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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.

“It’s way too 90s horror.”

scary movie 2000

SCARY MOVIE

3 Stars  2000/18/85m

“No mercy. No shame. No sequel.”

Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans / Writers: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer / Cast: Anna Faris, Shannon Elizabeth, Jon Abrahams, Shawn Wayans, Dave Sheridan, Cheri Oteri, Carmen Electra, Regina Hall, Lochlyn Munro, Kurt Fuller, Marlon Wayans.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “Lose the cape, it’s way too 90s horror.”


The tsunami of 90s teen horror was always going to end up with this happening. The eventual combo of two parody projects, originally to be titled Scream if You Know What I Did Last Halloween, Scary Movie came before the endless onslaught of affiliated productions including Date MovieEpic Movie, Superhero Movie, Meet the Spartans, and four – count ‘em – sequels to this. Yes, the tagline told porkies.

Naming their film after the working title of Kevin Williamson’s script, Scary Movie works best when it’s specifically parodying the teen slasher tropes, too often straying toward fart gags, gay jokes, and pothead humor as a fallback. But the slasher ones are at least good.

scary movie shannon elizabeth 2000

After sexy teen Drew Becker (Carmen Electra) is killed by a Ghostface masked loon, the students of the local high school worry that they may be targeted in payment for running over a fisherman and tossing the body in the sea a year earlier (though the victim wasn’t even involved in that, so no idea why they’d think it?) Virginal Cindy Campbell (Faris, in a career-making role) is at the centre of it all – could it be her booty-thirsty boyfriend Bobby? Angry jock Greg? Two-faced Buffy? Then there’s Officer Doofy, ball-busting reporter Gail Hailstorm, and various other possibles.

The plot is actually entirely redundant, as the film moves from joke set-up to joke set-up, at its strongest when Cindy is in full Sidney Prescott mode, with side-jabs at The Matrix thrown in to good use, great send-ups of Tatum’s “wanna play psycho killer?” moment, the cinema murder at the start of Scream 2, and the soon-to-be overdone Blair Witch and Sixth Sense parodies.

scary movie anna faris 2000

Plenty of the cast die only to reappear in the sequels as the same character; some are killers but then not; some seem entirely surplus – was Shorty supposed to be Randy?? – and a good chunk of the gags have become entirely cringe-inducing in the intervening years. Avoid the sequels like the plague.

Blurbs-of-interest: Faris played it straight in Lovers Lane and weird in May; Shannon Elizabeth was in Jack Frost; Lochlyn Munro later appeared in Hack!Freddy vs Jason and The Tooth Fairy; Jon Abrahams was in House of Wax.

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.

Let’s go round again

happy death day 2017

HAPPY DEATH DAY

3 Stars  2017/15/96m

Get up. Live your day. Get killed. Again.”

Director: Christopher Landon / Writer: Scott Lobdell / Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Caleb Spillyards, Blaine Kern III, Rob Mello.

Body Count: 8… kinda


It would be impossible to forego mentioning Groundhog Day in the same breath as Happy Death Day - ostensibly the same idea, but staple-gunned to a slasher-lite opus.

This film provided a rare opportunity for me to go to a horror movie with VeVo’s lover, who is largely against bloody violence for entertainment, but hates Bill Murray to the point where they could use this film to project those feelings on to and imagine it was him being murdered over and over again…

At Bayfield College, self-centered sorority girl Tree (short for Teresa) wakes up hungover in the dorm room of sweet-natured Carter, grabs her clothes and a Tylenol, and is outta there. She walks by a girl trying to sign her up for an environmental campaign, sprinklers soaking a couple, a frat boy keeling over, a needy ex, and gets home to her sorority, where the bitchy house president Danielle is quippy with her, and finally rejects her nice roommate’s attempt to give her a birthday cupcake.

happy death day 2017

Tree goes through her day, classes, getting naughty with her professor, and then heads off for a frat party. Alone. Down dark areas of the campus. In a short tunnel, Tree encounters a creepy music box playing ‘Happy Birthday’ and is attacked and killed by a loon in a baby-faced mask that matches the school mascot.

Then she wakes up in the dorm bed. As most of us probably would, Tree stumbles through the day writing it all off as deja vu. This time, she sees the music box and goes the other way, making it to the frat house, where it turns out the party is a surprise for her birthday and, this time, ventures off upstairs with a guy, who is murdered before she is attacked a second time and killed with a shattered bong.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

Then she wakes up again. And again. And again. Tree is knifed, struck with a baseball bat, drowned, and hit by a bus as she tries to work out who it is who’s after her and why. With Carter’s help – after she’s convinced him each morning – Tree knocks names off the list of suspects and goes about making reparations to her unruly life, reconnecting with her estranged Dad, apologising to her suffering roommate, and ending the affair with her teacher.

But who is trying to kill her and why? Happy Death Day‘s eventual revelation is a tad contrived, but at the same time I didn’t guess it correctly, so perhaps I’m just being picky. It helps that Tree’s resurrections aren’t unlimited – each time she wakes up she’s weaker than yesterday, so the clock is ticking on solving the mystery before she’s gone for good.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

While almost entirely bloodless (it was a PG-13 Stateside), what murders there are besides Tree’s happen mostly to schmucks who get in the way of the killer and are undone each new dawn, resulting in a ‘real’ murder count of, well, none. It’s still a slasher film of sorts, in the same way April Fool’s Day is, despite not being… kinda?

Katie Cassidy-a-like Rothe is great in the lead role – balancing comic timing with final girl aplomb and going from nasty victim-type to appreciative heroine over the runtime. Rachel Matthews as bitchy Danielle is also a hoot and gets most of the best lines.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

A fun diversion, checking most the boxes Camp Daze failed to, and a surprising box office success that will hopefully trailblaze the way for some more theatrical slasher flicks, although whether audiences will embrace straight-up stalk n’ slash over this kind of concept remains to be seen.

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