Hellgate (UK - BD RB)
Chris watches this 1908s horror movie on Blu-ray, mostly so you don't have to...
Legends abound of ‘The Hellgate Hitchhiker’. So the story goes, a beautiful young woman was once brutally defiled and murdered by a biker gang. Now, returned from the dead, she wanders the roadside luring unsuspecting motorists to their doom...
Refusing to heed the warnings of locals, a group of college friends set out on a cross-country road trip looking for fun and frolics. But they get much more than they bargained for when they wind up in the abandoned mining town of Hellgate and hemmed in by hordes of the undead!
Providing gore and gags in equal measure, Hellgate recalls the good old days of early 90s fright flicks and challenges other gleefully twisted flicks such as Re-animator and Return of the Living Dead for sheer grisly delirium! (Taken from Arrow's official synopsis.)
Like Hell Comes to Frogtown, this is one of Arrow's dual format releases and includes both DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film in the pack. The film is also limited to just one thousand copies, which reflects anticipated demand. This review will focus mainly on the Blu-ray version, but I'll comment on the DVD where appropriate.
As with Hell Comes to Frogtown, Lakeshore Entertainment did the honours for this transfer and the results are somewhat similar. There are many unsightly film artefacts present throughout the entirety of the runtime, with some particularly nasty examples during the opening and closing scenes. We're not just talking minor nicks and scratches here; some of the print damage is really quite extensive and as such can be quite distracting. Blacks are also problematic at times, occasionally appearing muddy and impure or simply too bright, but this is almost certainly due to the original photography. On the plus side the presence of grain makes for a surprisingly filmic experience (even if some of it is likely just dirt), while detail is relatively strong, contrast is stable and colours are nicely saturated without bleeding. As you'd expect from Arrow, there are no compression issues to report. If this were a recent, high-profile studio release I would take a much dimmer view of things, but like Frogtown before it I'm actually amazed that there's a Blu-ray release of this film at all, never mind one that looks passable. In fact, if it weren't for the myriad film artefacts it would actually be pretty good, all things considered.
The DVD copy looks to be taken from the same master, but obviously doesn't hold up to the Blu-ray under close examination. I've included a comparison shot at the bottom of the review.
The sole audio option here is an LPCM 2.0 Mono track that is exactly what you'd expect from a film of this ilk. Dynamic range is limited, there's obviously no surround activity (or even stereo come to that), and bass is non-existent. Thankfully all of the elements are treated fairly evenly, so there are no issues with dialogue and the like. To be honest there isn't really much else to say about this one. It does justice to the source material, but said source wasn't anything to write home about to begin with...
The DVD version of the film includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono option. Like their other limited edition release ( Frogtown) subtitles are omitted for financial reasons.
- Road to Perdition, B-Movie Style: This is a thirty minute interviews with director William A. Levey, who talks at length about his early film career, how he got the Hellgate gig, his views on South Africa (where the film was shot) and the actors, specifically Ron Palillo.
- Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost-Busting Mayhem: Scholar, filmmaker and fan Howard S. Berger shares his thoughts on the film. His assertion that it's probably best viewed by people between the ages of six and twelve probably won't go over too well with parents, but it's an effective way to highlight the film's intellectual level.
- Video Nasty: Kenneth Hall, writer of the Puppet Master series, speaks about the direct-to-video horror boom in the 80s and laments the loss of the drive-in movie theatre. It doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the main feature, but it's an interesting little featurette all the same.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys: Have your choice of the new and original theatrical artwork.
- Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Lee Gambin, illustrated with original artwork and stills: This one is pretty self-explanatory.
What is there to say about Hellgate? Well, it's probably the worst film I can remember seeing in a long, long time. The script is a jumbled mess of clichés, the special effects and make-up are terrible, and the only scary thing about the movie is the acting, which is truly appalling. There are a few unintentional laughs to be had here and there, such as the casting of forty-year-old Ron Palillo as an inexplicably popular with the ladies college student, but nothing like enough to elevate the film to 'so bad it's good' status. I guess Abigail Wolcott's surgically enhanced boobs might provide another brief moment of amusement - after all, she is supposed to be playing a teenage girl who died in the fifties - but I can't think of any other redeeming features...
While I have great admiration for Arrow's work this is undoubtedly the weakest film they've put out and I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone. The only people I can imagine gleaning any sort of enjoyment from this release are hardcore Hellgate fans, if such people even exist. They should be happy enough with the quality of the Blu-ray presentation, which is clearly an improvement over previous standard-definition releases and includes some previously unseen bonus material to sweeten the deal.
Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 3rd February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: William A. Levey
Cast: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran, Evan J. Klisser, Joanne Warde, Frank Notaro, Lance Vaughan
Length: 91 minutes
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