The Movie Waffler DVD/Blu-Ray Review - <i>Hellgate</i> (1989) | The Movie Waffler

DVD/Blu-Ray Review - Hellgate (1989)

Arrow Films' reissue of the eighties shocker.

Directed by: William A Levey
Starring: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran, Evan J. Klisser

The Movie:

A reissue of "so bad it’s bad" horror flick Hellgate was not top of anyone's wish list. To restore and release on pristine Blu-Ray is tantamount to madness (in the interests of fairness the review copy was DVD so I can’t comment on how lavish the restoration has been). As the first release of the new year from Arrow it is a major let down. Luckily the upcoming roster has some exemplary releases, so don’t despair, the best UK independent will soon get its mojo back.
Levey frames his movie like an old camp fire tale as Chuck (Klisser), Pam (Curran) and Bobby (Warde) pass the time awaiting the arrival of Matt (Palillo) to a holiday cottage by recounting the tale of Hellgate. In the 1950s, a biker gang kidnap Josie (Wolcott), the daughter of town big-shot Lucas (Trichardt), an act which leads to her death and Lucas seeking revenge. Luckily, someone has found a magic crystal in a mine, which makes fish grow and explode and long dead turtles come to angry life. Lucas (who bears a startling similarity to John Astin of The Addams Family fame) uses this power to resurrect his daughter (He learns how to use the power, the voiceover tells us, we can assume the fish and turtle fatality count was quite high during this period). It seems strange that once resurrected he decides to pimp his beloved daughter out to lure unsuspecting innocents to their deaths, and why is he suddenly sporting metallic face furniture?
Matt then seems to get lost on the way to his friends, stopping at the same spartan diner where Josie was originally kidnapped, and takes a detour to Hellgate, where he encounters stock wolf sound effects and Lucas’s sexed up daughter, who wants to get her undead freaky deaky on with the nebbish, nerdy, but otherwise irresistible, Matt. Once he escapes and meets up with his friends they resolve to return and save her for reasons that are less to do with narrative cohesion and more that the editor hopes you are sufficiently drunk by then not to care.
This is one hell of a bad movie, but it is one with a certain charm. Like the works of Ed Wood, you feel that the film has been made with a pure heart and they genuinely believe the rubbish on screen has some value. This film may require some mind numbing intoxicants to fully appreciate but it doesn’t have the cynical “come on eat this crap we have deliberately made” moral bankruptcy that permeates the work of Asylum Studios.
That said, Levey has no directorial understanding of the horror genre. Narrative sense is nonexistent (not a problem as anyone who has watched enough Italian horror will know), and the tone seems like a kids movie, the copious nudity and badly done bloodletting however put this in adult territory.
If you like eighties hair, appallingly unerotic sex, scenes of horror that are as scary as your average ghost train, bizarre use of slow motion and a story that can’t decide if it is science fiction, a ghost story or a straight out zombie film with the dry ice machine set to spooky, then still stay away from it. One aged character (hair sprayed grey but not looking a day over 30) is built up as a garage mechanic Rambo, creating weapons in his workshop and glowering throughout the film, only to be dispatched with the minimum of fuss. It may be a joke but it looks clumsy. The only thing that makes this worth an upgrade to Blu-ray is Abigail Wolcott, and that has very little to do with her acting skills. The format seems redundant for a film you are most likely going to watch through one eye and drunk as a skunk.

A high level of turd polishing going on here with a selection of extras that are not amazing but far better than the film itself. There is a 35 minute interview with the director, who clearly has no understanding of horror and even less understanding of racial politics. The film was shot in Apartheid South Africa and his justification for filming there makes him seem a bit of a weasel (who would have thought that from the director of Blackenstein?). It leaves something of a nasty taste in the mouth to be honest. His constant need to name drop such luminaries as James Dean, Orson Welles and the story that he didn’t cast Schindlers List actor Embeth Davidtz because she couldn’t do an American accent makes him seem a braggart, a bore and an ignoramus.
Horror critic Howard Berger reveals he watches the film 2-3 times a year in a 15 min doc (which means he has either admirable commitment to the horror genre or should just be committed). Saying it has the tone of an American Lucio Fulci may be stretching matters, and he seems unusually upset that the leading man was gay in real life and therefore not studly enough (as if this is the biggest problem with the film).
There is also an Interview with Puppet Master writer Kenneth Hall which feel like an afterthought, more a discussion of how the covers of VHS B-movies were somewhat disingenuous. You also get an illustrated booklet with writing on the film by Lee Gambin.
Useful extras with some interesting anecdotes, which is better than the film deserves.

Jason Abbey