The Quiroz Brothers have unleashed a string of mediocre-at-best horror cheapies over the past few years, but I’ll give them credit for one thing: each one has been better than the last. Of course, when you start out with Hood of the Living Dead, there’s little place to go but up. Thus, their latest opus, Death Row, is light years ahead of HOTLD. It’s no gem, of course, but in the face of budgetary constraints, shoddy lighting, and unsubtle acting, it manages to achieve mere competence. Bravo!
The Qurirozes tend to recycle cast members in their movies, but given that their biggest names are consistently Joe “Crazy Eyes” Estevez and Todd “Bulbous Head” Bridges, they may want to consider upgrades as their films ascend in quality. In Death Row, Estevez is a prisoner on a chain gang working with seven other convicts (three of ’em black, including Bridges’ brother Jimmy) to fix up an abandoned jail. Unbeknownst to them, one of the guards has been killed by a deranged madman who’s taken the guard’s place and proceeds to bump off guard and prisoner alike, one by one.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse game in which the killer convinces everyone that one of the convicts (whom he kills and claims escaped) is the culprit, while the guards try to catch the suspect, and the shackled prisoners just try not to get shanked. It’s all relatively clever for a direct-to-video slasher, but clever doesn’t equate to scary or exciting. There’s so little gore, it’s hard to even call this a slasher, and the killer is the antithesis of the textbook invincible, faceless horror villain; this guy is irredeemably vincible and faceful.
Plus, his whole plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. He goes through way too much effort to convince everyone over and over again that he’s not the killer. After the first 10 minutes, they never doubt him, yet he continues to play it up when, given that he has the element of surprise and that all of the prisoners are in handcuffs, he could just walk in and start blasting away. Granted, making the movie about 20 minutes long would be a gamble, but I’m willing to take that chance.