Since the ’70s were rotten with drive-in flicks about rednecks hauling white lightning through the woods with cops hot on their tails, there wasn’t much left to say about the subject by the time Moonshine County Express was made. That said, the textures of this low-rent genre were so firmly established that delivering a straight recitation shouldn’t have been too difficult—especially since Moonshine County Express was issued by trash-cinema titan Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. All of which goes to explain why Moonshine County Express is vexing. The movie has the usual barrage of zippy nonsense, so it’s never boring, per se, but the storyline is so sloppy that it’s hard to tell which of the two main characters is the protagonist. After all, John Saxon gets top billing for playing a racecar driver who moonlights running ’shine, but the narrative actually hinges on the character played by Susan Howard.
After thugs kill an aging moonshiner, his three daughters learn that he left them a secret stash of valuable Prohibition-era whiskey, so the oldest daughter, Dot Hammer (Howard), begins selling the hooch to her dad’s old customers. This gets the attention of Jack Starkey (William Conrad), the kingpin of the area’s illegal-liquor business, since he’s the one who killed the father in the first place as a means of eliminating competition. Giving the story its small measure of complexity is J.B. Johnson (Saxon), who drives for Starkey until switching sides to help the imperiled Hammer sisters. There’s also a sheriff involved, but suffice to say nothing truly surprising happens.
Still (no pun intended), it’s possible to groove on the film’s pulpy elements. Playing the Hammer sisters, Howard, Claudia Jennings, and former Brady Bunch star Maureen McCormick add eye candy, though all of them manage to keep their clothes since this PG-rated film is tame compared to other moonshine flicks. Saxon gives an unusually casual performance, and Conrad has a blast playing a cartoony villain. (Not every movie features the enormous Cannon star in a sex-fantasy scene featuring fishing tackle.) Furthermore, Dub Taylor plays a supporting role without his frontal dentures; the rootsy soundtrack features banjos and spoons and the like; and in one party scene, a bar band renders these peculiar lyrics: “Grandma’s got syphilis, Grandpa’s deranged, and all the children had their sexes changed.”
Moonshine County Express: FUNKY