Horror, Hebrew Style: 'Hate's Haunted Slay Ride'
Because of its desire to stay true to form, Hate's Haunted Slay Ride is a lo-fi gem. The Jewish angle makes it even more meaningful...and memorable.
Hate's Haunted Slay RideRated: R
Director: Warren F. Disbrow
Cast: Daniel Bartkewicz, Warren Disbrow Sr., Warren Hague, Jenny Hill, Paul Kellogg, Steve Lyon
Studio: Visual Experience Productions
US date: 2011-03-22 (General release)
Most horror films center on a basic eternal battle between good and evil. While the morality tale of avoiding temptation (sex, drugs, etc.) less you be punished for succumbing to same is often a subtext, the main thread offers a horrific entity (supernatural or serial) that preys upon the innocent in a never-ending war over existential supremacy. Sadly, said clash is almost always Christian in basis. Sure, Bollywood has brought us a couple of Hindi-oriented shockers and Pakistan's first horror film - Zibahkhana, aka Hell's Ground - wraps all of its splatter in a surreal combination of genre and Islam. But for the most part, the one 'God' constantly evoked against the sinister cinematic forces are almost always centered on a routine Roman Catholic ideal.
Now comes the latest from Warren F. Disbrow, New Jersey's own master of the (homemade) macabre. With a creative canon that includes schlock cult masterworks like Flesh Eaters from Outer Space, Invasion of Flesh and Blood, Scarlett Moon, and Haunted Hay Ride: The Movie, the aging auteur specializes in what can best be called epic dread. Sure, limited budgets and production value keep his films from being all out visual spectacles (though he does do some fine F/X work here and there), but where he really finds his scope is in the storytelling. Disbrow loves characters, settings, and the foul forces of darkness, as well as the nail-biting byplay between all three. This time around, however, the return of the metal masked marauder from Haunted Hay Ride takes a decidedly Jewish turn toward terror.
At the end of the first film, main menace Hate (a huge, hulking man-mass with long black hair and a steel skull faceplate) had slaughtered several dozen guests at a local Halloween attraction. It's now the next day and survivors such as Mary Ann Lorenzo and Mr. Brock are fighting for their lives. As the police try to piece together the events of that horrible night, our killer claims another victim - his long lost father. He then retrofits his headgear to be more manageable, grabs his machete and axe, and heads out into the coming Winter's night. As time moves on, Hate murders more people, the cops remain baffled, and only a local religious figure, Rabbi Simon Shaw believes that the deaths might have something to do with the Torah and demonic forces from Hell itself. Hoping to save his followers, as well as a few wayward family members, he grabs his Star of David, some lamb's blood, and prepares to match wits with the walking abomination once and for all.
At nearly two hours, Hate's Haunted Slay Ride doesn't skimp on the story. I winds the first film around its central core of non-Christian dogma and then throws in some slams on the commercialization of Christmas as well. Disbrow, who clearly believes in the fundamental formulas of terror, doesn't try to reinvent the narrative drive here. Instead, he produces a plethora of victim fodder, let's Hate has his way with said masses, and then lets the rest of the cast play clean-up. There are classic moments of mayhem here, as when our bad-ass behemoth confronts a store owner changing his holiday decorations from Halloween to Christmas. There's also a fun bit when Hate hunts down some bell ringing members of the Kris Kringle holiday hand-out squad. For the most part, the murders in this movie are simply part of the expectations. Disbrow knows he needs them, but isn't going to let them overwhelm his main ideas.
Using Judaism and the ways of said faith as a means of making a statement about conviction in general is genius here. It allows for the typical film fan to see the concept in a whole new and different light. While Bret Warshawsky is not the most compelling Rabbi in the history of said leader's onscreen depiction, he does make us see the compassion and the counterbalance within his character's teachings. There are differences, obviously, between Christians and Jews, but Hate's Haunted Slay Ride doesn't get into the nitpicky particulars. Instead, the film focuses on that most important of anti-evil elements - belief - and successfully argues that all wickedness can be dissuaded as long as you have God in your heart. The key here is that it doesn't just have to be Jesus. It can be Jehovah.
Even better, Disbrow turns Hate into one of those soon-to-be-beloved horror idols that the fans go crazy over. With his iconic look, mouth full of one liners, and a mythos that keeps getting better at every turn, this is one of the best fright fiends ever. Because he's more interested in a body count than a grand Satanic purpose, the last act switchover into religion does seem a bit strange and we really want more of the character's backstory. Disbrow hints at a childhood so horrible that it almost begs Hate's current career as a vile vivisectionist, but we long for more legacy. Perhaps it was part of the original film - who knows. It's been so long since we visited that bloody farm festival. Still, with the creation of such a character, Disbrow secures his future fright value. Devotees will clearly believe that in 'the more Hate, the better' approach.
As for the rest of the film, it's a mixed bag of low budget expectations. Some of the acting is excellent. Others are either over the top or lost in an aura of casual amateurism. As a director, though, Disbrow is always in command, keeping scenes short and sequences editorially sound. He employs his limited violence with great aplomb and never lets the movie meander over into spoof or farce. This is a filmmaker who takes his suspense as seriously as his splatter, employing just as many traditional techniques as sudden "gotcha" shocks. Sure, there will be some who believe that there's way too much here, that a movie of this sort needs to be 80 streamlined minutes of mindless corporeal cat and maniacal mouse. But that's not how Warren F. Disbrow works. He's looking at the big picture even within a standard slasher dynamic. Because of its desire to stay true to form, Hate's Haunted Slay Ride is a lo-fi gem. The Jewish angle makes it even more meaningful...and memorable.