Hellgate (1989)

Hellgate Poster

Tagline: Beyond the darkness, terror lives forever.

Director: William A. Levey

Writer: Michael O’Rourke

Starring: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran, Joanne Warde, Evan J. Klisser, Frank Notaro, Lance Vaughan, Victor Melleney, Len Sparrowhawk, Alan Granville, Lynda Powell, Kimberleigh Stark, Craig Freimond, 

18 | 91 min | Horror

Budget: Unknown


Let me just start by saying that there isn’t a review on Earth that could do this movie justice.

It’s not what happens that makes the film such an inane wonder – although what happens makes it an inane wonder in itself – it is instead how those things happen, the lines the actors deliver and how they deliver them, the way in which a character’s personality can change from one sentence to the next, and how as a result the plot seems to develop almost by chance.

Hellgate Goldfish

Hellgate’s goldfish community suffered from serious weight issues.

This is a movie of devastatingly deadpan performances, one in which a person can swear bloody vengeance in one scene, only to laugh and joke with his friends while pursuing it. It is a movie in which the same moot point can be discussed ad nauseam without ever becoming boring, and which as a reviewer you find yourself rewinding repeatedly without ever grasping the true nature of events, or indeed figuring out if there is anything to grasp in the first place.

In spite of the film’s silliness, we begin with some standard horror fare, as three teenagers tell ghost stories by a log fire while awaiting the arrival of their friend, Matt. After being bored shitless by nimrod Chuck (Klisser) girlfriend Bobby (Warde) recalls a local tale about the mysterious Hellgate Hitchhiker, and by means of a flashback sequence we are transported back to the 1950’s, where a gang of denim-clad bikers arrive at a secluded cafe and make off with a teenage girl.

Hellgate Buzz

Buzz was convinced he had something stuck in his head.

Unluckily for them, they end up in the girl’s hometown of Hellgate, where her father Lucas protests by embedding a hatchet in the skull of gang leader, Buzz, sending him crashing through a wall and accidentally burying his daughter Josie (Wolcott) under the rubble. After the girl’s death Hellgate quickly becomes a ghost town, the newly reclusive Lucas spending his days staring at a professional portrait of his daughter, one so obviously staged it has clearly been taken from the actress’s portfolio. One day Lucas’s lackey is doing some repairs in a mine when he comes across a rubber bat on a string and wallops it with a shovel. He then finds a mysterious crystal with the power to bring rubber bats and other things back to life, which proves to be an incredible stroke of good fortune for the grieving Lucas once he figures out how to stop each subject from exploding moments after reanimation.

Like any pragmatist, Lucas achieves this through some good, old-fashioned trial and error. After killing his goldfish he turns his newfound weapon on an ornamental tortoise, which upon being shot with a laser grows malevolent and savagely attacks him. Not in the least discouraged by this latest side effect and harbouring dreams of bringing back his beloved, the now maniacal Lucas turns the crystal on his loyal servant, and after watching his head melt spends the next few years learning how to control the crystal’s power before turning it on his own child, because to rush into such a decision would just be stupid. 

Hellgate Portrait

Josie in one of her more natural poses.

Thirty years later and some say the girl is dead, while others believe she still wanders Hellgate Road with the intention of leading travellers into her father’s vengeful trap. Matt soon finds out that the latter is true, picking up the wandering hitchhiker and jumping into bed with her, only for her hatchet-wielding father to turn up and crash the party.

Back in the arms of the unsuspecting Pam, Matt fails to mention his infidelity, or the fact that he was almost killed by a paternal maniac with a barrage of lasers, and after a quick romp the two drive to a local cafe where they run into Zonk, another member of the once infamous biker gang, who upon fleeing the horrors of that night thought it best to set up home just a couple of miles down the road.

Hellgate 1989 Review

Pam had an adverse reaction to aural pleasure.

During his time there, Zonk has become isolated by the townsfolk – who still depend solely on his automotive services by the way – as they have long suspected him of the missing biker’s murder, in spite of Zonk’s claims that he is still very much alive and well. How it never occurred to the local sheriff to travel a half-mile down the road to investigate his claims is never explained, nor is the reason why they accepted Zonk as a resident in the first place, but why trifle with minor plot details when you can simply accommodate a deranged murderer for more than three decades?

Leaving Zonk behind, the four teenagers decide to go in search of the truth, and soon stumble upon Josie’s grave. With enough evidence to convince even the most bitter of sceptics of a supernatural presence, Matt is unwilling to put two and two together, swearing vengeance on whoever has managed to kill, entomb and display his sweetheart during his brief two hour absence. Unfortunately for him, Josie’s insidious spirit is still at large, and the smitten greaseball leads the gang to a zombie-laden showdown of idiotic proportions. 

Hellgate Career

After attending the premiere of Hellgate, Joanne Warde realised that her acting career was over.

Best Kill

After bending down to pick up his keys All American numbskull Chuck is decapitated by a sign, his headless body sprinting a hundred yards and disappearing around the corner. He would go on to train for Hellgate’s annual marathon.

Most Absurd Moment

Shooting his goldfish with a laser from the magic crystal, Lucas watches on with fascination as it mutates and swells to the size of a rugby ball, shattering its bowl and exploding into a thousand fleshy chunks.

Most Absurd Dialogue

Jealous of Matt picking up a female hitchhiker, Pam intensely probes:

Pam: Well…was she pretty?

Matt: She was alright.

Pam: Alright?!

Matt: She was okay.

Pam: Okay?!!

Matt: She was pretty good.

Pam: Pretty good?!!!

Matt: But not as good as you!

Pam: Well…did she have a nice body?

Matt: It was nothing to write home about…it was alright.

Pam: Alright?!

Matt: Yeah – it was okay.

Pam: Okay?!!

Matt: Not bad.

Pam: Not bad?!!!

Matt: But not as good as yours.

And it goes on like this. I shit you not.


rtape rtape rtape rtape btape

As I have already stated, you really have to see this movie to understand its true value. The acting is abysmal, the wisecracks humourless, and for a horror movie you can count the kills on one hand. But what it lacks in action it makes up for in sheer stupidity, and you find yourself watching the movie the way you might watch a dead animal at the side of the road: there is a perverse intrigue that draws you in, and although you might eventually get tired of looking, in the end you really had no choice but to consume the mess in front of you. And who knows, after turning around and finally walking away, you may even go back for a repeat viewing. Just maybe . . .

Cedric Smarts

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