classicsIt’s all Christmas fun and happy, suburban child hijinks in the Phillips household. Young Jamie (Jeffrey Byron) forces his older sister Tina (Laurie Mock) to wear a Santa beard and calls her his brother while they anxiously await their father Tom’s (Dana Andrews) “home for the holidays” arrival from a business trip.


Happy holidays become frightful when Jamie, Tina and their mother Peg (Jeanne Crain) find out that Tom has been in a car accident. Luckily, he survives, but a chronic back injury means he won’t be able to keep his job, and he has developed a mental block to all things related to the accident: the sounds of Christmas music, shattering glass, squealing tires. Disillusioned and in physical pain, Tom isn’t quite sure what to do with himself.

Peg decides it might be a good idea to relocate the family to a place where Tom can find a different job. They end up buying a motel in a small desert town, so they pack up the car and head across the country from Boston.

On the way to their new home of Mayville, the Phillips’ realize that their trouble may not be solved just yet. They encounter a gang of hot rodders – Duke (Paul Bertoya), Ernie (Gene Kirkwood) and Gloria (Mimsy Farmer) – who seem dead-set on being completely reckless and terrorizing the family.

Hot Rods to Hell (1967) was directed by John Brahm (The Lodger). The screenplay was written by Robert Kent (Where the Sidewalk Ends) from a story by Alex Gaby (whose only other writing credit is the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Crooked Road,” season 4).

This was my first watch from Warner Archive Instant, which I was lucky enough to receive an invitation code for during the free February beta subscription fest. Let me briefly comment on the site before I move on to the review of the film: WAI is pretty freakin’ awesome. The picture quality is phenomenal. The site is well-designed and easy to use. The collection wasn’t quite as extensive as I expected, but they have a whole section dedicated to bad-good films, so they get major bonus points from me there. The site won me over and I’ll definitely consider a paid subscription (if I ever have the extra cash).

Hot Rods to Hell begins with corn and is full of corn, though it hits the viewer in waves rather than consistently. No amount of acting talent could have made this film phenomenal, as much of the cheese comes from the script itself. It is amplified, however, by often-exaggerated performances and a plethora of sudden zooms (for “dramatic” effect – usually on Dana Andrews’ face).

(Image: Wrong Side of the Art)
(Image: Wrong Side of the Art)

The “hot rodders” are the worst offenders in terms of corny performances, though I’ve got to give Jeanne Crain some props here, too. She gives a completely overzealous scream just about every time something happens between the family and the hot rodders, and I couldn’t help but crack up every time that happened.

The plot is incredibly predictable, very light on real tension and twists, as expected. It does get slightly more complicated as it chugs along and becomes more enjoyable as a result.

One thing the film wins legitimate cool points for is style. Hot Rods to Hell is full of great music. Mimsy Farmer rocks some totally groovy outfits. The outfits worn by Gloria and Tina are completely indicative of the late ’60s, which enthusiasts of the era (myself included) will love.

Hot Rods to Hell is a pretty decent watch of the “so bad it’s good” genre, perfectly suited to the corn section on Warner Archive Instant. It could have been even cheesier (and I wish it was!) but as it is, you’ll get some enjoyment out of this film if you’re into the cheese.