Author: William Butler & Michael S. Deak & Matt Morgan
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A troubled woman running from the law and a mysterious hitchhiker team up to take down a trio of hot-rodding ghosts haunting a stretch of rural highway.
Synopsis:The county SHERIFF and a DEPUTY attempt to pull over a classic GTO driven by RUBY (20s), but she forces them into a chase. When Ruby almost hits a hitchhiker (later identified as DANNY) walking in the road, she swerves and almost speeds into a ravine. This gives the Sheriff and his Deputy the opportunity to catch up. While the Deputy runs Ruby’s license, the Sheriff admires Ruby’s meticulously restored GTO and agrees to let her off with a simple moving violation — when he’s suddenly hit by a dusty old ‘57 Chevy, blasting music from the late ’50s, roaring down the highway. The car doubles back and slams into the police cruiser, dragging it and the Deputy into the ravine. Ruby takes a moment to recover from the shock when she sees the Chevy’s lights click on at the bottom of the ravine. She runs to her car.
As she drives, steam begins to leak from a tear in her radiator hose. As she approaches a town, Ruby is forced to stop at an abandoned gas station. She pokes around inside until she finds some duct tape, which she uses to patch the tear. She tries to make a call on her cell phone, but there’s no signal. She goes to a phone booth that doesn’t work when Danny sneaks up on her. She reflexively punches him, and although she continues to distrust him, his kind and calm demeanor seem genuine enough that she gives him a ride into town. As they drive, Danny grills Ruby about herself — she’s a professional roller derby skater on her way to Tucson with a lockbox full of stolen money she wants to use to help her sister. Meanwhile, the ‘57 Chevy has freed itself from the wreckage and joins a Ford pickup and ‘55 T-Bird for some mayhem. Along the highway, Ruby and Danny pass various wrecked cars. An elderly man, SCOOTER, tows the cars to his junkyard. When Ruby asks him what happened to the cars’ drivers, Scooter doesn’t answer.
Ruby and Danny arrive at the town’s surprisingly active diner. Danny insists on waiting in the car while Ruby goes inside to call her sister. Inside the diner, Ruby runs afoul of a biker gang (fronted by RICKY and CHULO) and a group of drunk guys but makes a good impression on kindly diner owner MAGGIE and an old man who drives an RV, FRANK. Frank explains to Ruby that, one night a year — Demon Night — Old Route 58 is haunted by a pack of murderous ghosts in muscle cars. Ruby thinks it’s ridiculous and insists on using the phone and getting out of there. Maggie tries to keep Ruby occupied with coffee and pie. The drunks leave in their rice burner and are quickly pulverized by the trio of vintage cars. During the mayhem, we finally see the cars’ drivers: BETTY SUE drives the T-Bird, JIMMY DEAN drives the truck, and DADDY-O, the leader of the pack, drives the Chevy. They’re teen ghosts dressed like ’50s hoodlums.
Ruby finally gets ahold of her sister when the phone loses its connection. Maggie tells her to wait; the phone will come back eventually. Ruby insists on leaving, so Frank shows her the route to the Interstate on his map. Outside the diner, a patrol car shows up. Danny panics and runs away, hiding in an outdoor restroom. Betty Sue speeds by, catching the patrolman’s attention. He gives chase. The Chevy rolls up alongside Ruby’s GTO before slowly moving away. Ruby goes out to the car and sees Danny is gone. Inside the diner, Frank picks a fight with the bikers. Ruby panics when she hears gunshots and decides not to wait for him. She accidentally backs into one of the bikers’ motorcycles, and she speeds away. The bikers chase her. Just as they catch up, Frank shows up in his RV and starts throwing dynamite at them, killing all the bikers except Ricky and Chulo. Ruby spins out after almost hitting the flaming wreckage of the patrolman’s car. Frank handcuffs Ruby to the steering wheel of the GTO, apologizing while explaining he’s setting a trap — he’s been coming out here for three years trying to kill the ghosts, so he wants to use Ruby and her car to lure them. The ghosts arrive and circle Ruby’s GTO. Frank appears with his dynamite, but the cars avoid the explosions. Danny shows up and picks the lock on Ruby’s cuffs just as Frank accidentally blows up his RV and blows himself up with the next stick of dynamite. Ruby tries to get the cash box out of the GTO, but it won’t budge. Danny grabs her, and they hop on his stolen motorcycle.
Danny leads the ghost cars into a nearby abandoned Christmas theme park. The bike speeds through a bridge the huge cars can’t pass. Pissed, Daddy-O emerges from the car — and his appearance changes from a normal teenager to a disgusting, corpse-like creature. Daddy-O starts talking, and it would appear he knows Danny. Daddy-O threatens him a bit before Danny and Ruby speed away. Danny stops the bike in the center of the park’s midway. He assures Ruby they won’t follow without their cars. Ruby demands an explanation, so Danny tells her everything (with the help of a flashback). In 1958, Danny was friends with Daddy-O, Jimmy Dean, and Betty Sue, whose main hobbies included hanging around Santa’s Village and harassing 14-year-old pipsqueak Scooter. Danny fell in love with VICTORIA, the sheriff’s daughter. He decided to change his life, but the only way he and Veronica could stay together was to leave town. They made plans to do so, but Daddy-O wasn’t happy about it. As the couple attempts to leave town, the trio of cars pursue and crash into them. Victoria is killed. His father is the first to arrive on the scene. Distraught, he shoots Danny in the head, then hunts down the other hoodlums and kills them — forcing them to handcuff themselves to their steering wheels, then burying them alive at the construction site for the new highway — Route 58.
Back in the present, Danny explains that he doesn’t understand why they’re all still there for one night each year, but it’s his mission to get past the county line. He tells Ruby he’s gotten close to it in the past, and he knows the others are afraid to cross it, but he hasn’t quite made it. When he saw Ruby’s driving skills, he knew she’d be the one to get him across the county line before 6:30 — the time they disappear. Ruby’s angry that Danny didn’t tell her the truth earlier. She goes to retrieve her car. Danny insists on coming with her. At the GTO crash site, Scooter prepares to tow it away. The ghosts continue to harass him. Ruby and Danny track them all back to Scooter’s junkyard. As they creep through the yard, they’re chased by Scooter’s guard dogs. They manage to get away. Ruby takes a shotgun from the tow truck and threatens Scooter with it until he releases the GTO, but the other ghosts arrive.
Danny runs away, knowing they’ll chase him over Ruby — but Betty Sue doesn’t. Ruby shoots at her a couple of times, without any effect, before Scooter wraps her up in a tow chain. Ruby kills him and goes after her car — when Ricky and Chulo show up, armed and still angry. She hides from them as they leave, looking for her nearby. With lightning speed, she rebuilds the engine Scooter disassembled. Meanwhile, Danny pits Daddy-O and Jimmy Dean against Ricky and Chulo and flees, heading back to Ruby. Betty Sue gets into the tow truck — to which the GTO is still attached — and tries to pull it apart. Ruby blasts Betty Sue with a lit blowtorch, causing her to speed into a propane tank, which explodes. Daddy-O and Jimmy Dean quickly kill Ricky and Chulo and head toward the explosion. They’re surprised to find Ruby carrying Betty Sue’s trademark pink fuzzy dice. Danny speeds behind her in the GTO, pulverizing Jimmy Dean. Daddy-O is impressed, but Danny loses control of the car and hits Ruby. Daddy-O gets to her before Danny can. Danny begs him to let Ruby go. Daddy-O convinces Danny to leave without her. After he goes, Daddy-O knocks her out.
Dawn comes. Danny speeds in the direction of the freeway but suddenly stops and turns back. Ruby wakes in Daddy-O’s Chevy, which is decaying like an old coffin. Ruby tries to fight him, but she can’t. Danny suddenly slams into the Chevy, causing it to spin out. Ruby beats the hell out of Daddy-O until Danny pulls alongside with a shotgun and shoots Daddy-O. It distracts him. Even more distracting is the reappearance of Betty Sue, who comes after the Chevy — she’s not happy about the new woman in Daddy-O’s life. Ruby and Danny use the distraction to get her back into the GTO. They speed onto the freeway, pursued by Daddy-O and Betty Sue. Throwing modern cars into the mix makes the pursuit a little more difficult. Daddy-O’s Chevy is crushed by a tanker truck. Ruby rolls into a cement riverbed. Betty Sue follows and eventually crushes the GTO against one of the walls. Danny is thrown out of the car. Ruby’s cash box is crushed. The money floats away in the breeze. Ruby gets out of the car and beats on Betty Sue until she crushes her burned-out skull. The tanker truck careens off the highway and into the riverbed, heading right for the GTO. Danny regains consciousness and sees Daddy-O is the one driving the tanker truck. Danny tries to shoot him, but the gun is empty. Ruby tries to get the GTO to start, but it refuses to turn over. She finally gets it started, checking her watch, disappointed that there’s not much time. She speeds back to the tanker truck, then dives out of the car, sending it on a collision course with the truck. Both explode.
Saddened by her failure, Ruby skates alongside the highway. She’s picked up by a friendly driver. Betty Sue smashes through the passenger window and yanks Ruby out. Ruby beats Betty Sue up with what’s left of the cash box, then drags her across the county line, at which point she bursts into flames. Up the highway, Ruby spots Danny past the county line, hitchhiking. Pleased, she continues to skate.
Comments:Demon Road seems to want to pay homage to the cheesy drive-in movies of the ’50s and ’60s. Instead of putting unique spins on the standard tropes or even exploiting the silliness of these films for comedic effect, the writers present a straight-faced story cluttered with clichés, poorly defined characters, and a bunch of car chase moments that have been seen elsewhere, multiple times. As written, it merits a pass.
The characters never rise above generic stereotypes. Ruby is the tough-but-vulnerable heroine, Danny is the wimpy sidekick, and the remaining characters — including the trio of villains — barely have enough depth to be considered stereotypes. Aside from colorful physical descriptions, all of these characters are simply hell-bent on chasing, shooting, and punching.
Giving Ruby and Danny a lot of ghosts and bikers to fight might keep the action varied (although it doesn’t — it’s one repetitive, shotgun-laden car chase after another), but it doesn’t add up to much when the writers don’t take the time to make anyone care about either the heroes or the villains. Even when the script tries to make the characters interesting, they rely on stale clichés like giving Ruby an offscreen sister to protect or having Danny turn out to be a ghost with a connection to the villains.
There’s not much to the story. It’s almost nonstop car chases, with a few short scenes here and there to deliver backstory and plot. The first act introduces the characters and basic setup with relative ease but not much intrigue, primarily because the thin characters don’t sell the various conflicts very well. The second and third acts are little more than a series of chase/fight/shootout sequences, interrupted with one long flashback that explains everything the audience needs to know about the characters’ backstories and present-day motivations.
The combination of weak characters and simplistic narrative obliterates the suspense that should be building throughout the story. Whether or not Danny will make it to the county line on time is an afterthought until they get to the freeway in the last few pages of the script, and Ruby’s efforts to get to her sister never seem to mean much to her or the story. All of this is undermined by the perplexing ending in which the writers defy the rules of their own story by having the ghost characters reappear long after they should be gone. The writers define a hard time for their appearance — one night a year, from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. — in an effort to add a little more suspense, but changing it arbitrarily will only frustrate audiences instead of delivering the happy ending they’re aiming for.
The inconsistencies with the script’s internal rules governing the ghosts are a recurring problem. Sometimes, shooting them tears holes in their faces; sometimes, the bullets pass right through them. The ghost villains look like ghouls whenever they’re out of their cars, but Danny passes as a normal person. At times, the ghosts appear to have superhuman strength; elsewhere, mere mortals can pummel them with ease. These are all small details, but they add up to big problems — especially when one of the only hard rules the writers establish (the one about the ghosts’ timeframe) is violated for a ridiculous “twist” that leads to an unearned happy ending.