Route 666 (2001)

Route 666 (2001)

On the road to Hell, there’s no turning back

A team of US federal agents are sent to retrieve a high profile mob witness who fled before he was supposed to appearing in court to testify. Eventually tracking him down in the desert, the agents aren’t the only ones looking for him as mob hit men are hot in pursuit. Deciding to take a shortcut down Route 66, nicknamed locally as Route 666, the agents encounter the murderous ghosts of a dead chain gang who were killed on the road years earlier.

 

In 1988, a first-time director by the name of William Wesley unleashed the cult hit Scarecrows upon the horror world but then disappeared off the face of the planet. Such a promising debut was never built upon and Wesley’s potential went to waste. That was until thirteen years later when Wesley returned with Route 666. The question has to be asked: if you’re going to wait that long between making films, why make something as average as Route 666 on your return? Why bother coming back for this?

Wesley hasn’t learnt any new tricks in his time away from the camera. In fact, Route 666 plays out in similar fashion to Scarecrows: an assorted group of people trapped in the middle of nowhere with a small group of very deadly things after them. Swap the scarecrows out, put the chain gang ghosts in and you’ve got a very similar film. That’s not maybe such a bad thing at times but it goes to show how little Wesley wants to experiment with a ‘winning’ formula (though it has taken years for Scarecrows to gain an appreciative following).

Route 666 is a timewaster, plain and simple. There’s nothing worth going back for. There’s little to warrant a first look. It just exists to pass away an hour and a half without too much fuss. Sometimes that’s all you want from a film. But given the debut pedigree of the director, it’s such a wasted opportunity. There’s little sign of the qualities that made Scarecrows such an atmospheric, moody horror flick. Route 666 is mainly set during the day which makes it difficult to generate much suspense. The barren desert plains that sprawl for miles don’t exactly lend themselves to things sneaking up on our heroes but at least they give the viewer that nice sense of isolation. If you were in any doubt that these people were in the middle of nowhere, then the nice desert cinematography will quell that doubt.

Shooting during the day not only removes the use of creepy lighting and shadows in order to build suspense but means that the chain gang ghosts are fully visible in the daylight every time they appear. That’s a gutsy move for any horror director in exposing your monsters in the sun for the audience to see them in all of their glory. Thankfully the ghosts look alright – well they’re basically in human form whenever we see them with a bit of fancy make-up slapped on and they have the ability to appear out of nowhere (which begs the question of why they don’t just appear behind the characters to take them by surprise all of the time). The ghosts like to use whatever tools they were using when they died so expect jackhammers, sledgehammers and other sharp and blunt objects used for stabbing and smashing the expendable cast. The film isn’t overly gory but the odd punctuated moment of blood is a welcome addition.

So the film has some alright-looking ghosts to unleash upon the cast and it wants to unleash them in a decent location…..so where does it all go wrong? Route 666 has a terrible script. The unspeakably dumb things that these characters do to put themselves in peril to begin with and then continue to do throughout the film just smacks of lack of ideas on behalf of the writers. It’s lazy writing that has characters doing things which fly in the face of what a normal, sane person would do in that situation simply to ensure that the plot is furthered. The dumb script keeps the pace of the film as flat as a freshly squashed piece of roadkill too, with the odd moment of violence and action being lost amidst a sea of talky exposition.

The cast isn’t great either. Lou Diamond Phillips has the personality of a wet paper bag and is never able to grasp the mantle of being the main star. Together he and co-star Lori Petty have zero chemistry and seem to be reflecting on how far their careers have nose dived. Steven Williams has one of those instantly recognisable faces where you’ll know what he’s been in but not remember his name. He had a recurring role in The X-Files as the shady Mr X for a start but genre fans will most likely remember him from Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Rarely the main man and always a good hand in support, Williams makes the most of some more screen time in a role mainly designed for comic relief. His motor-mouth mob witness character spouts off the film’s best lines and he brings a much-needed dose of energy to the film. It’s a shame that he couldn’t share it around.

 

Route 666 has fleeting moments of potential but they’re too few and far between to make any sort of lasting impression. Wesley’s eagerly-anticipated return to the director’s chair ends in a costly detour down Route 66, setting him back thirteen years at least.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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