Route 666 (2001) is worth a detour to see

If you’ve skipped over this before then I won’t hold that against you. The title belongs on a batch-produced teen’s horror novel that, the trailer looks like the footage was taken off of a VHS via a camcorder, and the cast is filled with “ooh, I remember when they were in good films!”. But I’m here to tell you that whilst there are a couple of problems with it, what we have here is a genuine, bona fide, hidden gem of a movie. Why didn’t it get bigger? Well, because it’s got that kind of quirkiness that makes it hard to sell to a mainstream audience and fun to watch for a psychotronic one.

The core attraction of this movie is its cast and its script. Lou Diamond Philips, Lori Petty, and Steven Williams make up the core, playing a pair of Marshal’s and a criminal respectively. Williams, as Fred “Rabbit” Smith, gets the bulk of the lines by having a character that won’t shut the hell up, but Officers La Roca and Steph get to have fun telling him to. They also get to kick his and other people’s arses in low-budget but respectable manners. The rest of the marshal team get less screen time, but all play important parts when it comes to quippery and gunplay.

“Excuse me whilst I steal this movie from you!”

The lines they have are, for this kind of movie, most excellent. It’s an appropriately steady series of complaints, accusations, orders and objections between a bunch of people in a high-pressure professional situation. Nothing too gung-ho, nothing too offensive, and filled with lots of snappy retorts and creative abuse. It’s low-key humour, as befits their situation, that will make you regularly chuckle and makes everything else they get up to seem more real.

Just cops, doing cops things

Okay, that should probably be “relatively real” as the film’s big bad is a quartet of ghost-zombie-vampires who will stalk and kill anyone who sets foot on the titular road. They turn up at just the right time to keep the story beats satisfied and commit just the right level of atrocity to make you go “eeeeew, a jackhammer should NOT go there!” without descending the movie into a gorefest. They also move at just the right speed to be a threat but to be kind of avoidable, leaving the central cast enough time to escape, regroup, throw around some more quality lines, and get hit by exposition.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have your back sorted in no time”

Around this time, the plot starts playing out and it’s perfectly adequate whilst being told in an oblique way that makes it look more interesting than it is. It also doesn’t quite add up and leaves a few plot lines handing, making it seem a bit pretentious and up itself. The exemplar of this is Gary Farmer turning up for a single scene just to do a bunch of cliché Native American business and, functionally, go “oooooh, spooky”. But he gets some excellent lines and works brilliantly with Lou Diamond Philips so it’s all forgivable.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

The conclusion of the film is a mixed bag of quite satisfying and “where the hell did that come from?”, which either gives is a mystical quality or will annoy you depending on your mood. The overall pacing it good, but no amount of touching field agent moments will get around the visible filler in the middle section. Also, the music is pretty much all blues rock and if that really isn’t your thing you are going to have a bad time.

“Help me! I’m having to carry all his scenes!”

People who are up for a bit of light, cast lead action-horror should find it a Treasure, especially if you are cool with Lou Diamond Philips showing off by doing all the really cool stuff. Just be aware that both the action and the horror are quite mild, so neither itch is likely to be fully scratched.

The Raggedyman

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