“DEVIL IN MY RIDE” (Movie Review)
When making an independent horror film, the greatest safety net you can provide for your story is to have great, inspired characters at your creative disposal. This is even truer if you decide to add an element of comedy to the proceedings, lest you risk the film falling into the subgenre of morbidly dark anti-comedy, which has value but ultimately narrows your audience considerably. In a horror comedy, even when the outrageousness and the FX are limited by time and budget, your characters can be as flexible as you want them to be, and by putting them through a gauntlet of grue, you’re simultaneously giving them humor to mine from, as well from their predicaments. Married with an entertaining story and inspired performances, these characters can be what stands between the film being either frighteningly forgettable or a hell of a good time.
While the budget can’t be masked during some more intense scenes, Gary Schultz’s DEVIL IN MY RIDE often falls into the latter category, providing a character-driven story of possession and exorcism that inspires just as much cringing as it does laughing. DEVIL IN MY RIDE doesn’t try to imitate self-aware horror comedy, nor does it fall into the joke-focused pitfalls of the unsuccessful horror comedy; instead, the film keeps its story in mind and allows the comedy to come from the ordinary people in an extraordinary excursion. And luckily, the story is simple and sweet, as a bride is possessed by an ancient demon, and it’s up to her brother and newlywed husband to get her to a retired exorcist halfway across the country within 72 hours, before her soul is gone for good.
Written by Mike Dozier and Schultz, the film feels right at home combining genres, as the understanding of what works for both is evident without the necessity to comment or add a reflective side to the in-narrative perspective. Schultz displays a driven, ambitious element to his direction, one that’s unfortunately compromised occasionally by the limited resources. However, his understanding of the story and characters is very certain, and even though some of the sequences are more-or-less filler played for laughs (including an unnecessary volleyball scene used to develop one character, albeit unnecessarily), Schultz knows and respects his limitations and often plays to his storytelling strengths rather than stretch to dramatic territory. Likewise, SFX artist Tim Montijo and Armando Ballesteros seem aware of their budget and do their best to make the most of the digital enhancements, while editor Michael Heffler does a great job keeping the film cohesive and fluid throughout.
Perhaps Schultz was most fortunate to get a completely committed and really impressive cast. Frank Zieger often steals the show as wayward brother Travis, playing as the comedic heavy whilst also making the most physical humor out of the more horrifying situations. Alternately, Joey Bicicchi and Erin Breen carry the horror elements impressively, with Bicicchi’s at-home innocence and charisma allowing him to better sell the pain of the terror he endures and Breen’s devotion to the material allowing her to play a sympathetic, yet savage unwilling villain. Lastly, the smaller roles of the film are filled by Llou Johnson—excellently apt as Breen’s frustrated exorcist—Johnny Priest and Sid Haig, who hilariously plays it dry and straight faced as the man who sets the boys on their perilous path.
DEVIL IN MY RIDE is quite a fun time, with plenty of squirm-worthy horror moments for ardent horror fans and truly impressive comedy as well. Schultz shows serious potential for future projects, of which he’ll hopefully have a bigger budget to give them the visual flair they deserve. Of course, many horror fans have been jaded in the past by the low budget horror comedy subgenre, and often times for good reason. But DEVIL IN MY RIDE is the kind of against-all-odds independent film that is admirable in both concept and execution, and if you give it a chance, you won’t regret taking the trip.
DEVIL IN MY RIDE can be found at the end of November in Chicago for Terror in the Aisles. Event info here.