Apr 3, 2013


opens with a scene in which our main character discusses with his girlfriend the history of his uncle's Halloween hayride attraction. After running through the list of oddball horror characters his uncle has created over the years to fill out his hayride, he adds: "You have to keep it simple. Simpler is scarier. People don't want a compelling story. They want to be scared."

"Sounds like lazy writing to me," his girlfriend says. Mm, boy howdy, don't it, just?

Steven Summers (Jeremy Ivy) has come back home with his girlfriend, Amanda (Sherri Eakin), to see his family for the holiday. That holiday would be Halloween, which while I can fully get behind the idea of supporting, seems weird he would make what seems to be a long trip for such an occasion. But it's because his family takes Halloween very seriously, which includes his Uncle (Captain) Morgan (Kindergarten Cop's Richard Tyson!). Oh, also - a killer is on the loose, bludgeoning people awkwardly with an axe. This is important to note, since, ya know...we need conflict.

Written and directed by T.R. Parsons, who must be an Alabama native based on his ability to capably capture its beauty, Hayride is yet another Halloween-set slasher film about a killer picking off one misguided young adult at a time. How to properly approach the final output depends on your level of prejudice against low budget film-making. I tend to teeter back and forth, as it's unfair to let a low budget affect one's opinion, as what matters was the attempt at transcending that kind of limitation. But if said film simply isn't trying anything new, then it's fair game. Hayride has a lot of neat new features, but once you strip them all away, we're still dealing with the basic model. 

Surprisingly, the film fairly shares time with the kids and the hayride subplot as it does with the killer. But when it wants to be horrific and bloody, it is. The problem is, after a point, it really does devolve into the usual slasher fare that we have seen time and time again. It tries to jazz up the proceedings by including a subplot about the law proactively attempting to hunt the killer down, instead of the usual "you're crazy, so-and-so's been dead for years!" reaction we so often get, but we're still left with the same old thing - our lead attempting to survive against the villain while simultaneously overcoming his own ingrained fears.

The film makes a concerted effort to establish some character development for our lead characters, attempting to flesh them out beyond their typical Abercrombie archetypes. There's a particularly sappy but pleasant scene between uncle and nephew about the latter's possible future - and whether what he considers to be more of a sure thing: a career, or his future with Amanda. None of this is expected to be included in this sub-genre, so it was a welcome surprise.

From a directing standpoint, though I'm not too big a fan of the hand-held movement taking over at every budget level, I rather like the flashback sequences used to help fill in the gaps about the killer's origins. Where most films would simply shoot in black and white, these scenes have been altered in post to give it a nice look - almost that of photographs bubbling and melting over an open campfire. And Hayride, its tongue firmly planted in cheek, has no shortage of homage. The detective hunting the killer is named Loomis; the camera settles in for a close-up of a girl's ass; a scary campfire about the killer's origins ends with a cheap scare a la Friday 2.

The sequences involving the hayride and walk-throughs are especially fun. We've all been to one, and whether it was shitty or fantastic, we remember the experiences, so the inclusion of these sequences work, even if by affiliation.

As usual in films of this manner, the younger portion of the cast's acting isn't tremendous. It's not terrible to the point of distraction, but much of it comes across as clumsy and awkward. Richard Tyson, however, seems to be teetering back and forth between sleepy Nic Cage and over the top lovable Billy Ray Cyrus. Either way, it makes me realized something: I've missed Richard Tyson!

There is bad out there, ladies and gents, and lord knows I have seen it. Seeing what I have seen, I can't in good conscience call Hayride a bad film, or even a missed opportunity - completely overwrought final minutes notwithstanding. It's perfectly and reasonably entertaining, and for a multitude of reasons. If you want an engaging story, it's here. If you want a body count, you've got one. But if you're looking for originality, that's one I can't say you'll find in this old Hayride.

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