Friday, January 1, 2016

Black Oak Conspiracy (1977)

          A redneck revenge saga that delivers the meat-and-taters goods while making a few admirable if clumsy attempts at characterization, Black Oak Conspiracy starts strong, lags in the middle, and wraps up with a colorful finale set at an outdoor mine. Viewers will not encounter anything here they haven’t seen before, and none of the actors does anything special. That said, Black Oak Conspiracy goes down smoothly because it evades certain clichés (don’t look for moonshiners in this story), and because leading man Jesse Vint, who also cowrote and coproduced the picture, knows that what people want from this sort of picture is a simple saga about a good ole boy who gets pushed too far and then pushes back. Specifically, Vint—who earned his redneck-cinema bona fides by starring in Macon County Line (1974)—stars as Jingo Johnson, a country boy trying to make a living in Hollywood as a stuntman. When he gets word that his mother has fallen ill, he heads back to his rural hometown and tries to reconnect with his high-school sweetheart, Lucy Metcalf (Karen Carlson). Unfortunately, she’s moved on to a relationship with Harrison Hancock (Robert F. Lyons), son of the richest man in town, power-monger Bryan Hancock (Douglas Fowley). Worse, Jingo discovers that his mother has fallen victim to a conspiracy aimed at stealing land. Is a corrupt sheriff involved? Of course a corrupt sheriff is involved.
          While Vint and Carlson are relatively ineffectual as leading players, some of the supporting actors make tasty contributions. Unlikely as it may seem, one of John Cassavetes’ favorite actors, Seymour Cassel, appears as Jingo’s old buddy, and Cassel adds a bit of humanity. Reliable character actor Albert Salmi imbues the sheriff character with appropriate levels of rage and violence, and sexy starlet Janus Blythe ups the film’s eye-candy quotient as a waitress who helps Jingo fight the bad guys. The movie even provides a few nasty flashes of gore when one of the characters goes on a killing spree, so it’s clear the filmmakers endeavored to tick as many B-movie boxes as possible. The folks behind Black Oak Conspiracy may not have set out to make art, but they sure aimed to please their target audience.

Black Oak Conspiracy: FUNKY

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