Monday, January 11, 2016

Please, Someone Close The Damned Gate!!!

Lately, it seems that every movie I've decided to watch, and review, has been a foreign film. Not that I intended to do this. You just get into a groove. Maybe it was a subconscious craving after watching nearly all of the Friday the 13th movies over a couple of weeks. That's enough to put you off American films, trust me.

I dug back in my library of movies to find an American weird flick. Ooh, what's this? Hellgate? A movie from 1989, starring none other than Ron Palillo. Ron Palillo? Yes, RON muthafuckin' PALILLO!! And it's supposed to be a horror movie. Count me in; I want to see Horshack as the hero of a horror movie.

Unfortunately, even though the movie is set in California, it was actually shot in South Africa. Not that I have anything against South African films, but so much for watching an American film. Before you argue that the director and the star are American, I know that. Still, in my book, this is basically another foreign film.

Okay, what the hell? I pop it in. Oh, Mama, what have I stumbled into with this movie?

Three "young" people, two women and a guy, are in a cabin telling scary stories in front of a fireplace as they wait for the fourth member of the party. Their ages are never mentioned, but it's almost like having George Clooney playing a college freshman who is straight out of high school. I'm thinking 30s at the very least here. And they all seem to talk slightly weird. It wasn't until I found out it was shot in South Africa that I realized these were native actors trying their best to wrap their mouths around American accents. It doesn't quite work, especially when you have an American actor playing the main character.

One of the girls proceeds to tell the "rural" legend about the Hellgate Hitchhiker. Back in the 50's, some motorcycle toughs (dressed more like late 60s Hell's Angels) snatch a not-too-bright girl named Josie, played by the stunningly lovely, though not very good actress, Abigail Wolcott. Rather stupidly, they take her to her hometown of Hellgate, which is also a tourist-trap recreation of an 1800s mining town. There they proceed to terrorize her in full view of her father, who is also the town mayor.

Her father attacks the bikers, killing three of them, but Josie is killed in the collateral damage, and one of the bikers escapes. After that, the father dislikes all strangers in his town. Well, don't we all, but we don't go throwing hatchets at their freaking heads, dude!

Moving along, we follow a old hired hand of the Mayor's as he goes into the mine shaft tour to do some work. He is attacked by the most silly-looking fake bat on a visible wire ever to grace a screen outside of Jerry Warren's movies. He kills it before stumbling upon a glowing blue crystal. While looking at his treasure, the crystal shoots a beam at the bat, which then springs back to life at a twitch of the wire.

Oh, yes. You know exactly where this is going. And it does. Zaps his beloved Josie back to life. But the story goes that she wanders the road to Hellgate and leads people back to the town where the Mayor kills them because they are strangers. Let's not overlook the rather creepy subtext of what seems to be a rather inappropriate relationship Daddy and daughter have, at least from the Father's side.

We jump back to present day where we meet Matt, played by Ron Palillo. He's the hero of the movie. In case we don't get that, we are reminded by his car's vanity plate that reads, "THEHERO". He nearly runs over poor reanimated Josie as he attempts to find the cabin where his friends are waiting. He volunteers to take Josie home. All kinds of heck breaks loose after that as Matt pulls his friends into the mess he stumbled into.

First thing about this movie that should have been a warning sign is the director, William A. Levey. Don't recognize the name? How about a couple of his other movies, like Blackenstein or the tender classic Wham! Bam! Thank You, Mr. Spaceman or even his music-laden epic Skatetown, U.S.A.? Not the best of calling cards when attempting to impress folks with your track record. About the best thing that can be said is Skatetown, U.S.A. was Patrick Swayze's first movie.

Next, the film just cannot decide exactly where it wants to go. While it seems to be fairly tongue-in-cheek, the tone will drift into horror and back, then you get a jarring scene that appears to have been a blooper someone added in. I don't mind a mixture of horror and comedy, but this film kind of slaps you around to no good purpose. Maybe they were trying to be edgy. Beats me.

Hmm, there's an image: someone trying to be edgy during the 80s. As if.

Here's the weird thing: It almost works now and then, so you keep rooting for it, like a squirrel judging whether the limb it's about to jump to will hold it or snap. And there are bits of pieces of the story that could amount to a decent film, if handled correctly. Just a bit frustrating all the way around.

Bottom line is that Hellgate is watchable for a wreck. I mean, where else are you going to see Ron Palillo making out with a total fox in a movie?

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