Reading the synopsis on the back of the dvd case for Hard Ride to Hell, I was immediately struck by its similarity to the 1975 film Race With The Devil. A group of vacationers in an RV accidentally witness a satanic ritual out in the boonies and, after inevitably being spotted doing so, are set upon by the Satanists and must fight for their lives in a cross-country chase. As it turns out, the similarities are pretty much all cosmetic.
Hard Ride to Hell, after a brief prologue featuring some sinister cowboys and a pregnant, flesh-chomping madwoman, moves to the present where we are introduced to our heroes. Here is where the similarities to Race With The Devil begin to crumble. The group is indeed traveling in an RV but, for starters, instead of Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, we are stuck with guys in frat-boy haircuts who call each other “dude”. There are also two women and a black guy. The male cast members are, through most of the film, stiff and unconvincing, but the women are fairly strong. One of them, Katherine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps, actually brings some life into the picture when she’s onscreen. The only other standout in the cast is the guy who gets his name above the title, Miguel Ferrer. Even though he’s phoning it in on this one, he is still a treat to watch as the leader of the bad guys.
After a brief introduction to the characters, they settle in at an abandoned campground for the night and soon run afoul of the same sinister cowboys from the prologue. They are now sinister bikers (and, it being seventy years later, presumably sinister undead bikers) and their satanic ritual involves munching on naked women.
This is where the movie really strikes out. The intention was clearly to take the formula and give it a modern, extreme twist, tricking it out for new audiences. At the same time the film hedges its bets. By throwing in satanic bikers and a weird, awkwardly acted character whose purpose is unclear except to provide an excuse for some ass-kicking hand-to-hand action, the film-makers are clearly trying for a campy B-movie vibe. However, this strategy fails because the film can’t maintain the atmosphere of goofy fun needed for that kind of movie. And, let’s face it, that whole strategy is cynical and becoming far too common in the horror genre.
Race With The Devil worked because it created a sense of dread that built as the film went on. That combined with a Who Goes There style paranoia gave it suspense punctuated with crackling action scenes. Since Hard Ride to Hell is attempting to be new and hip and ‘extreme’, and maybe, just maybe, because the film-makers don’t have the skill to pull off such trifles as suspense, before the highway chase scenes can begin, the young cast must therefore be captured, tortured, and mutilated for awhile. Because.
As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of gore here, though it amounts mostly to blood and the occasional arterial spray. As for the special effects, they would have been at home in an 80s horror movie, though for the most part, the movie is well-shot. Even though many of the scenes take place at night, the lighting is good and I was able to follow the action with no confusion.
Eventually the whole thing comes down to a From Dusk ‘Til Dawn style battle in an old church, but not before screeching to a halt for some clumsy (and unnecessary) exposition. The donnybrook eventually ends, a little Rosemary’s Baby is tossed in and the movie finishes with an unsatisfying open ending.
Hard Ride to Hell is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. It’s a very clean print and looks quite good, with vivid colours and clear, sharp images. Skin tones and other colours come across very naturally, except in the prologues scene where they are a bit washed out to give it a flashbacky look. Dark scenes have nice depth and contrast, never becoming muddy.
The dvd comes with a single English 5.1 track. It is fairly clear and well-balanced, though the dialogue sometimes comes across a bit slushy. Not much going on with the surround channels, though they are used to decent effect in some of the action scenes.
Automatic Trailers: Phantom Racer, Backwoods
Here’s a question that will tell you if you are the right audience for Hard Ride to Hell. One question, yes or no answer: Do you think that the movie Rosemary’s Baby would be improved if, at the end, before her baby is born, Rosemary was forced to watch her husband and friends get butchered by the creepy old devil-worshippers? If you say ‘yes’, then this movie is for you. If you say ‘no’, then you’d best take a pass on this one.