Legend of Hillbilly John (1974 film)
"Who fears the devil? Mountain folk swear it's true!" Based on Manly Wade Wellman's Lovecraft-inspired "John the Balladeer" stories set in the mountains of North Carolina, following the adventurers of "hillbilly" John as he travels the mountains with his silver-strung guitar, singing folk songs and dealing with a variety of troubles ranging from greedy city folk, to the undead, witches, the devil, and the ol' Ugly Bird itself.
- Release Date: 1972
- Country/Language: USA, English
- Genres/Technical: Fantasy, Drama
- Setting: 1960s or 1970s North Carolina (Folk Mythos)
- Runtime: 1 hr 30 min
- Starring: Severn Darden, Hedges Capers, Sharon Henesy
- Director: John Newland
- Writer: Melvin Levy, based on the stories by Manly Wade Wellman
- Producer/Production Co: Two's Company
- View Trailer: (link)
- View Film: (link)
- TVTropes: (link)
- IMDB Page: (link)
- Rated: G (mild Violence, Profanity, and Adult Content)
Rated a 1970s "G", but contains some very mild Violence, Profanity, and Adult Content, - almost innocent by 1970s standards and almost certainly nothing that would bother the average young horror fan.
A rough measure of how "Lovecraftian" the work is:
- SSS__ (Three Tentacles: Lovecraftian, was probably written by Lovecraft himself.)
Based on Manly Wade Wellman's "Silver John" or "John the Balladeer" stories (the film's plot incorporates two loosely-adapted stories: "The Desrick on Yandro (fiction)" and "O Ugly Bird (fiction)"), about a backwoods, folk-singing occult detective who wanders the mountains of North Carolina with a guitar strung with silver, combating the forces of darkness, chaos, witchcraft, and the devil.
Note: This rating is not intended as a measure of quality, merely of how closely related to Lovecraftian "Weird" fiction the work is.
- Y.Whateley: "I had no idea this movie even existed! It's pretty darned goofy, but I rather enjoyed it anyway. The movie has been tragically over-looked over the years, and the original stories even more so. Like most Lovecraft adaptations of especially the 1970s, this movie is kind of hit or miss (mostly miss on the atmosphere) in its adaptation of the short stories, kind of meanders aimlessly here and there due to the filmmakers' lack of focus, and I can't help thinking the original stories would be better-served by HPLHS adaptations staying a little truer to the spirit of the original stories, but it still think this movie works OK as a weird, low-budget 1970s oddity."
- Anon. at The Bad Movie Report (link) - "Now, this here is what we refer to as a tough call. In a lot of ways, it's neither fish nor fowl; it can't really be judged by the same criteria applied to the rest of the films on this site, and yet, it has to be, since in the final analysis it's a low-budget fantasy film... As I said before, you can't judge The Legend of Hillbilly John as you would standard drive-in or B-movie fare - it's that rarity, a sorta thoughtful film. In true 1972 style, it wears it's politics painfully on its sleeve a time or two... The major problem we have here is budget, pure and simple. ... Can I recommend The Legend of Hillbilly John? No, not really. Certainly not for casual viewing. Though far from being a terrible film, it stands mainly as a testament to Good Intentions, High Aspirations, and Hope. It is the sort of film that is more enjoyable in the having seen than actually seeing...."
- John Arhan at the Pulsing Cinema Youtube channel (Video Review)(link)
- Scott Ashlin at 1000 Misspent Hours, (link) - 2.5/5 "The Legend of Hillbilly John doesn't really capture the power or unique sensibility of Manly Wade Wellman's writing, but it's worth a look as one of the film industry's stranger attempts to woo the hippy counterculture.... An exceedingly smart movie, unfortunately, it's also a muddled and disorganized one, without much focus and with only the vaguest through-line. Beyond that, it's likely to annoy fans of the source material, because the film's [hippie] John is very different from Manly Wade Wellman's.... That said, if you can approach it not as a Silver John movie, but rather as a bunch of weird stuff that happens to this kid from Appalachia, it makes for fairly rewarding viewing.... Although I wanted considerably more from a John the Balladeer movie than The Legend of Hillbilly John delivers, I'm also pleased that I finally caught up with this one."
- Dan Budnik at Bleeding Skull (link) - "The Legend of Hillbilly John felt a lot like a made-for-TV film from the 1970s. ... It looks like a TV movie from that time period. And, it’s pretty G-rated. I love made-for-TV films from the 70s so I enjoyed most of this. It’s a bit slow moving at the start as the film gradually sets up the mythos around John. In fact, there’s a lot of set up. To the point where this felt less like a standalone movie, then the 90-minute pilot for a show that never went to series. ... The Legend of Hillbilly John is definitely worth a watch. The actors are good. The locations are excellent. The stop motion bird is fun. The songs I will leave to your personal preference. If the second half had been structured better, I think this would be a super obvious thumbs up. ... This is a good movie. I can close my eyes and see a better one."
- Dave Sindelar at Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings (link) - This unusual and interesting fantasy is based on stories by Manly Wade Wellman, and to some extent, the movie feels a bit like an anthology with the same basic setting and several repeating characters. ... I just wish it was better; the movie is quite confusing at times, especially in the early scenes... If anything, it makes me want to seek out the Wellman stories and check them out myself; I sense a really great movie could be made from them, and could succeed where this one (a noble effort nonetheless) falls short."
Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)
Based on Manly Wade Wellman's Lovecraft-inspired "John the Balladeer" stories set in the mountains of North Carolina, following the adventurers of "hillbilly" John as he travels the mountains with his silver-strung guitar, singing folk songs and dealing with a variety of troubles ranging from greedy city folk, to the undead, witches, the devil, and the ol' Ugly Bird itself. The movie begins with John tarrying a bit too long with his girlfriend, and getting home too late to stop his grandpappy from accepting a duel with the devil, under the mistaken impression that the shiny new Kennedy half-dollars he'd melted down into guitar strings for just this purpose didn't contain any silver at all, resulting in tragedy. To stop the Devil's evil from running rampant over the mountainside, John escorts a greedy and worldly city man to his destiny in search of gold guarded by the ghost of a witch in the haunted "desrick" (shack) on the Yandro mountain. Then, he saves the valley from the ravages of the Ugly Bird and its strip-mining warlock master, travels through time to help the mysterious Anansi to protect African-American workers share-croppers from being cheated by their Voodoo witch-doctor boss, and faces the Devil himself in a duel with a guitar strung with proper silver obtained from genuine Spanish pieces-of-eight.
Comments, Trivia, Dedication
- The film's setting era is never explicitly stated, but is assumed to be the mid-20th Century; a plot point hangs on a character not yet discovering the fact that the United States stopped minting coins - specifically, Kennedy half-dollars - from pure silver for general circulation in 1970 (and the purity of silver coins had dropped from 90% pure silver to 40% between 1964 and 1970), so the setting can probably be assumed to be the 1970s.
Associated Mythos Elements
- fiction: Manly Wade Wellman's "The Desrick on Yandro (fiction)" and "O Ugly Bird (fiction)
- deity: wizard characters are named after Marduk, Asmodeus, and Anansi
- tome: Long-Lost Friend and Egyptian Secrets
- race: Witches
- race: Demons
- race: Ugly Bird