The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Hell Ride (2008)

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When I came across this on imdb, I was excited. A throwback biker flick produced by Quentin Tarentino, directed by Larry Bishop, and co-starring Michael Madsen, Dennis Hopper, and David Carradine. Problem was: my copy from Netflix had a deep scratch near the outside, preventing me from watching the last 10 minutes. I had to wait for a replacement to be sent, which took two days. The last ten frickin' minutes... Also, this one was done by our buddy Mitch, at The Video Vacuum, over at LiveJournal.

Hell Ride is directed, written, and stars Larry Bishop as Pistolero, the president of a biker gang. When one of his gang is killed by a rival biker gang, old hatreds and grudges come to the fore, including a promise Pistolero made to the beautiful Cherokee Kisum to protect her son after she was murdered in 1976. Now it's time to round up the gang and make good on his word.

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This one didn't quite work for me, which sucked, because I wanted it to really bad. It had some really great elements: a ramped up sexuality led by some really sexy actresses, some great performances by Bishop, Madsen, and Hopper, and a killer soundtrack. Where it missed for me was how much it lost itself in its script and its dialog, neither of which were that spectacular, and neither of which are things I expect a lot of in a biker flick-- when was the last time you watched a 60s biker movie and thought "boy, that was a little too talky for me"? Bishop said two things in the making of featurette that were really telling: first, "you'll know if you made a good biker film if your family won't speak to you after", and as far as I could tell, this was much safer than that; and second: "I didn't care if everyone hated this, as long as Quentin [Tarentino] liked it." It goes without saying that if you make a movie and don't care what your audience thinks, they probably won't enjoy it.

It's been a while since I've seen a good biker exploitation flick, so in doing my due diligence, I decided to take one in before I wrote this review, in order to compare it with Hell Ride. I went with The Savage Seven, which actually stars Larry Bishop, and was the one that Tarentino cited as a reason he went to Bishop to make a biker flick in 2008 (the character name Cherokee Kisum came from the lead character Kisum in Savage Seven, I'm assuming). The older flick was by far superior. First, the story had much more below the surface exposition that the movie didn't need to tell us, which allowed it to enhance the film without boring us with added overt plot exposition. We had the interplay between the Native Americans and the white capitalist exploiting them, then the added dynamic of whether or not bikers and Native Americans are kindred spirits, two sides of the same coin, or polar opposites. It was all tension bubbling to a boil without an ounce of back story. The other big thing The Savage Seven had that Hell Ride lacked was a lot of action. They never went anywhere near the stretches Hell Ride went with nothing happening. Further on that point, the end battle between the Native Americans and bikers was immense, and Hell Ride not only didn't have any of that, but the end confrontation with the rival gang was so neutered I wondered why it was even there. Madsen just shot them all without a fight. For me, Hell Ride was too wrapped up in its own substandard plot and abandoned a lot of the great elements that made biker films so much fun.

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As I mentioned above, I liked that Bishop added a greater level of sexuality to his biker film. Most of the older ones had attractive women, but nothing we have here with buck naked women, women exuding seductiveness-- just a raw sexuality fueling some excellent scenes. One reason why I think the scenes came off so well is that Bishop didn't tell the women what he wanted them to do, he said in the featurette that he just gave them an idea, and then let them take it as far as they were comfortable. As a result, the women were comfortable, and that showed. I just wish Bishop would've fused that element with the other great elements of the biker film, in particular the action.

This movie had some big names. I mentioned Madsen, Hopper, and Carradine above. Of those three, the first two were great, but Carradine was just thrown in, and that was a disappointment, because he was the head baddie, and you'd like the head baddie to be an obstacle for the hero. He had one scene, tied to a chair, and Bishop killed him. Vinnie Jones was in it a little more, but equally wasted at the end as a baddie. What is this, Steven Seagal theater with these ineffective baddies? Finally, DTVC (not so) favorite Eric Balfour is in this as a biker named Comanche. Yes, you read right. Does he work? I don't know, it's hard to tell based on the material. Could he have worked? Maybe, but you'd have to get past your preconceived notions of Eric Balfour. For me, I'm okay with it, just because he's 34 years old now, and that's getting up there for getting parts as the high school bully in teen movies and TV shows. He needs to think about his next career move, right?

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I had to finish this with a personal anecdote. The title, Hell Ride, evokes a memory in me of an interview the late Wesley Willis did with Howard Stern about ten years ago. In it, he says his life was a "Demon Hell Ride", said more like "Demon He'rite", but you get the picture. Every time I wrote the title in this blog post, in my head I was thinking "Demon He'rite". As an aside, what is everyone's favorite Wesley Willis song? I gotta go with "Birdman Whipped My Ass". Here's to you Wesley Willis, you were one of the good ones.

I'm going to go with a no on this one as far as the recommendation. Though it has some solid elements, overall it gets lost in its own story, which is too bad considering the cast, and where a movie like this could've gone and should've gone. But as Larry Bishop himself said, he doesn't care if any of us liked it, as long as Mr. Tarentino dug it. "Rock over London, rock on Chicago, Pontiac, we are building excitement."

[As an aside, this is the second film we've done that Quentin Tarentino was associated with, the other being Dolph Lundgren's workout video, Maximum Potential, on which Tarentino worked craft services.]

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411475/

8 comments:

  1. Good Review. Definitely agree with you about Hell Ride being a disappointment. It needed more Vinnie Jones and Carradine!

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  2. Oh yeah, much more, and better used too. The villains make any movie, and this one did a bad job making its villains.

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  3. I don't know what it is about Larry Bishop's movies. He always manages to attract some great actors, but the movies themselves just sit there. The thing is, he's not a bad actor either. If he stuck to acting and let someone else direct, Hell Ride may've been OK.

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  4. I personally thought this film was decent enough, though in all fairness I haven't seen any of the films that Hell Ride was paying homage to, so I didn't have anything to compare it to.

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  5. Man, I just read your review of this, and you were much tougher on it than me Video Vacuum (I just put the link to your review in the original post, sorry I didn't do it sooner.) I think we're in agreement that this had, as you said, a paper thin plot, and the main issue is that while most biker/exploitation films have paper thin plots, this one here didn't offset that with any action.

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  6. Thanks for the plug, brother. I think with that cast, you could've done a great movie about almost anything. The problem was the script was a mess and Bishop's lack of direction sunk it.

    I like biker movies, but just like any exploitation genre, it's got just as many misses as it does genuine classics. I hope Hell Ride doesn't deter any prospective filmmakers from making more of them. The world could use another Easy Rider (not to mention Stone Cold).

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  7. Yeah, especially something like Stone Cold, which took the basic paradigm of a biker movie classic/stinker, Hellcats with Ross Hagen (a great MST3K episode too), and amped it up considerably. There were plenty of places to go for inspiration, Bishop just didn't go there.

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    1. Nice comparison. Personally, I enjoyed this film due to it really putting non-stop energy into imitating Tarantino but now that I think about it, I'm not sure I would enjoy it so much now on a second viewing.

      Hopper, Valera, Jones and Madsen pretty much made the grade for me. I'll agree that Carradine was poorly used but then again Jones was the main opposition overall. I'm guessing Jones threatened to beat up co-star/director Bishop if he wasn't given a bigger role so we were stuck with this.

      I always liked actor Eric Balfour on various TV shows but his character sorta of hit the crapper as well. Still, he's been compared to Laurence Olivier whenever he rescues a bad movie from complete abomination. Check out his flicks Dinoshark, Face of Terror (2004), Skyline, Horsemen & The Legend of Hell's Gate: An American Conspiracy.

      He's also filming/directing/starring in the lead role for a movie called Jesus Hates Zombies, which based on the previews, sounds Hobo With a Shotgun awesome!

      You already reviewed Balfour in Beatdown with Danny Trejo last I checked so two down, many more to go. :)

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