Hellgate (1990) -*Ĺ
It is entirely possible that Hellgate is the all-time, single best demonstration of the principle that good special effects artists rarely make good directors. William A. Levy, who is responsible for this wretched little film, was previously part of the team behind the marvelous effects work in the first two Hellraiser movies. However, he brings nothing of value to this tawdry affair, not even a discerning eye for good monster makeup.
Forgive me if the following seems muddled or difficult to understand; the movie itself is both. It opens with Chuck (Space Mutinyís Evan J. Klisser), Pam (Petrea Curran), and Bobbi (Joanne Ward), three youths just out of college, hanging out in a cabin somewhere, trading bad ghost stories. Bobbi tells of the Hellgate Hitchhiker, who is said to haunt the environs of the cabin in which they are staying. Some thirty years before, the story goes, a gang of bikers called the Strangers attempted to rape a teenage girl at a local diner. The hoodlums were driven off by the manager, but they took the girl with them to a nearby roadside attraction called Lucas Carlysleís Hellgate, an imitation 1890ís ghost town. There, they made another attempt to rape the girl, but they were again thwarted, this time by Lucas Carlysle (Carel Trichardt) himself-- the girlís father, as it happened-- who killed their leader with a hatchet. Carlysle was ultimately unsuccessful in his rescue attempt, however, for one of the bikers ran over the girl in his haste to escape. Much time passed, and the advent of the interstate highway system brought Hellgate to the brink of ruin. Then one day, an employee of Carlysleís found a mysterious glowing crystal (actually just a largish slab of perfectly ordinary quartz with a light bulb in it) in the old goldmine exhibit. This crystal exhibited remarkable supernatural powers (it re-animated the carcass of the most embarrassingly bad fake bat Iíve ever seen in a color movie), so the worker naturally brought it to his boss. Now, you might have expected Carlysle to run the man out of his office-- possibly even fire him-- for coming to him with such a ridiculous story, but no. Carlysle instead conducted a little experiment, using the crystal first to turn an ordinary goldfish into an exploding hand-puppet, then to re-animate a stuffed hawksbill turtle that he just happened to have on his desk. Over the ensuing years, Carlysle mastered the use of the crystal, until he felt up to the task for which he had always meant to employ it-- the resurrection of his daughter, Josie, who since that day has prowled the areaís lonely roads at night, hitching rides with out-of-towners whom she leads to a grisly fate at the old theme park.
Some story, huh? Anyway, the reason that Chuck, Pam, and Bobbi are hanging out in the cabin is that they are awaiting the arrival of their friend Matt (Ron Palillo, from Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives). And it just so happens that, as Bobbi tells her story, Matt is also learning about the Hellgate Hitchhiker, though he gets his information straight from the horseís mouth, as it were. As he drives around the hills in search of the cabin (Chuckís directions are terrible), he experiences inexplicable car trouble, and then nearly runs over an attractive young blonde in a filmy white dress (Abigail Wolcott), standing, equally inexplicably, in the middle of the road. (I myself would have thought that just one of these two occurrences would be enough to make Matt stop his car, giving the Hitchhiker her opportunity, but what do I know?) Matt agrees to take the girl back to her home (apparently having forgotten that his car just died, but thatís okay-- it works now), which turns out to be the old Carlysle mansion. Matt asks to come in and use the phone-- he still as no idea how to get to the cabin-- and his companion agrees. Matt never makes that phone call, though. Instead, he allows himself to be seduced by the girl, who introduces herself as Josie. Iíve got plenty to say about this scene, so Iíll save it for later, if thatís okay with you. Anyway, the two love-birds are interrupted by the appearance of Lucas Carlysle, who now has lots of little metal things riveted to his face, and who attacks Matt with the crystal, severely damaging Chuckís water-skis, which are in the back seat of Mattís car.
Over the course of the next three or four scenes, which I will largely ignore on the grounds that they make absolutely no goddamned sense, Matt becomes determined to return to the mansion, for reasons that are, at best, difficult to understand. I suppose it has something to do with solving the mystery of Hellgate, or perhaps something to do with fucking Josie. (Never mind the fact that Pam is already Mattís girlfriend.) In any event, he convinces his three friends to accompany him. In their travels about the old theme park, they encounter a great many ghost/zombie things, some of which are mostly harmless, but many of which are obviously lethal. Eventually, it all comes down to a confrontation between Pam and Josie, as they fight over Matt, with a last-minute appearance by both Lucas and Zonk (Lance Vaughn), the last surviving member of the Strangers, who now works at the gas station next door to the old diner. The conclusion doesnít make a hell of a lot of sense, but there are many explosions and the still-obligatory-in-1990 falling of the House of Usher.
The main thing you need to understand about Hellgate is that it has absolutely no respect for the audienceís intelligence. This quality pervades literally every second of its 96-minute running-time, from the moment at the beginning when we are asked to believe that these fat old bozos in denim are a 1950ís motorcycle gang, to Pamís final line of dialogue just before the closing credits, in which she makes it clear that she is still jealous of Mattís relationship with a now-destroyed zombie hitchhiker. Throughout the movie, the characters repeatedly seem to forget that they are, in fact, in mortal danger from supernatural forces beyond their experience or understanding. Seconds after entering the zombie-infested theme park, for example, the stupid fuckers are playing practical jokes on each other! At a time when even the dumbest character in the dumbest slasher movie would be running for his life, Chuck is busy hatching a scheme to steal some of the antique cars that are strewn about Hellgate. I suppose nobody involved could think of a better way to lead up to the set-piece in which those carsí undead owners appear, and try to run Matt and company down. At no point does the movie attempt to convey even the most tenuous sense of character motivation, the most glaring example of this shortcoming being Josieís seduction of Matt. Heís looking for a phone, remember, so that he can call the cabin currently occupied by his girlfriend. So what does he do when, seconds after entering the house, a girl whom he has never met and who is obviously either doped to the gills, mentally disturbed, or undead begins crawling around on the floor in front of him with her skirt hiked up to reveal her unpantied ass? Why, of course, he does the only sensible thing, and tries to screw her, girlfriend and phone call be damned! Now, one does not watch as many schlock movies as I have without becoming well accustomed to characters doing things that defy all logic, but this is simply ridiculous. But you know what? As unbelievably fucking terrible as it is, despite the fact that Hellgate is much too awful even to be fun, the movie is simply hypnotic. Not only could I not turn away, but SeŮora El Santo, who doesnít even like these movies, was repeatedly induced to drop whatever she was doing to stare in slack-jawed amazement at the goings-on onscreen. Hellgate is like a really horrendous auto wreck that way; itís simply impossible not to get sucked in. Iíd say thatís worth a star or two on the negative scale.