Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Over the Edge: "Raven's Ridge" (1997)



Available exclusively at Hollywood Video, this film is part of the First Rites series, which brings together young independent films and markets them as big budget video releases, complete with cool video cover graphics and the director introducing their film at the beginning of the tape. Consider yourself lucky if you do not have a Hollywood Video in your neighborhood.

A group of morons rob an armored car after it leaves a racetrack. The motley crew takes the money deep into the woods, buries it, and decides to come back in five months (when the heat dies down), dig it up, and run. The main ringleader is caught, and the remaining thieves run back up to the mountains to dig up the loot. They cannot find it, and on top of old smoky, are being killed one by one by an unseen woodsman.

Where to begin...there is not one redeeming character in this film, which always means there is not one character to cheer for. "Go you bank robbers, find that money! Go you backwoodsman, kill them robbers!" are not words you find yourself saying while viewing this. The armored car heist is a mess. One of the thieves, Baxter, is driving, having taken the job in order to rob the car. The other two guards haven't a clue, even after the car is blocked in a narrow alley in downtown Los Angeles. I'm not that familiar with California life, but wouldn't a shootout, complete with flying bullets and ricocheting sound effects, catch someone's attention? The guns look like they were found in a bargain bin at Kaybee Toys, but that is no excuse. Also, the robbers communicate with walkie talkies, and stand out when doing this in broad daylight.

The robbers head to Raven's Ridge, and Baxter tells an unlikely story. Raven's Ridge got its name because a group of settlers there were killed by giant black birds who ate their eyes out. The lonely horror fan in me said, cool, this will be great! The cynical critic in me said, yeah right, with a budget of thirty dollars, they are going to train some ravens to peck the eyes out of some fantastic special effects dummies. Baxter finishes his story, and flashes a grin...he made it up!? What writer/director Mike Upton does not realize is that eye pecking ravens would have been ten times more entertaining than what does wait on the mountain.

Spoilers ahead! After Baxter is caught, too easily, the group goes back. The fat guy and the druggie are the first to be killed. This leaves the former marine, and the two lovers. All the robbers point guns at each other and accuse each other of taking the money, which is now missing. The woods come alive with a tall scraggly hick who feels the robbers are trespassing on his land. He looks just like Dan Haggerty, but without all that acting talent. The marine and the woodsman trade verbal barbs during their fight that makes "Happy Gilmore" look like "Macbeth." Goodbye, marine, and then there were two. The girl knew where the money was all the time, and digs it up, just to be killed by her boyfriend, who gets caught in one of those traps only backwoodsmen can come up with. The hick, who has been beaten and stabbed, but still lives, reveals the final climactic plot point- he is Baxter's brother, and they planned this all along. The boyfriend screams "NOOOOO," much like I did throughout this thing, and we fade as Baxter smiles in an interrogation room somewhere.

The hick is awful. I was not aware the cast of "Deliverance" hired themselves out to do other films. In southern California, I expected a Valley Girl hick, not a deepest darkest Arkansas variety hick. Look for homages, or rip offs, of these other fine films: "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "First Blood," "Southern Comfort," "Scarecrows," "Bonnie and Clyde," and every bank heist film ever made.

A long review, and a lot of spoilers. It takes a lot of words to communicate the pain I felt watching this, but I am confident I will not be picking up any more entries in the First Rites program.

The video store had this in the Horror section, yet the only horrific thing about it was the script. Live and learn. Skip "Raven's Ridge." (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Raven's Ridge