Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Remembering That Time Nicolas Cage Battled Satanists in ‘Drive Angry’

What is it with Nicolas Cage and evil cults? From the trashy thrills of his Wicker Man remake to the stylized hyper-violence of Mandy, the veteran actor has taken out countless crazed believers throughout the course of his long and varied career, and I don’t think he’s about to stop anytime soon. That being said, there’s only one Nick Cage flick where he gets into a shoot-out with homicidal Satanists while continuing to have sex with a waitress – and that would 2011’s underrated neo-grindhouse thriller, Drive Angry – a near-perfect example of Horror Adjacent cinema.

Hot off the success of 2009’s surprisingly profitable My Bloody Valentine 3D (which I’d argue is one of the best horror remakes of the 2000s), director Patrick Lussier wanted to keep experimenting with new 3D technology in a more action-packed cinematic playground. Inspired by the sleazy exploitation flicks of the 70s (as well as classics like Vanishing Point and The French Connection), Lussier and frequent collaborator Todd Farmer came up with a story about an elderly man escaping hell in order to exact revenge on an evil cult.

Executives were already impressed with Lussier’s work on MBV3D, so the studio set aside a much larger budget for his next 3D project. While this support would be enough to finance more elaborate gore effects (courtesy of Hellraiser veteran Gary J. Tunnicliffe), not to mention quite a few practical car explosions, it wasn’t quite enough to allow Lussier to bring the hyper-reality of his and Farmer’s story to life in the way they had originally envisioned.

Thankfully, Nicolas Cage became interested in the production once it was confirmed that that the film would carry a hard R rating. The actor had previously been disappointed with projects like Season of the Witch, where a solid adult-oriented script had been butchered by producers looking to cash in on the PG-13 demographic, so he relished the opportunity to act in something a bit more violent. Farmer would then rewrite the main character to better match Cage, which I think worked out to the movie’s benefit.

In the finished film, we follow Nicolas Cage as the cheekily named John Milton, a man who escapes from hell with a soul-destroying gun in order to hunt down the cult leader (Billy Burke) that murdered his daughter and kidnapped her child. Along the way, he’s helped by runaway waitress Piper (Amber Heard) and her 1969 Dodge Charger, with the duo being hunted by a mysterious supernatural figure known only as “The Accountant” (William Fichtner).


Drive Angry had the rotten luck of releasing during the early year dead zone at a time when audiences were already starting to get jaded with the 3D gimmick (which might have something to do with the absurd amount of blockbusters relying on haphazard post-conversion technology rather than actual stereoscopic cameras). And yet, even critics who despised the film admitted that it was destined to find success among the midnight movie crowd – and they were right.

In fact, I think there’s plenty to love about this high-octane adventure. It may not have the same charmingly grimy aesthetic as Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse (or even the criminally underrated Hobo with a Shotgun), but Drive Angry is still haunted by the spirit of a low-brow 70s genre flick. From the ironic use of tropes to the excessively mean-spirited action, you get the feeling that this exact same script could have been produced half a century ago (though cheap film stock and a complete lack of CGI would probably have resulted in a more entertaining final product).

The action itself is also remarkable when you consider the film’s budget. Sure, many of the set-pieces feel cheap, with the villain’s main vehicle being an easily replaceable RV and some of the more expensive stunts being brought to life through dated-as-hell CGI, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so much practical vehicular carnage outside of a $100 million production.

There’s also Cage himself, with the actor delivering a surprisingly subdued performance as a hardened badass with a heart of gold. While he doesn’t scream like an unhinged banshee or even pee fire in this one, you’d have to be a pretty jaded cinephile to resist cracking a smile when you see Cage intentionally drive his car through a satanic bonfire in order to turn the vehicle into a flaming battering ram.

Lastly, I’m a fan of the flick’s badass soundtrack, though your mileage may vary depending on how much you enjoy dad rock (which is appropriate, considering that this is one of Axl Rose’s favorite movies).


While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why a film about a guy literally escaping from hell in order to fight Satanists would be a horror adjacent experience, Drive Angry warrants discussion due to the fact that it was made by a team that already excelled at genre storytelling.

From the cartoonishly entertaining gore effects (which are even more fun in three dimensions) to the gratuitously evil villain, horror fans are going to have a field day with this one. I also love how the filmmakers allow Cage’s character to get just as bloody and messed up as his enemies throughout the flick’s many shoot-outs. And if that’s not enough to justify the movie’s genre pedigree, we even get to see Tom Atkins in a brief role as a sheriff out for blood!

There’s also the interesting supernatural mythology here. While it’s not exactly Hellblazer levels of lore, the film sets up some interesting concepts surrounding the nature of the Devil and his annoyance with satanic sacrifices that give him a bad name. And while Burke gave a fun performance as a Manson-inspired maniac, Fichtner’s Accountant is the most fascinating character here besides Milton himself, with his impartial demeanor and magical coin heavily implying that he’s actually supposed to be Death.

Equal parts Supernatural and Fast & Furious (while also feeling like an unofficial Ghost Rider spin-off), Drive Angry has a lot going for it if you can ignore some janky filmmaking every now and then. It may not be the best that the neo-grindhouse revival has to offer, but if you’re a fan of schlocky action flicks with a foot in supernatural horror, I think you’ll have fun with this Cage-heavy b-movie.

There’s no understating the importance of a balanced media diet, and since bloody and disgusting entertainment isn’t exclusive to the horror genre, we’ve come up with Horror Adjacent – a recurring column where we recommend non-horror movies that horror fans might enjoy.

The post Remembering That Time Nicolas Cage Battled Satanists in ‘Drive Angry’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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