Hellgate. Film Review


Director: William A. Levy

Screenplay: Michael O’Rourke

Starring: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran, Evan J. Klisser

Format: Blu-ray/DVD combo

Running Time: 91 Mins

Certificate: 18

Release Date: 03/02/14

Reviewed by Guy Adams

The second of Arrow’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, released exclusively through Amazon at the start of February, sees another exploitation movie granted their usual grace and care.

HELLGATE was shot in South Africa by William A. Levy, a man who is to cinema what sugar-free Gummi Bears are to bowels. An extensive interview with Levy is available as one of the special features and provides much fun and awkwardness, most especially when interviewer Calum Waddell refuses to let Levy off with his casual summation of South Africa under apartheid.

Levy’s attitude towards the film, and the horror genre in general is not flattering and many of his comments come off as excuses rather than endorsements. Though I sympathise, it’s hard not to do the same in this review. He doesn’t consider acting important in a horror movie, a genre he clearly dislikes, and considers his main job here was to convince the audience that the predominately South African cast could manage an American accent. I have always believed that it is important to judge a film on whether it succeeds in achieving what it sets out to do. Using Levy’s mission statement then, this movie is a moderate success.

Allowing ourselves the luxury of looking for a bit more from HELLGATE than it’s cast’s ability to master an accent, that success begins to wilt.

HELLGATE is an utterly absurd soup of ideas stirred up and microwaved to a tepid but tolerably edible temperature. A young woman killed by a biker gang is resurrected by her grieving father using a special effect. Weirdness ensues. A cardboard township is filled with rejects from CARNIVAL OF SOULS and our heroic pair of ‘American’ couples flit between having sex and investigating the weirdness.

At the time of the film’s production, Token Actual American, Ron Palillo was most famous for his star turn in US sitcom WELCOME BACK, KOTTER. These days he’s most famous for playing Arnold Horshack in WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, a US sitcom. Which is a sad but terribly common situation for an actor. Still, it could be worse, he could be most famous for this, where he moons over the hypnotic attentions of a dead woman. In truth, he’s clearly a man of considerable talent as he sells every scene he’s in, bringing charm and good humour to a film that sorely needs it.

HELLGATE is perfectly watchable in that way that bad horror movies can be but, whereas it’s sister release HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN knows exactly what it’s doing, swaggering across the screen with self-mockery and good humour, Levy’s disinterest in his own movie does show in the finished product. The script is nonsense (not an insurmountable problem in this genre) but the setpieces have an unreliable hit rate, for every moment of genuine schlock fun there is an equal moment of flatness. It’s hard to blow up a building and make it look uneventful but Levy manages it. Perhaps the building was concentrating too hard on its accent rather than its performance.

The special features are actually more enjoyable than the main feature. The previously mentioned interview with Levy being particularly compelling in ways that are not flattering towards its subject. Howard S. Berger offers an excellent overview of Levey’s career in ‘Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost-Busting Mayhem’. Finally, Kenneth Hall, writer of Full Moon’s PUPPET MASTER movies talks about the direct-to-video boom of the eighties and nineties.