As someone who has been reviewing independent film, on the microscopic level at least, for roughly a decade at this point, I feel that I have a fairly strong grasp of the popularity of genres. In the wake of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, the indie world was completely dominated by "retro" genre-film love letters. Recently, I have seen a number of varying genre films popping up that have seemed to be coming into some popularity. Faux-documentaries and romantic comedies have been popping up a great deal here lately, but horror is one of the true go-to areas for independent filmmakers. Recently, I have had a great deal of luck in regards to the anthology titles that have been sent my way. Although anthology films are notorious for their difficulty, due to pacing and tonal differences between shorts, I have been subject to several higher quality outings as of recent. It seems that with the cult success of Trick ‘R Treat, many filmmakers have decided to pair their own short films together with the hopes of developing a successful formula. Such is the case with Road Hell, an independent anthology flick that looks to bring together numerous horror film aesthetics in one feature. Is it successful in the strange combinations that it attempts to put together? The simple answer would be yes, but it is not without a fair share of problems.
Road Hell tells the story of a wealthy couple who attempt to go on a vacation. Hardly the romantic getaway, this husband and wife can’t stand one another. They slap one another, constantly argue and only seem to be together because of their money. However, as they ride on the open road, the wife decides that she must stop and use the bathroom. After the couple bicker, it is decided that they will spend the night in this strange motel that they have stopped at for their bathroom break. When they check in, they discover that the innkeeper is more than a little strange. Extremely perverse and seemingly psychotic, this creepy desk jockey points them to their room and the horror show soon begins. As this couple try to survive this night of slumming, they are subject to multiple stories of extreme horror! The hubby discovers a television program about vampires that seems all too real, the wifey has hallucinations about a monstrous animal that torments children and we are also shown the bizarre life of a real-life zombie hunter! Will this couple survive their night of hell?
Road Hell starts off promising enough. Although the two main characters, at least the two who we will be saddled with throughout the movie, are walking/talking cliches, their villainy somhow makes them interesting. We are first introduced to the husband, and he is absolutely disgusting in every way. He cheats on his wife and then brags about it to her, and he encapsulates the very worst sort of yuppy behavior that audiences could possibly imagine. His wife is no keeper, though, because she may be one of the most annoying "trophy" wives that cinema has ever seen. Although actress Jaclyn Marfuggi may be stunning on the eyes, her performance here grates the nerves. This of course means that she is doing her job as an actress, as this is what the role demands, but as with most things, Road Hell definitely pushes things to their most extreme limits.
The tonal values of the movie are all over the place, and this is probably where it runs into its biggest hurdles. Made up of independent shorts that have been tied together through the "Happy Couple" storyline, each short horror segment seems incredibly different from the last. While this isn’t always a bad thing, the movie shifts around a great deal and doesn’t seem consistent in any of its ideas. This Happy Couple sequence, described in the plot synopsis above, is handled very well but seems fairly distracting when placed alongside the rest of the short stories found in the movie. Featuring an aesthetic that seems to be more directly related to a Troma movie, or maybe something like Hanger/Gutterballs, these short interludes between stories are certainly eye catching. Featuring CGI feces, fake semen and sex with a plastic sheep, this portion of the movie is entirely over-the-top. The shorts, The One, Deep Into the Rabbit Hole (which was previously reviewed, by me, here on Rogue Cinema) and Zombies! Zombies! Everywhere!, are much more toned down in terms of the crazy stuff. If you want to know more about Deep Into the Rabbit Hole, check out my detailed review, but the other shorts are equally as impressive. The One is a reserved little vampire tale that details a revenge story hidden in a sexy little package. Stylishly shot, it is a fairly straight forward little slice of horror in comparison to the other sequences within the movie. Zombies! Zombies! Everywhere! is a more comedic take on a similarly grounded horror-genre, but it looks to remove the "horror" element and try out a few different things. Shot in the mockumentary format, it attempts to show a zombie apocalypse that doesn’t seem quite as threatening or imposing. Very solid stuff!
Although The Happy Couple may seem like my least favorite of the bunch, do not be mistaken. I actually like it quite a bit, it is just unfortunate that it seems so drastically different in comparison to the rest of the movie. Audiences may feel that the movie seems somewhat disjointed by the end of the movie’s running time, but hopefully they will instead look at this as an opportunity to see just how dramatically different the worlds of indie horror can be. A journey into some very different worlds in the horror community, Road Hell is certainly something different than what audiences might expect. For this strangeness, as well as the quality of the shorts, I have to recommend it. You can read more about this project via the official production site at: http://www.screamkings.com