Directed by Junichi Suzuki
Distribted by Lionsgate
Okay, people . . . listen up. Cinema has a new rule of thumb:
Just because you’re Japanese doesn’t mean you automatically know how to make horror movies.
The producers of Death Ride, the latest failed attempt to assimilate J-horror into Western culture, obviously thought different. Directed with the grace of a student film by Junichi Suzuki, this Stateside indie effort is more akin to a supernatural episode of Days of Our Lives than the groundbreaking horror films of the East. Striving for a David Lynch vibe and failing miserably, Death Ride chronicles the slow psychological descent of the world’s biggest nitwit who’s driving a “lost highway” deep in his own thick skull. Since I can hardly recall the film, let alone names, I will refer to this central character as Joe Dumbass.
The story opens in soap opera mode with a fight between Mr. Dumbass (a photographer by trade) and his spouse. Their interplay goes something like this:
Wife: You’re screwing one of your models!
Dumbass: Are not.
Wife: Are too!
Dumbass: How did you know?
Wife: Her pictures are all over the walls!!!
Dumbass: Er… I love you.
Characters just don’t get any dimmer than this, folks. A few heated words and several girly punches later, the wife is dead on the floor from an accidental spill. Storing the dead plot device in the trunk of his car, Joe Dumbass starts a long drive to hide the corpse. But this is a horror film (at least, it tries to be) so naturally the ghost of the murdered wife lurks around every corner. Are these hauntings real or simply manifestations caused by his guilt?
Think you have it figured out? Well, you do. This is material so clichéd that a ten-year-old with a rudimentary knowledge of Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes could predict the final outcome. Watching Death Ride, you have to wonder whether the filmmakers have ever seen a horror film or if they simply stole every idea from R. L. Stine books.
We hardly ever stray from the stupefied visage of Joe Dumbass, which means we spend roughly two thirds of the film watching him in the driver’s seat as he shoots the camera the world’s largest guilty stare.
Obviously things don’t go easy for someone this dense: He panics at the sight of other cars, drives erratically, and runs out of fuel just minutes after passing a gas station. When well-meaning motorists offer their help, ole’ Joe responds by sweating profusely. In fact, I can’t recall a single moment when this guy isn’t arousing suspicion through sheer idiocy. (Note to reader: When disposing of a corpse, don’t leave the bloody sheets flapping out the trunk for all to see.)
As our hero’s nano-psyche unravels, we’re treated to the occasional flashback involving his stilted love affair with a Japanese supermodel (whose only talent seems to be mutilating the English language beyond all recognition). Eventually she pops up in his spooky visions solely to have an Asian ghost in the film.
All in all, Death Ride serves no purpose other than providing a cheap drinking game (tip: take a shot every time the line “I’m not going crazy” is muttered). Viewers looking for surreal highway horror are better off hitching a ride with last year’s underrated Dead End cause this car’s running on empty.
Making-of Haunted Highway featurette