HELL TOWN

PrintE-mail Written by Jamie Evans

Since Scream reinvigorated the ailing mainstream horror genre in the mid-90s, the slasher movie has been difficult to do without putting an ironic spin on proceedings as audiences are all in on the tropes and beats and expect a little more.  Filmmakers Steve Balderson and Elizabeth Spear clearly decided that ironic spin wasn’t nearly enough and have paired slasher flick with soap opera in Hell Town.  It’s presented, credits and all, as the three surviving episodes of a lost TV series with each one introduced by Troma star Debbie Rochon.  The first ‘episode’ starts with the now common televisual ‘previously on’ which quickly establishes the tone and gets the plot rolling.  Parody and satire in genre can be a dangerous approach if you don’t get that tone right but Balderson and Spear, along with a game and committed cast, get it spot on.  From illicit trysts via family secrets to unrequited love, no cliché is left unused.  The arch acting from the cast helps build the soap opera atmosphere, along with the traditional stilted delivery and overblown score.

It’s also a slasher movie and as with those soap opera clichés they go to (Hell) town with them.  All the high school characters are played by actors who whilst not heading for retirement just yet are clearly not of high school age (nodding to things like Luke Perry in Beverly Hills 90210).  The perpetually horny teenagers that make up the bulk of the cast are being picked off one by one by the Letter Jacket Killer.  There’s some fairly gruesome murders along the way and numerous red herrings set up for who the killer could be.  As it’s not actually a TV show they’re free to add in plenty of salty language and gore when they want to, even including the occasional dismembered member.  

Despite it being a pastiche of both genres Balderson and Spear, also part of the writing team, clearly have love for both.  It’s a delicate balance to acknowledge and have fun with the conventions inherent in both slasher and soap, but harder still to remember jokey self-awareness isn’t enough, you’re still making a film that needs to be entertaining.   Hell Town is thankfully adept at achieving both.  Made for less than the catering budget of a modest blockbuster, it’s well directed, edited and for fans of either of the genres affectionately parodied there’s plenty of clever little in-jokes.  

Everything is not-so-neatly wrapped up by the end, with the Letter Jacket Killer revealed, and it’s hard not to be disappointed that the ‘next week on Hell Town’ isn’t real.  As the big studios focus on huge spectacle that they can sell to the four corners of the globe and little else, it’s pleasing that adventurous filmmakers like Balderson and Spear are producing low-budget, competent, exciting movies that are made by film fans for fans of film.  It’ll be interesting to see what they both come up with next.

HELL TOWN / DIRECTORS AND SCREENWRITERS: STEVE BALDERSON &ELIZABETH SPEAR / STARRING: DEBBIE ROCHON, PLESANT GEHMAN, AMANDA DEIBERT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Expected Rating: 7 out of 10

Actual Rating: 
 


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