A crazy family in Texas forces drifters and illegal immigrants to work as ranch hands. If these scruffy men don’t comply, they are tortured and eventually become beef jerky. You would think a movie about a bunch of sweaty slaves would keep my attention. But despite its premise, the 2006 film Hoboken Hollow isn’t scary or sexy.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre claimed to be based on true events (Ed Gein), but it was essentially a totally fabricated backwoods slasher film. Hoboken Hollow is more specifically focused on the actual 1980s case of the “Texas Slave Ranch.” Other than a few uninspired scenes of violence, it feels like a made-for-TV docudrama more than a horror film, right down to the weird fades that beg for commercials to be inserted.
I don’t know that many of the details of the film are specific to the real case, but the movie opts not to fully exploit the story as a gorefest or torture porn. Nor does it bother to go into over-the-top, dark comedy territory. It’s as if the delicate subject matter caused the filmmakers to hold back and instead give us a film that works on no level.
The huge cast of familiar names includes Dennis Hopper, Robert Carradine, Greg Evigan, Dede Pfeiffer, Michael Madsen, Lin Shaye, and C. Thomas Howell. Lin Shaye is good as usual in a minor role reminiscent of her 2001 Maniacs character, but it is C. Thomas Howell who really shines. It’s not particularly hard because everyone else in the film seems so uninterested in acting, but even so, C. Thomas plays a psychotic redneck worthy of a gritty, gruesome horror movie. Instead, he’s stuck in Hoboken Hollow.
You witness the daily grind of a bunch of kidnapped guys trying to stay out of the daily meat grinder. You have Sean Connery’s son as a war vet, initially set up as the focus of the film but just as insignificant as everyone else, who just sits around staring until he eventually escapes at the end—the highlight being when he drops into the shit box in an outhouse.
You have a crazy family who doesn’t do much of anything but pretend they’re supposed to be a crazy family and occasionally threaten their victims with guns, cattle prods, or a noose. They’re so not scary that even their victims don’t act all that terrified of them.
And even when there are a couple of torture scenes, no one, from masters to servants, seems all that committed to the role-playing. During a scene of a guy being cattle prodded, getting a golden shower in the eye, and being hung from a tree, I was as bored as he was. And half the time I didn’t know why these guys were being tortured because they were such good little submissive bitches. Dialogue virtually went like this:
Submissive bitch: I’ve had enough of working for free. I’ll pay you to let me leave.
Crazy family member: You ain’t got enough money. We gonna have to torture you.
Submissive bitch: Okay. I changed my mind. I’ll stay and work.
The icing on the cake in this absolute farce is the redneck Dukes of Hazzard narrator. From the moment he starts talking, you can’t take this film seriously. It’s so bad that you will see someone peek out a window and hear the narrator say, “That’s Billy Bob.” Okay, maybe the name wasn’t Billy Bob, but it doesn’t even matter.
On top of that, the roles of Greg Evigan, Michael Madsen, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Carradine were brief and absolutely pointless. Cutting their unnecessary scenes would have shortened the torture by about ten minutes. And by that, I mean the torture of watching Hoboken Hollow, which was more painful than anything the actors acted like they were experiencing in this movie.
Seeing the absolute heinous things victims went through in a true story might be too uncomfortable to watch, but watering it down so much that viewers are not even disturbed is just as much of an insult. I really just don’t know what they were going for here.