It’s always fun finding lesser-known indies packed with horror veterans being dropped into familiar scenarios, to see how they’ll handle shit we’ve seen before with different actors. For instance, these two films…
DEVIL’S DEN (2006)
Director Jeff Burr has decades of cheesy horror under his belt – From a Whisper to A Scream, Stepfather II, Texas Chainsaw III, Puppet Master 4&5, Pumpkinhead II, Night of the Scarecrow – so it’s no surprise that Devil’s Den sticks with that tradition. It’s sort of like From Dusk Till Dawn meets the campy monster hunter shows of the 2000s, with a fun cast of familiar horror faces. Essentially, this could have been a pilot movie for a SyFy TV show.
Devon Sawa (Final Destination, Idle Hands, 388 Arlette Avenue) and Steven Schub (The Thirteenth Floor, Dead & Deader) are drug dealing buddies on their way back from Mexico when they make a pit stop at a strip club. You know where this is going…
When all hell breaks loose, the booty-shaking babes turn into snarling ghouls!
No vamps this time. Horror icon Ken Foree is a patron who proves to be the authority on the creatures, and Kelly Hu (Jason Takes Manhattan, Succubus: Hell-Bent, Farm House) is a mysteriously well-trained fighting machine. And bringing the most humor to the mix is a ditzy chick who works at the club (Karen Maxwell of Zombie Nation).
The first monster assault is a bloody blast and the ghouls are way cool.
Following that, the film continues to entertain, but it most definitely begins to feel more like a hokey SyFy Network show, so you have to prepare yourself for the more action-oriented, mission-based plot and low budget look.
It totally works for what it is, but doesn’t live up to the promise made by the initial setup.
HARD RIDE TO HELL (2010)
I think for anyone who saw the film Race with the Devil back in the day, no other movie that picks up the premise will ever manage to be quite as chilling and effective. Smartly, Hard Ride to Hell doesn’t try to be. Instead, it goes for a more gruesome, exploitative approach.
A bunch of friends is traveling through Texas in an RV, most of them with horror resume in hand. Leading the pack are Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame and Brandon Jay McLaren (Hybrid, Scar, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Dead Before Dawn, TV shows Harper’s Island and Slasher).
When they stop for the night, Brandon meanders off into the woods and witnesses a biker gang performing a sadistic Satanic ritual on a bunch of girls at a campfire.
BUSTED! The gang spots him and chases him right back to the RV. Shit gets crazy fast, the bikers spend a nice amount of time torturing the group – which includes biting them like vampires even though they’re not vampires – and become fixated on one girl who has been having fertility problems but is apparently just the vessel they’ve been waiting for…
As in many of these backwoods movies, luckily there’s some odd character waiting in the wings to come and save the day.
When he does, there’s a thrilling chase scene with the RV and bikes that eventually leads to a church in a ghost town, where the whole pregnancy issue comes into play. The amount of actual demonic threat is saved for the end, so this is predominantly a human-vs-human horror flick.
The highlight for me is Katharine Isabelle. Her character is pretty much a quivering mess, but she brings rational snarkiness to the situation, and her character’s lines get funnier as the film progresses.