Studio: Midnight Releasing
Director: Terron R. Parsons
Writer: Terron R. Parsons
Producer: Terron R. Parsons
Stars: Richard Tyson, Corlandos Scott, Jeremy D. Ivy, Sherri Eakin, Jeremy Sande
A Halloween hayride becomes a real-life horror when an escaped killer and an urban legend cross paths.
A maniac on the loose at a Halloween haunted house attraction. An escaped serial killer. A campfire tale about a local urban legend named “Pitchfork” that terrorizes the townspeople. On their own, any of those premises would make for a decent enough starting point to build a horror movie. Unable to focus on just one, “Hayride” instead jumbles all three plotlines together and creates a film that is exactly that: a jumble.
The plot is not the only jumbled element, however. While the story is already undecided if the threat should come from the legendary killer or the real murderer, “Hayride” mixes its acts together, as well. Lengthy scenes of relationship-establishing exposition occur more than halfway into the film, long after the first act should have already concluded. Dual storylines involving the investigating lawmen and the unwitting victims do not even intersect until the final minutes. “Hayride” then finds even more ways to confuse itself with a patchwork script and a production that is missing sound effects, scares, and any semblance of realism.
Steven is an Alabama native who comes home for a visit so that he can introduce his uncle Morgan and cousin Corey to his new girlfriend Amanda. Steven has timed his return so that he and his lady may partake in the annual Halloween hayride that Morgan runs on his land. That sentence may be your only indication that the time of year for this setting is Halloween. Strangely, there is not a single pumpkin to be found in the entire film. If not for a few costumed hayride patrons, the holiday may have gone unnoticed altogether.
Complicating this year’s festivities is an escaped serial killer on the loose in the surrounding countryside. Although this killer has left a trail of bodies that includes corrections officers and co-eds, the investigating detective and local deputy never bother to inform the community that a dangerous maniac is in the area and cannot be found. Not that too much concern could be expected from Detective Loomis (yes, that is really his name) anyway. While assessing the final body count later in the film, Loomis actually says, “what’s the damage?” in a tone missing any hint of sympathy for the victims. Instead, the oblivious townspeople are free to spend their time in the nearby woods patronizing a homemade Halloween haunt, which naturally attracts the killer like a fly to honey.
Either the soon-to-be victims do not have a single cell phone among them, or their line of communication to the authorities is just as non-extant as the reverse. When the bodies start dropping, not one person goes for a phone or so much as says, “we have to call the police!”
In their defense, it could be that the hulking monster thrusting farm implements into their bellies just does not come off as much of a threat. Although large enough to be a WWE wrestler, the escaped killer has an unintimidating face and an even less sinister manner of stalking. Whether swinging an axe, sledgehammer, or pitchfork, the killer gives his weaponry a timid arc that looks as if he is afraid of chipping a nail. There is never a sense of any genuine savagery in the kills.
It is a challenge to single out the worst performance. The acting is almost unilaterally terrible, with the exception of Richard Tyson as Captain Morgan. Blending the look of Val Kilmer and John Kreese, with a dash of Kurt Russell for good measure, Tyson’s character makes some of the film bearable. In the meantime, it is another challenge to not be distracted by the poor camera and audio work that may as well bear a neon sign with the unwanted attention it draws to itself. Much of the film is washed in a ruddy red tone. Certain camera movements are employed for no discernable reason, such as a jarringly unsteady handheld scene during a quiet conversation of a loving couple in bed. Sound effects are either completely missing or completely underwhelming. Bear traps, the eventual appearance of which is painfully foreshadowed more than once, clamp shut with all the force of a paring knife into a grapefruit.
The final reveal that brings the legendary killer and the escaped murderer together was a surprise. However, I cannot say for certain if it was a genuinely clever twist or if I did not see it coming because I had already lost interest in the outcome. Halloween haunts, urban legends, and serial killers make for good horror settings and frightening tales. But “Hayride” drops each one to the ground while trying to juggle all three. Do not let the tagline fool you. Leatherface would have something to say about comparing “Hayride” to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” And he would say it with far more brutality than “Pitchfork” could ever manage.
Review Score: 30