REVIEW: Death Ranch (2020)

dir. Charlie Steeds.

After breaking out of prison Brandon (Deiondre Teagle) goes on the run across 1970s Tennessee, aided by his siblings Angela and Clarence. But in the rural backwaters the African American family stumble across a cannibalistic tribe of Ku Klux Klan troglodytes, and must decide to take up arms if they are to have any chance of surviving.

The latest feature from the unbelievably prolific Steeds (his fourth release of 2020, no less), Death Ranch is a grimy mashup of hicks-and-blaxploitation that draws deeply from the well of period grindhouse and serves it up with a double helping of whoop-ass. Relentlessly paced with gory set-pieces of wince-inducing creativity, some audience members may find the boundaries of their taste pushed: but, as with sub-genre classic The Hills Have Eyes – both Craven’s original (1977) and Aja’s remake (2006) – social commentary is never far beneath the blood-splattered surface. Coming as it does in an election year with an incumbent who refuses to denounce the real life Klan, there’s something purifyingly cathartic in seeing these black characters rain down bloody vengeance on racist ideologues.

In this sense, both in terms of aesthetic and themes, Steed’s picture plays out like the inbred son of Django Unchained (2012) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), a righteous revenger of unflinching violence. If there are minor technical wobbles these pale beside the over-riding joie de vivre, the ensuing carnage gorgeously lensed with a slick aesthetic that far outstrips the budget and the single location of a remote barn house never feeling contrived.

Grubby, glorious and full-throatedly gross, Death Ranch is an air-punching anti-facist anthem straight from the cheap seats and all the better for it: exploitation cinema that swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park.

Tim Coleman

DEATH RANCH has its World Premiere at Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition on 11th October 2020.

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