Friday, December 18, 2020

Hot Rods to Hell

Hot Rods to Hell
John Brahm

Tom Philips (Dana Andrews) is a family man who suffers a bad car accident that puts him in the hospital for some time. Shaken and withdrawn he moves his family out to the desert to take over running a motel. Next to the motel is a seedy club that is home to some local wild teenagers. Tom and the teens end up butting heads and soon enough his entire family is in peril. Tom has to face his fears and face the kids before they run him off the road for good.

Hot Rods to Hell promises quite a bit. Angry teens with no regard for their lives or others, a family beset by these rogue elements, and kick-ass 1960s hot-rods racing each other to the death. In truth, it offers very little of these things, instead turning into a milk toast drama that forgets it has anything to do with hot rods until the climax of the third act. Hot Rods to Hell has a set-up that could have provided some real action and drama but fails to ever capitalize on things in any real way.


If there is anything interesting going on in Hot Rods to Hell, it is its main character, Tom Philips. More often than not the adults in a juvenile delinquent film are unassailable moral figures or absolutely corrupt. Adult men are usually the source of authority and power, but Tom is consumed by his fear from his accident. It is a flaw that allows the teens to walk all over and him and it makes the focus of his arc as he fights to regain the confidence he lost. Hot Rods to Hell isn’t about revenge or adults taking out their anger on children, in the end, Tom asserts his authority over these wayward kids. It is a clever and surprising turn of character that denies the normal bloodletting and revenge JD films indulge in to show the downfall of their young characters.

This above-average arc is lost in a sea of flat characters who are sketched out barely more than ‘angry teen,’ ‘shifty guy,’ or ‘useless son.’ There is no one for Tom to play off on screen. All of this could be forgiven if there was some decent action but Hot Rods to Hell fails there. The car chases are murky and badly filmed. They are never as exciting or potentially deadly as they should be given the story. Hot Rods to Hell was originally intended for television broadcast and we can see that here. This film could have benefitted from unleashing something more savage.

"Pardon me, do you boys know how to get to hell?"

There are much better car movies, there are much better juvenile delinquent films, Hot Rods to Hell is a disappointment on several levels. It may be worth a view if you have seen your fill of this particular genre already and just need to complete things. It should be titled Hot Rods to Heck because it never has enough oomph to make it hell.

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