmar (Scot Scurlock, Painkiller, Pasture) they don’t put up much of a fight. Granted, much of the film’s appeal is seeing these racist assholes suffer, but it’s never a good idea to undersell the film’s villain.
I should mention that Death Ranch was shot in Tennessee with an American cast so, unlike some of Steeds’ previous films, there isn’t an issue with accents. Local filmmaker Aaron Mirtes (The Alpha Test, The OctoGames) was one of the film’s producers and cinematographers. His knowledge of the area’s low-budget filmmaking scene undoubtedly helped him get the most out of the film’s limited resources.
Death Farm was just what I needed after seeing so many terrible films lately. As long as you can take the gore it’s a fun film with plenty of action and a dose of racial payback that, while written several years ago, arrives at just the right time.
4Digital Media has released Death Ranch to streaming platforms as well as on Blu-Ray and DVD. You can check the film’s Facebook page for details.