HELLGATE (1989)

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Hellgate is a trashy horror from the late '80s, now out in HD as part of Arrow’s latest batch of re-released cult classics.

Four college kids on a road trip hear the local legend of the Hellgate Hitchhiker, a young woman named Josie who was killed by a biker gang and whose father resurrected her with a mysterious crystal cluster. Of course, the story turns out to be true, and Josie now haunts the back roads looking for lost travellers, seducing and killing them as they approach the ghost town of Hellgate.

You might think the above description sounds incredibly stupid, but believe us, it’s all so much worse. The film starts off with the story of Josie, giving us a double helping of kitsch with a '80s film recreating the '50s and as much good girl cliché as can be crammed into two minutes of introductory screen time before her tragic death.

The budgetary limitations of the film are seen soon after, with Josie’s dad Lucas wandering into a mine and inexplicably discovering a block of quartz glowing like a prop from a Jon Pertwee episode of Doctor Who and encountering a rubber bat bouncing on an elastic band. Discovering the crystal’s reanimation properties, he brings his daughter back to life with the side-effect of turning her into a seductive murderess with a penchant for translucent nightdresses and garish eye makeup.

She then takes it upon herself to kill anyone who comes to the town, because the motorbike gang were called “the Strangers” and, y’know, anyone from outside the town is by default a “stranger” and oh, forget it. Hellgate itself is a tourist ghost town – which is apparently a thing – and at night turns into a literal ghost town for no discernible reason.

Poe’s Law is an Internet maxim observing that a parody of extremism is difficult to differentiate from the real thing. Similarly, it’s sometimes hard to tell if a film is satirising the style of bad films or is just plain bad itself, and in Hellgate, plot, reason and character development take a back seat to overblown histrionics and WTFery. We have eerie sets overtly backlit by industrial halogens, a seduction even more ham-fisted and unerotic than Gigli’s “turkey time” (and set to the ubiquitous love theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet no less), present day Lucas appearing as some kind of Old West cyborg, a girl having already sparked up a post-coital cigarette even as she’s rolling off her inadequate lover, the most hilarious facial reaction to cunnilingus you’re ever likely to see, and a newly crafted makeshift machete lifted triumphantly with all the reverence of Nimue holding aloft Excalibur.

The whole film feels like a feature-length episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and should be taken about as seriously. The rating below is something of a compromise; in terms of professional and objective analysis of the film’s quality, it’s a 2, but if you’re a connoisseur of the unintentional comedy value of irredeemably atrocious films, consider it an 8.

Extras: Road to Perdition, B-Movie Style / Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost-Busting Mayhem / Video Nasty

HELLGATE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: WILLIAM A. LEVEY / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL O’ROURKE / STARRING: RON PALILLO, ABIGAIL WOLCOTT, PETREA CURRAN, EVAN J KLISSER, JOANNE WARDE, CAREL TRICHARDT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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