Hans Crippleton: Talk to the Hans opens with an introduction by Barnaby Hunt (Andy Hankins) to Horror Hunts, Hunt's macabre-flavored show devoted to getting to know popular figures and personalities in the horror community. Think of it as VH1's Behind the Music, but for freak-show exhibits and haunted-house employees. Titular Hans Crippleton (Kevon Ward) and his inbred hillbilly family are the subjects of this installment, delving into the zombie curse has plagued the Crippletons, how "One Legged Sis" (Katie Bevard) earned her name/handicap, cousin Bumpkin's (Heath C. Heine) skill at making varieties of moonshine, and their Doctor's (Ryan Manley-Rohrer) ethically misguided experiments. The movie also goes behind its own scenes, detailing Hans's struggle with fame and celebrity and keeping an agent despite his own relative cognitive clumsiness and social ineptitude.
The first 15 minutes or so establishes some of the characters, but doesn't really introduce anything resembling a plot. A half hour in, I still felt like it wasn't going anywhere. There was no real story arc or character development. Just a bunch of...stuff...happening. I started wondering what they could possibly do to fill the 70 minutes yet to come. But on I watched, cringingly curious to see what obvious politically incorrect joke (zingers about right-wingers), horror movie meta-reference (the typecast vacationing college kids stranded in the boonies), or redneck stereotype (morbidly obese matriarch, bestiality, severe lack of education) they'd lampoon next. Nothing seemed particularly smart or clever about what I was seeing, just obvious and probably a bit offensive to certain demographics.
Then it hit me -- the reality-TV format was mocking shows about the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty's Roberstons, and Paris Hilton all mashed into one, skewered for their worthless content and vapid personas, people who exemplify this confounding trend of being famous solely because they're famous. Here they are being jabbed and lambasted, and all the reality-show presentation and cliches were being trampled on right before my eyes. In that moment, it became beautiful, because I can't express how much I loathe those kinds of shows. I realized I was the core demographic for this movie, and yet they imitated everything terrible about the source material so well that I found myself struggling to enjoy the charade.
Hans bothered me in another way, but I couldn't quite figure it out until well after the flick was over. It was the same kind of confused frustration I felt when I saw Napoleon Dynamite the first time. I initially didn't care for that movie because I kept expecting a voice of reason to walk on-screen and ask what the hell was wrong with all these people. Once I finished the film and accepted that it contained no one I could relate to, it became clear how much they did to get into the mindset of their characters, and now I'll watch it pretty much any time I catch it on TV now and have the DVD on my shelf. I expect repeat viewings of Hans to go similarly.
About an hour in, It's still pretty loose on plot, and I kept dismissing the characters as awkwardly painful stereotypes. I started thumbing through press materials and found a group drawing of every character in the movie. I recognized every one of them, and days later could still tell you something memorable about each one of them and why they stood out in the story. That doesn't happen by accident, and it doesn't happen in genuinely bad flicks. You have to be bad on purpose to make characters who are memorable in annoying, uncomfortable ways. This is what the Crippletons are all about.
The making-of scenes I dug up on YouTube let me see the real people behind the characters, and in particular the significant effort that went into the prosthetics and makeup effects on a modest $5000 budget. Whatever Hans might lack in story depth, it makes up for here. Mama Crippleton's (Irene Leonard) full body suit in particular was outstandingly grotesque. There are still some cheesy blood spatter effects, and a corny puppet or two that everyone treats like a real, normal...thing, be it livestock or the a reanimated head attached to an arm hopping about. Seeing the real people behind the characters made me appreciate the time and effort they put into crafting that family of degenerates even more.
I've seen some terrible movies in my life -- the horror genre is replete with them. It's an uncanny film that manages to appear terrible and pointless on the surface, but simultaneously shines a light on how awful and worthless a large segment of the American television market has become. The clincher would have been if the Horror Hunts meta-show were airing on some made-up equivalent to The Learning Channel, to stick with the send-up of channel drift/network decay -- slip it right between Gypsy Sisters and Best Funeral Ever and no one would think twice about it. A decade or two from now, Hans will bring into glaring relief just how difficult it was for intelligent people to tolerate television of this era. That is, if we aren't living out Idiocracy by then.