31 Days of Halloween — Day 18: Rest Stop (2006) — by Jay of the Dead

Rest Stop 2006

Editor’s note: Jay of the Dead is the host of Horror Movie Podcast and Movie Podcast Weekly. He has been a print and online film critic since 2006, and he has been podcasting about movies since 2010. Jay of the Dead’s horror movie reviews do not contain spoilers.

There are some things that we horror fans just don’t say aloud. Not everyone feels this way, but I believe many of us don’t like to admit that our beloved horror genre is judged by different standards. This isn’t a criticism or a failing of the genre, necessarily; it’s just that horror’s filmmaking emphases lie in other places than those of most other genres. For example, we are often more lenient on a horror film’s performances if the special effects are decent.

[ Side note: For me, personally, it’s all about the premise and the execution of story that’s carrying out that premise. If the concept is scary to me, then my heart is in it. ]

Every once in a while we feel we can rightfully complain that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has altogether snubbed something remarkable from the horror genre, such as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931), Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” (1973) or even “The Shining” (1980) by director Stanley Kubrick, who was not only passed over for Best Director by The Academy; he was nominated for a stupid Razzie Award for “Worst Director.” The irony.

All of this lengthy preamble just to say, despite the fact that “Rest Stop” (2006) was a direct-to-video release, there are relatively few things “wrong” with this film, if we’re viewing it through the somewhat apologetic lens of a horror movie. Don’t misunderstand me. To be clear, I’m actually offering praise to this movie, though it is “qualified praise.”

(Note: This film has added a subtitle and is now commonly known as “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead,” perhaps to further distinguish it from its sequel, “Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back” (2008). But I am a stickler for the “official title,” which I assert is determined from the film’s opening title card — if it has one — or else the title presented at the end of the film during the credits.)

Somehow, I had actually overlooked “Rest Stop” when it was first released until I learned about it from one of my all-time favorite episodes of any podcast: In January 2011, my friend, GregaMortis, released Episode 30 of The Creepture Feature Horror Show, on which he and others (including HMP’s very own Dr. Shock) listed off their Top 10 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s decade. GregaMortis ranked “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead” as his No. 8 pick.

Here’s the premise: Jaimie Alexander plays Nicole, a wayward young woman who runs away from her home in Argyle, Texas, traveling toward Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Jesse, who’s an aspiring actor. But when they visit a rest stop somewhere in rural California, a mysterious antagonist in a yellow and white pickup truck begins to prey upon them. When Nicole returns from the restroom, her boyfriend, Jesse, is nowhere to be found, thus beginning her life-and-death struggle for survival.

“Rest Stop” would be classified as a supernatural slasher flick. The killer appears to be some redneck dude in a pickup truck, but there is much more going on at this rest stop than mere stalking. “Rest Stop” is like a blend between “Duel” (1971) and something like “Wind Chill” (2007) or “Dead End” (2003). I would note that “Rest Stop” has some gore and a few quick torture scenes, so at times it has a similar tone to “The Hills Have Eyes” (2006). In short, “Rest Stop” is sort of like a hard-core “Twilight Zone” episode that skews pretty dark.

Jaimie Alexander has become a fairly recognizable starlet of late, with prominent roles in Marvel’s “Thor” movies, “The Last Stand” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and most recently in the new NBC TV series, “Blindspot.” She mostly does a fine job in “Rest Stop,” though one of the movie’s most blatant problems is all the thinking out loud and talking to herself that the script requires her to do. It’s clunky, distracting and very artificial but probably not Alexander’s fault. Sure, Tom Hanks can talk to himself throughout “Cast Away” and pull it off, but his dialogue was better. And he had Wilson, the volleyball.

But for a horror film, “Rest Stop” delivers the goods. There is an unforgettable moment that’s truly cringe-inducing that has to do with a tongue-snipping — or removal. It’s brutal, along with a few other horrific scenes that are worth your time.

Overall, I’d rate “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead” a 7 out of 10, and I’d call it a strong rental recommendation for horror fans.

Admittedly, I’m typically not into supernatural horror as much as other sub-genres. Having confessed that, the supernatural aspects of this film are unexplained and mysterious. And that’s good, I suppose. But it’s notable that I had the time and the opportunity to watch the sequel, “Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back,” back-to-back with this primary film, and I just didn’t have the desire to see any more of these characters or this world at that time. I will probably check out the sequel — perhaps even this month — but my lack of enthusiasm tells me that I wasn’t overly engaged with this particular brand of monster.

—Jay of the Dead

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6 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 18: Rest Stop (2006) — by Jay of the Dead

  1. (Some spoilers)

    Day 18 – Motel Hell (1980)

    By pure luck, Motel Hell was released in theaters on this very day back in 1980. I didn’t even plan to review the movie on it’s 35th anniversary. How I see it, Motel Hell is a the dark comedy take on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre if Sally hooked up with Leatherface and his family from the start of the movie. There’s a lot of similarities there with Motel Hell and the much better known Texas Chainsaw. The main protagonist are both women who had some sort of automobile problem, they’re stuck in the area as they encounter this bizarre family. Both films feature a main character that makes his main living by selling meat to his customers, without anyone truly knowing what’s in the meant. Then there’s the big chainsaw duel at the end of Motel Hell that may have actually been the inspiration for what happened in Texas Chainsaw 2. If you like Texas Chainsaw, you might as well watch Motel Hell.

    A big part of the dark comedy comes from the wacky characters featured in Motel Hell. To put it mildly, everyone is over the top and a total freak. Farmer Vincent manages to come across as the most normal character in the movie and he’s the weirdo that wears a pig’s head at the end of the movie! Motel Hell’s version of Chainsaw’s Sally, Terry, initially came across as someone who was normal, but as the movie went on, you realized how well she fit in with the other freaks in the movie. She clearly has some daddy issues. At the start of the movie, she’s dating some guy boring in 1923, so depending on what year Motel Hell was supposed to take place in, he was in his late 50’s. Meanwhile, Terry looks like she’s in her twenties. Just days after her boyfriend’s apparent death, she’s completely over it while hanging out with this family that she just met. She goes out on a date with Bruce, the cop, and he nearly raped her. For Terry, that’s completely fine and she’s immediately over it. Then she declares her love for Farmer Vincent despite the fact that she only knew him for a couple of days and Vincent is an old fart. She may not be a killer like Farmer Vincent or his younger sister, Ida, but she’s not exactly normal.

    I did like the pacing of the film. The movie immediately kicked off with everything beginning rather than kicking off with any backstory. Instead, we just get a little hint at what’s going on with Farmer Vincent’s smoked meat. Instead, we have to keep watching to keep getting more hints at what’s going on until everything is completely revealed. It’s great that way because there’s so many WTF? moments. The end result is a bit of a zombie-like movie with Farmer Vincent and company fighting for their lives against the threat.

    I watched the movie on my copy of the Midnite Movies release of Motel Hell/Deranged that came out back in 2002. I don’t know if it’s the actual movie or this DVD release was edited, but it wasn’t nearly as gory as I imagined. This is a movie about cannibals, a man wearing a pig’s head wielding a chainsaw, victims forced to be buried up to their necks in the ground, a zombie-like horde out for revenge, and so on. Yet, there’s very little blood. When there is an attack, the camera doesn’t stay on the violence. Violence wise, it’s tame enough to put on TV without making any trims. Instead, the editing needing to be done for a television comes from the nudity, some dialogue, and a very…unique scene in a hotel room. Furthermore, even though Motel Hell sounds like a great name for a horror movie, I don’t think it fits for the movie. With the exception of one scene, the motel never came into play with the plot. This is not Psycho where the Bates Motel plays such a huge role in the movie. Even though it’s not a good horror title, something like “The Secret Garden” would have made far more sense. “Farmer Vincent’s Meats” would have been fine as well. Undoubtedly, the title was given to the movie because of its horroresque sounding.

    Overall, Texas Chainsaw Massacre needn’t worry about Motel Hell stealing any of it’s attention away from them. Motel Hell isn’t as good, but there’s a certain weird charm to it. It gives us a look at the human flesh meat market, something that most of these other local cannibal movies never did. Farmer Vincent and his sister, Ida, are sweet people if you can look past the fact that if you turn your back, you will be attacked, stuffed into the ground, and eventually mixed with pig to create some delicious smoked meat. Shout! Factory just released one of their wonderful Blu-Rays for Motel Hell last year. It’s for free over on Amazon Prime if you have that service. Go out of you way to watch Motel Hell this Halloween season. It’s a weird little movie that despite the fact that they don’t go far enough into the horror and gore, is a fun experience and well worth your hour and forty minutes.

    I’d give it a solid 7.5.

  2. Day 18: Crimson Peak
    Hmmm. I don’t want to give too many spoilers because it’s brand new. Don’t expect too much horror but there’s definitely some in there. Del Toro can’t tell a story without ghosts and monsters and that’s fine with me!

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