The Hatfield-McCoy feud lasted years, so depicting the notorious 19th-century skirmish has its challenges. The History channel's recent hit miniseries Hatfields & McCoys lasted six hours. Coming on the heels of that television blockbuster is the direct-to-DVD Hatfields & McCoys: Bad Blood, which takes less than 90 minutes.
Directed and written by B-horror movie director Fred Olen Ray, the low-budget film treads much the same ground as the TV series, but instead of A-listers Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, we have Jeff Fahey (pilot Frank Lapidus from Lost) as Devil Anse Hatfield of West Virginia and Perry King (Riptide) as Randolph McCoy of Eastern Kentucky.
In general, the film, which arrived in DVD on Tuesday, is plodding and focuses too much on the internal aspects of the feud.
It also traffics in some backwoods tropes that quickly grow tired. Anse Hatfield, who limps, often talks about his bum leg. His bumpkin-y explanation: "A hog laid up on my leg and damn near killed me." In many scenes, there's the sound of clucking chickens, always a signal to viewers that you ain't in the city no more.
Throughout, Bad Blood suffers from a chronic problem in depictions of the state: The accent is all wrong. A Kentucky accent is hard to nail, and few have done it justice (Holly Hunter in Harlan County War comes to mind). But it is neither Deep South drawl nor the lazy, flattened enunciation that most of the actors here use.
Then there's the actual history. Having taken place in the remote Appalachian back country, the Hatfield-McCoy feud was not well documented; some dramatic license is necessary. But some parts are on the books. Christian Slater, evidently in need of work, plays Kentucky Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette in Bad Blood. It's true that Bramlette was governor when the feud began. But this film depicts him as being instrumental in trying to quell the fight. In reality, Bramlette's tie is murky. He was governor only until 1867, two years after the feud's first death, and he was dead by 1875, when the feud was escalating.
That said, the movie has its merits. Most notably, the scenery is authentic. The History miniseries was filmed in Romania, but Bad Blood was shot outside Louisville.
Priscilla Barnes does a nice job as matriarch Levicy Hatfield. Playing a woman who has lost her children, Barnes brings pathos even to lines like "He dead."
Hatfields & McCoys: Bad Blood retails for $26.98.