Review Date: June 26, 2010
Released by: Vivendi
Release date: 5/25/2010
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
I’m sure one day Harvard or some other institute of higher learning will do a study on the relationship between the cover art for direct to video movies and the quality of the movies themselves. I have a hunch they will find that an inverse relationship exists between the two: the more lurid the covers, the crappier the movies. I submit for their study what I label as exhibit A: Hard Ride to Hell
. Its cover: an upside down, Day-Glo tinted rip off of Drag Me To Hell
. Its quality: non-existent.
Jesus, do I really have to provide a plot summary for this pile? It doesn’t even have a plot in the traditional sense of the word, where events follow in some sort of semblance of logical progression. Hard Ride to Hell
is made up entirely of climaxes and clunky exposition, none of which have anything to do with each other.
I’ll give it a go, though…
In an undated prologue, ostensibly set in Mexico but filmed in British Columbia, we are introduced to Jefé (Miguel Ferrer
) or Black Sombrero, depending on whether you’re referencing the film’s opening or closing credits (seriously, the movie can’t even decide on the name of its main villain). Jefé is the leader of the Los Desolations. You know that’s their name because it’s spray painted on the back of their dusters. Yes, spray painted, in the old west. A former student of Alistair Crowley, though the movie won’t clue you in on this for nearly an hour, Jefé and his posse of bandits are now flesh eating immortals. He’s looking for a woman to bear his heir. We’re also introduced to a magic amulet that will completely drop out of the picture until the last ten minutes or so when it can act as a deus ex machina.
Flash-forward to the present, I guess, and an uninteresting group of young adults driving an RV on their way to volunteer building homes for Habitat for Humanity. This factor alone is supposed to gain them our sympathy since we learn almost nothing else about these people. Married couple Danny (Brendan Penny) and Tessa (Laura Mennell
) recently had a miscarriage that has left her unable to conceive. Dirk (Brandon Jay McLaren
) is a journalist doing a piece on Habitat for Humanity and Kerry (Katherine Isabelle
) is his girlfriend. Jason (Sebastian Gacki
) is the sappy, salmon shirt wearing, fifth wheel douche bag, so you just know he’s going to die almost immediately. That’s about as far as the characterization goes.
They stop at a campsite because, after her miscarriage an unspecified amount of time ago and the resultant plague of bad dreams, Tessa needs to rest. Guess she’s not going to be swinging a hammer too much when they get to the volunteer site. There they meet Bob Weaver (Brent Stait
), an ex-special forces soldier turned traveling knife salesman. Bob’s actually the first sign of life in the entire movie although his introduction is completely botched; he’s set up to be a red herring threat but since we’ve already been introduced to the movie’s villain in the very obviously tacked on prologue the law of economy dictates that he will save the group at some point in the movie. Anyways, Bob takes off as night falls, which makes as much sense as anything else in this movie, and the group sets up an extremely elaborate campsite for one night’s stay and the proceed to get drunk.
This leads to Dirk straying into the woods to take a piss and stumbling on Jefé and his minions, now a biker gang, performing a ceremony with some nubile, and extremely naked, women. Now it’s it fair to say that Dirk doesn’t know the exact nature of the ritual but even someone as drunk as he is could surmise that it was bad news for the women. Dirk pulls out his cell phone, though not to call for help, but to take pictures of the naked, captive females. It isn’t until Jefé and his crew start feasting on the flesh of the women that Dirk gets wise, though an ill-timed call on his walkie-talkie gives away his position and he is chased and winds up leading the bikers back to the camp. Jason is killed, Dirk gets his arm chopped off, Kerry cowers under the RV to avoid getting caught and all the rest are taken back to the biker’s ceremony grounds.
This leads to a long section where Danny is tortured, Tessa is extorted into consenting to bear Jefé’s child, Bob the knife salesman returns to save Kerry from being raped and they both mount a rescue of the others, and the survivors are chased to a ghost town where the finale is set. There are some low-grade stunts, an unimpressive showdown in a church and an ending so anticlimactic that if I were to describe it here you’d think I was flat out lying to you.
Hard Ride to Hell
is, shockingly, even more ridiculous than my summary would imply. I’ve shifted events around to try and hammer out some kind of chronology that makes a marginal amount of sense. There’s absolutely no structure to the film – it’s like the script was written during a single story conference where no idea was rejected. Hard Ride to Hell
is stupefying awful; it’s a film that seems like it was made up from whole cloth while it was being filmed.
I was hoping that a female director (Penelope Buitenhuis
) would bring a little bit more to a film like this; a sensitivity or depth of character not usually found. Horror is often accused of marginalizing the female gender both in front of and behind the camera. It’s films like this that give fuel to those who would claim that female directors can’t make good horror films. The real problem here is not that she doesn’t elevate the film in any way but that she doesn’t even bring the basic directorial toolset to the table. Employing locked off cameras, amateurish fight chorography and a general lack of understanding of pacing and visual storytelling, Buitenhuis can’t even manage to evoke the enthusiastic crappiness of the grindhouse and drive-in flicks of the 60’s and 70’s that Hard Ride is so desperately trying (and failing) to emulate.
As terrible as Hard Ride to Hell
is, to its credit, a couple of good things start to happen about halfway through the movie. Firstly, the character Dirk is dispatched. Dirk is meant to be the wisecracking comic relief but his jokes are painfully unfunny. Once he leaves the picture, a neat dynamic starts to form between Bob and Kerry. Neither character is well written in the least but both actors bring more to their performances than the film really deserves and wind up being the bright spots of any scene they’re in. Katherine Isabelle, probably realizing that she’s being utterly wasted, starts to go over the top near the end, waving her hands and delivering unintelligible dialogue with gusto. Brent Stait, on the other hand, has the same kind of stoic presence that Robert Patrick brought to his most famous role as the T-1000. They make a great duo in the few scenes they have together. I wish the filmmakers had recognized and capitalized on this chemistry. If they had been smart they would have done away with all the other “heroic” characters by the halfway point and made the second half starring Bob as the ass-kicking straight man with Kerry as his high strung, comic side kick. That would be a movie I’d enjoy watching. Also, Katherine Isabelle is really, really hot and anything that gives her more screen time is the Duke of New York, A#1 in my books.
Miguel Ferrer, the obligatory above the line talent relegated to a supporting role, gains and loses nothing from a z-grade flick like this. He doesn’t bend over backwards to bring more to the role than it requires, but the character is so slip shoddily patched together that no actor really good. What he does bring, however, is a sense of quiet menace that’s surprisingly effective. Given his almost universally good supporting work in other, better movies, I would have liked to have seen him in a movie that had a clearer vision of the character. Given what he had to work with, though, he does better than most actors probably could have.
The video quality is head and shoulders above that of the feature, though still nothing to write home about. Thing start out fairly rocky with the desert prologue: fine detail is lacking in the scrub and dirt, and the red of the title card and opening credits show a bit of bleeding. It doesn’t help that the image is intentionally aged, giving the whole section an ugly, washed out look. Things improve a bit once the setting moves to modern times. The sunset vistas are nicely rendered and flesh tones and fine detail are generally good. In some of the darker scenes, however, there’s some instability in the color white. In the scene where Dirk finds the snake, his shirt goes from pure white to an ugly nicotine stain color to an almost greenish tinge in the same shot. Overall the video is pretty spotty but acceptable, even if just barely.
This is another direct to video feature that includes an English 5.1 track, but could have just as easily included a stereo track without any audible difference. The surrounds, on the rare occasions they’re employed, are used for ambient score only. Dialogue can be tough to discern and at times I found myself using the virtual surround feature on my receiver just so I could understand the movie. There’s a surprising amount of low end bass, but it’s all just random muddy noise that’s unrelated to score, dialogue or sound effects.
Absolutely none, whatsoever.
Its origin as a Spike TV original movie really explains a lot. This isn’t a movie that was made with the intent to engage the viewer. It was made to fill out the programming schedule at 3:00 am when the audience is either too tired or too drunk to care about anything beyond the fact that there’s noise and motion emanating from the television. It’s cynical filmmaking of highest order bereft of story, characters, wit, imagination or a genuine will to entertain.
Movie - D-
Image Quality - C*
Sound - D+
Supplements - F
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1