Farmer Sam (Bill Moseley, Sin Eater, To Your Last Death) works the land that has been in his family for generations, but now he’s behind in payments and facing foreclosure. There’s been an offer to buy some of the land which would give him enough to pay off the loan, but he’s not interested, he’s betting his haunted Hayride to Hell will make enough to pay it off. Unfortunately for him, his shooting at some trespassers leads to him aiming a shotgun at Sheriff Jubel (Kane Hodder, Tow, Kill Her Goats) and getting tased by Deputy Nixler (Graham Wolfe, Ghost Source Zero, Last Flag Flying). That ends up with him in the hospital and the town closing down the hayride.
Hayride to Hell obviously wants the viewer to sympathize with Sam. Everyone’s out to get him, from the bank to the town council and the cops. Unfortunately, hearing him whine about being forced to pay back a loan, or have to listen to neighbours complain about the garage his customers dump in their yards seems more like privilege than persecution. And being forced to hire off duty cops for traffic control doesn’t carry a lot of weight either, considering it’s standard practice most places.
Maybe realizing that, writers Kristina Chadwick and Robert Lange add in vandals destroying Sam’s family cemetery and killing one of his attack dogs, followed by Nixler going on a racist rant at one of his employees to his motivations. But they never make Sam himself likeable. He’s a miserable old man whom we’re supposed to root for because his family owned the land for centuries, the same reason he feels he has the right to treat everyone else like shit to make money. So when he finally stages his hayride to hell, I really didn’t give a damn about anyone.
It doesn’t really help that most of the deaths are dull, low energy affairs, with the vandals from the first act being killed off for real as the hayride goes by. It’s not until the last fifteen minutes that director Dan Lantz (Bloodlust Zombies, Bloodrunners) manages to give the film any kind of energy. Before that, it just plods along from bloodless death to bloodless death at a pace more likely to kill from boredom than from fright.
I may have enjoyed Hayride to Hell a bit more if I hadn’t recently seen Spooktacular!, a documentary about SpookyWorld, a popular haunted attraction my friends and I visited back in the 90s. It points up the problems a popular attraction can bring to its neighbours, especially traffic and trash. I remember sitting for hours in gridlock, and ironically Hodder himself recounts having to drive on the wrong side of the road to get around the traffic and make it in time for his appearance. It would be even more ironic if the haunted hayride in PA that SpookyWorld’s owner mentioned visiting was the one Lange was running at the time.
There are other issues with Hayride to Hell, like the rather unbelievable way so many of Sam’s employees have no problem committing mass murder. Then there’s the local EMTs, one of whom is a relative. We’re apparently supposed to feel good because they’re saving the victim’s organs for transplant, at a nice profit, of course. What can you say about a film where the organ thieves are the good guys?
Neither bloody nor outrageous enough to work on the level of 2001 Maniacs or the original Two Thousand Maniacs for that matter, and a total misfire as a straight-up horror film, Hayride to Hell arrives in theatres today, October 20th. You can check the film’s website or Facebook page for more information or announcements of home video availability.