Nowhere is the law of diminishing returns more evident than when it comes to straight-to-DVD horror sequels. This was true in the 1970s and ‘80s, and is true today. Thank goodness, then, for writer/director Declan O’Brien, who is carving out a niche for himself as the saviour of clapped-out B-list horror franchises. First he worked his particular brand of cinematic ‘magic’ on WRONG TURNs 3, 4 and 5, delivering three ludicrous slices of over-the-top ultraviolent excess, and now he’s turned his sights to JOY RIDE, helming the third in the sequence, ROADKILL. Can the CHILDREN OF THE CORN and RESIDENT EVIL franchises be far behind?
It’s fair to say I didn’t have high expectations of JOY RIDE 3. It’s also fair to say I was pleasantly surprised. Not because it’s a particularly good film – it isn’t – but because O’Brien sticks with the formula that made his previous offerings such a guilty pleasure. He knows what horror fans want and delivers it in spades. As such, we’re treated to an abundance of nudity and theatrical gore, a grand guignol of exploding body parts and heaving breasts. But this is all window dressing – where it gets interesting (and more than a little surprising) is the way in which O’Brien approaches the material. For one thing, he’s not phoning it in – he gives the franchise his full attention and does his best to do the concept justice – and for another he imbues his characters with a remarkable degree of common sense. They’re still very much Horror Movie Characters who do Horror Movie Things, but not to the genre’s traditionally appalling standards. They respond to a potentially mortal threat in (mostly) the same way that real people would, and don’t go out of their way to get themselves into even more trouble. It may not sound like much, but in straight-to-DVD terms it’s nothing less than revolutionary.
None of which is to suggest that JOY RIDE 3 is anything more than it aspires to be – an ultraviolent romp calculated to appeal to fans of the lower end of the horror spectrum. Neither inspired nor inadequate, the story and script are functional, and the characterisation is just as in-depth as it needs to be (which is hardly at all). Performances are fine, and there’s enough action to ensure it doesn’t overstay its welcome. As you might expect, the special effects (which are mostly practical) are above par, and O’Brien makes full use of them. He also does what he can with ‘Rusty Nail’, a serial killer redneck trucker imbued with even less personality than his rig. Ultimately, however, there’s nothing the director can do about the curse of the franchise villain – it’s hard to build up much dramatic tension when it’s a foregone conclusion that JOY RIDE 4 will soon be heading our way.