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.
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