Three words. You only need to hear three words to decide if you’re interested in watching “Hard Ride to Hell.” You’ll either hear them and immediately decide that this is a movie you want to see, or you’ll hear them, pinch your eyebrows together, purse your lips, and shake your head, no, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Here are the three words: satanic, cannibal, bikers. If those are things you like, “Hard Ride to Hell” might be for you. If not, consider sitting this one out.
I thought about adding a fourth word to my list, immortal, but satanic, cannibal, bikers rolls off of the tongue much easier than immortal, satanic, cannibal, bikers. That’s too much of a mouthful, and I think the original trio sufficiently captures the essence of the movie.
A group of friends, their names and background aren’t important (one of the women, Katharine Isabelle, was in “Ginger Snaps”), are driving through the wilds of Texas in an RV. Like their names and stories, their destination and reason for the trip are entirely coincidental. All that really matters is that they’re young, attractive, and they stop overnight at a deserted campground in the woods. You can pretty much ignore the set up. The only thing that you need to know is that one of the young women recently miscarried and is sad about it. Everything else simply gets them where they need to be.
At the campground our team meets the obligatory creepy campground guy. This time it is Bob (Brent Stait), an ex Special Forces, travelling knife salesman in a wood-paneled station wagon. He leaves. They are alone. There is, of course, the now obligatory, “no cell phone reception” scene. (I liked it much better when horror movies didn’t have to account for the fact that everyone has a cell phone.)
When one member of the party stumbles upon a group of immortal, satanic, cannibal, bikers, led by Miguel Ferrer, mid occult ritual, things take a severe downward turn. If you’re of the group that enjoys movies featuring Satanists, cannibals, or bikers, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of how things will unfold.
“Hard Ride to Hell” feels like the second part of a drive-in double-feature from 1978. And I don’t mean that in the sense of movies like “Planet Terror”, or “Dead Snow”, where the campiness is super over the top and intentional. The film isn’t ironically self-aware, the characters don’t know that they’re in a horror movie, and no one is wearing a t-shirt from some semi-obscure slasher flick from the early ‘80s. I appreciate these things because nothing aggravates me more than some smart-ass running away from zombies while referencing George Romero. (That nonsense almost ruined “Dead Snow” for me.) I want a schlocky horror movie to just be a schlocky horror movie, I don’t want it to be a hipster’s imagining of other hipsters in a schlocky horror movie. I don’t care if they’ve ever seen “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.” I don’t care if they can name every actor who played Jason Voorhees in chronological order.
With two exceptions where there is some ill-advised computer generated fire, if the film print was grainier and faded with time, “Hard Ride to Hell” could have been made 30 years ago, and if it had been, today it would be widely hailed as a mild cult classic along the lines of “Psychomania”.
The plot is nowhere near original, but that doesn’t stop “Hard Ride to Hell” from being kind of rad. It has creepy rituals around a campfire presided over by Miguel Ferrer in a cloak. There is a vague kind of black magic that is somehow related to Alister Crowley and the Catholicism. Characters say awesome things like, “Could somebody tie off my stump before I bleed to death,” without a hint of ironic posturing. A priest punches a pregnant woman. Sure, she’s pregnant with the Anti-Christ, and possessed, but still, a priest punches a pregnant woman. And like I said earlier, there’s an ex Special Forces travelling knife salesman. These are all wonderful things.
Writer/director Penelope Buitenhuis isn’t concerned with things like motivation, set up, or continuity, and the characters are largely interchangeable. The film isn’t edited or structured particularly well. Miguel Ferrer gives roughly half of a good performance, which is the only competent acting, but eventually it feels like he’s given up and stopped trying.
In all likelihood, I’m the only person out there that enjoys “Hard Ride to Hell,” which is fine, my taste is questionable at best, but if the phrase satanic, cannibal, bikers appeals to you at all, give it a shot. It’s hard to go wrong with a movie that begins with Miguel Ferrer ripping a stillborn fetus out of the belly of a pregnant woman who is possessed by black magic.
Penelope Buintenhuis (Director)/Penelope Buintenhuis (Screenplay)
CAST: Miguel Ferrer … Jefe
Brent Stait … Bob Weaver
Laura Mennell … Tessa Bowman
Brendan Penny … Danny Bowman
Brandon Jay McLaren … Dirk
Katharine Isabelle … Kerry Strain