Sunday, April 30, 2017

Share the Wealth

Jake (Danny Nelson) with Mr. Stone (Ray Walston) in BLOOD SALVAGE (1989).

I normally don't watch that screeching elitist skankmonster Rachel Maddow because someone being paid $30,000 a day to vomit forth corporatist war-mongering propaganda and pass it off as news makes me wanna spew burrito chunks. Plus those smug faces she makes unleash a homicidal fury from within that will result in me putting my foot through my TV and then how the hell will I watch the THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST on glorious Blu-ray? Anyway, I had the misfortune to catch a segment in which she used archival news footage to compare the surge of support for Trump to George Wallace's 1968 and 1972 campaigns for president. Enlightened trust-fund liberals everywhere began to tremble with fear and outrage: Donald Trump was just a new version of that ol' segregationist crabapple George Wallace! Definitive proof those blue collar slobs are just a bunch of racist yahoos!
"Yeah, I wish," I snarked. "Wallace was at least pro-union and wanted to expand social security. That tree-huggin' hippie even passed some environmental protection bill as governor of Alabama, too!"
An analysis of the different factors that motivated working class and middle class people to support Wallace or the Trumpinator would have required insight. But Mad Cow Maddow sure as hell won't have any of that on her show. Instead, she spewed back the anti-democratic master narrative that working and middle class people in Middle America are really just a bunch of angry, bigoted suckers who need a Berkeley professor to hold their hands in the voting booth.
Thus began the rallying cry of both faux-progressive politicians and whinemeister celebrities alike that Donald Trump is the "worst Republican candidate since George Wallace."
"Foul, you neoliberal numskulls," I sneered. "Wallace was a Democrat!"

George Wallace is primarily remembered for his opposition to civil rights, the villain in the morality play of 20th century America, and now a long-dead boogeyman resurrected to remind us of our country's racist history. However, this also eliminates his economic populism, a large part of his appeal to voters in Alabama and the rest of America. Academia isn't all that kind to populists. William Jennings Bryan, "The Great Commoner," who championed the small businessmen, laborers and farmers of the South and the Midwest over the elite, is now mostly remembered as a Bible-thumping fuddy-duddy thanks to the ever-mendacious play, INHERIT THE WIND. Huey Long is remembered more for his autocratic, corrupt methods in governing Louisiana and as some kind of redneck would-be fascist boogeyman rather than for his anti-corporate, anti-establishment agenda or his programs that benefitted working people.  As Jeff Taylor writes in his excellent book, Where Did the Party Go?, "Academia and the media are the main bestowers of respectability in American society. Both are largely dependent upon the Power Elite" (Taylor, p. 128)
Wallace was deeply flawed (I mean, he was a politician, after all) but he was not the racist monster he is often portrayed to be either. His legacy in Alabama is both positive and negative. People seem to have a lot of trouble with moral grey areas, but hey, the truth is always more complex than simple divisions into heroes and villains -- and the truth offers more important lessons to learn. Today, my darling readers, I'm giving a history lesson, so put down your beer bongs and your Twitterphones and pay attention.

George Wallace campaigning, 1968

Wallace's story plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy. He was born and raised in rural Barbour County, in southeastern Alabama during the Great Depression. His father was an alcoholic, plagued by upper respiratory ailments and prone to violent fits of anger. The family struggled, but their straits were not as dire as some of their neighbors, thanks in part to the efforts of his cultured (she was once an aspiring pianist) and resourceful mother. "We have plenty to eat," she said. "And we have screen doors." As a young boy, Wallace spent much of his time with his grandfather, the county doctor and often went along with him on housecalls. "It bothered George to see people being without food, people who had to pay with a potato or a chicken," Wallace's second wife, Cornelia said. "They just didn't have money out in the country. The Depression years made an indelible mark on his life. It was a very desperate time" (McCabe & Stekler).
Bright and ambitious, Wallace was a fighter in every sense of the word; his stint as an amateur boxer in his teens and college years later earned him the nickname "The Fighting Little Judge." As a law student at University of Alabama, he worked odd jobs -- washing dishes, selling magazines, driving a dump truck and even serving a stint inoculating dogs in his home county -- to put himself through school. With little money to spend on textbooks, he borrowed them from friends in order to complete his course work.  Upon his graduation, short on funds, he gathered up and sold all of his clothing (with the exception of one winter suit, two shirts, two pairs of trousers and some underclothing) as well as the wire hangers (metal was in short supply due to wartime) in his closet. In need of work, he rode the bus out to an Alabama Highway department encampment whose district engineer had advertised for truck drivers. Wallace had never driven a truck, but assured the district engineer that he had experience and was hired on the spot at thirty cents an hour. Wallace then approached another driver in the camp, offered the man a quarter on payday if he would show him how to drive a dump truck. After a quick lesson, Wallace took off on his first assignment, driving to nearby Elberta City (Lesher, 42-43). Whatever his other faults, Wallace was scrappy.

George Wallace as an amateur boxer

At 27, he began his political career as a state legislator, the youngest in state history. Among his accomplishments during his tenure were the Wallace-Cater Municipal Bonding Act, which attracted a variety of industries to the state using tax incentives, including General Motors, Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Michelin, U.S. Steel, Boeing, Monsanto, Kerr-McGhee and Mitsubishi; the State Vocational and Trade School Act, which chartered five new trade schools; and increased funding for Tukeegee College, the historically black college founded by Booker T. Washington.
He even asked to serve on its board of trustees (Lesher, 87).
In 1952, he was elected Circuit Court Judge for the Third Judicial Circuit, where his rulings in favor of working people - black or white - over elites earned him a reputation as a progressive. J.L. Chestnut, Jr., who would become one of the leading civil rights attorneys in the South, and who had argued before Judge Wallace remembers, "George Wallace was for the little man, no doubt about it...George Wallace was the first judge to call me 'mister' in a courtroom" (Lesher, 95). Another young black lawyer who would also play an important role in civil rights history, Fred Gray (he defended Rosa Parks) also impressed by Judge Wallace. In a case involving fifty black clients who had been displaced from their homes by an urban renewal project in Barbour County, Wallace found in favor of the plaintiff and the jury, at Wallace's recommendation, awarded the plaintiff's more money than the housing authority offered -- and in some cases more than the plaintiffs had even requested. Gray rose at the end of the trial to thank Wallace: "Your honor, I have practiced in many courts, but I have never been treated more fairly by a judge, by the jurors, by the officers of the court, than I have here" (Lesher, 92-93).
However, in 1953, he was also the first judge in the South to enjoin local officials from removing railroad-station signs that denoted "white" and "colored" facilities (Lesher, 95). This schizophrenia towards racial politics would continue throughout his political career.

George Wallace as Judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, circa 1958
George Wallace as Third Judicial Circuit Judge circa 1958

But Wallace's real goal was the governorship. In his first campaign for Governor of Alabama in 1958, Wallace espoused the populist ideals he had championed throughout his early career: improving public school education, building trade schools, increasing old-age pensions, building highways, reforming a corrupt state government, and attracting industries to Alabama (Lesher, 116). While not a supporter of integration, his views on racial issues were considered moderate; after all, the programs he advocated were to help all working people. Wallace also denounced the Klan and was endorsed by the NAACP.
His opponent in the gubernatorial race had other ideas, however.
Many white Alabamians felt under siege as the mass movement for civil rights began to take shape and the federal government made its first attempts at integration. John Patterson, who had used his position as Attorney General of Alabama to drive civil rights activists from the state, ran an openly racist campaign for governor. Patterson's campaign even had ties to the Ku Klux Klan, which normally would have cost him the support of moderates.
Patterson won in a landslide.
Wallace was devastated by the loss.
It's at this point in the story that historians say the one-time progressive made a Faustian bargain, selling out his principles for political power as Wallace returned campaigning for the governorship in 1962, this time as a hard-line segregationist. Where he had once lashed the investment class, the Black Belt plantation owners, the country club gentry and the corrupt Bourbons, the new enemy was an intrusive federal government interfering in state matters. The gubernatorial candidate who denounced the Klan now even employed one of them, Asa Carter, as his speechwriter (aside: Asa Carter would later go on to write a series of Western paperbacks under a pseudonym, including the novel that would be adapted to screen as THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES).
Where in the 1958 campaign, he proclaimed, "If I didn't have what it took to treat a man fair regardless of his color, then I don't have what it takes to be governor of your state," in his 1962 inaugural address, he made his most-quoted pledge: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" (McCabe & Stekkler).
However, in addition to race-baiting demagoguery, Wallace articulates a populist agenda: promises for honesty and economy in state government, to end the corrupt liquor agent system in Alabama, to raise educational standards, to bring new industry to the state and to better the lives of workers and senior citizens. He ended the speech with a prayer "that the Father who reigns above us will bless all people of this great sovereign state and nation, both white and black." If you are so inclined, you can listen to the whole speech thanks to the wonder of YouTube:

Wallace still presented himself as a fighter for working people, but unfortunately as Ray Jenkins, the editor of the Alabama Journal stated, "Poor blacks and poor whites are in the same boat...Poor whites come first with Wallace" (Palmer, 108). In his first term as governor he doubled educational appropriations (including free textbooks for all students grades 1 through 12 and raising teacher salaries by 40%), opened 14 new junior colleges and 15 new trade schools, expanded the University of Alabama Medical Center, chartered University of South Alabama in Mobile, implemented the largest highway construction and maintenance program in state history, lured $2 billion in capital investment to Alabama resulting in 100,000 new jobs and increased wages, launched statewide programs for mentally handicapped children and programs to arrest water pollution, increased funding for state mental institutions and increased medical benefits for the elderly and for the indigent. Despite his segregationist posturing, his programs benefitted both white and black (Lesher, 368).
The same Wallace who opposed the civil rights movement also, upon receiving a letter from a poor black woman who plead for help because she could not afford clothes for her teenage son, personally mailed the woman a box full of boy's clothes (Palmer, 163).
On the other hand, the Wallace who denounced an over-reaching federal government also ruled Alabama with an autocratic ruthlessness, using state police to harass and intimidate his political opponents and civil rights advocates as well as intervening when local school boards in Huntsville and Mobile chose to desegregate. And while he abolished the corrupt whiskey-agent system and cracked down on predatory loan practices, his administration was also was also riddled with corruption involving overreaches of power and kickbacks from state contracts. Opponents argued that while Wallace had succeeded in attracting new industry to the state, it was mainly of the low-skill, low-wage variety with the corporations reaping more benefits from the state than they provided.
Wallace also never reformed the state's regressive tax structure, which would have greatly benefitted working class Alabamians and increased available funds for the educational and social programs Wallace claimed to support.
His vocal opposition to civil rights ironically led to Alabama integrating at a faster rate. However, it also created a hostile, violent climate that left the state with deep scars.
And while Wallace's policies did some good for Alabama, you could argue that he could have benefitted the state far more if he had devoted his time to state administration instead of national campaigns. Wallace may have cared for Alabama's working folks, but his ambition came first.
If Wallace was a monster, he was Jekyll and Hyde.

George Wallace with his wife, Lurleen, and children

Wallace never allowed his grip on Alabama to slacken. When the state constitution forbid the governor from serving consecutive terms, he had his wife, Lurleen, run as a surrogate. Lurleen agreed, in spite of her ill health (she would die of uterine cancer while in office). Despite running as a proxy governor for her husband, the shy but feisty Lurleen had an appeal all her own; warm and genuine in dealing with constituents, blue collar Alabamians saw her as one of their own. She was, both as first lady and as a governor, also an advocate for mental health and disabled children.  But while Wallace maintained control of Alabama, his political ambition moved him from the state level to the national. After an unsuccessful run for the Democratic primary in 1964, in 1968 he campaigned for the presidency as an independent.

1968 marked a bitter split in the Democratic Party: Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, a leftie populist, campaigned for the presidency on a promise to end American involvement in the Vietnam War. McCarthy was the favored candidate of young people, and won the popular vote for the nomination. However, a rigged primary ensured that an establishment, Wall Street-funded pro-war candidate received the nomination (sound familiar?). History books generally view Wallace's 1968 campaign in similar apocalyptic terms: white Southerners and blue collar whites in the Rust Belt flocked to Wallace in a backlash against progress made by the civil rights movement. At this turning point in history, the working class (as well as some middle class) reacted against a changing American culture by abandoning the Democratic Party and embracing a new, reactionary conservatism in the latter half of the 20th century. There are some grains of truth, but this narrative leaves out several pieces of the puzzle. It doesn't explain the McCarthy supporters who backed Wallace once McCarthy was no longer in the race. It ignores the support Wallace received from the counter-culture such as hippies who showed up to Wallace rallies brandishing "Freak Out With George" signs or the leftie Ramparts magazine declaring, "In this year’s election, the only one of the three major candidates who is a true radical is Wallace."
In his excellently researched book, Where Did the Party Go?, Jeff Taylor hypothesizes it was the Democratic Party that had changed politically rather than the working class. The Democratic Party, formerly populist, civil libertarian, anti-globalist and anti-war, transformed into a party of elitist, authoritarian, war-mongering corporatists. Gone were the William Jennings Bryans and Fightin' Bob LaFollettes of the Old Left who championed the working class, the farmers, the small businessmen and espoused "equal opportunities for all and special privileges for none." In their place, rose the vile New Left coalition of elitist plutocrats, bureaucrats, entitled brats, welfare rats and professional victim asshats.

Wallace's insistence that his opposition to civil rights was not due to racism but to opposition to federal intrusion on states rights is shaky. He never proposed alternatives that could be employed on a state level or (at least at this point in his political career) tried to unite blacks and working class whites against the elite establishment that marginalizes them both.
However, Wallace's appeal was not solely to racists. Unlike the major party candidates, Wallace championed the working class: "your steel workers, your oil workers, building trades workers, beauticians, little businessmen, and farmers, and your policemen and firemen. Those are my kind of people," Wallace proclaimed.
Reporter James Dickinson observed, "Wallace's identification with the 'common man' is so complete, that it often seems that he believes that he embodies the very will and being of the common man. Wallace is the Cicero of the cab driver" (Lesher, 395).
He called for expansion of Social Security and Medicare, advocated reform of a tax system that over-burdened working people in favor of the wealthy and savaged limousine liberal hypocrites. He pledged withdrawal of troops from the Vietnam War if the war "was not winnable within 90 days" and denounced American intervention in the affairs foreign countries. Investigative journalist Jack Newfield, a populist Democrat who became a critic of the modern Democratic Party observed:

"I cannot recall either Johnson in 1964 or Humphrey in 1968 campaigning on any positive or exciting ideas that might excite the almost-poor workers, whose votes they took for granted ... In contrast, George Wallace has been sounding like William Jennings Bryan as he attacked concentrated wealth in his speeches ...From 1960 to 1968 liberal Democrats governed the country. But nothing basic got done to make life decisively better for the white workingman. When he bitched about street crime, he was called a Goldwaterite by liberals who felt secure in the suburbs behind high fences and expensive locks. When he complained about his daughter being bused, he was called a racist by liberals who could afford to send their own children to private schools...Liberal hypocrisy created a lot of Wallace votes in 1968" (Newfield, 39-46).

Taylor concurs:

"Many conservatives supported the presidential campaigns of Governor George Wallace in the 1960s and 1970s not because they were racists, but because they were populists. Wallace took on the Establishment. He favored states' rights, criticized the nation's unfair tax structure, condemned assistance to communist dictators, ridiculed the haughty intelligentsia, advocated traditional moral values, was a representative of the working class, and pointed out that there was not a dime's worth of difference between the two major parties" (Taylor, 233-234).

Cornelia Wallace, George Wallace's second wife: sassy, salty and ever-stylin',
Cornelia was dubbed  "The Jackie Kennedy of the Rednecks."
I totally want her and her drunk, trash-talkin' mama to adopt me.

As the nation entered the 1970s, Wallace softened his racial views.  Despite resorting to an ugly, race-baiting campaign to defeat his popular opponent, Albert Brewer, in the 1971 governor's race, Wallace appointed several blacks to state positions. He proclaimed that he no longer supported segregation, that he was a moderate on racial issues and always had been and "Alabama belongs to us all - black and white, you and old, rich and poor alike" (Lesher, 457) In 1971, black Alabamians marched in the inaugural parade for the first time.
In 1972, Wallace embarked on another campaign for the presidency, this time as a candidate in the Democratic primary. He continued vocal opposition to busing, but his campaign emphasized tax reform as the predominant issue. Insisting the wealthy, corporate foundations and mega-churches were not paying their fair share of taxes while the burden was falling upon working people, Wallace proposed closing tax loopholes and implementing taxes on foundations and church-owned property, allowing for tax relief on the middle class. He also proposed federal judges be democratically elected rather than appointed and for supreme court judges to be re-confirmed by a senate vote every six years (Lesher, 474).

Wallace carried every county in Florida, but fate (or mayhaps the deep state) would deny him the presidency. His campaign screeched to an abrupt halt when a crazed Arthur Bremer fired five shots into Wallace as he shook hands with the crowd at a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland. Wallace survived, but the attack left him paralyzed (and in constant, grinding pain) for the remainder of his life.
George Wallace would campaign again for the Democratic primary in 1976, but his career as a national politician was finished.

Alabama, however, was a different story. Now allowed to succeed himself by amendment to the state constitution, Wallace ran as an incumbent for governor in 1974. He picked up support from black voters for the first time, including endorsements from Tuskegee mayor, Johnny Ford and the Ozark Voters League (Palmer, 257) and won the seat.
With his health deteriorating, Wallace would not seek re-election in 1979. With a broken body, and a personal life in shambles (second wife Cornelia filed for a scandal-ridden divorce in 1978), he would spend most of his time brooding and alone.
But 1978 also brought another transformation.
Shortly before he left office of what he thought would be his last term, Wallace appeared unannounced at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once occupied the pulpit. Before a gathering of three hundred black ministers and lay leaders of Alabama churches, Wallace apologized for his past support of segregation, adding, "I've learned what pain is and I'm sorry if I've caused anybody else pain" (Lesher, 502).
In 1982, he again made a public apology before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for his past behavior towards the black community.

Wallace laughin' it up with Jesse Jackson

Some believe Wallace's recantation of his racist past was due purely to ambition: he needed the black vote to maintain political power in Alabama. Those that knew him believe his apology was sincere, a return to the original progressive instincts he had compromised: "That was the real George Wallace," his law school classmate and Attorney General (as well as opponent for the 1966 governorship) Richmond Flowers said (McCabe & Stekler).
Wallace biographer Stephan Lesher agrees that Wallace did have some self-serving reasons for his change of heart, "But his third reason revealed a humanity so often lacking in his actions: alone and crippled, forced to introspection for the first time in his life, he realized that though he had purported to be the champion of the poor and helpless, he had trampled on the poorest and most helpless of all his constituents - the blacks" (Lesher, 501).
Wallace sought an unprecedented fourth term for the governorship in 1982, winning the seat with a coalition of white and black supporters.

Populist champion of the working class or self-interested racist demagogue, Wallace's appeal in Alabama and nationwide extended beyond opposition to civil rights. "Wallace tapped into deep pools of public distrust of growing federal intrusion into what many considered local or private matters and he had given voice to widespread uneasiness about increasing crime and civil disorder...Too, he had strengthened the sense of self-worth among owners of small businesses, shopkeepers, blue-collar workers, clerks, secretaries, police officers, fire-fighters, taxi drivers, beauticians, and all those who felt oppressed or ignored by the powerful institutions such as big government and the national media. At the same time, he had articulated the prevalent alarm over the concentration of too much wealth in too few hands, too much dependence on foreign capital and foreign sources of energy, too many 'giveaways' to foreign governments while too many Americans 'live under bridges (or) lie on grates in the winter to keep warm' " (Lesher, 503).

Wallace campaigning for the Alabama governor's race in 1962

You won't hear that out of those pointy-headed prep school plutocrats on MSNBC. Well folks, history class is dismissed. But if you've got a carnivorous appetite for American history like I do and three hours of sittin' around time, I recommend the American Experience documentary George Wallace: Settin' the Woods On Fire. It's worth it for the awesome music alone. And do you know what it has in common with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? They both feature the sonic craftsmanship of sound designer WAYNE BELL!
And you can totally watch it for free, thanks to that treasure trove of both the arcane and idiotic, YouTube!

And speaking of Southern populists with a dark side, today I'm talkin' about the fourth movie in my Regional Horror-Thon, a flick near and dear to my tortured, twisted heart straight from a state near and dear to my tortured, twisted heart, BLOOD SALVAGE (1990) directed by TUCKER JOHNSTON with a screenplay co-written by him and KEN SANDERS. Words aren't adequate to describe how much I love this movie. My eyes are turning into giant hearts even as I'm typing this blog entry. Yes my darlings, words can't adequately describe, but I'm gonna give it a go.  Hard-working Georgia thespian and Cates Pickle spokesman DANNY NELSON stars as amiable Jake Pruitt, a God-fearing working class widower scraping out a living for himself and his two boys as a mechanic in backwoods Stonewall County, Georgia. Having endured a life of struggle as well as losing his beloved wife to a bad heart, Jake muses on the inequality of the world in an opening voiceover:

"When Jesus  died to save our souls, to redeem the whole human race it took him one afternoon. Just a few short hours. I've seen innocent little children who've suffered more than that. Lingering for weeks, months, their bodies eat up with cancer, their hearts shriveled into something half dead. And none of 'em ever deserved it. And I've seen other folks out living the high life, walkin' hand-in-hand with the devil. And they've got good health. And when they die, they die quick. Lord knows none of them ever deserved that. The Bible says we was all born into a state of sin. We've all gotta suffer for it. But sometimes decent folks seem to suffer more than their fair share.
It just...ain't...right."

After all, Jake lost his wife after she was unable to receive the heart transplant that would have saved her life.  "Doctor said she needed a new heart, but they couldn't seem to find her one," Jake says, and for the first time his congenial, smiling demeanor slips, revealing the deep reservoir of rage underneath: "There was plenty of hearts to go around, mind you. Just had to know the right people. I guess I didn't," he seethes. "Wasn't fair...wasn't fair at all."

Danny Nelson as Jake Pruitt in BLOOD SALVAGE (1989).

Jake is a populist at heart. "I believe those who have more, ought to give to those who have less," he says and decides to do something about the disparity between those "folks out living the high life" and the "decent folks" who suffer more than their share.
With the help of his boys, slow-witted man-child Roy (RALPH PRUITT VAUGHN) and weasely, hot-tempered Hiram (the hilarious CHRISTIAN HESLER), he kidnaps privileged travelers after ramming their cars off the road, then sells their organs on the black market (through the squeamish Mr. Stone, played by none other than RAY WALSTON) to the "decent folks" in need who don't have the influence required to get them.
It's a homicidal version of Huey Long's Share the Wealth Program!

Huey Long speaks about income inequality and his Share the Wealth program in 1934

In a subversive wrinkle, the film even implies that Jake's wrongdoing has done a lot of good for people. Mr. Stone speaks of a kind, elderly woman in Memphis who is now recovering thanks to one of Jake's transplants. While she's recuperating in the hospital, she even goes down to the children's wing and reads them stories! "A good woman," Mr. Stone states.

Things get complicated when Jake develops an obsession with newly crippled teenage beauty pageant queen, April Evans (LORI BIRDSONG) despite the fact that she might be the most obnoxious wheelchair-bound character ever. Tampering with her family's RV so they'll conveniently break down on their drive back to Atlanta, Jake plans to cure April with spinal injections so that she may walk again, then take her for his new wife. Her family however (including horror regular JOHN SAXON as her dad) will just be spare parts.

Check out that product placement

As you most likely have already noticed, BLOOD SALVAGE explores similar themes to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, such as the country's revenge on the city and the working class's revenge on the privileged.  And while the Evans family regards Jake and his boys with barely concealed condescension, in their affluence they have become dependent on the labor of others. That dependence also leaves them at the mercy of those that they have used and scorned. The working class, however, are resourceful and self-sufficient. Jake and his sons use the skills of their trade to disable the cars (symbols of status) of those more privileged than them. City dwellers like the Evans family sneer at the rural Pruitts (or as April refers to them " those stupid hicks"), but as William Jennings Bryan said in his "Cross of Gold" speech: "I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

And thanks to the ever-expanding netherworld of YouTube, you can listen to that full speech here!

And that's the big thing I don't understand about this sneering contempt towards the working class by the professional class. After all, those are the people they depend on to fix their cars, grow their food, build their houses and unclog their toilets. I don't really care what any college professors, C.E.O.s, investment bankers or surgeons think of me, but I do go out of my way to make sure rednecks are my friends. After all, they're good in a crisis and if there's ever an apocalypse, they'll be the ones who survive. They've been preparing for it their whole lives.

Generally, in horror films, the country takes revenge upon the city, but balance is restored in the end. The lower class folks' challenge to the dominating class is punished by death and balance is restored. And while genre films imply that the rage of the rural, lower class against the urban upper middle class is justified, they also imply that they are deserving of their marginalization due to the fact that they're a bunch of primitive, subhuman peckerwood wackos who like to make lampshades out of people's faces. However, backwoods horror films produced outside the Hollywood system have a different take on things. In THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, the family remains at large at the end of the film and balance is never restored. Sally may have escaped, but the final image of the film is Leatherface, swinging his chainsaw and twirling in an insane dance: the lower class rages on. In THE HILLS HAVE EYES, the primitive family may have been defeated by the middle class Carter family, but the Carters have proven themselves to be just as savage in doing so. The primitive family and the urban, middle class family are really just two sides of the same coin. In BLOOD SALVAGE, April (perhaps due to living with a handicap) proves to be more resourceful than expected. The Pruitt family is punished for their transgressions while April drives off back to the city in her family's RV. However, the ending implies that while the rural, lower class family may have lost this round, they won't be defeated so easily.

Jake (Danny Nelson) preaches and performs experimental surgery in BLOOD SALVAGE (1989).

As with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, BLOOD SALVAGE also incorporates themes about the American family, although not as prominently as the previous two films. Much like the family in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, the Pruitt family is a family without women. While the absence of women in the family in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is never explained, in BLOOD SALVAGE, it's the loss of the family's matriarch that spirals the family into ruin. While the rest of the home has fallen into ruin, her room is left preserved, a shrine to her memory. Horror films are often accused of being misogynistic, but in horror films, women are portrayed as a civilizing influence. Men may control the professional sphere, but women rule the social and sexual sphere. Without them to manage, everything crumbles. In horror films, a family without a wife and mother is a depraved thing indeed.

Photo of Helen, the deceased wife and mother in BLOOD SALVAGE (1989).

While it successfully combines backwoods horror, warped humor and subversive subtext (and does so better than the more famous MOTEL HELL, in my opinion), BLOOD SALVAGE remains relegated mostly to obscurity.  It suffers from the never-released-on-DVD curse, but has still acquired a small cult following so maybe a resurrection is possible. The film is skillfully shot and I would love to see the production design in Jake's workshop in more detail. The script is smarter than most like to give it credit for, presenting familiar tropes with a wry sense of humor and plenty of dialogue that would do FLANNERY O' CONNOR proud. But I think a lot of the film's success is owed to DANNY NELSON's performance as Jake. NELSON's one of those familiar faces you've seen in hundreds of movies (including FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, A TIME TO KILL, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and one of my favorites, MURDER IN COWETA COUNTY) but whose name you can never quite recall. If it was filmed in Georgia, you can bet DANNY NELSON is probably in it. In BLOOD SALVAGE, he delivers a layered performance, deftly underplaying some of the hammier moments and skillfully portraying the rage and madness lurking underneath the jovial exterior.
And there's something about him that's just so damn huggable.
CHRISTIAN HESLER, who died of a heroin overdose before the film's release, is hilarious as the cantankerous Hiram. Saying he reminds me of a young, but more feral BRAD DOURIF is the highest compliment I can think of.
Yes, my darlings, you can tell that my heart overfloweth with love for BLOOD SALVAGE. And thanks to this movie, we now know what really happened to Elvis!

Elvis is one of Jake's "patients" in BLOOD SALVAGE (1989).


Lesher, Stephan. George Wallace: American Populist. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 1994.

George Wallace: Settin' the Woods On Fire. Dir: Daniel McCabe & Paul Stekler. WGBH Educational Foundation, Midnight Films, Inc. & Big House Films, 2000. Film.

Palmer, Mary S. George Wallace: An Enigma. Point Clear, AL: Intellect Publishing, 2016.

Taylor, Jeff. Where Did the Party Go? Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006.