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Why Drive Angry is a Modern Exploitation Classic

Milton (Nicolas Cage) walks away from an explosion unscathed in Patrick Lussier's Drive Angry.
Milton causes an explosion in Drive Angry.

In Drive Angry, Milton (Nicolas Cage) busts out of Hell to seek revenge against those who murdered his daughter and save his grandchild from the clutches of a demonic cult. In the process, he crosses paths with a waitress who is looking to fly the coup and get out of her hometown. The pair embarks on a crazy journey that finds them being pursued by a series of unsavory types and dodging a supernatural bounty hunter.

Drive Angry is not a proper horror film. It is a supernatural, neo-grindhouse/action flick with ample horror overtones. It has the aesthetic of a graphic novel come to life. Drive Angry was released in 3D, so there are plenty of intricately crafted effects and several scenes that are intensified by the third dimension.

Upon its release, quite a few critics unduly lambasted Drive Angry. It’s my assertion that many of them just didn’t get it. Drive Angry is not trying to do anything more than to entertain its audience. And it certainly succeeds at entertaining. There is absolutely nothing beneath the surface. But sometimes that’s ok. Not every film has to provide social commentary or a deep and meaningful character study. Sometimes, audiences want to see Nicolas Cage putting unnecessary emphasis on the last word of his sentences and blowing shit up. If that’s what you go in to the film expecting, you won’t be disappointed on any level.

Roger Ebert appreciated Drive Angry. And that is because he was able to differentiate between fine cinema and an action film designed to allow its audience to escape reality and conventional wisdom for an hour and 45 minutes. He realized that this was intended to be a throwback to the grindhouse-esque pictures of yesteryear and that one simply need not overthink it. Drive Angry isn’t trying to be anything its not and Ebert fully realized and appreciated that.

Due to a lack of enthusiasm from critics and a number of other factors, Drive Angry failed to earn back more than one fifth of its ambitious budget in ticket sales. The film has found more of an audience on home video but the picture’s lack of commercial success pretty much rules out any chance of a sequel.

This 2011 film is co-written by Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine 3D) and Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000) with Lussier directing. While many of the characters exemplify a series of ‘white trash’ characteristics, beneath the surface, there is something likable about each of the key players. As the viewer gets to know the film’s leads, they find that the characters are flawed in a way that the makes them easy to relate to. The screenplay melds well-worn action film clichés with a variety of original ideas. There is enough originality inherent to the script to make up for the portions of the film that are less creative.

The performances (particularly Cage’s) are over the top. But that’s one of the things that make Drive Angry so enjoyable. It’s undeniably entertaining to watch Nicolas Cage chewing up the scenery in nearly every scene. And Amber Heard (The Ward) is great as his driving companion. She knows how to play a badass and this is no exception. Her character is tough and serves to balance out Cage’s larger than life performance.

Drive Angry is laden with violence and gratuitous sex and nudity. I’ve come to expect nothing less from a Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier film and he comes through again with Drive Angry. Their love for the exploitation films of yesteryear are highly apparent and a welcome change of pace from the typically sterile studio fare we’ve grown accustomed to. This is a film that feels like it could have been made in the late ’70s exploitation boom if it weren’t for the contemporary wardrobe, dialogue, and the like.

The gore is exceptional. While there is CGI used, it is done with enough subtlety that it does not distract the viewer from the feature. The film also employs practical effects and the mixture ends up being fairly amusing. If you haven’t seen Drive Angry because of its poor reputation, do yourself a favor and check it out without any preconceived notions. It’s an enjoyable film with nonstop action. There’s plenty of gore, excessive nudity, and lots of scenery chewing from Nicolas Cage. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray has some really great special features, like a body count tracker and an insightful commentary track with Lussier and Farmer.

WICKED RATING: 6.5/10

Director(s): Patrick Lussier
Writer(s): Todd Farmer, Patrick Lussier
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner
Year: 2011
Studio/ Production Co: Summit Entertainment, Millennium Films
Budget: $50 Million
Language: English
Length: 105 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Action/Neo-Grindhouse

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dogs, and cat hat(s).
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