Still soldiering my way through my ever-expanding pile of unwatched DVD's and DVD-R's, yesterday evening I caught up with the "hicksploitation" obscurity Psycho From Texas. Written, produced and directed by Jim Feazell, Psycho From Texas was originally shot in late 1974 on location in Louisiana and El Dorado, Arkansas under the far less catchy title Wheeler and received limited theatrical distribution in 1975. Several years later, in a bid to boost the films exploitation credentials shot some new additional footage was shot out in Hollywood, California, including various child abuse flashback's and a tasteless scene involving the torment of a naked barmaid. This racier, souped up cut of the film was mooted for release at different point's under the title's The Hurting and Mama's Boy, but for reason's undisclosed neither release ever took place. Shortly after Jim Feazell sold the rights to the new, stronger version of film onto a different producer, who after some more recutting re-issued the whole concoction under the better known title Psycho From Texas. Just to add to the confusion further, some sources actually credit a co-director and co-producer named Jack Collins (who also has a supporting role in the film as the local Sheriff) who has no other known screen credits and about whom little else in known. However, Collins is uncredited in the Psycho From Texas version of the film and the exact nature and extent of his involvement, if indeed there was any, in the production of the film is unclear. At any rate, today the stronger Psycho From Texas variant is the only available version of Feazell's film, whilst the original cut of Wheeler has supposedly never been aired since or released on video, and is now believed to be lost.
The plot of Psycho From Texas begins with charming yet violently deranged Texan drifter Wheeler arriving in a small, subdued Southern town. A sadistic yet conniving lout driven to the brink of psychosis by his abusive childhood, Wheeler's arrival spells trouble for several of the towns denizens. Following his arrival Wheeler soon strikes up an improbable rapport with William Phillips, a rich widower and local businessman who is presently downhearted due to his pretty adult daughter Connie's decision to become engaged to a man who Phillips views as an undesirable. It soon turns out that Wheeler's kindness towards Phillips is all a cynical ploy as he and a local reprobate named Slick have been employed by a shady, unknown figure to kidnap Phillips.
Having lulled the aging widower into a false sense of security, Wheeler and Slick take him captive and promptly haul him off to a remote, isolated countryside shack while their mysterious employer issues a $200,000 ransom demand. Shortly after Wheeler decide's to leave Slick in charge of guarding Phillips and heads back into town with debauchery, violence and depravity on his mind. Unfortunately, shortly after Wheeler's departure, Phillips succeeds in slipping out of his bonds and flees, leading to a flight for his life as he desperately races across country in search of help with an angry, incredulous Slick in murderous pursuit. Meanwhile, back in town Wheeler has gleefully set about instigating trouble and terrorising several attractive local women including Phillips' daughter Connie. However, he is blissfully unaware that is his absence the whole kidnap ploy has gone horrifically awry...
Psycho From Texas is a film that's moderate success hinges largely upon the superior quality of its central performance. For what its worth top-billed John King III, who had previously starred in Laurence Merrick's obscure interracial biker flick The Black Angels (1970), acquits himself well as the brawny, long-haired Texan degenerate Wheeler. Indeed, King makes for a fairly memorable redneck reprobate as he capably portrays Wheeler as a twisted and violent misanthrope equipped with a canny knack for turning on the false charm when the occasion calls for it. Any doubts the viewer may have had regarding Wheeler's psycho credential's are allayed by the inclusion of some crudely edited flashback inserts in which Wheeler silently recalls the abuse he endured as an infant at the hands of his nymphomaniac mother. Alternately amusing yet disturbing, the seemingly random manner in which these inserts are edited into the film raises laughs, while the fairly vicious woman on child violence they depict makes for fairly troubling viewing.
Despite King's solid central turn, Psycho From Texas initially looks set to be a fairly perfunctory example of its type as director Jim Feazell delivers a rather slow and uneventful opening half hour. Fortunately, once Wheeler and his gormless accomplice Slick (a role played with appropriate feral intensity by Tommy Lamey) put their kidnap ploy into action the film suddenly becomes enlivened. Indeed, once the kidnap rather predictably goes awry, Feazell seizes the opportunity to embark on something of a minor tour-de-force. Sure enough Psycho From Texas soon develops from a fairly mundane affair into a modestly engaging and sleazy backwoods thriller as a desperate Slick relentlessly pursues the terrified Phillips across fields, farmland, woods, bogs and streams in a tense and well-staged protracted chase sequence. In actual fact I struggle to recall ever seeing a longer chase sequence in the annals of exploitation as Slick's pursuit of Phillips progresses on and off for roughly a third of the films running length.
Meanwhile the aforementioned chase is intercut with scenes of Wheeler, who is oblivious to Phillips' escape, raising hell back in town. These scenes afford King a welcome opportunity to ham it up in his psychotic role as we witness Wheeler violently assaulting a teenage drug dealer with a pool cue and invading the home of Phillips' daughter Connie, murdering one of her friends in the process. The films most twisted highlight however is a gloating and seriously nasty scene (which was reportedly part of the additional footage shot in 1978 specifically for the Psycho From Texas cut) in which the by now completely out of control Wheeler, having had his advances towards a pretty young barmaid (played by future scream queen Linnea Quigley in one of her earliest roles) soundly rebuffed, proceed's to systematically roughhouse then humiliate her, forcing her to dance around naked before dousing her in beer and forcing her to simulate sex with the prone body of another unfortunate male barroom patron whom Wheeler has knocked unconscious. Unfortunately however, the films rather anticlimactic conclusion in which Wheeler finally receives his inevitable comeuppance is rather less satisfying, feeling like a rather abrupt and convenient way of tying up all of the films loose ends in one quick foul swoop. Sadly it concludes Psycho From Texas on something of a flat note.
Finally in a couple of other points worthy of a mention, Feazell also serves up a fleeting yet vicious moment in which one unlucky protagonist is speared through the neck, and there are also some welcome unintentional laughs to be had at the expense of prolific seventies independent horror and exploitation composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava's amusingly stereotypical soundtrack which blends the kind of rampant, sub-Deliverance level banjo twanging fans of this kind of film will no doubt be expecting with a woeful crooning country number sung by one Wayne Dee and entitled Yesterday Was a Long Time Ago which acts as a theme song of sorts for Wheeler. The Bolivian born Mendoza-Nava, a former member of the Walt Disney Studio's music department, was a busy man during this period, scoring The Legend Of Boggy Creek (1972), Bootleggers (1974), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), Grayeagle (1977), The Norseman (1978) and The Evictors (1979) for Texarkana auteur Charles B. Pierce, whilst also performing soundtrack duties on a variety of other notable horror and exploitation titles including Bernard McEveety's The Brotherhood Of Satan (1971), John Hayes' duo of Garden Of The Dead (1974) and Grave Of The Vampire (1974), Joy N. Houck Jr's Creature From Black Lake (1976), James W. Roberson's The Legend Of Alfred Packer (1980) and Michael Dugan's Mausoleum (1983) to name but a few.
So although pretty far from being anything special, for fans of hoary Southern Fried exploitation and trash cinema Psycho From Texas is, on the whole, probably just about worth going to the trouble of hunting down. While never exceptionally shocking nor memorable and book ended by a slow opening and a weak final denouement, the combination of John King III's effectively slimy portrayal of the deranged Wheeler and a solid, entertaining middle act which offers an intense chase sequence and several other choice seedy highlights is enough to keep Psycho From Texas bubbling along quite nicely for the lions share of its running length.
Unfortunately Psycho From Texas has yet to be released officially on DVD, which is a shame as being someone with a self-confessed penchant for trashy backwoods redneck shockers I would actually quite like to see this one in a decent quality presentation complete with some bonus feature's shedding some light on its rather complicated production history. In the meantime however, for those who wish to see Psycho From Texas there are several old VHS release's they can try tracking down including the old US NTSC format tape from Paragon or the Australian VHS release on the Sundowner imprint, although both appear to now be quite scarce.