Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Drag Me to Hellgate

Hellgate is a gift to every adult who ever found him or herself wondering why the makers of Scooby Doo never grew up.

That’s right. In this film you will find:
-a spooky amusement park
-reanimated animal puppets
-an orangy blond male and dark-haired tomboy
-a fully choreographed dance number of the Can-Can

It's as silly as it sounds, and then a little more so. You take the goofy charms of a cartoon world and add some nudity and spontaneously combustible undead animals. In the end, you don't get a classic but you sure do have a guiltily good time.

Quick Plot:
An incredibly unaffectionate couple and their poor man’s Molly Ringwald friend await the arrival of Ron Palilo (yes, the former Horshak) in an unexciting country house. To pass the time, the trio tells a few charmingly nostalgic ghost stories set in the nearby town of Hellgate, a sort of permanent carnival eternally garbed in Christmas lights. According to local lore, tragedy struck in the 1950s, an otherwise gleeful era filled with neon-lit diners and gum-snapping waitresses.

The flashback/story intermixes itself through the opening credits and early scenes as we are introduced to a viciously denim-clad biker gang big on making homoerotic glances in each others' direction and sexually harassing restaurant employees. All would be fine and 50s had these overly aggressive gentlemen not kidnapped Josie, the pretty young daughter of a surprisingly talented pickax hurler. A laughably tragic accident turns the bland bombshell into something of a ghost (although she’s also referred to as a zombie, so who really knows) and creates a toxic fortress of solitude filled with laser shooting crystals. I think.

Yeah, it doesn’t make much more sense onscreen either, but that’s a good thing. An old-school prospector stumble upon the glistening cave and brings a piece to a man (who may also be the grieving father; it's unclear) who beholds one of the greatest mustaches in film history (Super Mario would be seething with envy). Turns out, the crystals can revive the dead by transforming it into puffy puppets that will, in ten seconds, spontaneously combust. And then we move on.

What else...I think we jump back to the present/real time, where Palilo picks up the healthily reanimated (and horny) Josie for...directions. There's no perverted chuckle behind that statement: he turns down the supermodelish apparition to get back to his beloved girlfriend and wow the lass with enough bedroom talent to make her eyes cross. Thankfully, we're spared the details.

It's hard to actually synopsize Hellgate when the plot has such a bumpy flow. Eventually, our heroes find themselves in the titular town where beheadings occur, seductions are foiled, and disembodied refrigerated heads call out for their lower halves. In other words, wacky hijinks ensue. Nothing's particularly scary, but almost all of it is rather fun in a not-very-good way. And hey, did I mention the spontaneously combusting sea creatures?

High Points
The intermixing of the kids' narrated ghost stories with the present day action isn't exactly clear, but it does make the opening a little intriguing

This movie contains a spontaneously combustible zombie turtle. The very presence of such a creature makes everything associated with Hellgate rather awesome.

The core characters are more intelligent than your typical young-people-in-peril

Low Points
...but none are particularly likeable

How much public doman music can one film dare to squeeze into its score? Hellgate is the one that dares to find out

Lessons Learned
When recently revived from the dead, one's sense of what is sexually attractive may be questionable

John Travolta was not the only sex symbol produced by Welcome Back Kotter...or so the producers of Hellgate would realllllly like us to believe

In the battle of axe vs. chain, axe wins

When in need of a quick ghost effect and cursed with a low budget, lease a player piano

There’s something truly joyful about Hellgate that is certainly worth a watch if 80s cheese is your cup of...well, liquid Cheez Whiz. Like The Pit (the flipside of this double DVD), Hellgate knows not to take itself remotely seriously. I guess you shouldn’t expect anything more from the director of Blackenstein & Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman (aka Erotic Encounters of the 4th Kind), so enjoy the tamed mullets, gratuitous nudity, kickline performance, and everything else Velma and Daphne were too shy to try.


  1. I had totally forgotten this wonderful VHS cover. I remember this being on the shelf at DJ Video where I grew up. Classic!


  2. I didn't think about it until yesterday, but the best part of the cover is how hard it tries to make you think of Hellraiser.