While a popular route for first-time feature filmmakers, the horror comedy is an extremely difficult balancing act. Many filmmakers lean too far in one direction or the other– too much comedy and not enough scares and you risk looking goofy. Too much gore and not enough laughs can easily look mean-spirited. Many independent filmmakers try to tackle the horror comedy to dire ends. Hell, even major studios drop the ball more often than not when it comes to merging these two genres. Given that, it’s always a pleasant surprise to find a genuinely great horror comedy, even moreso from a completely independent production. Devil in My Ride is the perfect example of independent horror/comedy done right.
Doreen (Erin Breen) and Hank (Joey Bicicchi) are getting married in a matter of days when Doreen gets a call from her brother Travis (Frank Zieger). Doreen hasn’t heard from Travis in a few years, so she’s happily surprised when he announces he will be attending the wedding. Hank isn’t quite as pleased given Travis’s exit from Doreen’s life and subsequent silence. As Travis speeds across the country in his custom van, Black Mama, he stops to help a beautiful woman with a truck piled high with weird junk. Travis asks the woman if he can take a locket he finds in the truck bed as payment for his assistance and as a wedding gift for Doreen, but she warns him that it is not for sale. He manages to make off with it anyway and gets into town in time to give Doreen the necklace and try to convince the wary Hank that he should be the best man in the wedding, despite knowing Hank for just a few minutes.
During the reception, Travis reads an inscription that came along with the necklace, unwittingly unleashing a demonic power bound to the locket that possesses Doreen. After the possessed Doreen lays waste to the wedding reception, Hank and Travis manage to subdue her and get her into Black Mama. Panicked, Travis goes to visit his old “friend” Iggy (Sid Haig), an expert on all things supernatural. Iggy informs the men that Doreen is in the grip of a particularly nasty demon, and that she has only a short time before it will take control of her body and condemn her soul forever. Travis and Hank take off on a cross-country trip to find a legendary exorcist who is their only hope, but with a dwindling supply of drugs to keep Doreen pacified and the already fragile relationship between the two men fraying, things aren’t looking up.
Devil in My Ride has one huge advantage over many independent horror comedies in its spectacular cast. Particularly great is Frank Zieger as Travis, the kind of motormouthed charmer who is nearly impossible to dislike. His chemistry with Joey Bicicchi’s comparatively strait-laced Hank is what drives the entire film forward, both actors given ample opportunity to show their chops. Erin Breen is also fantastic as Doreen; one legitimate complaint about the film is that the audience doesn’t get to spend enough time with her before she turns into a spitting, profanity-spewing monster (although she’s also great, and often very scary, there). Director Gary Michael Schultz keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, taking breaks from the road trip for scenes alternately suspenseful (trying to track Doreen in the dark after she manages to escape) and absurd (Hank and Travis trying to win a beach volleyball tournament). Once the film moves into the third act the pace does flag a bit, but a few late-film surprises keep things interesting and the interplay between the leads never gets old. This is a great independent horror/comedy and well worth seeking out. I can hardly wait to see what Schultz does next.
Devil in My Ride is now available on VOD from FilmBuff so check it out! You can even rent it or buy it on iTunes.