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Cannibal Detour: Hell's Highway

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Screen Entertainment
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Directed by: 
Steve Taylor
Ashley Elizabeth
Aaron Buer
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The inclusion of the word "Cannibal" in the title of a film must be a big selling point in the U.K. DVD market these days: first of all, Hard Gore's release of the independent U.S. zombie flick "The Ghouls" was re-titled "Cannibal Dead: The Ghouls" for it's U.K. incarnation; and now their release of "Detour: Hell's Highway" (another indie flick from Stateside) also gets the cannibal prefix added to the title; which is fair enough since cannibals is exactly what you get in both cases!

"Hell's Highway is a spirited, above average offering (for once, shot on film rather than the now otherwise almost ubiquitous video) which makes no attempt to hide it's influences: it is clearly intended as a homage to "Texas Chain saw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes" -- with the addition of some modern, snappy, wisecracking dialogue from the teen cast. There is absolutely nothing original going on here, but the whole shebang is delivered with enough skill and aplomb by everyone involved that it's virtually impossible not to have a good time with this one!

After travelling back from a rave in the middle of the Californian desert, a group of seven kids lead by rich kid, Leonardo DiCaprio-look-a-like, Neil (Brent Taylor) take a wrong turn when they go in search of some peyote a friend of his told him about. The sudden appearance, then disappearance, of a strange young girl in the middle of the crumbling highway, leads him to crash and damage his dad's luxury RV in a mountainous area, which means the group can't get a signal on their cell phones. Neil sets out on a long walk back to the run-down gas station the group stopped at earlier, while Michelle and Lee (Jessica Osfar & Ryan De'Rouen), the good-looking couple of the group, take a hike up a nearby mountain to try and get a signal on their phones. Meanwhile, the remaining three girls and the last boy stay behind and bicker among themselves. And what a motley bunch they are: Loopz (Aaron Buer), the remaining boy, is the annoying bore that every slasher movie always includes among the cast. This guy -- a white, wannabe gangster who speaks in ridiculous rapper-gangster slang throughout the entire film -- is possibly one of the most annoying characters of all time! Then we have the sarcastic Goth fan, Cashie (Kelsey Wedeen) who dresses in black and constantly fires off cutting remarks at the other two girls... the dipsy, hot pants-and-crop top-wearing friends, Harmony (Jill Jacobs) and Tara (Ashley Elizabeth), whose only concern is to make it back home in time for the season premier of "The Real World!"

Writer and director Steve Taylor paces the film well: the splitting up of the characters early on is not just the usual excuse to have each killed off one by one; instead we get three different episodes developed in parallel -- and it's not clear which characters will be the ones to survive, as those who are the most prominent at the beginning end up becoming the first victims.

Neil reaches the gas station, which is run by the superbly seedy Petey (Anthony Connell) and soon learns that he has more than his daddy's broken RV to worry about! The gas-station is attacked by a mob of vicious assailants. As Neil and Petey take refuge inside the store, Petey explains that a gang of crazed cannibal freaks live in the area and prey on passers-by, who, up until now, Petey has been directing to them! Rather foolishly, Petey takes a rifle and goes out to kick some cannibal ass, while the terrified Neil listens from inside a locked store room! After a lot of gunshots and screaming, everything goes quite -- and Neil thinks maybe Petey has seen off the killers. However, when he ventures outside, he finds Petey has literally been torn limb from limb: his arms and legs are scattered around the forecourt and his headless torso is pinned to a door! Oh dear! Neil takes flight down the road back to his friends; but when he sees a trailer, fast approaching in the distance, he knows he will soon be involved in a desperate struggle for his life...

Meanwhile, Lee and Michelle's failed attempt to get a signal on their cell phones ends with a mountain-top bonk before the two set back down the path to their friends. Always a no-no in a slasher movie, as sex usually spells certain doom! Sure enough, in a scene which recalls both "Friday The 13th Part 3" and Bava's "Bay Of Blood", Lee is speared through the back mid-coitus and Michelle now has her own struggle for survival to contend with! Although Jessica Osfar is the only female cast member to actually get naked, the producers have cunningly made sure that the predominantly female cast is made up of attractive young blonde babes in very tight clothes. There isn't a minger among them, and the slasher convention of having screaming, scantily clad young women being chased by maniacs is slavishly adhered too!

The four members of the group who stay with the RV are not without their own problems however: someone poisons Cashie turning her into a violent, slavering maniac who tries to bite Harmony! The others restrain her and then find an empty bottle of foul-smelling chemicals; the cannibal's tipple of choice perhaps? An even more ominous sign of things to come is the discovery that the back of the RV has been daubed with graffiti ... scrawled in excrement! Sure enough, that night, the remaining four find themselves besieged by mad cannibals determined to force them out of the vehicle.

This film has been made with some clear aims in mind and largely succeeds in their execution. It's obvious where most of its influences have come from, but the film makers have chosen well and integrated them convincingly into a story which never sits still long enough for boredom to set in. A definite plus point is scored by the great photography which gives this low budget effort an agreeably glossy sheen. The "making of" documentary reveals that the film was actually shot in the middle of a very cold winter in the Californian desert, but you would never guess it due to the clever use of filters which gives it the appearance of being shot in sweltering heat. Several scenes stand out, but the sustained night-time assault on the RV is perhaps the highlight and contains several macabre comic moments; chief among them -- the cannibals' efforts to lure the remaining survivors out of the vehicle by waving their dead friend's head about on a stick, and attempting to impersonate his voice in the darkness! The cannibals are not actually seen for some time but are simply heard, which introduces some well placed tension, since we never know quite what the protagonists are up against untill a considerable way into the movie.

The climax takes place in the cannibal freaks' lair -- an abandoned mine -- and introduces us to King Freak (T.C. Davidson) & Queen Freak (Micky Levy): the mum and dad of the cannibal clan! The mutant appearance of these two brings to mind the classic, but little seen, Deliverance-style slasher "Just Before Dawn" (surely this should be out on DVD by now?) and the abandoned mine setting makes a suitably creepy setting for the big showdown with the survivors of the group -- who are not necessarily the characters you expect to be still around by the end of the film!

Hard Gore give us a great anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with thumping 2.0 Dolby Stereo audio. There are also some nice extras with this release, consisting of a "making of" documentary and Cast screen tests, as well as a trailer for this and many other Hard Gore releases. "Cannibal Detour" delivers the goods any Slasher fan expects, and the low budget never gets in the way -- there can be little else to ask of it. Well worth a look.

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