I've recently made a very startling discovery, dear readers: Modern-day biker movies tend to suck the dirt-encrusted toe hair off the devil's misshapen kneecaps. The seed of doubt was planted deep within the confines of my highly skeptical mind after enduring the insufferable baby boomer fantasy known as "Hell Ride" early last year. Larry Bishop might be one hell of a nice guy, but watching him play out his perverted biker fantasies with girls half his age without puking on my cat was an almost impossible mission. Were it not for Bishop's aging libido, the film might have been a halfway decent action/thriller. Alas, when the filmmaker's crotch is writing the script, the audience will inevitably suffer.
Regardless of my past experiences with the subgenre, I was willing to give writer/director Penelope Buitenhuis' demonic biker flick "Hard Ride to Hell" a fair and entirely unbiased day in court. Despite these good intentions, I was unable to experience even the slightest hint of cinematic satisfaction at any point during the feature. Then again, I'm not entirely sure what I expected from a cheap, direct-to-video knock-off of Jack Starrett's 1975 cult classic "Race with the Devil" to begin with. Not even the presence of Miguel Ferrer could temper my complete and utter dislike for this impossibly daunting snoozefest. Hard to believe, I know.
I must admit, however, that Buitenhuis tries her hardest to deliver the goods, though her methods are little dated and, ultimately, completely ineffective. Sure, the preponderance of black magic, mystical amulets, and broken bottle C-sections are certainly a great place to start if you want to unnerve the masses, but knowing how to properly implement these elements is crucial. Outside of the extremely promising opening sequence -- the laughing chick towards the end of the segment actually gave me nightmares -- all of this kooky stuff just seems silly, not to mention highly convoluted. Demonic bikers powered by supernatural forces aren’t frightening if they spout inane, Renaissance Fair-inspired dialogue, especially when the actors are clearly having difficulty delivering this nonsense with a straight face.
To their credit, the cast isn't given much to work with. Buitenhuis’ script -- an undesirable mash-up of satanic horror, faux-witty dialogue, and wafer-thin characters -- isn’t exactly well-written, nor is it overflowing with inventive ideas and original concepts. Watching a group of empty-headed Habitat for Humanity volunteers battling the forces of evil is about as exciting as it sounds; there’s never a point when they seem to have the upper hand, that is, until a former soldier-turned-traveling knife salesman joins the fray. The good guys are weak, helpless, and wholly uninteresting, which makes you care very little for their overall well-being. In fact, watching the mouthy journalist lose an arm is the film’s only highlight. I'm not kidding.
Perhaps the most baffling question that plagued me during my late-night screening of “Hard Ride to Hell” was how, exactly, veteran actor Miguel Ferrer ended up in something so dull and unimaginative. The guy’s practically asleep during the entire feature, even when the script calls for him to do something that requires a bit of energy on his part. He's particularly lethargic during the film's ill-conceived flashback sequences; his eyes are barely open, his voice distant and hollow. Perhaps this was how he intended to portray Jefe, though, if you ask me, he was doing someone a favor. I hope the paycheck was hefty.
Here's an idea: Instead of watching a lame knock-off of "Race with the Devil", you should probably just watch "Race with the Devil". The acting is stronger, the plot is a bit more focused, the suspense is thick and creamy -- it's just a better movie, plain and simple. And while I appreciate what Penelope Buitenhuis was attempting to accomplish with this dodgy little production, but her inability to generate any sort of thrills, coupled with the cringe-worthy dialogue and the watered-down performances, effectively ruins any potential the story may have had. "Hard Ride to Hell" is a sorry substitute for the real thing, and suggests that contemporary filmmakers should probably leave the genre alone. Robert Rodriguez, you're our only hope.