WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS BODYCOUNT. HIGH RISK OF SPOILERS. ENTER IF YOU DARE.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Death By Rusty Nail: Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (2008) and Joyride 3: Roadkill (2014) Double Bill Review

Back all the way in the late 90s and early 2000s, teen horror seems to be expanding from cheap slasher flicks and made it as far as influencing werewolf movies (Ginger Snaps), scifi (The Faculty) and even found footage horror. (The Blair Witch Project) So it wasn't too long before we get teen psychological thrillers and I do recall a good amount of them from my childhood such as Fear (1996), The Skulls (2000) and, the film that started today's covers, Joy Ride (2001).

Now despite its video and cable-based cult fave status, I only find Joy Ride as an "okay" thriller, obviously influenced by better films such as Spielberg's Duel (1971) and Robert Harmon's The Hitcher (1986) but hardly doing much for its own other than making the creep, a demented trucker named Rusty Nail, invisible save for his cool voice ala CB radio and rely less on actual bloodletting with a more focused direction on tension. It's clever on a level and I dig Rusty as a presence and concept, not enough for both to win me over as a fan but enough to at least recognize the movie's existence.

This being said, I have been following this strange series out of curiosity and I have to say, it is speaking to me quite differently per entry.

Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (US/Canada, 2008)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Nicki Aycox, Nick Zano, Laura Jordan

While still holding on to its psychological roots, Dead Ahead is a Direct to Video follow-up that tries to do things differently: unlike the first Joy Ride wherein Rusty Nail was mostly a disembodied voice and only revealed in the flesh during a few scenes at the climax, this sequel decided to give Rusty a more hands-on approach to some of his terrorizing, all the while still playing the mind games he is known for.

For this entry, some young adults were driving to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, only to get themselves lost and walking on foot after their car breaks down in the middle of a desert. On their travel, they find a seemingly abandoned house with an unusually unspoiled Chevy Chevelle parked inside, which they decide to "borrow" from the owner in hopes of driving it out to town and get some help.

Unfortunately for them, the owner of the house is none other than our killer trucker, Rusty Nail (Mark Gibbon), and he is obviously pissed that somebody just stole his ride. (Why not? It's a friggin' Chevy Chevelle!) In his typical fashion, Rusty somehow finds the kids and kidnaps one of them, using the boy as the bait and prize for a series of sadistic games he will be playing with the rest.

For a good run, Dead Ahead sticks as closely to the tone of the original as possible, delivering a good sense of suspense and dread as the group was soon forced to do extreme measures to get their friend back including severing a stranger's finger and walking across a group of drugged-up and possibly homophobic truckers, cross-dressed.

However, as fun as these tests and games are, it is noticeable that the spirit of the original was waiving away for the other added elements, mainly a stronger emphasis on our anti-villain as well as an actual bodycount and some torture scenes, more made obvious with the victims here being more akin to your stereotyped slasher meat and hardly doing much to develop themselves as characters despite the series of mind games they're put through. In fact, the cast have this cheesy B-flick feel to them, which in turn leads to a cheaper (if not completely absent) atmosphere that itself struggling to work seeing there's no actual mystery on who is on the other side of the CB radio, logic was barely being considered (Mr. Nail survives an impossible explosion) and the killings are too over-the-top. (Death by razor wallet chain, anyone?)

Strangely, I don't mind this as much as the next cult fan does, considering the fact that I am used to the cheese and gory kill count. There is no hiding that Dead Ahead is a step down in almost every aspect compared to the original, but it didn't stop its producers to do the best they can to catch up with then's resurgence of gore films. In turn, I admire some of the effort; as mentioned, the tricky mind games are still present and may just be as workable as the ones from the first, and the added bonus of slasher-esque murders, though looking a tad weird at times, is a welcome element for my book.

Not the definitive example of a great thriller/slasher hybrid, but a fair one nonetheless.

Bodycount:
1 female gets her head caught on a truck window, decapitated against a trailer
1 male had his jaw sliced off with a razor wallet chain
1 female ran over with a truck
1 male impaled through the head with a metal rod
Total: 4

Joy ride 3: Roadkill (2014)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Ken Kirzinger, Jesse Hutch, Benjamin Hollingsworth

And continuing this franchise further into the slasher melting pot is this 2014 entry, Joy Ride 3: Roadkill. Now, this is where I believe the big wigs behind Fox Home Entertainment just threw their arms in the air and said "Fuck it!" as the plot seems hardly attempting anything at this point. Save, of course, a generous slice of gory killings.

Rusty Nail is back once again (now played by Freddy vs Jason's Ken Kirzinger coz why not?) and, for this run, young and rowdy racers will be feeling his wrath when they decided to play a little joke on him while on their way to a road rally with their souped-up race car.  Of course, our demented trucker didn't take their stunt too kindly, leading to him kidnapping the lead driver's girlfriend and start another brutal killing spree that had these kids losing more than just a mere race.

More or less, Roadkill tries to be fun and it succeeds at some points; there are some decent car stunts at work in this movie but the opening was a hoot of a starter, a neat SAW-esque piece involving a chained druggie couple, a speeding truck, and a stunt reminiscent of the Ship's Mast scene from Quentin Tarantino's "slasher" Death Proof. The rest of the killings are also gory enough to keep the blood and gore hounds at bay, looking like as if our trucker learned a thing or two from the torture porn era as a good amount of his murders have a sadistic death trap feel to them.

In turn, Rusty Nail apparently had taken a full-on slasher mode as he no longer hides in the shadows to play his games, personally taking out the meat trash with an array of trucker oriented demises, all the while spatting out cryptic liners and surviving impossible demises. (Think a bonafide Freddy Kreuger/Michael Myers hybrid)

With the killings and the killer being the high points of the movie, Roadkill works better if it stuck to the slasher conformity through and through. Again, it did a good job at that (hell, they even included a classic doomsayer who warns them not to go across Slaughter Alley for obvious reasons), but its little attempts to build up tension over our characters may have knocked a few good points back. For one, there were moments that made the casts likable at a level as these scenes have them look and feel like close friends; some worked, others didn't, but the net result still leads to them devolving into screaming idiots who make dumb decisions after dumb decisions. This wouldn't be a terrible thing if the killings occur to dispatch them at a momentum, but the direction had Roadkill slowing down in the middle of the run, spreading out the murders apart from one another while leaving little to nothing interesting happening in between as the plot crawls further to a halfly lethargic finale.

It was as if the movie was still trying to capture the psychological horror of the first, but with the kind of characters, direction, focus and, surprisingly, cheese Roadkill have (a website designed to trace back plate numbers to their owners? Only in a cheesy slasher (and the deep web), gentlemen!), the Hitchcockian trope was way long gone at this point. Still, I find this an admirable effort and I cannot dismiss it as I did enjoyed this a lot better than the last sequel. It's so far from the original in terms of tone that I can't help but see this as a standalone movie, penned and directed by Declan O'Brien, who is noteworthy for cooking up Wrong Turn 3 to and should explain the gruesome grue. The production also looks a lot better compared to Dead Ahead, though there are some editing nitpicks (I think I saw the camera man's shadow at the opening!) and audio concerns regarding its soundtrack and score.

Overall, I think I prefer Roadkill the most from the Joy Ride franchise as my entertainment piece. It's manageable and watchable despite its slow moments and torture scenes, a new addition to my steady number of guilty pleasures!

Bodycount:
1 male mangled under a truck
1 female mangled to bits under a truck
1 male had his face shredded against a truck engine
1 male ran through with a truck, immolated in car crash
1 male crushed to death with chained rail spikes
1 male had his head crushed with a jack lever
1 female crushed in half against a bridge's bracing
Total: 7
~~~

And there you have Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead and Joy Ride 3: Roadkill! One movie transitioning from psychological teen horror to teen slasher, and another movie fully transitioned into the bodycounting side. Not the brightest move to make in terms of franchising a potential road thriller but, just as some people still watch the new Puppet Master sequels despite how God-awful cheap they were, or how some kids out there will probably scream their parents' ear off if they don't buy or rent the latest Alpha and Omega movie, these two sequels will still find an audience. Will there be a chance for another Joy Ride sequel in the future? Hopefully. Hopefully not. Whatever may be the case, I'm just hoping they would explain why in each movie, Rusty Nail gets leaner, fitter and taller!

Until then...
Here's Brain-Damaged Barry wishing you a good ride!

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