Purgatory County

(Crime comedy-drama)

South By Southwest Film Festival 1997–The anti-hero characters in Purgatory County, a shaggy dog tale about the “dark side” of a small Texan town, are influenced by TV and pop culture, but they're outdone their writer-director Ratliff, whose source of inspiration is the Coen brothers' iconoclastic Blood Simple, with a touch of Psycho thrown into the tedious mix.

First feature by regional filmmaker George Ratliff, who earlier had made the idiosyncratic documentary Plutonium Circus (about Amarillo's Pantex nuclear plant), is strictly a festival fare, with dim theatrical prospects outside his Austin homebase.

A rather lam effort to provide a supposedly fresh take on the Western, crime, and small-town genres, central protagonist is Duane (Trent Turner), the town's monkey boy, who wins an upset election for county sheriff. In a Macbeth-like plot of self-fulfilling prophecy, Duane is driven by greed and desire for Liz (Sallie Guy), the conniving wife of his drifter and only slightly brighter brother, Perkins (Terrance Rogan).

When the emotionally unstable Perkins returns home, he is shocked to realize his wife's adultery and upset to find out that in his absence his much beloved ranch had been transformed into an ill-fated emu farm. Worse yet, Perkins has to accept the humiliating fact that his dead mother had left him nothing but half of the family's gun collection.

The white-trash ambiance is well established by Ratliff, but most of the characters are too dumb and derivative to be genuinely engaging. Hence, paying tribute to Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece, one brother is named Perkins, in honor of Anthony Perkins, and in another homage to Psycho, big Momma (Patt Vee) is a nasty, chain-smoking, bed-ridden monster, who domineers Duane with constant demands for service.

Occasionally, Ratliff's dialogue manifests a healthy satirical edge, but his direction is for the most part clunky, erratic, and lethargic. Story is just as self-conscious and movieish as Blood Simple, but it lacks the Coens' cool and acumen. With one or two exceptions, the actors deliver their lines in an archly artificial manner, unmatched by parallel stylization in the filmmaking, which accentuates the slender nature of the material. After a while, the overall shaggy tone of this low-budgeter becomes off-putting.

A Wildcater production. Produced by Mark Miks. Executive producers, Keevin Clark and Jeffery Keith. Directed, written and edited by George Ratliff. Camera (Eastman, color), Phil Curry; music, Mike Mariconda; production design, Joe Herlocker; associate producer, Mara Levy; line producer, Marina Burini; assistant director, Steve Sheinkin; casting, Barbara Scallions.

Running time: 100 min.

Perkins….Terrance Rogan
Duane……..Trent Turner
Liz…………Sallie Guy
Momma…………Patt Vee
Lucky…………Don Cass
Jones……….Fred Ellis