Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #10: Hell's Highway (2002)

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When I started viewing the films in this collection, I was expecting more of them to be like Jeff Leroy's Hell's Highway. High on energy, sex and gore, but low on budget, the movie aims low and hits again and again, providing the goods for those with reasonable expectations going in. Certainly not fine art, but a fun, entertaining slasher film (with some fun effects) that, once it gets going, barely stops to take a breath.

Phoebe Dollar is Lucindia Polonia, a psycho hitchhiker serial killer that targets motorists on the stretch of road in Death Valley known as.. wait for it.. Hell's Highway. Apparently the reborn spirit of a pioneer woman, Lucindia targets a group of young folks on a road trip after they pick her up and and soon starts killing them off in various nasty ways. There's a twist at the end that I honestly didn't see coming, and is actually a bit original in an odd sort of way.

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In order for a horror film to have a modicum of suspense, you really need to have a likable or relateable set of protagonists. The biggest flaw (depending on your point of view) of Hell's Highway is that the main characters are almost completely unlikeable. We're introduced to them driving down the highway, smoking pot, drinking and driving and throwing garbage onto the roadside crosses that litter the road. While this is all done with a modicum of humor, it does make it hard to have sympathy for them when they start dropping.

The acting is surprisingly solid all the way through. Phoebe Dollar is hardly intimidating, but she delivers her psycho lines well, and she obviously doesn't mind being coated in fake blood. However, she's less convincing when she has to swing a chainsaw around Leatherface style. Beverly Lynne (from the recent The Bewitching) is a lot more fun here, and shows off the required skin as a dimwitted cheerleader who gets to say "This is the worst trip ever!". But it's Kiren David as Sarah who has to do most of the emoting, and she's the only one who truly comes off worth caring about. Also, she gets sexually assaulted by a slimy demon in a dream sqeuence.

Ron Jeremy pops up in a fun cameo as a sleazy low-budget director who finds his famous member on the recieving end of Lucinda's knife. Also, he gets blown up.

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The violence in the film is quite impressive for what was obviously a low budget, and the director doesn't hold back when it comes to death and dismemberment. Shovels, chainsaws and a car are all used to inflict varying amounts of carnage, and things are appropriately gooey and messy. Leroy is obviously inspired by the horror comedies of the 80s like Re-Animator and Evil Dead II, and manages to occasionally inspire that level of zany violence quite well. While the effects are inconsistent, they are generally well done (by fellow low budget director Joe Castro) and even feature a few scenes with miniatures. They are unconvincing, but I certainly appreciate the attempt.

Leroy isn't overly flashy as a director, and he sometimes wears his influences a little too obviously on his sleeve, but he keeps things feeling quite cinematic despite the Z-grade origins. This would never be mistaken for a Hollywood blockbuster, but would sit perfectly nicely on the shelf of your local Blockbuster.

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An entertainingly silly and gory slasher flick, Hell's Highway raises almost no suspense and is a far cry from scary, but delivers plenty of gore and a few laughs for low budget conniseurs. A fun cast, decent effects and a fast pace makes this a winner and worth checking out.

2 comments:

Ash said...

So, that middle movie frame is Ron Jeremy's head exploding? Good stuff.

Not that I wish ill fortunes on the hedgehog, by any means.

Doug Tilley said...

Actually, the exploding head (which looks terrible in an awesome sort of way) occurs in the opening scene. Ron Jeremy gets his dinger sliced before getting blown up real good.