As I write this, I'm attending a convention in Everett called Crypticon, which (as you may be able to guess) is centered on horror movies. I saw two movies here (neither of which I'm going to name) that were hampered by their garage-band execution, but one of them was actually kind of fun because it dared to embrace its own schlockiness. Hard Ride to Hell is not a great or startlingly original movie, but it has modest goals and sets out with the intent to exceed them, which it accomplishes with a surprising amount of ease.
After a promising Spanish prologue, we meet Kerry (Laura Mennell) and Danny (Brendan Penny), who are going on a camping trip with Danny's brother Jason (Sebastian Gacki) and their friends Dirk (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Kerry (Katharine Isabelle), with the goal of getting their minds off Kerry's recent miscarriage. At the campsite following a brief encounter with a traveling knife salesman named Bob (Brent Stait), Dirk stumbles off into the woods looking for a place to do his business and instead finds Jefe (Miguel Ferrer) and his gang of (literally) bloodthirsty bikers performing a Satanic sacrifice ritual.
There's some rocky dialogue at the beginning (particularly Dirk's awful "jokes"), but after Ferrer and Stait show up, the movie's pretty pedal-to-the-metal, skimming over the details and giving us pure action. In particular, Bob is a great, ass-kicking character. Not only is he believable as a person rather than a caricature, but he acts with intelligence, even when Kerry's frantic radioing for help doesn't reach him (no gut instincts here: Bob actually puts things together in his mind and makes a decision). That one little element makes all the difference in the world: instead of sitting there groaning at the screen and wishing the movie would hurry up and end, I was engaged because the battle between Jefe and the band of innocent people was even-handed.
Director Penelope Buitenhuis also knows her limitations when it comes to the scope of her picture. There are a few digital effects, but she keeps any element she can't afford to a minimum, delivering plenty of spurting blood and the occasional flash of nudity rather than trying to become the next Steven Spielberg. There's also clearly some appeal to her in the movie's central threat, which involves Jefe using black magic to impregnate a willing victim with the Antichrist, but she never lets the subtext overwhelm the fact that this is a movie about a cannibalistic, undead biker gang.
The film lost me in the last five minutes (I can't remember the last modern horror movie I watched that I thought had a great ending), but it's okay. Hard Ride to Hell is still an impressively effective, small-scale effort that will hopefully lead to better things from its cast and crew. Hours before watching it, I was talking to a friend about the two mediocre movies I'd already seen at the con, and she replied that sifting through the crud for the diamonds in the rough -- or even fool's gold in the rough -- was a necessary part of being a horror fan, and sure enough, here's one of those movies. It's weird to imply that other movies are wrong for being overly ambitious, but I think it's true. Here's one that's exactly ambitious enough.
A bloody, screaming, upside-down face graces the cover for Hard Ride to Hell. Attention-grabbing, I guess, although it's not totally clear whether this extremely long-necked girl is clutching her own face in fear while being tipped into the fire, the hands belong to some other person who is pushing the girl into the fire, or the girl's disembodied head is being lowered into the fire. It's also weird that the back cover and disc feature an image of three bikers driving over a black magic symbol on the ground, which seems like a much more obvious choice. The disc is an ECO-BOX, there's no insert, and the thing is slid into a slipcover with identical artwork.
The Video and Audio
Hard Ride to Hell is presented in a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looked fine on the television I watched it on (worth noting that this is not the set I usually watch movies on). Fine detail may have been a little fuzzy, but the colors were vivid and the disc appeared to have more than enough control over the black levels and contrast, which is key since most of the movie takes place at night. Dolby Digital 5.1 sounded just fine too, although it was interesting that I noticed the opposite use of the surrounds I usually do: effects taking advantage of all features, and the film's sparse music failing to activate the sides.
None. Trailers for Phantom Racer and Backwoods play before the main menu.
I can't quite give the overall disc a recommended rating, because a) the standards of horror fans vary wildly, b) the movie's far from perfect, and c) the disc has no extras, but if you read the synopsis (or are a fan of Miguel Ferrer) and think it's worth a spin, I suggest giving the movie a rental.
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