Hellgate (1989)

Hellgate 1989 Review

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

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. 

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 1989 Review

Buzz was convinced he had something stuck in his head.

Unluckily for them they end up in the girl’s home town 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’ 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 piece 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. Thirty years later 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.  

Hellgate 1989 Review

Josie in one of her more natural poses.

In a shocking turn of events Matt then stumbles upon the very same cafe from which Josie was kidnapped, and soon becomes the Hitchhiker’s latest prey. After almost running a reanimated Josie down Matt is kind enough to offer her a ride home, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that Hellgate is basically a giant graveyard housing a population of zombies. Back at her family mansion the sumptuous Josie seduces Matt and is furious when her heavily deformed father turns up with a hatchet and spoils the party. Seizing his opportunity Matt escapes and finally makes his way to the cabin, failing to mention that he was almost killed by a maniac with a barrage of lasers.

So adept is Matt at displacing trauma, the greasy little wiener is soon naked and straddling girlfriend Pam, and after a little cross-eyed titillation the young lovers grab their friends and head back to the cafe for a late night snack. While there Matt and Pam sneak into the neighbouring garage for a snoop and soon spot a paper clipping from thirty years prior concerning missing biker Buzz, a face Matt somehow remembers from his fleeting visit to a highly populated and unassuming Hellgate.

Hellgate 1989 Review

Pam had an adverse reaction to aural pleasure.

The couple are soon interrupted by garage attendant Zonk, another member of the once infamous biker gang, who upon fleeing the horrors of that night thought it best to settle down just a couple of miles down the road. 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 subsequent claims of love are but a ruse for her bloodlust. What ensues is a zombie-laden showdown of idiotic proportions. 

Hellgate 1989 Review

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. Rumours are that he later trained for a 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 with 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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