Review: JOY RIDE 3, aka ROADKILL 3 (2014){0}

As per usual when we delve into the realm of direct-to-video horror sequels, a brief history lesson is in order. (Or if not required, then at least halfway amusing.) So let’s begin by reminding everyone thatJoy Ride (known in the UK as Roadkill) was a 2001 horror/thriller/neo-noir that actually holds up pretty darn well if you choose to give in a fresh spin. (Like I just did. Because I’m a pro.)

Directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West), co-written by J.J. Abrams, and featuring some solid work from Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, and the late Paul Walker, Joy Ride / Roadkill wasn’t exactly a smash hit, but it seemed to earn a whole lot of fans on cable, DVD, and everywhere else one might find films distributed by 20th Century Fox.

The quiet but consistent popularity of Joy Ride / Roadkill led Fox to green-light a direct-to-video sequel in 2008. Unfortunately Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (aka Roadkill 2) focused more on roadside splatter than on emulating the gruesome intensity of the first film, and the result was a slightly entertaining but generally forgettable follow-up. (And this is coming from a guy who admires what Fox did with theirWrong Turn sequel, so it’s not like I’m a direct-to-video horror snob.)

Which leads us to 2014. Fox has a third chapter to offer, and this one is called Joy Ride 3: Roadkill, which will probably just be called Roadkill 3 over there in the UK. (Do you guys not know what a “joy ride” is? Just joking. I love the British.) Enlisted to write and direct Part 3 was the video-shelf-prolific Declan O’Brien, the man behind the enthusiastically disgusting Wrong Turn 3 (2009),Wrong Turn 4 (2011) and Wrong Turn 5 (2013).

So with the firm assertion that one should never take a “joy ride” from a made who has made three “wrong turns” (that’s comedy gold right there), we finally set our sights on Joyride 3 / Roadkill 3. Be back in 90 minutes. (Yes, I wrote this before actually watching the film.)


So what we have here is a pretty standard “road slasher” set-up combined with a decent enough “story,” some halfway solid suspense, and an actual dash of relative restraint. “Relative” because Mr. O’Brien’s Wrong Turnsequels are positively gleeful in their garish gruesomeness, whereas the guy seems to be taking a considerably more mature approach here.

Then again, Joy Ride 3 does feature a handful of gory murder sequences that will have splatter junkies squealing with delight; it’s just that they come after what seems like a workmanlike attempt at legitimate tone, tension, and even a touch of character.

Plot-wise, there’s nothing new here: a young and very attractive team of automobile racers are heading north on the stretch of highway that “Rusty Nail” (voiced by an uncredited Ted Levine in the original) likes to call his hunting ground. Each character is given approximately one personality trait, so when the “cocky” one cuts off our evil antagonist on the highway, that pretty much signals doom for the “goofy nerd,” “the angry loner,” “the concerned cutie,” “the capricious hottie,” and “the eventual hero.”

Not only does Rusty catch up with those darn kids, but he leads them on an elaborate hunt that is evidence of a murderer as ingenious as he is handy with automobiles. Let’s just say Rusty Nail is sort of like Jigsaw in a truck, and leave the threadbare plot for the film to deliver.

The basic yet legitimate assets are where you find them: there’s a subplot involving some cops that actually feels like part of the story and not just a bunch of clunky exposition; some of the actors are pretty solid even when they’re running through some very generic dialogue; and the highway chases/murder scenes benefit from strong editing and, here and there, some excellent practical effects work. A bit too much screaming, on the whole, but also a few neat twists and turns you might not see coming.

Where Part 1 was a horror film mixed with a tight-knuckled film noir hook and Part 2 was a big plate of roadside carnage, then Part 3 seems to be shooting for an earnest homage to Steven Spielberg’sDuel… combined with a hard-edged and periodically nasty piece of no-frills indie horror. It’s safe to say that Joy Ride 3  is nowhere near as good as either of those films, but it is evidence of a horror-loving filmmaker and a low-budget yet profitable video franchise that have at least one foot planted in the quality control department.

Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)