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Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: JOY RIDE

joy ride 2001

JOY RIDE

3 Stars  2001/15/93m

A.k.a. RoadKill (UK)

Director: John Dahl / Writers: J.J. Abrams & Clay Tarver / Cast: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Bowman, Ted Levine (voice).

Body Count: 2

Laughter Lines: “I’m not going anywhere until somebody tells me why I should be afraid of a radio.”


There’s a sad irony that the late Paul Walker featured in several movies that centered on reckless driving and its relative consequences.

Joy Ride sprang up in 2001 at the tail end of the teen-slasher/thriller cycle, hijacking elements of Spielberg’s debut classic Duel and mixing them with Screamie stalker madness from a classic prank gone wrong opus, resulting in a solid chiller, albeit not one with a body count.

College kid Lewis Thomas (Walker) is due to fly back to New Jersey from Berkeley, California, for summer vacation and, on a whim, purchases a car on the basis of picking up his unrequited object of lust Venna (Sobieski) from her Colorado school and cruising back east slowly. On route, he’s asked to pick up his wayward brother Fuller (Zahn) from jail in Salt Lake City.

joy ride 2001 steve zahn paul walker roadkill

Fuller installs a CB radio into the 1971 sedan (’71 being the year Duel was made) to get the heads up on a clear run to Denver, and the brothers end up playing a prank on a creepy sounding trucker who identifies himself as Rusty Nail. Fuller convinces Lewis into impersonating a horny female trucker and, when they encounter a racist asshole at a motel, lure Rusty Nail to the guy’s room with the promise of sex. One near-fatal beating later, the brothers confess to the cops their prank and are told to get going.

Down the road somewhat, Rusty Nail’s voice comes back over the airwaves demanding an apology, which Fuller flat out refuses to do, and, in a true “the call is coming from inside the house” moment, it turns out he is right behind them on the freeway. The brothers flee and are accosted by the big scary truck, and eventually given a stay of execution when they apologise.

But Rusty Nail doesn’t move on so easily and continues to stalk them, even when they pick up Venna from her school, kidnapping her roommate in a bid to exact further revenge, which includes making the brothers walk naked into a diner to order cheeseburgers, a cat and mouse chase around a cornfield, and playing them off against one another over their mutual attraction to Venna.

joy ride 2001 leelee sobieski

Predicament thrillers are usually only good for a single watch, once you’re confronted with some of the bizarre decisions the characters make (they sometimes have to be bad to drive the plot forward), and Joy Ride lacks incessant rewatchability, but is helped along by Dahl’s nice direction, keeping Rusty Nail as an off-camera presence, and the likeable trio of leads, although you’d want to kick Fuller’s ass out of the car if you were either of the other two. The entire final act was re-shot, and the DVD features a total of four alternate endings, of which the happiest was chosen for theatrical releases. Possibly trying to lean away from becoming ‘just another slasher flick’, options for a few extra homicides were skipped, wrapping it up tamely.

Jeepers Creepers made slightly better use of Duel‘s creepier aesthetics and beat Joy Ride to the punch by just over a month, and is just as askew a slasher flick – but then came the sequels…

*

JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEADjoy ride 2 dead ahead 2008 roadkill 2

3 Stars  2008/18/90m

“Detours can be deadly.”

A.k.a. RoadKill 2 (UK)

Director: Louis Morneau / Writers: James Robert Johnston & Bennett Yellin / Cast: Nick Aycox, Nick Zano, Laura Jordan, Kyle Schmid, Mark Gibbon.

Body Count: 4


This efficient enough DVD follow up moves the series into neo-teen slasher territory, borrowing from the likes of Wrong Turn and Wolf Creek, as a quartet of young folks on their way to a joint bachelor/bachelorette party in Las Vegas break down on a dusty backroad when trying to save time.

They happen across a remote ranch house where the mail hasn’t been collected in over a month, break in, find the phones don’t work, and decide to ‘borrow’ a classic 1971 Chevy Chevelle, with the intention to rent a car in the next town, bring it back and leave cash for any damages. Good girl/bride-to-be Melissa even leaves a note with her number.

Naturally, the ranch belongs to Rusty Nail, who decapitated a hooker in the prologue, and finds his plans for downtime scuppered by this new drama. Thus, he kidnaps groom-to-be Bobby from a roadhouse bathroom and calls the others, sending them on several humiliating missions to get him back. First thing he wants is Kayla’s finger after she flipped him off, so they break into a morgue to retrieve one from a corpse. Melissa then has to do a striptease in front of his truck. Kayla’s internet-boyfriend Nik then has to dress as a woman and score some crank.

joy ride 2 2008

Rusty Nail, as we expected, isn’t going to play so fair, and Joy Ride 2 reaches an interesting third act as the girls race to save the boys, both of whom are bound to chairs in Rusty’s lair and tortured in a reversal of the usual scenario (and that of the original).

While the Duel-pilfering is kept on the lowdown (there’s a short car chase), the horror and grue is ratcheted up in its place, with the antagonist slotting into a sort of sub-Ben Willis position, facially still kept off camera. There’s a gross open-mouth garrotting, which recalls Wrong Turn. Nicki Aycox – previously seen fending off the winged beastie of Jeepers Creepers II – makes for a heroine you can root for and avoids some of the dumber decisions that tend to plague these things. Given the small cast, the wheels turn at a fast enough pace to make this worth a look.

*

joy ride 3 roadkill 2014JOY RIDE 3: ROADKILL

3 Stars

Director/Writer: Declan O’Brien / Cast: Ken Kirzinger, Jesse Hutch, Kirsten Prout, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Leela Savasta, Gianpaolo Venuta, Jake Manley, Dean Armstrong, James Durham.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Some say it’s aliens… I say it’s the damn government – the NSA!!!”


Rusty’s third outing is actually a lot better than it ought to be, given that the writing and directing reigns were handed to Declan O’Brien, who outdoes the combined efforts of the three Wrong Turn sequels he turned out. I also like that the film’s subtitle, Roadkill (though curiously not on the film itself) was the UK title for the franchise, which should, by rights, make this one Roadkill 3: Roadkill, but it looks like they didn’t even bother and just kept the original moniker.

A couple of meth-heads plot to rob whichever strung-out trucker they can lure to their hotel room and, of course, pick on the wrong fellow, who overpowers them and chains the pair to the hood of his Peterbilt, challenging them to hang on for a mile, at which point he’ll set them free with a bag of crystal for their trouble. Predictably, their thirst for a high gets the better of them and they end up dragged under the truck and left in chunks along the freeway. Roll titles.

joy ride 3 2014

We meet the meat in the form of six members of the Wells Racing team, who are on their way to some tournament or other when they learn of a possible shortcut that’ll save them a day. I know, it is virtually the same plot as The Hills Have Eyes Part II. The old Highway 17, affectionately known as Slaughter Alley, will go unpatrolled so they let loose and end up pissing off guess who?

The Duel-inspired action missing from the previous film reasserts itself to decent effect, as the team’s two cars and Rusty’s truck barrel down the deserted highway, eventually escaping his lethal manoeuvres but far from off the hook, as he succeeds in capturing two of them and holding them to ransom, apparently willing to exchange them for the race car.

joy ride 3 2014

The series ventures further into slasher territory, with gruesome demises including the fingers and then the face of one poor soul forced into a fan, a shrinking chain suit thingy, and a guy’s head squashed between a jack and the underside of a truck. A showdown at a wrecking yard reveals a decent twist so that the predicted survivors are changed around a bit, although they resistance against further sequels proves too tempting for some and, well, you can look out for Joy Ride 4: Full Throttle circa 2020 at this rate of turnover.

A little tight-budgeted but still surprisingly fun stuff.

Overall-blurbs-of-interest: Nick Zano was in The Final Destination; Kyle Schmid was in Fear Island; Jesse Hutch was in The Tooth Fairy and Freddy vs Jason, in which Ken Kirzinger played the hockey masked one and got to squish him with a fold-up bed. Kirzinger was also in Stan Helsing and Wrong Turn 2; Kirsten Prout was in My Super Psycho Sweet 16 Parts 2 and 3; Dean Armstrong was in O’Brien’s Wrong Turn 4.

Valley of the Overlooked Franchises: Maniac Cop

Yeeeee in a time when trust in the cops not to shoot you is lower than a Madonna chart debut, it’s surprising that they’re remaking it. But until that happens – and also, if ever – let’s revisit the trilogy of original 80s-into-90s thriller-cum-slasher-zombie flicks. Some spoilers follow.

*

maniac cop 1988

MANIAC COP

3.5 Stars  1988/18/82m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.”

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Sheree North, Robert Z’Dar.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “You always take a leak with a gun in your hand? That’s a good way to blow your balls off!”


RoboCopSumurai CopBeverly Hills Cop, Kindergarten CopPsycho Cop and Maniac Cop – sure were a lot of ‘Something Cop’ movies around in the mid-80s-to-early-90s. While most of these garnered a following – maybe not Psycho Cop - and several generated sequels of their own, Maniac Cop is a strange venture, a weird fusion of ideas from action thrillers with some voodoo-slasher shit mixed in too.

Starting as so many serial killer films have, a young woman is walking home alone in New York City, tormented by some thugs, she runs into a uniformed cop – BUT THEN HE KILLS HER! The thugs are the only witnesses but nobody believes them. Soon after, a guy is pushed face down into drying cement and a driver slashed to death over a traffic violation – all in the first twelve minutes.

New York is in the throes of terror – which of the boys in blue has turned to slaying the residents? Grizzled detective Tom Atkins is on the case and in shepherded into suspecting Bruce Campbell’s beat cop, Jack Forrest, after his wife turns up dead she follows him, having received a series of calls from a mystery voice who keeps telling her that Jack is the killer. Turns out Forrest was just having it away with vice cop Theresa Mallory (Landon). Concerned to clear his name, the two of them investigate the suspicious death of a cop sent to Sing Sing some years earlier and was beaten to death by inmates – or was he?

maniac cop 1988 tom atkins bruce campbell robert z'dar laurene landon

Before Forrest and Mallory can alert the important people to the truth, the undead cop – old-style super-cop Matt ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ Cordell – goes on a rampage around their precinct, even turning on his old flame after she tries to tell him he’s losing control.

Maniac Cop crams a lot into 82 minutes (look for Sam Raimi’s cameo) and is thus never boring. Cordell’s carnage-creating romp around HQ is expertly done; A scene where Malloy is handcuffed to a body; Car chases with slo-mo crashes, and all manner of creative shots and visual cues that serve to keep the horrors of the killer’s face out of shot. A longer cut with more to say on the city-in-fear perspective would be interesting, as that kinda gets left behind once our leading lovers suss out what’s really going on and who has covered up what.

Lustig and Cohen worked together on all three movies and separately have a few slasher credits between them (notably, Lustig directed the nasty Maniac, which also makes the most of NYC as a player), but this is arguably a stand-out. Although rarely bandied in with slasher movies, it has enough elements to include it, even if some of those were traded in for more mainstream concerns in the follow-ups.

*

maniac cop 2 1990MANIAC COP 2

3 Stars  1990/18/84m

“You have the right to remain silent… forever.” – again??

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Robert Z’Dar, Clarence Williams III, Leo Rossi, Lou Bonacki, Paula Trickey, Charles Napier.

Body Count: 32

Laughter Lines: “Shooting Cordell is only good for getting his attention.”


At the end of the first one, it was plainly obvious Matt Cordell wasn’t done with his Make New York Obedient Again missive, and so he returns shortly after his ‘death’ to take revenge, quickly doing away with Forrest and Mallory, who transfer the reigns of hero over to Robert Davi’s Detective McKinney and a department shrink (Christian), who has had a hard time believing Mallory, until she comes face to face with Cordell for herself.

After this solid first act, things begin to wobble as Cordell inexplicably teams up with serial killer-of-strippers Leo Rossi, breaks into Sing Sing to finish off the inmates who ‘murdered’ him, and go on a machine gun spree at police HQ, which explains that sky-high body count.

There are still some great scenes, peaking with Landon and Christian in a cab, attacked by Cordell, who handcuffs the latter to the steering wheels and sends her off down the city streets while he takes care of Mallory for good.

Some fun parts, but it lacks the charm of the first one. Joe Spinnell was originally to play the role taken by Leo Rossi, but died before production began and so the film carries a dedication to him.

*

maniac cop 3

MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE

2.5 Stars  1992/18/81m

“The wrong arm of the law is back.”

A.k.a. MC3: Maniac Cop 3

Director: William Lustig / Writer: Larry Cohen / Cast: Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Robert Z’Dar, Paul Gleason, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Julius Harris, Doug Savant, Bobby Di Cicco.

Body Count: at least 18


A religious oddball resurrects Matt Cordell for no reason, just as a decorated female cop (Becker) is shot during an armed robbery and set up by the media to be a Cordell-like villain. Our maniac cop develops a bit of a crush on her and sets about clearing her name in the only way he knows how – by killing all of those responsible, as well as anyone else who crosses his path.

Davi returns as McKinney, this time joined by Caitlin Dulany as a doctor who just stands around in designer workwear looking pretty and screaming on cue.

More in the mould of a slasher film than the previous entry, but loses itself in a series of plot holes you could navigate the Titanic through. Still, as before, it’s a fun ride with lush production values and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Had so much time not passed, and Lustig not quit the project (his original cut was shorter than an hour!), from that ending we could’ve expected Bride of Maniac Cop to follow in 1994.

Overall blurbs-of-interest: Tom Atkins was in My Bloody Valentine 3D; Bruce Campbell appears briefly in Intruder; Robert Z’Dar was also in Grotesque; Michael Learner was in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion; Leo Rossi was Bud in Halloween II; Robert Forster was in Lustig’s Uncle Sam and also the 1998 Psycho remake; Charles Napier was in Camping Del Terrore and Wacko; Jackie Earle Haley was the new Freddy Krueger; Bobby Di Cicco was in The Baby Doll Murders; William Smith was in Valley of Death.

Not quite Star Trek, is it?

texas chainsaw massacre the next generation

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION

1.5 Stars  1994/18/84m

“Still buzzin’ after all these years.”

A.k.a. Return of the Texas Chainsaw MassacreTexas Chainsaw Massacre 4

Director/Writer: Kim Henkel / Cast: Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks, Tonie Perenski, Joe Stevens, Lisa Newmyer, Tyler Cone, John Harrison, James Gale.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “What if we get into a wreck and crash the car and we all died? They could write a song about it.”


Of the main body count franchises, Texas Chainsaw Massacre likely ranks my least favourite, aided to no end by this much despised fourth outing, which was intended by Kim Henkel as the ‘true sequel’ to the 1974 original.

Things start out okay with four high schoolers crashing their car on a back road on the night of their prom and end up as spare meat for a psychotic family who dwell deep in the woods. The clan is led by unhinged truck driver Vilmer (McConaughey) and his trashy girlfriend, Darla, while Leatherface spends most of the film in drag, like a bad cabaret show at a provincial gay bar. I’ve seen a few of these and can attest the likeness.

There are plenty of harks back to the original, which serve only to remind us how much more raw it was, as the junky action clunks along with horrendous continuity problems, and portrayals of psychosis that rival the drag angle in terms of high camp.

The quartet of teens are allotted little in terms of characterisation, bar dowdy final girl Jenny (Zellweger). Both actors ascended to levels of stardom far removed from this low-end flick, which was later recalled by Zellweger as being so cheaply made the actors shared a single trailer that belonged to a member of the crew. However, there’s no escaping your humble beginnings, and the fact that agencies attempted to sue the production company for reissuing this with the stars as the focus probably only brought more attention to it in the long run. Though without their subsequent good fortune, would it be remembered at all?

“I’m beginning to suspect foreplay.”

psycho cop returns 1992

PSYCHO COP RETURNS

2 Stars  1993/18/82m

“He’s the life and death of any party.”

A.k.a. Psycho Cop 2

Director: Rif Coogan [Adam Rifkin] / Writer: Dan Povenmire / Cast: Bobby Ray Shafer, Barbara Lee Alexander, Roderick Darin, Miles David Dougal, Nick Vallelonga, Dave Bean, Julie Strain, Alexandria Lakewood, Priscilla Huckleberry, John Paxton, Justin Carroll, Kimberly Speiss, Al Schuermann.

Body Count: 9

Laughter Lines: “Anything you say can and will be considered extremely strange because… you’re dead.”


It’s like twenty years since I picked this up on VHS at a time when the first film hadn’t even been released here. Not that you need it to follow the relatively simple opus of big dude kills office bods at an after hours party.

Hulking Satanic officer of the law Joe Vickers overhears plans for a bachelor party at an office block and decides to crash, hunting down the horny young execs, the strippers they invite, the nightwatchman, a couple who stuck around to have sex in the copy room… He’s not short on fodder. Victims are stabbed in the eye with pencils, thrown down elevator shafts, impaled to the wall, and photocopied to death.

With each demise, Shafer has a Krueger-esque quip to add, many of which are groan worthy, and the film can’t help itself from leaving the door open for the sadly never realised opportunity that would’ve been Psycho Cop vs. Maniac Cop vs. RoboCop. Amusing in a ten-years-too-late kinda way, but viewing the trailer earlier I wasn’t tempted to watch the whole thing again. Curiously, it took one week to film in 1992 but remained unreleased until mid-1994.

Blurbs-of-interest: Shafer had a small part (as a cop!) in Monster Man; Director Rifkin acted in Bikini Island and Last Dance, the latter also featuring Kimberly Speiss; Julie Strain was later in Bleed.

 

Dinner and a movie?

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END

3 Stars  2007/18/93m

“Evil awaits.”

Director: Joe Lynch / Writers: Turi Meyer & Al Septien / Cast: Erica Leerhsen, Henry Rollins, Texas Battle, Aleksa Palladino, Daniella Alonso, Steve Braun, Matthew Currie Holmes, Crystal Lowe, Kimberly Caldwell, Wayne Robson, Ken Kirzinger, Ashlea Earl, Clint Carleton, Rorelee Tio.

Body Count: 14


A slightly overrated flick for a change, Wrong Turn 2 came courtesy of Adam Green’s buddy Joe Lynch, who throws virtually everything at his project, going OTT on the back of the straight-faced 2003 original, which pit city kids against a trio of backwoods in-breds, marrying together the best attributes of Just Before Dawn and Deliverance with a dash of post-Scream sensibility, without going too far down the ha-ha track.

Cashing on the then-zeitgeist of reality TV horror, WT2 centers around a survival show named Ultimate Survivor: Apocalypse, presented by retired marine Rollins, which sends six aesthetically pleasing youngsters into the woods to fend for themselves against production-created tasks and the like. However, they run afoul of the extended family of the cannibals from last time, including Ma, Pa, several kids – all deformed in even whackier ways than the trifecta of loonies from the first movie.

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007 henry rollins

Masses of drippy gore, a vegan being force-fed minced-person, T&A, 80s-style macho posturing, mutant incest, a backwoods birth, a meat grinder you could drive a truck through – it’s easy to see why gore fans had a lot to shout about. Elsewhere, the film toys with expectations, setting up an obvious final girl, only to kill her early on and nominate a far more rough-cut character as a proxy. Rollins owns the entire flick as the hard on the outside, soft-centered presenter, who learns early on of the threat and goes all Platoon as the situation worsens.

Lynch’s leanings towards Evil Dead-style if-it-moves-throw-a-bucket-of-blood-over-it splatstick isn’t usually my kind of thing, and Wrong Turn isn’t a series I can really get that enthusiastic about (original excepted), but if you catch this during a couple of hours where you haven’t recently, or don’t plan on imminently eating anything, it’s good for some sticky laughs.

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007 erica leehrsen

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leehrsen was previously in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Lonely Joe; Daniella Alonso was in The Collector; Texas Battle and Crystal Lowe were both in Final Destination 3, and she was also in the Black Christmas remake and Children of the Corn: Revelation; Ken Kirzinger played Jason in Freddy vs Jason and played Mason in Stan Helsing.

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