Horror Movie A Day: Quint visits HELLGATE (1989) Take this, you zombie bitch!
Published at: Oct. 18, 2008, 2:30 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Wow, what a bizarre movie.
HELLGATE could be the lowest rated AMAD we’ve covered, clocking in at an impressive 2.1 out of 10 at IMDB. I wouldn’t say it’s that bad. It’s certainly no SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT, that’s for goddamn sure. This one at least had an editor that could put scenes together and a somewhat coherent storyline. And this one has boobs and gore, so there you go.
But it isn’t that good either. How a movie with a zombie turtle, magic rocks, undead harpy ‘80s model chick and mutilated bikers can get really boring I have no idea.
Basically, the title HELLGATE refers to a ghost town tourist attraction. Teenagers (played by late 20s and well-into-their 30s actors, of course) tell the story of how this town supposedly became haunted as a ghost story by firelight.
We then get a flashback to the swinging ‘50s as a dickhead biker gang torment a diner, ultimately grabbing a horrible, but beautiful actress and riding off with her. They end up in the ghost town where the girl’s father intervenes. He happens to have an ax, so when he sees what’s going on, he tosses it right into the head of the main biker, who dies, but not before ramming his bike right into the girl, killing her.
There’s a second biker that is a giant of a man, the muscle of the group. He’s obviously a bodybuilder, probably found by the producers at the local Gold’s Gym or in a Mr. Universe type contest somewhere. He’s the only survivor, getting a knife to the leg as he races off.
We also learn that the grieving papa runs the ghost town and one day one of his employees finds a glowing blue crystal in the gold-rush mine attraction. The crystal seems to do a whole lot of things. It can zap shit and make it blow up or turn dead things into living things. When the old man first gets this crystal he zaps his goldfish which, for some reason, mutates into a giant fish, busting the small bowl before blowing up. Then a stuffed turtle gets zapped and bites half of the old dude’s face off.
For the rest of the movie he has metal plate sutures on his face… I guess because he was a blacksmith in the tourist attraction…
So, three of the four ‘80s teenagers are telling and/or listening to this story as their fourth drives up.
The fourth is Welcome Back, Kotter’s Ron Palillo (Horshack), an LA douchebag (his character, that is… I can’t speak for the man himself as I have never met him) who picks up the ‘50s girl on the road. She’s pale, got ‘80s model hair and is apparently extremely horny. She takes him home, show him her tits and tries to get him to fuck her, but her father busts in and chases Horshack off with a machete.
Apparently this siren loves Horshack for some reason never explained, and stops her father.
Of course, they can’t leave well enough alone and when he regroups with his friends (and girlfriend, I might add) they go investigate this… even though they all know this ghost story and seem to accept it as being real. Yeah, they still go anyway.
On their travels, they meet up with the biker who escaped who is exactly the same, but they powdered his hair with white chalk or something. He now works as a gas station attendant.
I loved this character. I don’t know what they were thinking of with this guy. I can see what they must have intended, but I don’t know how the hell they ended up fucking his arc up so badly.
He’s scared of this place, humbled by seeing his friends killed and isn’t a badass anymore, even if he still has a Schwarzenegger physique. He’s called into action and can’t help the kids. He’s too scared.
But, of course, he finds it within him and shows up at the end… to save the day, right? Well, not really.
What they do is give us the obligatory flashes of him pondering the situation, thinking it over in his garage, then deciding to act… he sharpens a machete, looking all heroic and shows up at the end so he can… Wave his arms around for 3 seconds. He jumps in at the perfect hero moment, machete in hand and the bad guy just looks at him, points the crystal at him and (spoiler) knocks him off the back of a car… while he just stands there screaming and waving his arms up and down like he’s trying to fly.
And then he’s gone.
I don’t get it. Maybe they were trying to be ironic, maybe it was supposed to be a joke or maybe they just didn’t have the budget to do what they originally intended. Or maybe they just suck as storytellers. Could be any of the above.
The movie’s that retarded. There’s nice decapitation, all three leading ladies bare their breasts and there an attempt at a horror comedy balance, but they get it so wrong that it just deflates anything that might have worked. When it’s supposed to be scary, the leads don’t seem to be afraid or give any weight to the suspense. When it’s supposed to be funny most of the jokes fall flat. I can only lay the blame at the feet of the writer, Michael O’Rourke and direct William A. Levey (BLACKENSTEIN, SKATETOWN U.S.A.). They might have excuses (budget probably their main one), but I can only judge what the final product looks like.
Final Thoughts: I’d advise not seeking this one out, but if you’re an ‘80s horror completest it won’t be much of a challenge to get through. There are enough staples of the era to get you through, but good filmmaking is not one of them. Or good acting, for that matter. Also, the film gets a demerit for showing me Horshack’s nutsack.
Little known fact: HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE was one of Tom Hanks’ first movies. This is a very interesting period of ‘80s horror, post FRIDAY THE 13th and pre-A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Looking forward to it.